Girding evolution's loins

By Phil Plait | January 9, 2009 1:00 pm

So some creationist twinkie comes up to you at a party and says, "If evolution is true, how come there aren’t any transitional fossils?" What do you do?

Beating them with the punch bowl might make you feel better — why do you think they call it a punch bowl? — but may in fact harm the effort of rationally educating people who try so desperately hard to avoid reality.

Nature magazine — a premier science journal –has created (haha) a document called 15 Evolutionary Gems that will do as much damage as that punch bowl, but intellectually. It lists 15 slam-dunk reasons why evolution is real, including why there are transitional fossils, how feathers developed, and even why looking at the humble guppy defeats the arguments of the most arrogant creationist. Sadly, they don’t talk about the evolution of the eye, which really should be in there, but overall this is a good, solid document that should help us folks in the trenches.

And if that doesn’t work — after all, Nature is from evil scientists — then send them to this editorial at The Time Online, written by a religious Christian who understands evolution and defends it. I disagree with him on some of his points, but overall his message is that evolution need not disagree with religion.

Mind you, most people in the US are not Fundamentalists, but that’s from where they are getting the message about evolution and science, so having more religious people talking about the reality of science is a good thing.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Debunking, Religion, Science
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Comments (193)

  1. Mena

    The only problem that I see with this is that Creationists are really good at sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “lalalalala” when stuff like this is presented to them. They kind of have to be, being Creationists in the first place.

  2. Sadly, it seems the Fundamentalists have made a concerted effort to “infect” every aspect of public policy and education. They understand that an educated and intelligent population is dangerous to their ideas, and thus wish to keep people ignorant…

    I suppose if ignorance is bliss, these people are suffering from some sort of dopamine overload!

    Thanks for the list. I’ll see if I can manage to get that posted around.

  3. The opinion piece by Michael Reiss in The Times Online is nice and all, but he is also the former Director of Education of the Royal Society (England’s version of our National Academy of Science) who was forced to resign after stating that creationism should be taught in schools. He tends to speak out of both sides of his mouth, so I take what he says with a grain of salt.

    Click my name for an article on that incident.

  4. Jeff

    As a Christian I accept science as a process of understanding the physical world. I don’t use my faith to disprove evolution, though I have my own views of how the two reconcile, but it sure seems too many evolutionists use their view to disprove religion. Not all mind you, but not all Christians are antiscience.

    The problem is that the moderates on both sides only argue against the extremists on the other side, which requires escalating their views to extreme ends. Responses to these blogs are great examples of how to do it wrong: insult the other side while claiming your view is infallible, even when experts in your field talk about how we are always learning things work in a way we did not expect.

  5. Molly

    If I had enough time in my life to fight creationists on an intellectual level, I would hope I would do something more productive. Does anyone really CARE what the creationists think on a personal party-mingling kind of way?

    I would be up for the fight, I guess, but I would never be around creationists because oddly, creationism vs evolution is not the only thing we can’t agree on. Needless to say, creationists and I don’t frequent the same bars or parties.

    Thank God! (Hehehehe :))

  6. “If evolution is true, how come there aren’t any transitional fossils?”

    ALL fossils are “transitional” fossils!

  7. justcorbly

    Some finite number of creationists and fundamentalists routinely traffic in lies and distortion to advance their cause and, therefore, are quite willing to charge anyone who challenges them with equal mendacity. Hence, we very quickly see them jump to the assertion that science and scientists can’t be trusted because they would say anything to advance the cause of science.

    The true believers reject science because they distrust the human intellect.

  8. IVAN3MAN

    “Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon; it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.” — Scott D. Weitzenhoffer

  9. kuhnigget

    The “transitional fossils” line never fails to make the pressure in my spleen ratchet up a notch or two. It belies a fundamental (and usually deliberate) misunderstanding of the natural world, i.e. a belief that evolution has a goal to produce a given species, and that the process of natural selection must somehow empower that goal.

    I’m sure this stems from the whole “god created man in his image” thing.

  10. Loaf Of Bread

    Couldn’t have put it better myself Chuck Anziulewicz.

    Speciation is long slow process with little modifications over time adding up to a large change, and where one species transitions to another is something experts in the biological sciences can stay up all night arguing about.

  11. Erin

    I’m firmly in the court of evolution (having a biology teacher in high school who was founder of the Christion Club on campus, and who did everything in his power to disprove evolution to us sort of cemented me here), but I’ve often wondered why evolution is so distasteful to creationists. If God is great, can’t he have been the one to start evolution on it’s path? Don’t flame me, it’s just something to think about…

    I had a friend who was devout, but still believed in evolution. I love how he used to explain it. He said that in the Bible (and these are rough, I’ve not read it) it basically said that God created the universe in 6 days, and rested on the 7th. He said the Bible also said something to the effect that a day unto God is an eon unto man.

    Eh? Eh, eh eh?? You’d think that’d force an open mind or something… Just my 2 cents…

  12. Chuck Anziulewicz said:

    ALL fossils are “transitional” fossils!

    Yup.

    But as you know, to a creationist, unless it’s a fossil of a fishdogbird, it ain’t transitional.

  13. bjn

    I respond by recounting many transitional fossils, and relate the story of Tiktaalik which is not only a spectacular transition fossil, it was also found based on predictions of geology for the correct strata exposures to search for this very transition critter. Then I tell the fundie that for every transition fossil, two new “gaps” are created since the only airtight descent that his line of think would allow is to have fossils of every individual from his and my countless ancestors in our evolutionary history.

    I then invite said person to visit me in the lab where I do prep work on dinosaur fossils.

  14. Todd W.

    @GumbyTheCat

    I saw a manbearpig fossil once…

  15. Sili

    Frankly, I’m fed up with the eye. I don’t mind moving on to something new.

  16. Erin, the problem is that most creationists are literal interpreters of the Bible. They’ve had it drilled into their heads since childhood that the Bible is the perfect and inerrant word of God. So, for these people, there are no compromises.

    When I became a Christian I started down that same fundamentalist path. Luckily for me, I had already received a fine science education and realized early on that stories like the Flood, and the Six Days of Creation, could not possibly be believed at the literal level. I ran screaming from fundamentalism as fast as I could, although I still have my core faith.

    It’s why fundamentalists decry science and science education as “dangerous”. The rank and file fundie believes they are dangerous because they think science leads one away from God (I disagree). The movers and shakers of fundamentalism believes science is dangerous because they know educated people are not likely to swallow the Bible as literal fact. To them, having the flock remain ignorant and brainwashed is a survival tactic.

    Fundamentalist Christianity depends heavily on rejecting God’s gifts of intellect and reason in order to maintain the illusion of infallibility of a book God didn’t even write.

  17. Todd – yes, I remember watching the documentary of the find in South Park, Colorado 😉

  18. fos

    An excellent reference for the science classroom. Scientific American published a similar article several years ago. I’ll place this one in the same folder for use later this year.

    Let us hope that the Texas Borad of Education upholds scientific reality in March!

  19. Oded

    http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Crocoduck

    Crocoduck

    One of the most prominant icons of modern day Christianity, the Crocoduck is capable of dispeling all arguements in favour of Atheism and Darwinism simply by not existing. Its sworn enemy is the platypus, which, in harsh contrast, is capable of proving god does not exist by existing.

  20. tacitus

    @Jeff:
    I don’t use my faith to disprove evolution, though I have my own views of how the two reconcile, but it sure seems too many evolutionists use their view to disprove religion.

    I think what you’re seeing in the US is a reaction from evolutionists to the very real threat that creationists and their political allies have posed to the teaching of science in the American public education system.

    As I was growing up the UK, I was never aware of the battle between creationists and evolutionists, and there certainly wasn’t any need for evolutionists to disprove anything since creationism was merely one of the things those weird American fellows got up to.

    I also suspect that you overestimate the number of evolutionists who do speak out against religion. The public sees a good number of scientists who have spoken up in the ongoing debate, but how many more are there who simply just get on with their jobs and don’t express any sort of public opinion on religion, positive or negative? I’m willing to be their numbers are legion.

  21. Hongdadd

    It is hilarious when people get emotional and upset and then begin to insult the other on something that is widely debated (on-going). I personally think God wants us to be thinkers and seek out truth in all things. I believe that the intricacies of evolution point to an all-wise creator who created things with plasticity in mind. The most successful machines/tools “invented” or developed by living things (who are capable of doing so) are those that anticipate future changes/needs and exhibit durability. If God were omniscient as Christians believe, then He would surely have had employed the paradigm of this approach in creating something. My faith in God is nevertheless augmented by anthropological studies in fossil record AND advances made in quantum mechanics. Christians are supposed to be open minded (short of being deceived or driven to sin) to fellow neighbors who inhabit this neighborhood called earth.

  22. Radwaste

    Does someone have an example of “creation” for me?

    No – you don’t get to point at anything we made. No, you don’t get to point at the Earth itself, or anything on it. These things were converted, not “created”. No matter or energy appears out of nowhere.“Creation” is a term we made up. It’s subject to the same analysis as anything else we do.

    We have mistaken an accepted name for an idea for something we observe uncritically – that we take for granted!

    Yes, we can postulate that our surroundings had an origin, but we do not know what that was.

    —–

    As for religion: creation is a necessary part of a deific religion. Of course, there are different creation myths. That should be your clue as to its fictional content. See adherents.com for news about the basic tenets fo the world’s religions.

    —–

    For those of you who want to engage someone about transitional fossils, use Darwiniana!

  23. DrFlimmer

    Glad to know that I am not the only one thinking that there is no disagreement in being a scientist and also believing in god!

  24. Daffy

    Great article, but here’s why it won’t help: it is fairly extensive reading and requires a bit of effort (even in this simplified form). Whereas “All the truth you’ll ever need is right here!” (Points to Bible, Q’uran, or whatever), is so simple anyone can grasp it, and requires no effort at all (other than gullibility…which is effortless for some).

  25. JoeSmithCA

    @bjn
    Exactly! Oh and if you need help doing prep work, I’ll volunteer :)

  26. kuhnigget

    @ Todd & GumbyTheCat:

    I dated a manbearpig once.

  27. Juanjo

    @eric: Your friend posture is the same as the one of the Roman Catholic Church which acept evolution (it didn’t lasted 2000 years being radical.)

  28. @kuhnigget:

    Oh God… I know what a manbearpig is…. At least lf we are on the same page…. and that is scary

  29. kuhnigget

    @ Michael Lonergan:

    No comment.

  30. BTW kuhnigget, I have real live proof that the manbearpig lives, but if I posted the pictorial proof, I think Phil would ban me forever from the internets!

  31. Anton P. Nym

    @Mena:

    “The only problem that I see with this is that Creationists are really good at sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “lalalalala” when stuff like this is presented to them.”

    I don’t think there are rational arguments that can convince Creationists that “evil”ution is valid… but I also don’t think that convincing them is the point. The point is to be able to have a reasonable answer for bystanders at the cocktail party who don’t know much about biology or theology, so that they can hear the rational reasons behind the scientific support for the theory of evolution and not just the thunderous sermon.

    Thanks to the generally lousy science education available to the public, alas, too many people think that the main difference between the altar and the wet bench is which book you read from; it’s all received wisdom as far as they’re concerned. The trick is to show them that evolution is not just The Wisdom of Dead White Guys, but that it’s a real phenomenon that we can watch happen and can show actual proof that it exists. Show them the process and the evidence, and they’ve got a fighting chance to understand why this is so different, and so much more useful, than Biblical literalism.

    It’s not the tub-thumpers we have to convince; it’s those who don’t know the difference who will benefit most from those fifteen gems.

    — Steve

  32. Ben

    I’d like to point out that when a creationist points that out they are typically referring to human evolution from apes, not evolution in general. We can’t deny something we’ve witnessed with our own eyes and anyone arguing about evolution is probably knowledgeable enough to at least know that we have witnessed animals evolve.

  33. Look up ‘creationist nonsense’! Or watch the documentary The Enemies of Reason by Richard Dawkins!

  34. DorXtar

    In my experience, atheists that I have discourse with tend to cover their ears and go “lalalala”. Maybe I’m making too much sense and I’m poking too many holes into the half-minded atheist logic? :)

  35. quasidog

    What if you are not a creationist …. but you still ask those questions? Do you still get hit in the head with the punchbowl? What is wrong with asking questions? Does asking questions mean you are a creationist? I thought asking a question meant one was seeking answers.

    Also how many scientific experiments have proven these evolutionary claims? I will read it later but I wonder if a lot of these things are hypothesis or have been repeated in the lab.

