Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lagoons, Glacial Lakes, Freshwater Ponds, Flowing Streams, Beaches, Dry Deserts, Volcanic Aquifers and the Entire Ocean (Frozen or Warm)

Life on Earth (TV series)        Image via Wikipedia
Dr. Robert Shapiro in Scientific American, describing various prebiotic soup recipes:
The drying lagoon claim is not unique. In a similar spirit, other prebiotic chemists have invoked freezing glacial lakes, mountainside freshwater ponds, flowing streams, beaches, dry deserts, volcanic aquifers and the entire global ocean (frozen or warm as needed) to support their requirement that the "nucleotide soup" necessary for RNA synthesis would somehow have come into existence on the early Earth.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with scientists trying to hypothesize how life may have formed on earth through natural means; that is their job, and I applaud their efforts. But, when their approach of methodological naturalism is matched with an insistence that naturalism also be upheld in the conclusion reached, regardless of the actual evidence, they may be scientists but they have become something less than full, inquiring human beings asking without constraint, "how?", and, more importantly, "why?". Science ceases to be a search for truth and becomes a search for an answer that fits the methods of our quest and our worldview assumptions. This regrettable impoverishment of spirit is seen clearly in the writings of Richard Dawkins.

Here's one of the best analogies I've come across to illustrate the problem with scientists' efforts in this area:
The analogy that comes to mind is that of a golfer, who having played a golf ball through an 18-hole course, then assumed that the ball could also play itself around the course in his absence. He had demonstrated the possibility of the event; it was only necessary to presume that some combination of natural forces (earthquakes, winds, tornadoes and floods, for example) could produce the same result, given enough time. No physical law need be broken for spontaneous RNA formation to happen, but the chances against it are so immense, that the suggestion implies that the non-living world had an innate desire to generate RNA. The majority of origin-of-life scientists who still support the RNA-first theory either accept this concept (implicitly, if not explicitly) or feel that the immensely unfavorable odds were simply overcome by good luck.
Embedded in the quote are the options on the table:  "The non-living world had an innate desire to generate RNA". This is a form of vitalism. This is entirely consistent with theistic evolution and/or the soft version of intelligent design, and a rather desperate version of darwinism. "Immensely unfavorable odds simply overcome by good luck". Consistent with classic darwinism. The third option is the stronger form of intelligent design - an intelligent agent intervened in nature to produce life on Earth. Unfortunately, this option is not really on the table, because it's the darwinist's table, and if you try to put it on the table, he'll say he's "not playing", take his table and go home.
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Speaking Of Air Travel...

Ever travelled Peanutair?

Air Travel - Taxed 2 The Max

Map of CanadaImage via Wikipedia
These were the taxes I paid on a round-trip flight Phoenix-Toronto:

Surcharges                                                     14.62 (probably an aviation fuel surcharge)
Canada Airport Improvement Fee                 25.00 (Pearson)
U.S.A Transportation Tax                               33.56
U.S Agriculture Fee                                         5.21
Air Travellers [sic] Security Charge                 8.34
U.S Passenger Facility Charge                        4.69
Canada Goods and Services Tax                    1.25
September 11 Security Fee                             2.61
U.S.A Immigration User Fee                           7.29

Whenever possible, I fly out of Buffalo. Half the cost and hassle of Pearson.

The neat thing about being government is a company, like an airline, has to work really, really hard to provide a service the public will pay for. If you are government, you can just come along and slap on a revenue-producing tax willy-nilly. You don't have to be good, or competent, or anything. Same thing with taxes on gasoline.
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Quote of the Day: "Unfortunately, neither chemists nor laboratories were present on the early Earth"

Diagram to illustrate 5' to 3' directionality ...                                        Image via Wikipedia
The exceptionally high urea concentration [required for the scientists to simulate pre-life in the lab] was rationalized in the Nature paper by invoking a vision of drying lagoons on the early Earth. In a published rebuttal, I calculated that a large lagoon would have to be evaporated to the size of a puddle, without loss of its contents, to achieve that concentration. No such feature exists on Earth today.
* * * 
Unfortunately, neither chemists nor laboratories were present on the early Earth to produce RNA. -- Dr. Robert Shapiro, Scientific American.
A scientist producing life in the lab does not demonstrate darwinism; she demonstrates intelligent design. Doh!

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Does Intelligent Designer = Intelligent Intervenor?

Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Leh...              Image via Wikipedia
 “Those who worry about ‘interference’ should relax. The purposeful design of life to any degree is easily compatible with the idea that, after its initiation, the universe unfolded exclusively by the intended playing out of the natural laws.” (Behe, Edge of Evolution 232)
Last week I was hammered at an Intelligent Design-friendly Christian apologetics site for suggesting that information, language, and design complexity in nature point to intelligent agency, but they do not necessarily require that an agent actively intervened in natural processes at point(s) in time. I suggested that while natural processes as viewed by materialists and atheists could not account for life and species, natural processes created and sustained by an intelligent agent (especially an omnipotent creator, since I was arguing theologically at a Christian site) at least in principle could.

It was not a kick against direct agency, it was just leaving the door open to another possibility. (And it was securing a place for ID even if plausible law-based natural processes should be discovered that would adequately explain anomalies such as the origin of life or the Cambrian explosion.) I certainly didn't deny the possibility or even likelihood of direct agency.

But that didn't matter. I had offended the site's ID orthodoxy and the site went into attack-mode. I was accused of intellectual dishonesty. I was accused of disbelieving in miracles. It was demanded of me that I provide peer-reviewed science articles to back my claims (which was interesting because a sub-point I was making was the epistemological limits of science). Finally, I was flat-out accused of misrepresenting the claims of ID. One guy said I was flat-out wrong and he wasn't interested in anything further I had to say. So, there was a lot of heat. And the site administrator heartily endorsed this guy's comments.

I figure when the ref is in the other guy's corner, it's probably time to get out of the ring. So, I exited, stage right (to metaphor my mixes).

Because I had been pummelled, yet still thinking my point was well-reasoned, I started digging.  What I found was gratifying: the leading proponents of ID agree with me.

The first hint of this came during my debate at the ID-friendly site. I ran across this in a blogpost at Uncommon Descent entitled "Does ID presuppose a mechanistic view of nature?"
Michael Behe, Michael Denton and Bill Dembski are all on record as saying that design is not in principle incompatible with a wholly naturalistic evolutionary process. Design theory does not require miracles. One can imagine, for example, a “front-loaded” evolutionary program which over time “outputs” the various species via wholly naturalistic means. But such a program would be intelligently designed, not driven by chance. Darwin, Dawkins, Dennett, etc. would still therefore be wrong. It is not “naturalistic means” per se that ID is against; it is naturalistic means conceived of in terms of blind natural laws combined with sheer chance. On this point, I would suggest that you read carefully Michael Denton’s work, *Nature’s Destiny*, which shows how one can logically combine naturalistic evolution, anti-Darwinism, and intelligent design. 
Next, I discovered an article by Bill Dembski which I hi-lited last week.
Intelligent design is not... an interventionist theory at all. Indeed, intelligent design is perfectly compatible with all the design in the world being front-loaded in the sense that all design was introduced at the beginning (say at the Big Bang) and then came to expression subsequently over the course of natural history much as a computer program's output becomes evident only when the program is run. 
Then, today, while listening to Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution I came across the money-quote shown at the top of this post. Intelligent design theory is compatible with the view that all of life was created by natural laws.  If you read it carefully Behe doesn't say he endorses this view, but that it is a live option; it's on the table.

What both Dembski and Behe say is that while the evidences of intelligent design do not (necessarily) require active intervention by an intelligent agent, they do require that we reject the materialistic, dumb-luck view of nature espoused by darwinism.

Which was the point I was making.

And that's the way the Ball bounces.

Update: This quote is relevant:

"A theory of design detection is quite different from a theory of design implementation."

ID is primarily a theory of design detection rather than design implementation.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

David Chen: Canadian Hero

David Chen: Canadian Hero.

The thief he stopped? Canadian zero.

All. Charges. Dismissed.
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Great Moments In Skepticism: "It Could Have Been Anybody's Ark!"

CTV article on the finding of purported discovery of Noah's ark.
A team of evangelical Christian researchers say they've discovered Noah's ark near the peak of Mount Ararat in Turkey.
The group, from Noah's Ark Ministries International in Hong Kong, says its members "successfully excavated and ventured inside a large wooden structure" 4,000 metres above sea level.
Samples of wood taken from the structure were carbon dated to 4,800 years old, NAMI's website says, and Turkish government officials plan to apply for UNESCO World Heritage site designation.
A healthy skepticism towards a claim like this is reasonable and warranted. But this comment by the sleepy (it's Canada AM) interviewer struck me as funny: "But it could have been anybody's ark!" The expression on the guy's face is priceless, as in, "I've just come up with a really, really good argument here -- why, the world is probably littered with arks resting on mountain tops, this could be anybody's!".

The Canadian archeologist interviewed seems like a really nice guy. Worth a look.

Quote of the Day: "Nature Has An Innate Tendency To Produce Life's Building Blocks"

Cafe├»ne-molecuul. Rood = zuurstof, lichtblau =...                            Image via Wikipedia

Here's another good quote from Dr. Shapiro's article in Scientific American:
In a form of molecular vitalism, some scientists have presumed that nature has an innate tendency to produce life's building blocks preferentially, rather than the hordes of other molecules that can also be derived from the rules of organic chemistry. 
Is presumption science?   But, let's assume they are right -- and they are assuming this only because, otherwise, the odds of life appearing spontaneously in the time available become distantly improbable. Let's assume that nature is predisposed towards life rather than barren lifelessness. What does that tell us about the nature of nature?