    Don’t flame me for asking questions. I am not a creationist. Man… do I have to wear that on a t-shirt now when talking to knowledgeable people ? That another question .. please don’t flame me for that either. :)

    I also believe in God. *hides* *puts on fire retardant suit* OK now I am gonna get flamed for sure… and no I don’t have to prove that in a lab because it comes under faith and belief.

    I love science and I think creationism is stupid. But I believe in creation. Ha.

  36. TheManVersion

    I’m all in favor of reasonable and intelligent discussion, but let’s not be too hasty to dismiss the “beating them with the punch bowl” approach. Maybe they will be impressed by medical science at least when they have to get the ladle removed from their ear hole.

  37. MPG

    Quasidog, asking the question “why are there no transitional fossils?” is highly indicative of that person being a creationist because it’s a classic bit of creationist propaganda. It belongs to the same category as “nobody has ever seen an animal evolve” and “Darwin recanted on his deathbed” – outright lies that are nevertheless repeated ad infinitum. It’s only creationist websites and the like that repeat this false claim. If someone is genuinely seeking answers, wouldn’t they be more likely to ask “what evidence do we have for this?” or something similar? If they’re just deploying standard-issue “gotcha”s like that, they’ve probably made up their minds already, or at least been taken in by the propaganda.

    And yes, a lot of these claims have extensive evidence to back them up, and can be repeated. Fossils can be re-examined, radiometric dating repeated, DNA sequenced and compared again. Scientists can’t reconstruct and observe the descent of a species in a lab generation by generation (a common demand of creationists), but they can repeat the tests, experiments and observations that produce each little piece of evidence, and when combined those pieces of evidence point to the overall conclusions.

  38. @MPG: “Scientists can’t reconstruct and observe the descent of a species in a lab generation by generation”

    Well, sort-of. If you click the link in my name you’ll see an article from last June covering an experiment observing e. coli bacteria for 44,000 generations; during the observations, their e.coli “learned” to eat a new food source. What’s more, the scientist has frozen samples of the bacteria from every 500 generations or so, so the intermediaries are captured.

    I suspect this will mean that Creationists will move the goal posts again, but in the mean time one of their major tenents is irrefutably busted.

    — Steve

  39. quasidog

    Yeah MPG. But … where are all the transitional fossils? .. and when have we even seen an animal evolve into another animal ? They are good questions none the less. I know the reasoning behind why we can’t .. due to the massive amount of time involved .. and the rarity of fossils themselves … but .. if we don’t have them .. or have not seen an animal evolve into a new species … why are we so adamant that it happens ? Is it hypothesis that they do, and hypothesis that there are yet undiscovered transitional fossils? If they are undiscovered, why do we assume they are there?

    I know there are some fossils that are claimed to be transitional, but I have read arguments by competing evolutionists debating whether or not the claims transitional fossils are not just a separate species instead of a transitional species, mostly to do with humanoid/ape like skulls and such.

    It’s just, with so much yet undiscovered information, why are some evolutionists so dogmatic that it has to have happened that way? Again these are just questions. I could go and research all this, but my life vs time doesn’t allow me to. I understand that DNA evidence and such can be used to argue in favour of evolution, that is speciation, but with so much of the puzzle missing, is it valid to be 100% dogmatic that it happened the way it’s assumed to have happened?

    I see a massive difference just via common logic in species adaption, whereby a certain species can adjust its DNA over time, to take advantage of environmental conditions, as a form of natural selection, (I get that) but can’t see how the species can change over time into another. To me they seem like chalk and cheese, two different things. The first being easily observable over short periods of time, like the finches that Darwin pointed at, and the latter being not so easily observable over vast periods of time. This latter version seems to be the problem for me, just where is the rock solid evidence that can be explained to a layman like myself ? I don’t have the time to study all this. I under stand how natural selection works in the short term within a certain species, but I can’t see evidence for it over massive amounts of time, other than within hypothesis.

    I am going to get flamed for even mentioning this but these are real questions for real people that don’t get it.

    I am not a creationist. (yes I have to post that.)

  40. quasidog

    PS …

    I do not support ‘Creationism’, nor ‘Intelligent Design’. I think both movements are complete nonsense and are a threat to modern scientific thinking.

    However I believe the universe and all it contains was both created and intelligently designed.

    Yes there is a difference.

  41. Actually, the list from Nature is not a good cluebat. It lists “gems” of evolution, but many of them are from an evolutionary standpoint. That is, it lists cool evolutionary research, some of which is cool because it disproves what was previously thought. This of course will lead to the argument “See, evolution scientists don’t even agree!”

  42. @quasidog,

    What do you mean by “transitional fossil?”

    8)

  43. Alan French

    I tried talking about the evolution of the eye with two people trying to sell me religion and “intelligent design.” They simply dismissed it with “Well it works well enough, doesn’t it?” Of course, those are not the folks rational arguments are going to influence. The 15 Gems are more useful in countering their arguments with people not firmly in one camp or the other.

    Clear skies, Alan, a product of evolution.

  44. Peter B

    Quasidog said: “What if you are not a creationist …. but you still ask those questions? Do you still get hit in the head with the punchbowl? What is wrong with asking questions? Does asking questions mean you are a creationist? I thought asking a question meant one was seeking answers.”

    As a general rule you’re right. But there are cases where the sequence of questions a person asks gives away the fact that they’re creationists, even if they claim at the start that they’re “just asking questions”. In the same way it’s often possible to tell someone is a 9/11 Truther or a Moon Hoax Believer by the particular sequence of questions they ask, even if they claim at the start that they’re “just asking questions”.

    “Also how many scientific experiments have proven these evolutionary claims? I will read it later but I wonder if a lot of these things are hypothesis or have been repeated in the lab.”

    A lot about evolution can’t be directly recreated in the lab. Obviously, where organisms are extinct and their environments no longer exist, then no experiment can be done. But comparable experiments can be done in the lab, and evolution has been observed in nature. For example, the evolution of new species of fruit fly in Queensland, Australia, which emerged only in the last century or so; they’re all descended from a wild fruit fly, but the new species all lay eggs in different domesticated fruit trees, and are now so different from each other that they can’t interbreed. On top of this, evolutionary theory is strong enough that predictions have been made from it, predictions which have turned out correctly. An example of this is the discovery of Tiktaalik, a fishy ancestor of amphibians.

    “Don’t flame me for asking questions. I am not a creationist. Man… do I have to wear that on a t-shirt now when talking to knowledgeable people? That another question .. please don’t flame me for that either. ”

    There’s nothing wrong with asking questions. What matters is what you do with the answers. It’s been my frustrating experience in various science forums to take the time to answer people’s questions, only to have them either ignore or dismiss the answers. Please note I’m certainly not saying you belong in this category.

    “I also believe in God. *hides* *puts on fire retardant suit* OK now I am gonna get flamed for sure… and no I don’t have to prove that in a lab because it comes under faith and belief.”

    I have no problem with your faith and beliefs. The problems arise, however, with people who state that their faith trumps evidence. Again, please note I’m not putting you in this category. I only say this to point out why some supporters of science can get instinctively defensive when questions get asked in a particular way.

    “I love science and I think creationism is stupid. But I believe in creation. Ha.”

    Well, you discuss this further in a later post, so I’ll reply to that instead.

  45. Peter B

    Quasidog said: “It’s just, with so much yet undiscovered information, why are some evolutionists so dogmatic that it has to have happened that way? Again these are just questions. I could go and research all this, but my life vs time doesn’t allow me to. I understand that DNA evidence and such can be used to argue in favour of evolution, that is speciation, but with so much of the puzzle missing, is it valid to be 100% dogmatic that it happened the way it’s assumed to have happened?”

    You’ve partly answered your own question here by saying you don’t have the time to research the answer. That’s fine – there’s all sorts of things I won’t have time to research either.

    But my point is that scientists have collected a lot of data over the last 150 years which supports evolution. Evolutionary theory doesn’t rest on a single data point, but on a myriad of pieces of evidence which all point in the same direction. This is why biologists are so certain that evolutionary theory is a correct interpretation of the evidence. It’s therefore unfortunate that you call this certainty “dogmatism”. In the same way, physicists are quite certain about the Big Bang theory – there’s a lot of supporting evidence. Does that make them dogmatic?

    For one example, we can look at the DNA of various organisms in nature, and see a strong relationship: the more closely related two organisms are, the more similar their DNA is. After all, humans and chimpanzees are genetically very similar. Humans are less similar to other apes, less so again to monkeys, less so again to other mammals, less so again to other vertebrates, less so again to other animals, and less so again to other organisms. And all the way along this sequence, a comparison of DNA reveals fewer similarities. This follows logically from all organisms on Earth being related in an evolutionary sense, but is entirely unnecessary in the case of special creation.

    “I see a massive difference just via common logic in species adaption, whereby a certain species can adjust its DNA over time, to take advantage of environmental conditions, as a form of natural selection, (I get that) but can’t see how the species can change over time into another. To me they seem like chalk and cheese, two different things. The first being easily observable over short periods of time, like the finches that Darwin pointed at, and the latter being not so easily observable over vast periods of time. This latter version seems to be the problem for me, just where is the rock solid evidence that can be explained to a layman like myself? I don’t have the time to study all this. I under stand how natural selection works in the short term within a certain species, but I can’t see evidence for it over massive amounts of time, other than within hypothesis.”

    The answer here is that the longer the process of change continues, the greater the amount of change that will occur. Give Darwin’s finches a few tens of millions of years to evolve in different environments, and consider what might happen. Now think of what might happen over hundreds of millions of years. Perhaps one finch might evolve into a large flightless bird, while another might evolve into a meat-eater. Would they both be finches? This is the same sort of question as whether humans are just another ape.

    This is not to say that evolutionary theory is right, but it is by far the most straightforward explanation for the evidence of the fossil record. For example, we have fossils of dinosaurs; we have fossils of more recent dinosaurs with feathers; we have even more recent fossils of creatures like Archaeopteryx, which are part dinosaur and part bird; and we have even more recent fossils of birds. I think it’s a reasonable conclusion to draw that birds are descended from feathered dinosaurs.

    “I am going to get flamed for even mentioning this but these are real questions for real people that don’t get it.”

    There’s plenty of information which answers these sorts of questions, both on internet sites (such as the one the Bad Astronomer linked to) and in books. What’s unfortunate is that you said earlier that you don’t have time to do the research; it’s a little unfair to throw out these questions but then imply that you won’t be looking for the answers to them.

  46. Peter B

    Quasidog said: “I do not support ‘Creationism’, nor ‘Intelligent Design’. I think both movements are complete nonsense and are a threat to modern scientific thinking.”

    It’s good to hear that.

    “However I believe the universe and all it contains was both created and intelligently designed. Yes there is a difference.”

    Okay, now I’m puzzled. I’d appreciate an explanation of this.

    For example, are you talking about the various physical constants which underpin the universe only, or are you going down to the level of the characteristics of various lifeforms on Earth?

    As far as the origin of the universe, my understanding is that this is still very much an open question. Some physicists have proposed mechanisms which would have created the universe spontaneously, but their propositions are untestable and therefore not particularly helpful. So if you want to substitute a supernatural creator, otherwise known as God, I don’t think too many people are going to have a major problem.

    But if you want to start claiming intelligent design for aspects of life on Earth, the bar is set a lot higher, given the evidence which scientists have collected over the last 150 years. I’d be curious to know if you have any evidence to back this belief, or if it’s part of your faith.

  47. Radwaste

    What? I show that the common term, “creation” is mistaken, and show the link to Darwiniana, which answers the transitional fossil argument thoroughly, and these are skipped?

    If you use the word, “creation”, as it is common, even on this blog, you’re using a term without examining it. Why would you do that?

  48. MPG

    @Anton P. Nym, yes I was aware of Lenski’s e-coli experiments, but my point was that even when scientists *can* reproduce evolution in the lab (right down to pinpointing the exact mutation site that produced a new trait or whatever), creationists still play the “you can’t prove this is how it happened in the real world” card, if you’re talking about the lineage of a given species. It’s really just a variant on the old Ham/Hovind “you weren’t there” ploy – they seem to think that “reproducible” means you have to reproduce the entire evolutionary history of a species in the lab (and that even that wouldn’t be enough – after all, “you weren’t there”).

    @Quasidog, you mention “separate species” and “transitional species” as if they are different things. It’s easy to fall into the notion that evolution has “goal species” in mind, like stations on a train journey, and while a species is going from one to another they are somehow “in transition” and a different “type” of species. This notion, or a ridiculous caricature of it, is espoused by the likes of Kirk “Crocoduck” Cameron and Harun Yahya, who demand to see ridiculous chimeras that have the head of one species and the body of another or something. One must remember that every population of living organisms were always fully-formed, functioning species in their own right, and not just “biding their time” until they eventually became another “fixed” species – they are always gradually changing. What scientists mean by “transitional forms” is creatures that have characteristics part-way between two different groups of organism – Tiktaalik, for example, which shows (among other characteristics) front limbs part-way between the structure of the fins of lobe-finned fish and the limbs of early tetrapods.