Reading on, the air comes out of the vitalist's balloon:

A careful examination of the results of the analysis of several meteorites led the scientists who conducted the work to a different conclusion: inanimate nature has a bias toward the formation of molecules made of fewer rather than greater numbers of carbon atoms, and thus shows no partiality in favor of creating the building blocks of our kind of life. (When larger carbon-containing molecules are produced, they tend to be insoluble, hydrogen-poor substances that organic chemists call tars.) I have observed a similar pattern in the results of many spark discharge experiments.
These two scenarios aptly illustrate the issues at stake in theistic evolution vs. intelligent design.  In theistic evolution (or, evolutionary creation), God builds the potential for life into the fabric of the universe, and it works itself out (with God sustaining and directing nature as it goes). This fits the vitalism scenario posited by the scientists. Proponents of ID theory say that the odds indicate that nature by itself would not produce life and point to the active intervention of an intelligent agent.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Darwinian Chili and the Problem of Evil

Pot of Chili sin carne, cooking on the stove.               Image via Wikipedia
Dr. Robert Shapiro on the problems with a self-generating pre-RNA molecule:
Picture a gorilla (very long arms are needed) at an immense keyboard connected to a word processor. The keyboard contains not only the symbols used in English and European languages but also a huge excess drawn from every other known language and all of the symbol sets stored in a typical computer. The chances for the spontaneous assembly of a replicator in the pool I described above can be compared to those of the gorilla composing, in English, a coherent recipe for the preparation of chili con carne. 
From his article in Scientific American.

And the gorilla looked upon the chili he had made, and, behold, it was good.

Issue#1: Since cows, beans, and tomatoes all exist on earth, is it not possible that nature, under the right set of conditions, could create chili? Absolutely. Here's my scenario:

There's a cow in Arizona. It falls off a cliff and is mangled. Some bits of its raw flesh fall into a hollow bowl shape in a rock. Some beans fall off a nearby bean tree; a little later a tomato falls off a nearby vine and rolls into the rock bowl. The night air results in a cool condensation of water into the rock bowl. The Arizona sun rises and stews the chili. Some salt from the rock leeches into the chili -- not only is it chili, it tastes good!

An hour later, a normal person walks by, discovers the delicious chili, and wonders, "who made it"? Sil-ly normal person. Nobody made the chili. The chili made itself.

Now this may appear fanciful, but, are you saying it couldn't happen? If it conceivably could happen, it demonstrates the truth of darwinism. Improbable scenarios are conjured, and then are offered as a demonstration of the truth of darwinian evolution. That's how darwinian science overcomes difficulties.

Issue#2: Is it "real chili" if it contains beans?  This raises the issue of theodicy -- the problem of evil and an "imperfect"creation. The theologically-minded darwinist apologist (and they are legion) would pose it thusly: "if there really was a Creator, would he have used beans??!!" QED  (You may have to be a chili purist to understand this last one!)
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why I Don't Read The Toronto Star

Heather Mallick, Toronto writer, by Michelle Q...                                          Image via Wikipedia
This is what passes for reporting at the Toronto Star:
"Voting for Ford is like sleeping with someone to get revenge on your spouse.... It is Oct. 26, the day after the election, and you wake in a hard, unfamiliar bed. Your eyeballs are congealed chip fat and your contact lenses have gone crispy. Your liver is en route somewhere. You appear to be missing a tooth. And there's something in bed next to you. It is the sweaty, beer-smelling oik from the bar last night." -- Heather Mallick
For what it's worth, the reporter seems to be writing from first-hand knowledge.

As reported in The National Post.
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Mark Steyn Pokes A Hole In Commissar Huff's Donut

Here. heh heh.

Quote of the Day: "The urgency can't be overemphasized... We are at a tipping point."

Harrison Ford at the Pacific Design Center in ...Image via Wikipedia
"The urgency can't be overemphasized... We are at a tipping point." -- Harrison Ford

Global warming, er, climate change, right?


USA debt?

Wrong again.

Still like Harrison Ford, though.
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Flagellum of Gram-negative Bacteria. The base ...                                       Image via Wikipedia
Think bacteria are a primitive form of life?

Think again.

Chemical language. "Quorum sensing". A world of complexity.

Darwinian worldview quote: "bacteria invented this".  Hmmmm.

A superb video.

h/t Evolution News & Views.

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Quote of the Day: "Most Darwinian Biologists Simply Assume What Cannot Be Demonstrated"

Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Leh...           Image via Wikipedia
"[B]y default, most biologists work within a Darwinian framework and simply assume what cannot be demonstrated. Unfortunately this can lead to the understandable but nonetheless corrosive intellectual habit of forgetting the difference between what is assumed and what demonstrated." -- Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution, p. 9 (Free Press, 2007).
I'm just finishing up listening to Behe's The Edge of Evolution. Behe is an evolutionist who affirms common ancestry and advocates scientific evidence for intelligent design. An honest, open discussion of the issue is, unfortunately, impossible, because neo-darwinists are closed to the idea that random mutation/natural selection may be an insufficient to produce intricate cell circuitry and the wonderful, rich, complex functional designs that characterize life on earth. They start with the insistence that it is, and go from there -- hence their propensity to confuse the possibility that something may have happened a certain way with the assumption that it did, and the assumption that it did with a demonstration that it did. A good example is listening to Dawkins describe how the intricate function of a wing may have developed -- one darn hop after another. Hop and jump, hop and jump long enough and presto! a Mercedes in your driveway.

Reasonable people have long since concluded it is reasonable to believe there is something more going on here than mindless, purposeless, adirectional processes.

For what looks to be opposing views, see below.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Science and the Question of God: Creationism, Evolutionism, and Intelligent Design

Cover of "The Edge of Evolution: The Sear...             Cover via Amazon
God’s creative action and sustenance of all things includes not only the mechanistic characteristics of Newton’s laws and the probabilistic ones of quantum mechanics, but also of evolutionary processes. God can choose his creative path as he wishes and he may do so either in ways we cannot comprehend or in ways that are systematic and subject to our comprehension. -- Randy Isaac, "Science and the Question of God" BioLogos
Nice quote, Dr. Isaac.