    You ask is it valid to be dogmatic that “it happened that way”, well it depends on what you mean by “it” (and “dogmatic” is a loaded term – let’s just say that science states something has been shown to be “beyond reasonable doubt” rather than “unquestionably true” as the word “dogmatic” implies). If you mean “does evolution occur”, then I think it’s fair to say there is enough evidence to state it does happen beyond any reasonable doubt. If you mean “do new species arise through evolution”, again there is a large body of evidence to support it beyond reasonable doubt. If the “it” is, for example, “are modern humans a direct descendant of H. habilis or were they a side species”, then there is uncertainty and it would be foolish to say for certain one way or another (some argue their descendants became H. erectus, some argue they and H. erectus coexisted for some time). In short, it’s not wise to state beyond reasonable doubt that every finding of evolutionary biology is true, but clearly we don’t see that anyway.

  49. Julian

    “What do you mean by “transitional fossil?””

    I’m guessing crocoducks.

  50. Lawrence

    Perfect example of evolutionary changes that occur on a daily basis – antibotiotic resistant strains of bacteria.

    These lifeforms are in a constant state of change, adapting to their environments. You just can’t claim that one species evolving is different from another, because all species use generally the same means to live. The biggest difference is “time.”

    Viruses are the exemption, since they are fairly unique in their composition, but still are considered “life.” But they too, are in a constant state of evolution and change. Their life-cycle is so short, that we can see on-going changes that would be seen in larger species, if we were able to “see” multi-multi-multi-generations.

    Faith & Science are not mutually exclusive – I, too, believe that their might be something out there that could be considered “God” but the definition of what that might be is still waaaaaay out of our league (in understanding).

  51. Gary Ansorge

    Chaotic evolution looks like the tinkering of a shade tree mechanic, ie, “If I try enough things, eventually I’ll get this danged thing to work,,,”. How would that have anything to do with Intelligent design?

    As astronomers know, there is more than one way to collect light and focus it on to a receptor(refractor vs reflector). SO, see this link, about a fish that has a reflector, collector,,,eye,,,

    http://www.livescience.com/animals/090108-spookfish-eyes.html

    I have no problem with personal faith. I have a very big problem with organized religion. The moment someone writes a book(Dianetics, anyone?) that purports to contain divine wisdom I am absolutely certain they’re out to control (and collect money from) minds(and purses).

    If Jesus ever returned to Earth, do you think He, in his infinite compassion, would ever forgive the Catholic Church for the Inquisition? ,,,or the other church fathers who burned innocent women as witches? All because an old book said “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,,,” w/o ever defining the word WITCH. (from the historical record, a witch seems to have been any female with money/land/etc, who told the ruling male elites to stick it where the sun don’t shine).

    Organized religion, selling “eternal life” in exchange for unquestioning obedience, was, is and likely will forever be, about money and power.

    Mystics pursue the ineffable for a personal experience of,,,something,,,more powerful than the words of obviously flawed and greedy humans.

    ,,,sometimes, we actually stumble across it,,,
    ,,,too bad, it’s not replicable,,,
    ,,,and yes, I am quite familiar with the lab induced version of a “mystical” experience however, those experiences do not leave the recipient with their shoes blown off, minds in a swirl and generally disconnected from mundane reality( or, as Jerry Garcia put it,”I lost my shoes in transit babe, a pile of smoking leather. Nailed a retread to my feet and prayed for better weather.”)

    Religion gets its start when someone tries to speak of these experiences and then does something that seems impossible, like fire walking(which is no big deal. Even I have done that). Those mystics usually babble on about god being Love(another ineffable,,,something,,,that seems to come from nowhere) and for a primitive people, intent upon mere survival, that esoteric rambling may seem significant.

    Perhaps it is. Or perhaps it’s just another aspect of our continuing evolution, as in, society is much better served by loving compassion than hateful, suspicious control of others.

    ,,,on the other hand, my dogs SEEM to love me, but that may just be their bellies talking,,,

    GAry 7

  52. David Ratnasabapathy

    quasidog:

    if we don’t have them [transitional fossils] … why are we so adamant that it happens ?

    We do have examples of transitional fossils. Click here for a talkorigins.org page on this.

    But they’re icing on the cake. The patterns in the fossil record prove that species evolve. The Origin of Species, chapter 10, “On The Geological Succession of Organic Beings”

    When we examine the fossil record, we see:

    1. Species are continuously created. But these new species appear only slowly. This is what is expected under evolution by natural selection.

    2. Some species persist through the geological record; others go extinct, as expected under the theory of natural selection. [this argues against theories of successive, regular, extinction and creation]

    3. Throughout the fossil record, new species resemble immediately prior species. This is precisely what is required by the theory of evolution by natural selection.

    4. The more ancient a species, the more different, in general, it is. This is, again, what evolution by natural selection predicts. Change is cumulative; and natural selection doesn’t allow species to retrace their decent.

    5. The more ancient a species, the more “intermediate” it is. i.e., ancient species tend to fall between distinct groups of modern species. The more ancient the species, the more distinct modern groups it links. The totality of fossil species blends the distinct genuses we have today. — once again, totally consistent with evolution by natural selection. The fossil record here tells us that modern species are all descended from a common ancestor.

    6. Once a species disappears from the fossil record, it does not reappear — as expected by the theory of evolution by natural selection

    7. When we consider groups of species that closely resemble each other (genuses, families) their existence in the fossil record is continuous. This is necessary if species arise via evolution. If the group goes extinct, under the theory of natural selection, no new species belonging that group can ever again emerge.

    8. When a new group of species appears in the fossil record, in general, there are initially only a few species representing the group. Gradually the number of species increases. This is explicable under evolution by natural selection. If species were created by some other means, why don’t we see a group filled with numerous species appear all at once?

    9. Lastly, and most tellingly: the fauna of each continent tends to be distinct from other continents. But the most recent fossil beds of each continent comprise species which closely resemble those living there today.

    Read the book.

  53. Skeptic Tim

    Re: Greg in Austin Says:
    What do you mean by “transitional fossil?”
    I’m getting on in years so I’m probably a transitional fossil. I console myself with the thought that everything that ever lived, is living, or will live is transitional.

  54. Todd W.

    @quasidog

    You asked some good questions, and I don’t blame you for stating several times where you stand re: creationism/ID.

    One of the big ones that you asked about is the difference between supposed microevolution (changes within a single species) and macroevolution (changing from one species into another). Now, I’m not a biologist, but my understanding of this is as follows: there is no difference, other than time.

    The big problem with conceptualising this is how one defines a species. For a good number of creationists (and even non-creationists that just don’t quite understand evolution), it is very easy to point at a dog and a duck and say that they are different species. But when it comes down to it, even biologists have a very difficult time agreeing on whether two organisms are different species or just different varieties.

    So, yes, we’ll never see a dog suddenly give birth to a duck, or a duck lay an egg that produces a dog, as many creationists seem to demand. But there is an abundance of evidence that points to tiny, tiny changes building up over vast amounts of time to produce things that look so incredibly different. For example, the plates on lizards and some fish, scales on other lizards, fish and amphibians, feathers, and even mammalian hair are all composed of the exact same building materials (keratin). So, the hair on your head is really a specialized version of the more primitive scale or armored plate. And all of those are just variations of skin, where environmental demands have selected for a more specialized form of the cells.

    Given millions and millions of years of life, starting with whatever form the first living thing had (probably single-celled life), gradual changes in the cells and behaviors of cells and organisms build up over time, altering the forms of each successive generation, depending on both internal and external forces of change. I wouldn’t be surprised if, unknown to us, there were different species of humans (might explain some cases of sterility or infertility). In another several million years, humans most likely will not exist as they do today, but rather have some other look or form.

  55. quasidog

    @Greg in Austin .. I mean the fossils that are supposed to be there for any ‘in-between’ changes from one species to another. I thought that’s what they were called? I don’t know. That’s why I am asking questions. I never claimed to be an expert.

    @Peter. Yeah I get that about the fruit fly. As I said I see no problem with changes within a species. I mean otherwise all people would look the same but they clearly change over time. But they are still humans as far as I see. The thing you mention about the fruit fly, well, it might have different characteristics, but isn’t it still a fruit fly? My concern is when the fruit fly turns into something entirely different. That is what I need evidence for and would really like to see. There are a few other points you make in reply to some of my questions but I don’t fully understand a lot of it nor have the time to read about it. I guess what I am saying is I would love to have this stuff really dumbed down for me, like an idiots guide to evolution or something. hehe :)

    The bit you mention about the finches evolving over millions of years, ok, I can see how it might work, but this is why I am wondering if a lot of these changed are hypothesis, like a really good guess. I have no problem with a really good guess based on evidence. It is when certain evolutionist get really dogmatic that they say “No this is it. This is how it happened” and if anyone says maybe we don’t have enough information to be that dogmatic about it yet, those people get brushed aside as idiots, or worse labeled creationists. I guess when I hear that sort of ridicule I get my back up and wonder … “why are they being so defensive and angry? .. are they trying to hide the fact they are not really that sure yet? .. that it all could be a really good guess based on some really good evidence?” That happens all the time with murder investigations or such, and sometimes with even boat loads of evidence innocent people get convicted for crimes they didn’t commit. I guess it just raises my skeptical alarm when I see this sort of dogma. Again I don’t understand a lot of it, and I am not saying the evidence they have is flawed. I just feel there might be a possibility they need more, just to be really sure, and until then, make the claim evolution is the best thing science has to offer, but we might be wrong. ( I realise most respectable scientists make that claim already) Maybe aliens from another planet seeded the place? Who knows? Maybe there is some sort of evolutionary chain, but it works over planetary conditions instead, but is assisted by these intelligent aliens … possibly from another dimension … ooer. I get that raises even more questions, but yeah .. anyway. There are always more possibilities. The universe is a big place.

    And what I mean when I said, ….“I do not support ‘Creationism’, nor ‘Intelligent Design’. I think both movements are complete nonsense and are a threat to modern scientific thinking. However I believe the universe and all it contains was both created and intelligently designed. Yes there is a difference.” …. is that I don’t support creationism nor ID ( the anti-scientific assault and movements that suppose they can use science to prove either case and try to introduce this garbage into schools) … but that I do believe in creation as such and that the universe was intelligently designed…(that I of course in faith and belief the existence of God, so it would follow that he had a hand in creating everything we see and know, and the fact he is intelligent would he have designed it all ) In these two viewpoints I see a MASSIVE difference. They have the same name so they often get confused .. usually by people that are trigger happy with attacking anyone that doesn’t share their point of view .. or just have massive, self righteous egos.

    In other words, I don’t assume to know how God did it, nor do I support the anti-science methods used to prove such as they are clearly misguided and flawed, not do I take the Genesis account too literally, but I have faith that somehow he had a hand in it, somewhere. …. otherwise my belief in God based on faith would be valueless. It’s faith, not science. Big difference.

    This is completely separate to my love of science and the scientific method. I hope one day I can understand this whole evolution thing more clearly, but even if it proves to be a fact, which I know some dogmatically already say it is (so many scientists have been dogmatic over the years and been proven wrong by other scientists in time).. but I am not yet convinced in the large scale changes supposed to have happened (due to not having solid understanding of it) so I will open my mind to other ideas like alien seeding or such… or other yet undiscovered methods. I do see how evolution is the best explaination we have at the moment. I get that. I don’t disagree with that based on a scientific outlook. It makes sense. I am just not 100% sure it’s a fact.

    Hence I will still believe in creation, as an act, and intelligent design, due to my faith that God in intelligent. (again I must stipulate my disagreement with the current creationist and ID movement. ) Science rocks and I hope it can explain all my questions.

    I understand that this can be debated with so many different philosophical arguments also but that is another subject.

    Please try not to read my comments and label me into one of 2 supposed pigeon holes. There is room for questions by people who are not crackpots nor are they haters of science. If I hated science I would give up my love for astronomy and start supporting astrology.

    I am not a creationist.

  56. Greg in Austin

    @quasidog,

    “I mean the fossils that are supposed to be there for any ‘in-between’ changes from one species to another. I thought that’s what they were called? I don’t know. That’s why I am asking questions. I never claimed to be an expert.”