Randy Isaac discusses three categories, Creationism, Evolutionism, and Intelligent Design. He explains the reasons why he is not persuaded by the arguments from Intelligent Design.
Furthermore, [Stephen Meyer] has not convincingly ruled out evolutionary causes. Evolutionary processes can easily be observed to increase, decrease, or modify DNA and epigenetic information in living cells. This occurs in different ways in the development of every organism, in the reproduction process of every species, and in specific biological processes such as antibody formation (Story, 2009) (Isaac, 2010).
Yes, but --

He misses the point.  Demonstrating evolutionary causes does not invalidate intelligent design. Let me repeat that . Demonstrating evolutionary causes does not rule out intelligent design. Rather, intelligent design, if validated, demonstrates the explanatory inadequacy of darwinian mechanisms. Behe, for example, has argued for the limits of the darwinian mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection.

Isaac treats ID and evolutionary causes as an either/or propositions. This is a misunderstanding of ID. As indicated in a previous post covering the thoughts of William Dembski, proponents of Intelligent Design claim that the earmarks of design are scientifically detectible and point to an intelligent cause, but they do not necessarily indicate where, when, or how the intelligence caused the design. Dembski specifically said that it could be via a seamless evolutionary process that would achieve the intended design results.

So, the fact that Isaac says evolutionary processes can be observed to "increase, decrease, or modify DNA and epigenetic information" does not negate the intelligent design argument. It seems to be an argument against an active interventionist view of ID, the view that at a specific point in time, or at specific points in time, an intelligent agent intervened in otherwise natural processes to create life or inject information (or whatever) into molecules. While this is a popular view of ID, and a possible or even likely scenario, it does not constitute the essence of the ID argument, and thus constitutes a straw-man.

You'll find lots of dissent in the posts below.
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Quote of the day: "At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident."

Richard Dawkins giving a lecture based on his ...                                        Image via Wikipedia
At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We will call it the Replicator. It may not have been the biggest or the most complex molecule around, but it had the extraordinary property of being able to create copies of itself. -- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
Notice the words. Remarkable. Extraordinary. Accident. thud.

Question for Richard: How does he know this molecule he posits really formed? Mere speculation? Because naturalism is assumed, and a naturalistic explanation demands it?

Second Question for Richard: How does he know it was by accident? How can Richard know whether this molecule, if indeed it formed at all, formed by accident or by the wilful act of an Agent? Is stating that it was by accident actual science, philosophy, or just-plain wishful thinking?

Science, philosophy, speculation, just plain wishful thinking?

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Children have ‘fundamental’ right to father’s identity, sperm donor trial hears

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...                                          Image via Wikipedia
Children have ‘fundamental’ right to father’s identity, sperm donor trial hears.

I'm with the young woman on this one.

Children have a fundamental, God-given right to a mother and a father, barring natural disasters. A child has a deeply engrained desire and need to know the love of both father and mother -- their father and their mother, and, if this is not possible, and adoptive mother and father.

Single-parenting, easy divorce, anonymous sperm-donor parenting, and gay-rights -- all the so-called advances of our society over the last 40 years -- have ignored or denied this basic right rooted in biology, human history, and God's command.

The fifth commandment says, "Honor your father and your mother".  For too many children today they would love for nothing more than to be able to do exactly this. 

God is good; and the constraints he imposes on us are for our benefit and the benefit of children.  Let's reconsider the path we are on and turn back to Him.
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Origins: What Are Your Options?

The logo for the BioLogos Foundation                           Image via Wikipedia
This post will give you the lay-of-the-land.

Excerpted from BioLogos with some amendments and commentary.

1. You can be a Young Earth Creationist (YEC).
Young earth creationists believe that a “natural” or “plain” reading of the English text of the Bible provides a completely accurate account of science [what really happened]. Any scientific ideas incompatible with this – no matter how well-established – must be rejected.
Leading figures: Carl Baugh, Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, Henry M. Morris, Paul A. Nelson, Kurt Wise.

A very conservative interpretation of the Bible informs the YEC's attitude towards the evolving claims of the historical sciences.

2. Or a Strong (Old-Earth) Concordist.
Strong concordists, of which old-earth creationists are the best example, believe that God placed modern scientific ideas in the Bible, sometimes using secret language that could not be understood by the original audience and even the actual writers of the texts. BioLogos rejects this viewpoint because we believe that God worked within the worldview, culture and language of the Biblical authors and since they would not have known, for example, about heliocentricity or the Big Bang, we do not think that God encoded those ideas in the scripture.
Leading figures: Hugh Ross, Gerald Schroeder.

3. Or an advocate of Intelligent Design.

The BioLogos definition was unusable. Here's mine: Nature bears the scientifically detectible earmarks of intelligent design. An abductive application of the scientific evidence leads to the conclusion of an intelligent agent.
Favorite topics include the Cambrian explosion, complex structures, and the origin of biological information. Leading figures: Michael Behe, William A. Dembski, Phillip A. Johnson, Stephen C. Meyer.
The BioLogos description of ID is really bad. So bad, it may be why they did their post in the first place!  Do I detect traces of intelligent emnity?