    If you don’t know what they are, then how do you know that they are not there? 😉

    I am certainly not an expert in geology or paleontology either. I took one geology course at a local community college a few years ago, just for fun. It really made me appreciate the amount of progress we’ve made in understanding the world around us.

    Maybe you could think about taking a biology course or ask some biologists about evolution. Or do some internet searching, or even check out a couple of books on the subject from the library. I think the reason you’re getting a lot of comments here is because many of the questions you ask are exactly the same ones the creationists/IDers use to try to support their beliefs.

    8)

  57. leo

    those who deny evolution are blinded by an arbitrary view of religion and a dilution of science.religion and science,especially evolution are perfectly compatible.

  58. quasidog

    @Greg. You’re confusing my point. I never said I don’t know what they are. I admitted I don’t know what the correct term may be. Clearly I am pointing the the fossils of transitional species. As far as I have read, evolution from one know species to into another is a process over a long period of time, with many varying changes to the DNA structure in between. So obviously I am pointing to fossils that are yet undiscovered that would be of some of the forms in-between certain species. I know there are some skulls that have been found that are humanoid and are argued by some evolutionists that these are transitional forms, and also some that are evidence of form in between birds and reptiles and such. Other evolutionist say they are definatley another species. Either way I think you know what I am refferring to. saying to me in reply… “If you don’t know what they are, then how do you know that they are not there? 😉 … is bad reasoning and a lame attempt to make me look stupid. I may have got the term wrong, and I don’t know if they are not there or are. Couldn’t we use that same argument with ghosts? I personally don’t believe in ghosts but someone could say .. ” ahh but just because we haven’t found one doesn’t mean they aren’t there.” I have never liked that argument either way. I know what ‘absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence’ means. Either way if its not there, or hasn’t been discovered yet, then you can’t use it as a fact. It’s a nothing issue.

    I don’t know they are not there. I don’t know if they are either. I never said either way. What I asked was a question, not an opinion.

    I can’t take a biology course because I don’t have the money nor the time. That’s why I am asking questions here, where I do have time to write things, becasue I come here to read some of Phil’s blogs, usually the astronomy based ones. Evolution has always been an interest to me and when I see a post about it here, I read it, and may respond with a few questions.

    I understand how doing a course will teach me how it all works. I am not an idiot. Please don’t patronise me.

    If I am getting a lot of comments from here because they are similar ones creationist and ID supporters ask, even when I clearly indicated I do not support either view, then that is just a coincidence. They are logical questions. Perhaps if some of these respondents were not so quick to snipe everything that looks like a creationist/ID question, other inquisitive people could just ask a question here, and someone could point to a web-page (tactfully) or something similar that would explain things easily. I know Phil has done this on occasion and I have read some of them. A lot of it is written in confusing scientific language so sometimes I just don’t get it.

    Look, there is a basic fact underlying much of this and the questions regarding these issues … too many people are too arrogant and have too big an ego to just tactfully explain things when a simple set of questions are asked. If a child asks a question and Mum or Dad just thinks “man this kid is an idiot” and then abuses or uses sarcasm to try to explain things, how is the child going to respond? Is that child being force fed opinions or is that child being taught how to think for itself? The questions I ask may be childlike to some of the big brains on the internet and in the universities, but it doesn’t give certain of these same people (not all of them act this way .. and I am not saying you) the right to be angry or sometimes abusive when the questions are asked. Abusing people just leads to them shutting off and not wanting to listen anyway. Abuse and ridicule are overrated. They do not work. They only make the abuser or ridiculer feel big about themselves … and other like minded egos all pat each other on the back for it. Nobody learns anything. It really is a shame that sometimes such smart people can be so stupid sometimes.

    Is there a really good and easily read web-site that explain these things to me in easy to understand term … that will not force feed it’s opinions down my throat? If someone can point me to one that would be awesome.

    If I get the time … I will read it.

  59. Julian

    Quasi,

    stop pretending there’s anything we can give you that will change your mind. Even if we ignored the obvious Creationist leaning of your arguments against evolution we’d still be left with you admitting you don’t understand the language used on evolution sites and that you are to busy to take a course in Biology. Let’s save everyone some time and just drop this, ok?

  60. Asimov Fan

    I agree with quasidog that there is no such thing as a “bad question” – and that all questions should be able to be asked – ideally with respect and a willingness to take the answers recived seriously.

    (Well if they’re serious answers – this does not apply when silly answers are given as sometimes happens just given to raise a laugh!)

    I also think its true that some of the more .. how shall I put this? .. . militant? athiests such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and Penn & Teller can be a bit over the top and off-putting in their ferocity against those they disagree with. I think launching into the sort of extreme attacks seen on both ends of this issue (which, btw, is more a cultural and political than a scientific one In My Humble Opinion.) is unhelpfuland counter-productive. Insulting the other side and ad homimams (“against the person”) attacks such as calling people ‘liars’ plays very well to those on “Your” side but not at all well with those that aren’t. It incites, even inspires those on the opposite side and turns off those that may otherwise be convinced.

    I recommend we try not to fall into this trap – I also feel (& I’m no creationist) that as part of teaching logic and the scientific method we perhaps should discuss the difference between science and pseudo-science and, yes, creationism briefly so we can help students tell what is and isn’t. I think creationists-IDers need to worry about getting what they ask for because if they do get their way then good teachers and smart people will quickly reveal how silly and weak their case actually is. I think we do need tocreditour schoolkids with soem intellgince of their own too!

    Therefore, provided it isn’t taught as actually being science or true or spun so as to seem like it has a stronger case than it has I’m actually in favour of discussing Creationism /ID & the like at schools as long asits brief, not assessed and doesn’t take over the curriculum. Thatsounmd slike areasonable compromise which the ID’s may claim as a victory butwhich would ultimatelysee them fade away.

    I’d also like to recommend the popular science books of Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov to you quasidog . These are readable, clear, informative, not-too-long and inspirational with a real sense of wonder and joy of science expressed through them.

    Try reading Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’ & ‘Demon Haunted World’ and, if you can find copies somewhere (libraries are good!), Isaac Asimov’s ‘Guide to Science’ and ‘In the Beginning : Science faces God in the Book of Genesis’ – which is a lot less partisan and more explanatory and interesting than it sounds – really!

    Asimov also wrote about the Bible, biology and history as well as lots more – I’d recommend practiaclly anything with Asimov’s name on it – as I suppose you can imagine from my tag here! But really don’t take my word for it – read his books yourself and see! :-)

  61. Asimov Fan

    Take II – CORRECTION for typos etc .. :

    ————-

    I recommend we try not to fall into this trap [too many OTT attacks or displaying too much dislike even hatred for the other side]- I also feel (& I’m no creationist) that as part of teaching logic and the scientific method we perhaps should discuss the difference between science and pseudo-science and, yes, creationism briefly so we can help students tell what it is and isn’t.

    I really think the Creationists-IDers need to worry about getting what they ask for because if they do get their way then good teachers and smart people will quickly reveal how silly and weak their case actually is. I think we do need to credit our schoolkids with some intelligence of their own too! 😉

    Therefore, provided it isn’t taught as actually being science or true or spun so as to seem like it has a stronger case than it really has I am actually in favour of discussing Creationism /ID & the like at schools – as long as its brief, not assessed and doesn’t take over the curriculum.

    Please don’t flame me for saying so but I think that idea sounds like a reasonable compromise which the ID’s may claim as a victory in the short term but which would ultimately see their movement fade away.

    Science does have the ultimate advantage of having an overpoweringly stronger case – and what we’ve been doing so far, (as pointed out on another thread here by someone whose name I’m afraid I forget), isn’t working. Time to try another approach perhaps? Let’s not keep kids from hearing ideas that are wrong – lets just educate them into being able to understand why they are wrong and howe to think well – and allow the sunshine of open discussion to sterilise what may otherwise fester away in the darkness!

  62. Bein'Silly

    The BA admitted :

    “Nature [journal] is from evil scientists!”

    Good of you to admit it Phil! 😉

    Go the evil scientists – at least they always seem to have a great sense of humour! 😉 😀

    Bwha-Hhahahahahahahaahahahahahahaahaaaaaaaa!!!!! 😀 😉

  63. Bein'Silly

    Sips brandy, strokes evil cat, tries to work out if he afford toclone amin-me or a giant misisle yet and decide which country totake over first! 😉

  64. Peter B

    Quasidog said: “Yeah I get that about the fruit fly. As I said I see no problem with changes within a species. I mean otherwise all people would look the same but they clearly change over time. But they are still humans as far as I see. The thing you mention about the fruit fly, well, it might have different characteristics, but isn’t it still a fruit fly? My concern is when the fruit fly turns into something entirely different. That is what I need evidence for and would really like to see.”

    Yes, they’re all still fruit flies. But now they’re distinct species of fruit flies, yet all descended from a common ancestor. And they’ve managed this in about a century. As I said in my earlier post, think about how much they might change over tens or hundreds of millions of years.

    And let’s look a little more closely at the statement “…isn’t it still a fruit fly?” Think about the tabbies which wander down your street, and the lions which roam the African savannah. Would you ask “…aren’t they all just cats?” Well, ‘yes’, in the sense that they and all the other big and small cats share a common ancestor. But ‘no’ in the sense that they’re all very distinct species – tabbies and lions might both be cats, but they’re not about to interbreed; never mind the size, their eggs and sperm are almost certainly not viable with each other. Thus it is with the fruit flies. Yes, they’re all fruit flies, but they’re all *different* fruit flies *now*.

    “There are a few other points you make in reply to some of my questions but I don’t fully understand a lot of it nor have the time to read about it. I guess what I am saying is I would love to have this stuff really dumbed down for me, like an idiots guide to evolution or something. hehe ”

    As others have recommended, I can recommend a visit to the Talk Origins web-site. It’s intended for people with the sorts of questions you have.

    “The bit you mention about the finches evolving over millions of years, ok, I can see how it might work, but this is why I am wondering if a lot of these changed are hypothesis, like a really good guess. I have no problem with a really good guess based on evidence.”

    Like all science, probably the best response here is that evolution is considered to be the best theory to fit the evidence. No other theory going around explains the evidence that well. On top of that, as I’ve said before, evolutionary theory has allowed scientists to make predictions, which have come true. Someone pointed out antibiotic resistance in bacteria, which was predicted back in the 1940s, but has become a serious problem in the last couple of decades. Another example was how scientists found Tiktaalik, the fishy ancestor of amphibians. Scientists suspected such a creature would exist. To find it they needed to know which age of rocks to look in, where on Earth to look, and a sense of what it might look like, based on ancestral and descendant creatures. And they found what they expected to find, where they expected to find it.

    “It is when certain evolutionist get really dogmatic that they say “No this is it. This is how it happened” and if anyone says maybe we don’t have enough information to be that dogmatic about it yet, those people get brushed aside as idiots, or worse labeled creationists. I guess when I hear that sort of ridicule I get my back up and wonder … “why are they being so defensive and angry? .. are they trying to hide the fact they are not really that sure yet? .. that it all could be a really good guess based on some really good evidence?”

    The only times I’ve seen scientists get defensive about evolution is when they’ve listened to evolution being blatantly misrepresented, or when they’ve got tired of responding *yet again* to the same old creationist canards. It can sometimes be hard to maintain professional politeness when people so blithely disparage your profession.

    Let me restate it – the evidence in favour of evolution has been accumulating for 150 years. That’s been supplemented by 100 years of knowledge based on genetics, 50 years of evidence based on DNA, and 10 years of evidence based on genome sequencing. There is a *lot* of it around.

    “That happens all the time with murder investigations or such, and sometimes with even boat loads of evidence innocent people get convicted for crimes they didn’t commit.”

    The point is that when science gets it wrong, the science gets corrected or updated.

    “I guess it just raises my skeptical alarm when I see this sort of dogma. Again I don’t understand a lot of it, and I am not saying the evidence they have is flawed. I just feel there might be a possibility they need more, just to be really sure, and until then, make the claim evolution is the best thing science has to offer, but we might be wrong. ( I realise most respectable scientists make that claim already)”

    So here we have a problem. Scientists say they have enough evidence to satisfy themselves that evolution is real. You’re not so sure. But you say yourself that you don’t have time to check the evidence. What can we do to convince you?

    “Maybe aliens from another planet seeded the place? Who knows? Maybe there is some sort of evolutionary chain, but it works over planetary conditions instead, but is assisted by these intelligent aliens … possibly from another dimension … ooer. I get that raises even more questions, but yeah .. anyway. There are always more possibilities. The universe is a big place.”