Also, some YECs align with ID.

4. You can align with BioLogos.
BioLogos takes both the Bible and science seriously, and seeks a harmony between them that respects the truth of each. By using appropriate biblical and theological scholarship [note the absence of the qualifier "appropriate science"] BioLogos believes that the apparent conflicts that lead some to reject science and others to reject the Bible can be avoided.
Leading figures: Francis Collins, Alister McGrath, Kenneth Miller, John Polkinghorne, Denis Alexander, John D. Barrow, Simon Conway-Morris, Ted Davis, Rodney Holder, Howard Van Till, Timothy Keller, Denis Lamoureaux, Ernest Lucas, John Schloss.

5. You can be a Liberal Christian.
Liberal Christians encompasses a diversity of thinkers who have reinterpreted many of the traditional Christian ideas in ways that sometimes disconnect them from their history. Some in this category attach little to no significance to belief in the authority of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, or the reality of miracles.
Leading figures: Ian Barbour, Francisco Ayala, Phil Hefner, Arthur Peacock.

6. You can be a Non-Religious Accommodationist.
Non-religious accommodationists... believe [or at least claim to believe] that personal religious beliefs—variations of Christianity in particular— are compatible with belief in scientific explanations of origins.
Leading figures: Stephen Jay Gould, Michael Schermer, Ron Numbers, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott.

7. Or, an Anti-Religious Non-Accommodationist.
Anti-religious non- accommodationists believe  that religious and scientific beliefs compete with each other in such a way that only one can be true, which they believe is science. An important part of their agenda is to show that there are scientific explanations for religious phenomena.
Leading figures: Carl Sagan, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Vic Stenger, Steven Weinberg, Edward O. Wilson.

So, there you have it.

Note that the Biologos camp believe in intelligent design (as do positions one through five in one way or another). The difference between position 3 and 4 is that the BioLogos camp insist that intelligent design is not detectable through the methods of science, whereas the ID camp insist that it is, the irony being, the ID camp have a higher view of science as an epistemological tool than the science-oriented BioLogos crowd!

Another way of sifting through the options is to consider one's attitude towards science. Positions 1 and 3 view modern science as defective or deficient in some way -- biased, limited, etc. Positions 4 through 7 all accept current science without reservation and adjust their theology accordingly.  Not sure about position 2, but I think they would say there is a radical alignment between the Bible and science when the Bible is properly interpreted.

For the full BioLogos article, with its bad definition of Intelligent Design but good links to all the persons mentioned, go here.

For a critique of BioLogos' mischaracterization of ID, go to Evolution News & Views, here.

Nature 2, Man 0: Bees' Tiny Brains Beat Computers, Study Finds

Example The travelling salesman problem (TSP)                             Image via Wikipedia
Bees can solve complex mathematical problems which keep computers busy for days, research has shown.
The insects learn to fly the shortest route between flowers discovered in random order, effectively solving the "travelling salesman problem" , said scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London.
The conundrum involves finding the shortest route that allows a travelling salesman to call at all the locations he has to visit. Computers solve the problem by comparing the length of all possible routes and choosing the one that is shortest.
Bees manage to reach the same solution using a brain the size of a grass seed.
If only I can have faith the size of a bee's brain!

Once again we see man playing catch-up.
"Despite their tiny brains bees are capable of extraordinary feats of behaviour," said Raine. "We need to understand how they can solve the travelling salesman problem without a computer."
Nice.  (Although I'm not sure about the "computers busy for days" bit.)

Since man is trying to replicate this engineering feat, and since when it comes to graph theory bees are "the bees' knees", I'm calling this Nature 2, Man 0.
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Mark Steyn: Write Hard With A Vengeance

Mark Steyn speaks at CPAC 2008 as Pamela Gella...                         Image via Wikipedia
"We're starting today with the most basic issue of all: We're broke." -- Mark Steyn

So much for obfuscation, big words, and warming up to your subject.  Mark Steyn is back with a vengeance.  This is his first full article on Steyn Online in ages. And reading it has reminded me what an incredibly good writer he is.

"There’s nothing virtuous about “caring” “compassionate” “progressives” being caring and compassionate and progressive with money yet to be earned by generations yet to be born."

As a writer Steyn isn't just good; he's astonishingly good.

Read the whole thing, here.

And don't forget to get a ticket for an aeroplane to London Ontario; no time to take a fast train. Steyn is BACK!
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Are You A "Theistic Personalist"?

Baroque Trinity, Hendrick van Balen, 1620, (Si...                     Image via Wikipedia
Over at Ed Feser's excellent philosophy blog, he is going on about the difference between classical theists and the modern types, who are somewhat disparagingly dismissed as "personalists".
The formula ‘God is a person’ is (given the history of theistic thinking and writing) a relatively recent one. I believe that its first occurrence in English comes in the report of a trial of someone called John Biddle (b. 1615), who in 1644 was brought before the magistrates of Gloucester, England, on a charge of heresy. His ‘heresy’ was claiming that God is a person. Biddle was explicitly defending Unitarian beliefs about God, already in evidence among Socinians outside England.
In other words, Biddle’s ‘God is a person’ was intended as a rejection of the orthodox Christian claim that God is three persons in one substance (the doctrine of the Trinity). One can hardly take it to be a traditional Christian answer to the question ‘What is God?’ According to the doctrine of the Trinity, God is certainly not three persons in one person. And when orthodox exponents of the doctrine speak of Father, Son, and Spirit as ‘persons,’ they certainly do not take ‘person’ to mean what it seems to mean for [Richard] Swinburne and those who agree with him. They do not, for example, think of the persons of the Trinity as distinct centres of consciousness, or as three members of a kind. (pp. 59-60)
This quote, from the Answering Infidels site provides an accessible definition of theistic personalism.
First, the problem of evil as it is argued by atheists depends on a certain conception of God. Here we may distinguish between “classical theism” and “theistic personalism.” For a theistic personalist, God is a person like us; he’s just far more powerful. But for classical theists, God is not a person, nor does he have emotions like humans. God isn’t like us at all. A classical theist would reject a concept of God which views him as the sort of being who would come to our rescue when we’re in danger, for this wouldn’t be a changeless, eternal being (and, according to the classical theist, sheer anthropomorphism). A theistic personalist, on the other hand, would reject the idea that God lacks a personality: God has emotions and can rush to our aid whenever he so chooses. My own position lies somewhere in between these two views; however, I lean towards theistic personalism. Thus, if God allows some particular evil, I would argue that he has reasons for allowing it. A classical theist, however, would say that I’ve got the wrong view of God. Both camps believe in a God who is all-powerful and wholly good. They disagree about what it means for God to be changeless. My point here is that most of the arguments used by atheists would not affect classical theists at all, so we need to understand that these arguments, at best, only affect a particular conception of God.
I'm not sure that this definition is philosophically rigorous, but it gives you an idea of what is at stake. Roman Catholicism is wedded to classic theism; modern movements such as pentecostalism are, most emphatically, not. Which of the two ideas is most in keeping with the thrust and parry of Scripture? I would say theistic personalism.

"He who has seen me has seen the Father".  Why explain it away?

I guess that makes me a theistic personalist.

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The BallBounces First Poll

Scroll to the right to see the results.  I guess I shoulda kept the responses shorter. So far, Juan is winning by a big margin.

Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries

The 17 countries identified as megadiverse by ...                                  Image via Wikipedia
Diversity is no longer enough. Give me Megadiversity, as in like-minded megadiverse countries. They include poor D. R. Congo, rife with poverty, corruption and soldiers who scour through villages raping women. No ability to fix these problems, but committed to bio-diversity and taking the time to join the group of

Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries.

You heard about them first at the BallBounces.

To the tune of Money:

"The best thing is diversity"
But you can give it to the birds and bees
Meg-a-di-ver-sity -- that's what I want
That's what I want, that's what I want

And that's the way the Megadiversifying Ball bounces.
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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Miller Time or Mecca Time: Hartford City Council Weighs In

SWABI, PAKISTAN - JUNE 20: Iqra, 4, fixes her ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
The Hartford City Council thought inviting a Muslim Imam to open their September 13th session with prayer would be a great way of commemorating 9/11, or, if not exactly commemorating it, at least showing their solidarity with the Muslim community. They backed down due to the uproar, but they really, really wanted to do it.

The Hartford City Council definitely thought it was Mecca Time.

The citizens said no.  (In Canada, this would probably result in a human rights complaint, but the Americans still have a bit of fight left in them.)

What time do you say it is?
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A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush

A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush


Quote of the Day: "As likely as a golf ball playing its own way around the course"

Full-Length Hammerhead Ribozyme color-coded so...                                         Image via Wikipedia
...the search for ribozymes invokes the same feeling of achievement and beauty in me that I get when I see a skilled golfer playing a difficult course at well under par.  To imagine that related events could take place on their own appears as likely as the idea that the golf ball could play its own way around the course without the golfer.” -- Dr. Robert Shapiro, self-declared agnostic and opponent of ID theories quoted by Uncommon Descent, here.
It's hard to play a perfect round of golf, it's harder to hit a hole-in-one, and its apparently even harder to produce life in the lab -- although dumb nature did it without even trying! Isn't nature something, can we give her a hand, hey, she gave us hands, so, yes we can!
Here's another bite:
Total synthesis involves the preparation by skilled chemists in laboratories of substances that we isolate from biology..… On the early earth, however, there were neither chemists nor laboratories. No driving force has been demonstrated that would direct complex mixtures of organic chemicals of modest size to assemble themselves into a functional RNA. According to Gerald Joyce and the late Leslie Orgel, such an event would constitute a near miracle… 
The catch-22 for darwinian scientists is that all scientist-directed efforts to produce or simulate life in the lab end up illustrating intelligent design - doh!

And, as God said to the scientist who said "I can make life from dirt", "Get Your Own Dirt!".

The Uncommon Descent article is brief, you might want to read the whole thing.

Even better, for the full, free article from Scientific American by Robert Shapiro, go here.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Miller Time or Mecca Time: Mark Steyn Declared Unmutual

The London Community Centre has cancelled its scheduled hosting of Canada's Mark "Lights Out" Steyn; in a fit of political correctness he has been declared "unmutual" (a reference from The Prisoner) and a security risk. I'm surprised he hasn't been charged with disturbing the peace just for saying he was going to speak.