    Yes, the universe is a big place, and panspermia isn’t an entirely discredited theory. But it’s also *not necessary*. Evolutionary theory is sufficient to explain the complexity of life on Earth. In any case, if aliens were bumping along evolution on Earth, what was the story of their creation/evolution?

    And what I mean when I said, ….“I do not support ‘Creationism’, nor ‘Intelligent Design’. I think both movements are complete nonsense and are a threat to modern scientific thinking. However I believe the universe and all it contains was both created and intelligently designed. Yes there is a difference.” …. is that I don’t support creationism nor ID ( the anti-scientific assault and movements that suppose they can use science to prove either case and try to introduce this garbage into schools) … but that I do believe in creation as such and that the universe was intelligently designed…(that I of course in faith and belief the existence of God, so it would follow that he had a hand in creating everything we see and know, and the fact he is intelligent would he have designed it all ) In these two viewpoints I see a MASSIVE difference. They have the same name so they often get confused .. usually by people that are trigger happy with attacking anyone that doesn’t share their point of view .. or just have massive, self righteous egos.”

    Well, here the problem is that “creationist” and “intelligent design” have such particular and well known meanings in society that using those labels for your own theories is bound to cause confusion.

    “In other words, I don’t assume to know how God did it, nor do I support the anti-science methods used to prove such as they are clearly misguided and flawed, not do I take the Genesis account too literally, but I have faith that somehow he had a hand in it, somewhere. …. otherwise my belief in God based on faith would be valueless. It’s faith, not science. Big difference.”

    I appreciate that you see how misguided and flawed creationism and intelligent design are. Scientists of all stripes also get hot under the collar about it. That’s part of the reason why they can sometimes get a little strident or passionate.

    “This is completely separate to my love of science and the scientific method. I hope one day I can understand this whole evolution thing more clearly, but even if it proves to be a fact, which I know some dogmatically already say it is (so many scientists have been dogmatic over the years and been proven wrong by other scientists in time).. but I am not yet convinced in the large scale changes supposed to have happened (due to not having solid understanding of it) so I will open my mind to other ideas like alien seeding or such… or other yet undiscovered methods. I do see how evolution is the best explaination we have at the moment. I get that. I don’t disagree with that based on a scientific outlook. It makes sense. I am just not 100% sure it’s a fact.”

    Well, I suppose we can’t ask for more than that, except perhaps a willingness on your part to look further at the evidence for evolution (don’t forget the Talk Origins site!).

    “Hence I will still believe in creation, as an act, and intelligent design, due to my faith that God in intelligent. (again I must stipulate my disagreement with the current creationist and ID movement. ) Science rocks and I hope it can explain all my questions.
    I understand that this can be debated with so many different philosophical arguments also but that is another subject.”

    Fair enough.

    “Please try not to read my comments and label me into one of 2 supposed pigeon holes. There is room for questions by people who are not crackpots nor are they haters of science. If I hated science I would give up my love for astronomy and start supporting astrology.”

    I apologise if I’ve been giving you the impression that I’ve pigeonholed you. If you think I have, could you please point out what I’ve said to give you that impression.

    “I am not a creationist.”

    I apologise if I’ve been giving you the impression that I’ve called you a creationist. If you think I have, could you please point out what I’ve said to give you that impression.

  65. Bein'Silly

    @ Quasidog : “where are all the transitional fossils?”

    Archaeopteryx (spelling?) the original bird-dinosaur one?

  66. Wow! To my own immense surprise I actually spelt that right!

    Click on my name for the Wikipedia entry on it – exceprt below.


    “Because it displays a number of features common to both birds and dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx has often been considered a link between them—possibly the first bird in its change from a land dweller to a bird.[4]

    In the 1970s, John Ostrom, following T. H. Huxley’s lead in 1868, argued that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs and Archaeopteryx was a critical piece of evidence for this argument; it preserves a number of avian features, such as a wishbone, flight feathers, wings and a partially reversed first toe, and a number of dinosaur and theropod features. For instance, it has a long ascending process of the ankle bone, interdental plates, an obturator process of the ischium, and long chevrons in the tail. In particular, Ostrom found that Archaeopteryx was remarkably similar to the theropod family Dromaeosauridae.”

    Evil scientist mode on again – yes, I can probably just about afford a mini-me .. If I wait a month for that super-mega-ultra-hyper-missile of mass destruction I’m planning to use.

    Sips from a dart, Throws a glass of brandy at the world-map on the dartboard. Hmm .. the country I shall invade first is .. the middle of the Pacific ocean! D’oh! 😉

  67. kuhnigget

    Not to toss an added hound on the puppy pile, but…

    @ Quasidog:

    “…evolution from one known species to into another is a process over a long period of time

    Quasi, again, there is a fundamental concept that you need to grasp before you can answer the questions you’ve been asking.

    Get over this idea that there are these hard and fast walls around what we term ‘species’, or that evolution progresses in a series of well-defined steps that produce first one species, then another.

    You could travel backwards to any moment in time and examine the natural world and find it filled with a tremendous variety of different animals. Some of those would be your so-called “transitional” species…that is they would be if you were looking at them along an evolutionary track that included their ancestors and their future descendants. But the point is, they are perfectly viable, perfectly happy, perfectly reproducing “species” in their own right, right then and there.

    If you can grasp that, you’ll see that the whole idea of key transitional fossils is silly. Every fossil is a transition…from the animals that came before to the animals that came after. A T-Rex is a transitional fossil. An archaeopteryx is a transitional fossil. A giant ground sloth is a transitional fossil. A. afarensis is a transitional fossil.

    Someday, you could end up being a transitional fossil…assuming our technological evolution hasn’t negated the efficacy of biological evolution in humans. But that’s a complication you probably don’t want to get into.

    Does that make sense to you? Cause, seriously, you’ve got to start there.

  68. Peter B

    Further to what Kuhnigget said, consider the creatures theorised to have been the common ancestors of humans and chimpanzees. They lived somewhere in the forests in Africa perhaps 10 million years ago. Then, a little later, Africa’s climate changed. Some of this population remained in the forests, while the rest of the population ventured out into the newly created savannah. For some time, whenever members of the two populations encountered each other, they would have been able to interbreed. But eventually, some final pairing of chimp-ancestor and human-ancestor occurred. Some time after that, the two populations had drifted genetically so far apart that they couldn’t interbreed even if they’d wanted to.

    Richard Dawkins has an image in writing of this scenario. He imagines a human woman standing on a beach in Kenya, facing north. Holding her left hand is her mother, and holding *her* left hand is *her* mother, and so on inland. Facing the first woman on the beach is a chimpanzee female. Holding her right hand is her mother, and holding *her* right hand is *her* mother, and so on inland. These two lines of females continue inland, each changing slightly over the generations, until some distance inland we find that a single female is the mother of both lines.

  69. America is a Democracy.

    The majority of the American people believe in God and in the Biblical Creation.

    Evolutionists are a minority – and just because this small atheist-evolutionist self-appointed “elite” look down their noses at ordinary people (and these are good, decent, American people who work and play hard & generally live pretty well and wisely) doesn’t make the evolutionists right or give them the right to enforce their views on the majority.

    If the majority will of the people is to teach God’s Word as well as – or even instead of – that of the evolutionist theoreticians then that’s how it _should_ be in our Democracy!

    If the Majority of the American people have faith in God – to be precise in Jesus Christ and the Christian faith – doesn’t that tell you something in itself?

    Apart from merely and pertinently here that you’re outvoted?

    Instead of jumping up and down and trying to deny and insult what most people think and strongly believe in; why not think about why they believe and accept that they may have good reasons exceeding the vain logic (& logic can “prove” anything if twisted enough) and limited understanding of the God-hating, often America-hating, atheist liberal minority?

    If the atheists don’t like it then they can either just lump it or move somewhere else where their ideology is in power. Funnily enough few if any of those atheist countries are Democracies and most are totalitarian dictatorships.

    Russia, I believe was atheist – why not move there? No, wait it failed under fanatically atheist Communism and converted back to Christianity again. Lets see – China – yeah that’s still atheist – and so’s Cuba and North Korea. Rather live there atheists? If so, then move!

    Rather not? Then accept you’re an out-voted minority and that in a Democracy where most people are God fearing Christians then the God-Fearing Christians have the ultimate say & not you.

    Then maybe, just maybe, you might try asking them or reading the Bible and searching your own hearts as to why they’re so “common” and “popular” and you’re such a small unpopular, unhappy group.

    ———
    Click my name for linking to a website that comprehensively and utterly demolishes evolutionism and answers all your possible questions on this issue!

  70. “I disagree with him on some of his points, but overall his message is that evolution need not disagree with religion.”

    The facts of evolutionary biology need not disagree with a belief in God only if God didn’t have anything to do with the diversity of life. To accept the facts of evolution and still believe in God requires God to be virtually worthless.

    The truth is Darwin’s beautiful and simple Natural Selection idea completely killed the God invention. I see no reason to be quiet about this truth. If people are going to reject science because of their religious beliefs, that’s their problem. Let them live in their magical fantasy world. They’re probably too dumb to understand science anyway.

  71. According to the website from the wacko “Will of People = Faith!” people and dinosaurs lived at the same time. Anyone who believes that is just plain stupid. This is why creationists are a waste of time. It’s impossible to reason with mentally disturbed people, and nobody is more insane than the creationists.

  72. José

    @Will of People = Faith!
    Instead of jumping up and down and trying to deny and insult what most people think and strongly believe in; why not think about why they believe and accept that they may have good reasons exceeding the vain logic (& logic can “prove” anything if twisted enough) and limited understanding of the God-hating, often America-hating, atheist liberal minority?

    I think most of us have a pretty good grasp of why people believe these things. Many of us were even raised Christian and know the Bible backward and forwards. For myself and many others, it was actually reading the Bible with all it’s contradictions and morally indefensible behavior that caused us to doubt it’s divine origin in the first place.

  73. IVAN3MAN

    RE: Will of People = Faith!

    “Those who wish to seek out the cause of miracles, and to understand the things of nature as philosophers, and not to stare at them in astonishment like fools, are soon considered heretical and impious, and proclaimed as such by those whom the mob adores as the interpreters of nature and the gods. For these men know that once ignorance is put aside, that wonderment would be taken away which is the only means by which their authority is preserved.” — Spinoza

  74. IVAN3MAN

    RE: Will of People = Faith!

    “How can you have order in a state without religion? For, when one man is dying of hunger near another who is ill of surfeit, he cannot resign himself to this difference unless there is an authority which declares ‘God wills it thus’. Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

  75. IVAN3MAN

    “Man is the religious animal…He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat, if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven.” — Mark Twain

  76. Mark Hansen

    Aren’t we lucky, Will, that you don’t exhibit any of that evil atheist behaviour, such as looking down your nose at people that think differently than you?

  77. quasidog

    @ Julian. No.

    @ Asimov. Thank you.

    @kuhnigget. Yeah I know there might not be hard and fast walls as you put it around ‘species’, but we still call them species none the less. I am open to different explanations. I may just be using simple terms to convey my thought. But thanks for your opinion. I will think about it. I am aware that every fossil is transitional. I understand the process that is being conveyed here. I am just fuzzy on how we prove it all in a lab, but I will read some more in time.

    @ Julian. Ok now I will. I have stuff to read thanks to Asimov, if I can find the time I will.

    Thanks to all your comments. I will soon go back to studying something easy, like astronomy. hehe 😉 Life is short.

  78. quasidog

    BTW @Asimov.

    I actually own Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’. I read about 3/4 of it years ago. My grandfather bought it for me when I took up an interest in astronomy maybe 15 or 20 more years back, or around then anyway, I am not too sure. I might have to read it again.

    Currently I am trying to digest Paul Davies ‘Mind of God’. My sister bought it for me last year. He seems to have this special non-threatening writing style whereby he tactfully explains really deep philosophical questions in a manner that is both comprehensive and yet, easy to read for a layman.

    I think he was a Professor at the ‘University of Adelaide’ in Australia, or something similar, and now teaches in America at another Uni. Love his mannerisms and tactful discussions, yet at the same time he does not mince words. He conveys some great thoughts on how evolution works as we understand it, and also is honest enough to admit its possible flaws.

    Actually ….. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Davies … there you go. :)
    I Love Wikipedia.

    I am going to go get ‘Pale Blue Dot’ out of the cupboard right now. 😉

  79. Mayhem

    If the atheists don’t like it then they can either just lump it or move somewhere else where their ideology is in power. Funnily enough few if any of those atheist countries are Democracies and most are totalitarian dictatorships.