The news solidified my resolve to drive the two hours from Toronto to London on November 1st to hear him in his new venue at the Centennial Hall.  I hope if you live within a two or three hour drive you will go too. If so, see you there! -- of course, I'll be in drag; I may want to support Steyn, but I'm no fool. Just go up to the 6' 4" gal in the red wig -- it will most likely be me!

* * *

Journalist and correspondent Juan Williams spe...                    Image via Wikipedia
Meanwhile, Canada's Rex Murphy weighs in on the Juan Williams affair. He makes the good point that while the leaders of NPR (Steyn calls them the National Peace-be-upon-him Radio) quickly fired Williams for suggesting that Muslim-dressed plane passengers make him nervous, no one seems to give an Islamic fig that the left-wing gal who had the great idea of Draw Mohammed Day has now had to retract her idea, change her name and go in hiding -- because of the excessively peaceful reaction from enthusiastic follows of the religion of Peace. Here's his money quote: "These days, too many genuflect where others once stood and fought."

Miller Time, or Mecca Time?

For the genuflecting London Community Centre, it's Mecca Time.
What time do you say it is?

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Quote of the Day: "Life Began With The Spontaneous Formation of RNA"

"enthusiasm"                    Image by TheAlieness      GiselaGiardino²³ via Flickr
...  perhaps two-thirds of scientists publishing in the origin-of life field (as judged by a count of papers published in 2006 in the journal Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere) still support the idea that life began with the spontaneous formation of RNA or a related self-copying molecule. -- Dr. Robert Shapiro, here.
I'm glad I wasn't drinking my K-cup Donut Shop Extra-Bold when I read this.

spon·ta·ne·ous  (spn-tn-s)
1. Happening or arising without apparent external cause; self-generated.
2. Arising from a natural inclination or impulse and not from external incitement or constraint.
3. Unconstrained and unstudied in manner or behavior.
4. Growing without cultivation or human labor.
[From Late Latin spontneus, of one's own accord, from Latin sponte; see (s)pen- in Indo-European roots.]

Ain't nature grand!
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Friday, October 22, 2010

Taiwanese Bride Opts For Same-Sex Marriage To Herself

exercise makes you hornyImage by Will Lion via Flickr
A Taiwanese bride, bemoaning the lack of men, opts to marry a person of the same sex -- herself. And I salute her!  Ever since the definition of marriage based on biology was traded-in for  "the right to be me", I've been in favour of the right to marry oneself. Shouldn't, e.g., an asexual person, a person with no sexual attractions, have the same access to marriage as anyone else? Didn't we decide that all sexual orientations, not just state-or Church- or society-approved ones, are equal?  My world includes the right to marry yourself, and if you don't agree with me you this means you are a hateful bigot; stop trying to impose your values on others.

You can read about it here: Taiwanese bride bemoans lack of men and marries herself.

Next up: Bi-sexual marriage: the right to marry both a man and a woman in order to fully express your sexuality and be true to your school yourself.
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Quote of the Day: "“Christianity -- an experience that demands an explanation”

The foundation of Christ 1 Corinthians 3:11; p...                    Image via Wikipedia
Someone once said, “Christianity should not be an explanation void of an experience but rather an experience that demands an explanation!” 
Paul was speaking of this same truth when he said, “And my speech and my preaching were not with the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in THE POWER OF GOD” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). -- Christ For All Nations (CfAN) email
A good point. Christianity is not dry belief; it is belief accompanied by the experience of God. Where does Christianity reside -- in our minds? Yes. In our hearts too? Yes. In our innermost being, our  spirit? Yes. Christianity is not mere intellectual assent or dry belief; it is deeply, deeply personal -- "(the person of) Christ [residing] in you, the hope of glory".

Christ said, "I am the truth". A person said this. Ultimate truth is not to be found in molecules in motion; it is found in a Person who resides outside of time and space. And seekers of truth love finding and getting to know him.
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Does Intelligent Design Require An Interventionist View?

Picture of William Albert Dembski taken at lec...                                Image via Wikipedia
A common assumption among both defenders and detractors of Intelligent Design (ID) is that the hypothesis demands an interventionist view of the designer. While I think given the evidence associated with origins of life and biological evolution (e.g., the Cambrian explosion)  that this is in fact most likely the case, I also believe that it is not essential to the hypothesis. It simply needs to show that there are clear marks of intelligent agency in the outcomes achieved. I recently discovered to my chagrin how some defenders of ID react with belligerence when a more nuanced point of view is presented crossed on this issue.