    [quote]Russia, I believe was atheist – why not move there? No, wait it failed under fanatically atheist Communism and converted back to Christianity again. Lets see – China – yeah that’s still atheist – and so’s Cuba and North Korea. Rather live there atheists? If so, then move![/quote]

    Strike one. Russia has NEVER been athesist. 3 out of 4 are Russian Orthodox. Yes…Christian. The other are predominantly Muslim. Sigh, clearly then you missed the visit of Pope John Paul II of Cuba. Over HALF of Cuba practices Roman Catholic. Duh. I’ll give you North Korea because it is split between Buddhism and Confuscism. Just in case you failed history, Communism does not equal religion.

    [quote]Rather not? Then accept you’re an out-voted minority and that in a Democracy where most people are God fearing Christians then the God-Fearing Christians have the ultimate say & not you.[/quote]

    Keeping in mind that the predominate majority of this lineage believed the world was flat and the earth was the center of the universe. Civilizations far older than Europeans/Americans have had a better grip on sciences for a much longer time….long before the Bible was even conceived. I personally think it is a bit arrogant to even believe in creationism when there are civilizations with recorded histories that contradict events.

    [quote]Then maybe, just maybe, you might try asking them or reading the Bible and searching your own hearts as to why they’re so “common” and “popular” and you’re such a small unpopular, unhappy group.[/quote]

    Not know what denomination of Christianity you believe in, but you should actually do some history reading. No, I mean really you should if you don’t even know how far the Vatican influence is in the world.

  80. MPG

    @Will of People = Faith!
    The majority of the American people believe in God and in the Biblical Creation…Evolutionists are a minority

    Wrong. In an ongoing Gallup survey, when the terms “evolution” and “creation” were used the majority self-identified as believing in creationism, but when those terms were omitted from the questions (replaced with more detailed statements) 85% of the people surveyed agreed that humans developed from earlier forms of animals over millions of years (split between those who believed the process to be guided by God and those who didn’t). Only 10% agreed with the young earth creationist position that humans were specially created by God within the last 10,000 years.

    http://www.locolobo.org/Majority.html

  81. Peter B

    Will of the People = Faith said: “America is a Democracy. The majority of the American people believe in God and in the Biblical Creation. Evolutionists are a minority – and just because this small atheist-evolutionist self-appointed “elite” look down their noses at ordinary people (and these are good, decent, American people who work and play hard & generally live pretty well and wisely) doesn’t make the evolutionists right or give them the right to enforce their views on the majority. If the majority will of the people is to teach God’s Word as well as – or even instead of – that of the evolutionist theoreticians then that’s how it _should_ be in our Democracy!”

    G’day WOTP=F, and welcome to the Bad Astronomy Blog.

    By that reasoning, no newly learned things could ever be taught to children, because no majority would ever find out about them in the first place. That’s a pathway to educational backwardness.

    “If the Majority of the American people have faith in God – to be precise in Jesus Christ and the Christian faith – doesn’t that tell you something in itself? Apart from merely and pertinently here that you’re outvoted? Instead of jumping up and down and trying to deny and insult what most people think and strongly believe in; why not think about why they believe and accept that they may have good reasons exceeding the vain logic (& logic can “prove” anything if twisted enough) and limited understanding of the God-hating, often America-hating, atheist liberal minority?”

    You do realise that many people who support and promote evolution in the USA are God-fearing Christians, don’t you?

    “If the atheists don’t like it then they can either just lump it or move somewhere else where their ideology is in power. Funnily enough few if any of those atheist countries are Democracies and most are totalitarian dictatorships. Russia, I believe was atheist – why not move there? No, wait it failed under fanatically atheist Communism and converted back to Christianity again. Lets see – China – yeah that’s still atheist – and so’s Cuba and North Korea. Rather live there atheists? If so, then move! Rather not? Then accept you’re an out-voted minority and that in a Democracy where most people are God fearing Christians then the God-Fearing Christians have the ultimate say & not you. Then maybe, just maybe, you might try asking them or reading the Bible and searching your own hearts as to why they’re so “common” and “popular” and you’re such a small unpopular, unhappy group.”

    I thought the separation of church and state was a fundamental part of American democracy. In other words, isn’t religious freedom guaranteed for all Americans, regardless of their religion (or lack thereof)?

    “Click my name for linking to a website that comprehensively and utterly demolishes evolutionism and answers all your possible questions on this issue!”

    This may surprise you, WOTP=F, but many of us are familiar with creationist arguments, and why they fail. Perhaps you might like to visit a site like Talk Origins or No Answers In Genesis. Both those sites discuss problems with creationist theory.

  82. Todd W.

    @Everyone

    Will of the People = Faith! is a troll. They posted the exact same comment in on of the “Doomed” threads. Ignore them.

  83. Last weekend I went to Sydney Aquarium and took this photo of a shark ray
    http://www.shaneonthego.blogspot.com/2009/01/sydney-aquarium-13.html

    It occurred to me at the time that this could possibly be a living transitional fossil. Is it a shark or is it a ray? I dunno, but it certainly looks strange… and cool. Sharks are very cool. They really don’t deserve the bad press they get.

  84. The problem with the NATURE piece “gems of evolution” is the language in which it is written. It is the esoteric language of science. This is not the language non-scientists (= most ordinary people) will easily get. The creationists however, cater to them with simple language instead of esoterics. Scientists should do so as well.

    @ Will of the People: in my country, 48% of the people are non-religious, and among the religious rest of them, many reject creationism and accept evolution. And we are a democracy (one of the oldest of the world actually), not a dicatorship. And there are many democratic countries like us in Eurpe. Please look further than your nose is long, i.e. look further than the US only.

  85. @Will of the People: Even if it’s a majority, doesn’t mean they are right. A majority believed the earth was the center of the universe for far longer than we’ve known it is not. Didn’t stop the earth from orbiting the sun. Saying things like you did are logical fallacies, not to mention expose your ignorance and downright intellectual corruption for all to see…

  86. IVAN3MAN

    @ Todd W.,

    I thought that Phil Plait’s anti-spam filter is supposed to sort out the trolls from the legitimate comments?

  87. Radwaste

    “A majority believed the earth was the center of the universe for far longer than we’ve known it is not.”

    Umm. Probably not. The Judeo-Christian world suppressed astronomy for a thousand years. Other cultures knew enough celestial navigation to have deduced otherwise. A pity the books of the central Americans were burned by the Catholic Spanish and Portuguese.

  88. Gris

    Regarding evolution of the eye– there was a really good article by Carl Zimmer entitled “Crystal Balls” in the April 2002 issue of _Natural History_ about “borrowed” genes and the evolution of the eye. Worth a read, if you haven’t before.

    (Actually, that entire issue is fascinating in terms of this topic– it focuses on the debate between evolution and intelligent design, and contains articles by some of ID’s leading proponents.)

  89. Darth Robo

    >>>”Todd W. Says:

    @Everyone

    Will of the People = Faith! is a troll. They posted the exact same comment in on of the “Doomed” threads. Ignore them.”

    He’s also a Young Earth Creationist. You won’t get much sense out of him, I’m afraid.

  90. IVAN3MAN

    Science fiction author and critic Bruce Sterling noted in his essay in CATSCAN 13:

    Online communication can wonderfully liberate the tender soul of some well-meaning personage who, for whatever reason, is physically uncharismatic. Unfortunately, online communication also fertilizes the eccentricities of hopeless cranks, who at last find themselves in firm possession of a wondrous soapbox that the Trilateral Commission and the Men In Black had previously denied them. [My emphasis.]

  91. Gary Ansorge

    creationontheweb.com is the source for the troll, will of the people.
    Can you block that, Phil?

    GAry 7

  92. Asimov Fan

    @ Quasidog : No worries! Glad to be helpful! :-)

    Incidentally :

    “I think he [Paul Davies] was a Professor at the ‘University of Adelaide’ in Australia, or something similar, and now teaches in America at another Uni. Love his mannerisms and tactful discussions, yet at the same time he does not mince words. He conveys some great thoughts on how evolution works as we understand it, and also is honest enough to admit its possible flaws.”

    I’ve actually attended some public lectures and a course by Paul Davies -great bloke! He used to teach physics (about ten plus I think) for the University of South Australia (UniSA) or perhaps Adelaide university . (I’m from Adelaide, South Australia btw.) Excellent speaker -I did the “Last Three Minutes” course with him as lecturer – on cosmology – whether the ultimate universal futrure would be a Big Crunch or Oscillating Universe or Ever-expanding Universe. Davies wrote a book on that too which is worth reading though a bit out of date now.

    Hope you’re enjoying ‘Pale Blue Dot’ and get to finish it this time – Sagan was brilliant – just behind Asimov in my all time faves list! Do read some Isaac Asimov too, if you can find any of his popular science books .. Or any of his popular history , mythology, astronomy, general esays, heck anything by him will be good! 😉

    Actually the very best & sanest thing I’ve read discussing religion is Asimov’s micro-essay “Life After Death” in his autobiography “I.Asimov :A memoir” (Pages 335-338 in my copy, Bantam Books, 1994.) Its well worth reading for everyone & I’ll just give you one excerpt from it here :

    [Asimov discusses a vivid dream where he has died and gone to heaven and rocked up at the Pearly gates – ed.]

    “I said (And on waking and remembering I was proud of my integrity.) “But there must be some mistake. I don’t belong here. I’m an atheist.”

    “No mistake,” said the recording angel.

    “But as an atheist how can I qualify?”

    The angel said sternly,”We decide who qualifies. Not you.”
    “I see,” I said. I looked about, pondered for a moment, then turned to the recording angel and asked, “Is there a typewriter here I can use?”

    …. If I were not an atheist I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God and whose every deeed is foul, foul, foul.

    I would also want a God who would not allow a Hell. Infinite torture can only be a punishment for infinite evil and I don’t believe that infinite evil can be said to exist even in the case of a Hitler. Besides if most human governments are civilized enough to try to eliminate torture and outlaw cruel and unusual punishments, can we expect anything less of an all-merciful God?”

    – Pages 337- 338, “Life after Death” in ‘I Asimov : A Memoir’, Bantam books, 1994) by Isaac Asimov.

    (Curved brackets & [non-!] italics original, square brackets added.)

    Maybe even our trollish friend from the Creationist website could get something from reflecting on that ..?

    Thinking of which :

    @ Will of the People=Faith : So according to you then if a majority decides that Pi =3 (like just plain ordinary three) as one US State (forget which) apparently once did – or was it nearly did? – that’d make Pi=3 correct, right?? Wrong! :-(

    Or if say, the majority of people decided to follow Satan and pactice Child Sacrifice that’d be right by you too? :-(

    Sheesh what a shocking argument!

    Yeah, yeah, I know don’t feed the troll … Unless its stryicnine (spelling?) maybe?! 😉

    As for WoPEF’s claim that that hoary old AiG now Creation-online (or whatever dodgy-name they call it next) site :

    “comprehensively and utterly demolishes evolutionism and answers all your possible questions on this issue!”

    Ha ha ha haaahaahaha! Nice joke. 😉

    Oh wait you were serious?! (Laughs even harder ..)

    Yes I know I said to avoid ‘ad homimans’ but .. some posters, sometimes .. Even I have my limits! :-(

    PS. For those that don’t already know this seems to be a recurring problem with one (?) troll that pops up every now and then to try and get traffic to a creationist website. He (?) never listens, rarely adds anything and seems completely ..well to be frank ..nuts. ;-( :roll:

  93. Asimov Fan

    On reflection and given what I said earlier here :

    “Science does have the ultimate advantage of having an overpoweringly stronger case – and what we’ve been doing so far, (as pointed out on another thread here by someone whose name I’m afraid I forget), isn’t working. Time to try another approach perhaps? Let’s not keep kids from hearing ideas that are wrong* – lets just educate them into being able to understand why they are wrong and howe to think well – and allow the sunshine of open discussion to sterilise what may otherwise fester away in the darkness!”

    -& the fact that everybody immediately defended well rationality against WotPEF’s Creationist nonsense, well I’m tempted to say don’t ban him. Annoying as such trolls are, I guess they play some sort of role intheecoilogyof freeexpresion and ideas – even if just as a goad and opportunity for those on the sane side of the fence to dispute them.

    I do believe in freedom of speech even for those who speeches are utterly wrong nonseniscial and disagreeable – like WotPEF.

    The best remedy IMHON for that sort of stupidity is exposure to the withering light of reason & counter-argument.

    I agree with Voltaires maxim : “I disagree with what you say but will fight to the death for your right to say it!”