So, I went and did a bit of digging.  And struck gold. With this 2003 article by William Dembski, a leading spokesman in the ID movement. The relevant section is section 2, Interventionism, beginning on page three. I can't copy/paste/quote directly because this is a pdf file, but with a bit more digging I found a similar passage online:
For a designing intelligence to make a discernible difference in the emergence of some organism, however, seems to Miller to require that an intelligence intervened at specific times and places to bring about that organism and thus again seems to require some form of special creation. This in turn raises the question: How often and at what places did a designing intelligence intervene in the course of natural history to produce those biological structures that are beyond the power of material mechanisms? Thus, according to Miller, intelligent design draws an unreasonable distinction between material mechanisms and designing intelligences, claiming that material mechanisms are fine most of the time but then on rare (or perhaps not so rare) occasions a designing intelligence is required to get over some hump that material mechanisms can't quite manage. Hence Miller's reference to "an outside designer violat[ing] the very laws of nature he had fashioned."
As I've pointed out to Miller on more than one occasion, this criticism is misconceived. The proper question is not how often or at what places a designing intelligence intervenes but rather at what points do signs of intelligence first become evident. Intelligent design therefore makes an epistemological rather than ontological point. To understand the difference, imagine a computer program that outputs alphanumeric characters on a computer screen. The program runs for a long time and throughout that time outputs what look like random characters. Then abruptly the output changes and the program outputs the most sublime poetry. Now, at what point did a designing intelligence intervene in the output of the program? Clearly, this question misses the mark because the program is deterministic and simply outputs whatever the program dictates.
There was no intervention at all that changed the output of the program from random gibberish to sublime poetry. And yet, the point at which the program starts to output sublime poetry is the point at which we realize that the output is designed and not random. Moreover, it is at that point that we realize that the program itself is designed. But when and where was design introduced into the program? Although this is an interesting question, it is ultimately irrelevant to the more fundamental question whether there was design in the program and its output in the first place. We can tell whether there was design (this is ID's epistemological point) without introducing any doctrine of intervention (ID refuses to speculate about the ontology of design)
Intelligent design is not a theory about the frequency or locality at which a designing intelligence intervenes in the material world. It is not an interventionist theory at all. Indeed, intelligent design is perfectly compatible with all the design in the world being front-loaded in the sense that all design was introduced at the beginning (say at the Big Bang) and then came to expression subsequently over the course of natural history much as a computer program's output becomes evident only when the program is run. This actually is an old idea, and one that Charles Babbage, the inventor of the digital computer, explored in the 1830s in his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (thus predating Darwin's Origin of Species by twenty years).
This is similar to an idea that I was expressing. I used the example of a signature on a document. Does a signature indicate a signator, an intelligent agent. Yes. Does it "prove" that the signator signed the document at the moment it appeared on the document? No, it does not. The signator may have designed a signature-writing machine and programmed the machine to write the signature under certain conditions. Can we tell if the signature was directly signed, or signed by the machine? Maybe. Either way, a signature is evidence of an intelligent agent.

Dembski then goes on to raise another point I had made -- that what is really at stake is the materialistic-mechanical view of the universe assumed by darwinism.
Let's be clear, however, that such preprogrammed evolution would be very different from evolution as it is now conceived. Evolution, as currently presented in biology textbooks, is blind -- nonpurposive material mechanisms run the show. Within this naturalistic conception of evolution, the origin of any species gives no evidence of actual design because mindless material mechanisms do all the work. Within a preprogrammed conception of evolution, by contrast, the origin of some species and biological structures would give evidence of actual design and demonstrate the inadequacy of material mechanisms to do such design work. Thus naturalistic evolution and preprogrammed evolution would have different empirical content and be distinct scientific theories.
The terms naturalistic vs. preprogrammed evolution are perhaps imprecise. It depends on one's view of nature. But this was 2003. He may have evolved since then.

Having established his point, he then rounds things out to show the broader picture:
Of course, such preprogrammed evolution or front-loaded design is not the only option for the theory of intelligent design. Intelligent design is also compatible with discrete interventions at intermittent times and diverse places. Intelligent design is even compatible with what philosophers call an occasionalist view in which everything that occurs in the world is the intended outcome of a designing intelligence but only some of those outcomes show clear signs of being designed. In that case the distinction between natural causes and intelligent causes would concern the way we make sense of the world rather than how the world actually is (another case of epistemology and ontology diverging). 
He concludes by commenting on the epistemological limits to science.
 We may never be able to tell how often or at what places a designing intelligence intervened in the world or even whether there was any intervention in Miller's sense of violating natural laws. But that's okay. What's crucial for the theory of intelligent design is the ability to identify signs of intelligence in the world -- and in the biological world in particular -- and therewith conclude that a designing intelligence played an indispensable role in the formation of some object or the occurrence of some event. That is the start. Often in biology there will be clear times and locations where we can say that design first became evident. But whether that means a designing intelligence actually intervened at those points will require further investigation and may indeed not be answerable. As the computer analogy above indicates, the place and time at which design first becomes evident need have no connection with the place and time at which design was actually introduced.
 In the context of biological evolution, this means that design can be real and discernible in evolutionary change without requiring an explicit "design event," like a special creation, miracle, or supernatural intervention. At the same time, however, for evolutionary change to exhibit actual design would mean that material mechanisms were inadequate by themselves to produce that change. The question, then, that requires investigation is not simply what are the limits of evolutionary change, but what are the limits of evolutionary change when that change is limited to material mechanisms. This in turn requires examining the material factors within organisms and in their environments capable of effecting evolutionary change. The best evidence to date indicates that these factors are inadequate to drive full-scale macroevolution. Something else is required -- intelligence.
I found it very satisfying to find this article which mapped to my thoughts so closely. Will I be sharing it with the ID-friendly site in question? No. If I want to open myself to intemperate smack-downs characterized by a failure to even listen to and try to understand the point I am trying to make, there are lots of atheist sites I can visit.
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"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"