    But to WotPEF & any other creationist trolls who read this – please don’t annoy us us too much – if you’re going to participate here please have the courtesy to “do as you’d be done unto” and please try actually listening to what other folks who you disagree with, say., You never know you just might, just maybe, perhaps learn something …

    .. & please don’t make me regret saying this! :-0

    We can hope .. :roll:

    Can you teach a troll to sing? 😉

    ——

    * Which I’ll add now is an impossibility, our kids will hear rubbish anyway from somewhere at some time – we may as well prepare them to recognise it when they hear it & be forearmed.

  94. Ian

    “having more religious people talking about the reality of science is a good thing” and visa versa …

    Besides does the author of this blog really need to refer to hitting Creationists over the head with something?

  95. Cheyenne

    Bad Astronomy Website – DOOMED!

    – insert CatCaption here- have giggle-

    “Bad Astronomy website is allowing commentators to discuss issues of Evolution and Intelligent Design in an open forum. Ideas are being exchanged freely and people who have spoken up with questions regarding ID have been answered and engaged with discussion”.

    Said one observer – “What in the flapping smack?! This website says all discussion of ID should be banned from classrooms and disallowed by law! Why is he tolerating this here?!”

    Another observer commentated – “We’re supposed to FIGHT them! Why are you talking to them?”

    DOOM REIGNS! Muhahahahahahahaa!

  96. kuhnigget

    @ Quasi:

    Loved that Asimov excerpt. What a mind we had in that one.

  97. David Martin

    Attacking the weakest version of an argument is someting that journalists and lawyers do a lot. They take a weak version of a view, and imply that it’s the only version – or the main version. That’s why we hear a lot about creationism, because it’s utter nonsense that’s so easy to defeat that cowards and fools love going for it. But this is really gravedancing – in philosophy creationism died more than 150 years ago, when Darwin’s theory appeared.

    The real argument going on amongst respected philosophers is about the bio-friendly universe, apparently with physical laws and conditions fine-tuned for life to evolve, against the universe that came about by chance, which requires belief in trillions of other universes, with widely varying laws of physics. Because these universes are unobservable, the latter is a faith. The former arises directly from what we observe, rather than what we imagine might be the case.

  98. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    The real argument going on amongst respected philosophers is about the bio-friendly universe, apparently with physical laws and conditions fine-tuned for life to evolve, against the universe that came about by chance, which requires belief in trillions of other universes, with widely varying laws of physics. Because these universes are unobservable, the latter is a faith.

    Maybe those philosophers should check in with respected physicists, since they actually research multiverses. They are AFAIU natural ground states of today’s cosmological theories, such as inflation, and of supposedly tomorrow’s extensions of quantum field theory, string theory. If those theories are correct, so are their consequences.

    Better than that, there are reasons to believe that these universes are observable, since two universes may leave an imprint in each other when they collide. You can find papers trying to pinpoint the observational consequences on physics arxiv, for example.

    Added to that there are other ways that can make multiverses testable. If they exist we will likely inhabit a universe that are well within the expected distribution for organic beings. (Or what you call fine-tuned for life, despite the fact that the vast volume of the universe is life-less.) And this has been tested successfully for many otherwise unexpected outcomes of parameters.

    But this later line of research is fraught with statistical difficulties. It seems to be a powerful concept though. Did you know that physicist Sean Carroll has shown that time is likely objectively real, not merely subjectively perceived as a consequence of correlations, just by studying entropy of so called Boltzmann Brains (observers consisting of fluctuations permitted by quantum mechanics) in such a scenario?

    The problem of the nature of time has been a contention, especially between quantum mechanics and general relativity. Maybe that later part can now be adjudicated on behalf of QM.

    [Boltzmann Brains is AFAIU a direct falsification of fine-tuning, btw. They should easily be the most common form of ‘life’ in a universe, inhabiting every volume of them in a universe in equilibrium. Yet that prediction obviously fails on several counts. And presumably we now know why.]

    Another result out of this is that the space quantum mechanics lives in, Hilbert space, should be infinite-dimensional. So not only is there an infinite number of infinite universes in a multiverse, they will all do different things indefinitely. No fine-tuning for life, no repetitions, no specific goals, and specifically no place for the teleology demanded by blind faith.

  99. David Martin

    Desperate attempts to make conjecture look respectable. What John Gribbin has called “desperate remedies”. The apparent fine tuning we find in the laws of physics, whatever our incomplete theories may seem to tell us, is agreed by both sides of the argument – those who are honest that is. Those who are dishonest either try to bring religion into the question, though it is irrelevant to it, or try to make many universes look like testable theory rather than hypothesis.

    There could be many universes, I’m not saying that this view is automatically wrong. I’m just saying that there has been a ridiculous scramble by atheists to hide the real situation.

  100. papageno

    “The bio-friendly universe, apparently with physical laws and conditions fine-tuned for life to evolve”?

    . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ (Douglas Adams)

    It’s nota life-friendly universe, but universe-friendly life: the evolved life is finely tuned to the universe.

  101. kuhnigget

    @ David Martin:

    “…there has been a ridiculous scramble by atheists to hide the real situation.”

    Hardly.

    The only “scrambling” going on is scientists going about their work, while creationists (who may hide behind other names but fool no one) trying desperately to subvert that work by conniving to get their “philosophy” taught in science classes.

    By the way, as for the “physical laws and conditions fine-tuned for life to evolve”, I suggest you look up “anthropic principle.” It is a very simple, yet powerful concept that quite elegantly exposes the hollowness of that argument.

    As for John Gribbin, while he is a prolific science writer, his word is hardly gospel (so to speak) when it comes to astronomy. This is the man who wrote, The Jupiter Effect, in which he describes the devastating earthquakes that were going to rip the Earth asunder when the planets lined up…oh, except the planets weren’t actually going to line up, as any astronomer could have told him.

  102. kuhnigget

    Attack of the killer italic tags.

  103. Darth Robo

    Ah yes, the “fine tuning” of the universe.

    And the only place in the universe that’s actually suitable for life (that we know of currently) is planet Earth.

    Now, if I could breathe in space, then I’d say the tuning had got pretty good.

    :)

  104. David Martin

    I don’t have to defend the apparent fine-tuning, it has been agreed on by the top thinkers on both sides of the argument since the early ’80s, after the ’79 paper by Rees and Carr. Your ideas about life being fine-tuned to the universe rather than the other way round are not even worth pulling apart – just read the history of philosophy over the last few decades, you’ll find they have no meaning in relation to the state of things. The Anthropic principle reinforces this, and leads to the need for many universes – or massive coincidence. (Oh and I disagree with John Gribbin over most things.)

    Got to go, there are people with fingers in ears here going “la la la”. But briefly, Torbjorn Larsson, I should have given you a clearer answer (I’m a published physicist as well as doing philosophy). Yes, there are those who genuinely enough put forward many universe theories which seem in principle capable of giving predictions for experiments. David Deutsch is one example. But all such experiments will have a range of different interpretations, just as the original many universes theory is only one of five or six interpretations for quantum theory. So even if your experiment gives the right result, no way can you be sure there are other universes ‘out there’.

    In other areas, some of you guys tend to sniff at interpretations, and say all that matters is the mathematics of a theory. But with this you need to prove an interpretation, and you won’t be able to, for the same reasons as interpretations are given low respect in other areas.

    A last point – have you noticed how deep the puzzles of quantum theory and relativity are? Both have made us have to question the very nature of reality itself (in relativity because the block time picture does so much damage to our picture of reality). Has it not occured to you that these may be designed puzzles? Man, they’ve stimulated our intelligence, as have other questions, for centuries.

    A world that came about by chance wouldn’t be that interesting – and I mean interesting to any intelligence. We know the universe is full of microbial life, it has to be. Right now there are microbes sailing from our solar system to the next. And intelligent life? Well, it looks like intelligence is a basic feature of the universe – the transition has been made to intelligence 3 or 4 times on this planet, what with dolphins etc.

    So I suggest you do the same. The trick is to ignore and forget religion, it’ll only put you off. Medicine turned out to be right in its basic principles, even though early medicine was a load of nonsense. But the idea that the body can be fixed using physical means wasn’t thrown out, just because people used ridiculous old ideas early on. In the same way, religion can be nonsense, but the underlying ideas can be loosely right. The universe can be set up by a very different kind of intelligence from the kind they talk about.

  105. Greg in Austin

    @David Martin,

    I know very little about physics, and much less about philosophy. You said,

    “A world that came about by chance wouldn’t be that interesting – and I mean interesting to any intelligence.”

    Please elaborate why you think this couldn’t happen by chance, and why it wouldn’t be interesting? The idea that “life as we know it” could happen at random all over the universe is exciting and thrilling. Ever heard of Gene Rodenberry? His ideas are pretty popular.

    8)

  106. David Martin

    We look at probablilites, but with large numbers they tell us a lot. Over the last 30 years, our view of the likelihood of life starting elsewhere in the universe has gone from – very roughly speaking – about 3% to about 95%. For most of the last century we thought life started here in an enormously unlikely accident, perhaps never repeated elsewhere, even in billions of galaxies. The offical NASA view now is pretty much that where there is water, and the right chemicals, life will begin.

    We’ve also found microbes to be tough and long-lived enough for space travel, and the idea that life first started on Earth is beginning to look as self-centred as putting the earth at the centre of the universe, as the early church bigots did. The panspermia hypothesis was considered wild speculation in the ’70s when it was put forward, now it’s becoming the standard view. Clouds with organic molecules in them are being found in space, and that’s where we think life began. (Yes D.R., in space.)

    About the concepts of “interesting” and “boring”. We tend to assume they’re subjective, a matter of taste etc. Surprisingly, they can be related to mathematical concepts that have a universal application. “Interesting to any intelligence” turns out to have real meaning, and the universe is full of things that are, in an unnecessary and contrived way.

    About worlds that arise by chance – if you could press a button and get a set of laws of physiscs each time, you could press it every second for billions of years before you got a world even slightly interesting. Worlds arising by chance are almost all utterly boring. If you pressed the button one day and got a bit of gas instead of just space, you’d get out the champagne.

    So although we tend to take for granted the amazing things in the universe, getting them to arise by chance isn’t as easy as you might think. And many universes would only explain some of the list of “coincidences”, even if we could show them to exist. Others would still remain on the list.

  107. Greg in Austin

    @David Martin,
    “Worlds arising by chance are almost all utterly boring.”

    You and I must have different definitions of chance or boring.

    8)

  108. “We know the universe is full of microbial life, it has to be. Right now there are microbes sailing from our solar system to the next. “

    Bwuh-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaaaaaaa!1 No, really, stop pretending to be a nutter. Really.

    What…? You weren’t? Oh.

    Bwuh-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaaaa!

    Seriously, um…how do you know this?

  109. “The Anthropic principle reinforces this, and leads to the need for many universes – or massive coincidence.”

    Now I know you don’t understand the anthropic principle, given that your conclusion is the exact opposite of what it explains. Whether or not there were many universes before ours is irrelevant. The fact that we exist in this one is proof enough that life can evolve in a universe. No coincidence necessary.

    I guess I have to bone up on my “philosophy” to understand the mechanics of the universe. While I’m at it, I’ll study Spanish in order to learn how to fix my car, and Medieval Art to repair the plumbing in my kitchen.

    As pointed out elsewhere, the next step for Mr. Martin is:

    a) restate his argument to someone else, ignoring the existing objections

    b) claim that everyone here is “close-minded” and doesn’t want to listen

    c) sneak away quietly without addressing the objections to his pet theories

    d) provide suitable evidence that backs up his opinions.

    Place yer bets, folks.

  110. David Martin

    At least two papers were published on this question in the last few years – haven’t got the references to hand. Extremophiles are microbes that live near the edge in one way or another – we’ve found recently that they can survive in various extremes such as heat, acidity etc. More to the point, they can be revived after 250 million years in the permafrost. So they can get around the galaxy just as insects colonised different parts of the Earth by stowing away on ships.

    Dust grains are pushed outwards by the solar wind, they reach the next solar system in a few thousand years. Some will have microbes on them (like the microbes that survived a trip to the moon after a technician sneezed into a camera). Before ’95 we didn’t even know if there were planets beyond the solar system for them to land on, but now we know there are many. Some will be revived by the conditions they find. If microbes can get around, then they’re probably everywhere. They’ve had time to cross the galaxy in the 12 billion years since it formed. They drift through the galaxy, seeding every hospitable planet. Our picture of the universe is changing rapidly.

    Kuhnigget, you’ve not understood the Anthropic principle. To be more specific, you’ve read the misleading spin that is sometimes put on it by people who are talking to the underinformed. I’ve got to go now, hope this was good food for thought. These are not “pet theories” – I’ve given you the widely held view in philosophy that they don’t even tell you about.

  111. David Martin

    PS. I talked to some creationists recently, and ironically they were just like you Kuhnigget. Reading propaganda, and too dumb to realise it, or to look outside the bubble of misinformation.

  112. Todd W.

    @Dave Martin

    So, I’m a bit confused about where exactly you stand. You seem to be saying that this universe could not have come about by chance, but also reject religious belief. If the universe that we live in did not come about by chance, but was instead fine-tuned, who fine-tuned it and what evidence is there to support such a view?

    Regarding life in general throughout the universe, the likelihood of life elsewhere is pretty good, I’ll agree, considering the sheer number of planets and star systems. As to how life started here on Earth, panspermia may be a popular idea, but as I understand it, it is still speculation that that is how life got here and has as much (or as little) evidence to support the idea as the idea of locally developed life.

    I am also still unclear on what you mean by “interesting” and “boring”. Your attempt to clarify didn’t actually provide any definitions. What about a universe that arose by chance is “boring”?

  113. @kuhnigget,

    You need to add to your list,

    e) I don’t have the reference of evidence with me, and I’m too busy to respond anymore.

    8)

  114. kuhnigget

    f) The theory that I haven’t a clue about actually proves my point.

    Mr. Martin, I correct myself. You may not be a nutter. You may just be dumb.

    How again do you “know” microbes are flying out of the solar system? Where is your evidence? Because, you know, without evidence, just because something might be possible doesn’t mean it does happen. You haven’t proven anything, you’ve just offered an opinion.

    I guess they don’t teach you the difference in philosophy class.

  115. IVAN3MAN

    David Martin:

    Dust grains are pushed outwards by the solar wind, they reach the next solar system in a few thousand years. Some will have microbes on them (like the microbes that survived a trip to the moon after a technician sneezed into a camera).

    I think that you have been watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) too many times.

    The film opens somewhere in deep space, where a race of gelatinous creatures abandon their dying world. Pushed through the universe by the solar winds, they make their way to Earth and land in San Francisco.

    The problem with that hypothesis is that the solar wind of all stars creates a Heliosphere, a vast bubble in the Interstellar Medium surrounding the solar system, which would prevent any dust grains from entering the solar system of any neighbouring stars.

  116. papageno

    David Martin:
    “I don’t have to defend the apparent fine-tuning, it has been agreed on by the top thinkers on both sides of the argument since the early ’80s, after the ‘79 paper by Rees and Carr. Your ideas about life being fine-tuned to the universe rather than the other way round are not even worth pulling apart – just read the history of philosophy over the last few decades, you’ll find they have no meaning in relation to the state of things.”

    You mean, except for the fact that that’s how natural selection is observed to work.
    You cited the extremophiles, which is more consistent with life fine-tuning itself to the environment than the other way round.

    So, can you explain to us why we should think that the universe is fine-tuned to l ife?

    David Martin:
    “A world that came about by chance wouldn’t be that interesting – and I mean interesting to any intelligence.”

    Can you show us how the laws of physics have as a consequence that the world has formed by chance?

    David Martin:
    “About worlds that arise by chance – if you could press a button and get a set of laws of physics each time, you could press it every second for billions of years before you got a world even slightly interesting.”

    I am curious to know how one can tell that with a different set of laws we would not get life.

  117. David Martin

    Sorry if I didn’t make myself clearer – it’s a complicated subject, and a brief paragraph will always leave something out. Just for the record, the Anthropic principle requires many universes. (Early versions also tried many different regions of this universe, but that didn’t really work.) It was a way out of the problem of the apparent “fine tuning” – a long list of “coincidences” in the laws of physics that made life possible – without any one of which what we call life wouldn’t be able to exist. The Anthropic principle pointed the way to the many universes ideas, but because it was a way out, people started to imply that it was a complete way out. That’s not true, it has a price – many universes, which has been accused of being “excess baggage”. The need to invoke trillions of unobservable universes just to explain the existence of this one is vulnerable to Occam’s razor. Meanwhile the meaning of “Anthropic principle” became even more blurred, and it had been partly an attempt to bury the facts in the language in the first place, as Paul Davies pointed out.

    Papageno asks “how one can tell that with a different set of laws we would not get life”. We can tell we’d get life very rarely indeed, by the probabilities. No-one knows where the laws of physics came from, but if you assume they arose at random, then you can simulate that by creating an (imaginary) random set of laws generator. That’s the button you press once every second for billions of years, but with most combinations of laws that would come out, nothing interesting. Space, maybe a bit of gas if you’re lucky. Nothing that would hold together, or create the stable conditions needed for the very complex chemistry needed for what we call life. So it seems that either these mysterious laws (that were so fruitful) are not random, or alternatively there are many random sets of laws appearing elsewhere. We would live in a rare and special universe with all the right details (and of course only thst kind is observable, so that part would be unsurprising, as the Anthropic principle tells us).

    The dust grains – you’re right, we don’t know for sure. But two papers I read showed it to be unlikely not to happen. In space, once something starts moving, it goes on moving. Microbes do ride dust grains, and gravity pulls them to things like planets eventually. That’s probably how we get here – it’s very widely thought to be the case now.

    Todd – I don’t reject religious belief, but I think there’s a very important dividing line between the thinking side and the spiritual side. The thinking side doesn’t have to be right for the spiritual side to work, which is lucky, because the thinking side is pretty much always wrong. Religion has always been used to keep people in line, they put in fear and put-downs, partly because they enjoy controlling people. Thousands of years of that, layer upon layer added. But underneath, they found something spiritual that was real. The thinking side was wrong, different versions, the conscious mind couldn’t get a handle on it, so it made up its own stuff, and put in the culture, mentailty or social rules of the time and place, and a lot of other nonsense. Plus the occasional bit of real wisdom.

    I think the universe was designed (even words like ‘design’ have been hijacked by these creationist morons, nowadays it can make some decent concepts sound less good). But by an intelligence that is very different from any of the existing views of it I’ve seen.

  118. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    You had said “The trick is to ignore and forget religion, it’ll only put you off.” And also that those “who are dishonest either try to bring religion into the question.” That is why I made my comment about rejecting religion.

    Yet, despite your previous comments, your statement about thinking the universe was designed is still a religious belief, or at least just as much a matter of faith as the many universes explanation. Again I will ask, who or what do you think designed the universe? What evidence do you have to suggest this? The simple fact that the physical laws have given rise to life is not evidence of design, by the way.

    In regards to panspermia, at present, it is still merely speculation that that is how things occurred. Regardless of the probabilities involved, at present it is still just a mental exercise without any evidence saying that that is what has happened. As papageno mentioned already, the extremophiles point to life fine-tuning itself to the universe, rather than the universe being fine-tuned for life.

    I’m also still waiting on your definitions of “interesting” and “boring”. What about a chance-derived universe is “boring”?

  119. papageno

    David Martin:
    “Papageno asks “how one can tell that with a different set of laws we would not get life”. We can tell we’d get life very rarely indeed, by the probabilities. [SNIP!]”

    The assumption is that the life we know is the only type of life possible. How can you tell that with other sets of laws, other types of life are not possible?

  120. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    To add to papageno’s comment, since we do not yet know just how life started in this universe, we cannot even begin to say with any certainty that the physical laws we observe are the only ones that can give rise to life.

  121. David Martin

    I suggested you ignore religion while looking at these questions for two reasons. One, it very often goes with strong feelings for or against, so it works against rational thought, and generally messes up our attempts to work on this fascinating conundrum we’ve had in front of us since the late ’70s.

    And two, it’s irrelevant to the question in another way as well. Science sometimes has to examine an object with the question of whether or not it was built by intelligence. Just to give a crass example, small reconaissance spyplanes might be disguised as birds by the military. Footage of one might be examined by Chinese scientists to see if it’s a machine or a bird. So as you see, the principle of examining something with the question of design in mind can be absolutely acceptable in science. The situation in the philosophy of science/cosmology since 1980, with the unexplained coincidences in the laws of physics, has made it necessary for us to examine the universe with the question of design in mind. No need to bring religion into it – it’s just science. This is a relief, to say the least.

    No, Panspermia isn’t just “a mental exercise without any evidence saying that that is what has happened”. But as you say, we don’t know yet. The evidence is statistical, but that can be very strong evidence. The oldest fossil microbes were found in Greenland about 3.9 billion years ago. (Sadly they were dead, and found more recently in fact.) The Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago, and became habitable a short time after that. So basically, as soon an environment that could support life appeared – life was there. The timing suggests it happened easily, not with difficulty. It fits well with the idea that microbes are all over the place, as many now believe.

    You can’t just say life is fine-tuned to the universe. It is, but that’s a completely different kind of fine-tuning, in a completely different context from the one we’re talking about, which is about the laws of physics. It’s about the “background parameters” of the universe, which came first, and which on the face of it seem to be set up.

    One thing the background parameters do is they make things interesting – in different ways, but there are simple patterns running through that, one in particular, and they’re very striking. Even many universes can’t explain all of the results of that – many universes can only explain enough to get observers capable of seeing the conundrum in the first place, which is a kind of minimum. As I said, some of the coincidences remain on the list, even with many universes.

    That’s because all many universe theories assume the universe arose in a probabilistic way. And things that arose in that way have signatures that can be searched for – you should get the minimum in various areas. Anything more than the minimum amount of unlikelihood, with such large numbers involved, doesn’t fit with the idea that it arose in a probabilistic way.
    The monkey with the typewriter, when he finally types something, should type something as simple as it could possibly be.

    Wish I could go into this further now, but I’d skate over the surface, and it wouldn’t get it across well enough. Hope this was good food for thought anyway, with all good wishes, DM

  122. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    You still didn’t answer my questions. Who or what do you think designed the universe? What evidence do you have to suggest this?

    You have also yet to define your use of “interesting” and “boring”. What about a chance-derived universe is “boring”? What makes a non-chance universe “interesting”?

    Also, there was papageno’s question: How can you tell that with other sets of laws, other types of life are not possible?

    So basically, as soon an environment that could support life appeared – life was there.

    Can you provide some evidence for this, as opposed to the possibility of an environment being able to support life further in advance of life actually starting?

    You have also mentioned several times that the multiple universes idea cannot account for some of the coincidences. What coincidences are left out by multiple universes? Please provide some specific examples, and explain how a multiple universe concept fails, yet a single-universe idea succeeds, without resorting to design, for which you have yet to provide any evidence.

    You speak with a great deal of confidence in your ideas, yet you have provided no evidence to support any of it. You speak very highly of probabilities, but that is not evidence. The best it can do is to suggest areas for further research and inquiry, new hypotheses to test, but calculating probabilities doesn’t prove anything.

  123. papageno

    David Martin:
    “You can’t just say life is fine-tuned to the universe. It is, but that’s a completely different kind of fine-tuning, in a completely different context from the one we’re talking about, which is about the laws of physics. It’s about the “background parameters” of the universe, which came first, and which on the face of it seem to be set up.”

    The size and structure of an atom is determined by the “background parameters” without the intervention of a designer, only as effect of the physical laws. Other examples of such “on the face”, but not real, design can be found in nature. So the values of the “background parameters” might be determined by other physical reasons that are not the result of a design or simply chance.

    Also, since you cannot exclude that another set of “background parameters” does not allow life in some form, you cannot just claim that life requires this particular (or similar) set of parameters.
    Considering that evolution by natural selection is an observed fact, the only reasonable statement is that life is fine-tuned to the universe.

    David Martin:
    “And two, it’s irrelevant to the question in another way as well. Science sometimes has to examine an object with the question of whether or not it was built by intelligence. Just to give a crass example, small reconaissance spyplanes might be disguised as birds by the military. Footage of one might be examined by Chinese scientists to see if it’s a machine or a bird. So as you see, the principle of examining something with the question of design in mind can be absolutely acceptable in science. The situation in the philosophy of science/cosmology since 1980, with the unexplained coincidences in the laws of physics, has made it necessary for us to examine the universe with the question of design in mind. No need to bring religion into it – it’s just science. This is a relief, to say the least.”

    This whole paragraph is exactly what proponents of intelligent design say.

  124. David Martin

    Very briefly – probabilites with large numbers certainly is evidence. Twenty five years of work by physicists on many universe theories was driven by exactly the same evidence from probabilities as what I’ve written about here. What people realised is that it really has to be design or many universes. (Attempts to create a “third way” all basically failed to convince.) Some couldn’t stand having only two basic headings to choose from, but others accepted it, and worked on something within that. The evidence, and it is very strong evidence, is for either design or many universes. Either way, we have to look outside our universe to explain its existence, which is interesting in itself.

    What we call life is carbon-based, and incredibly complex. A cell has been compared to a city in what it does. Other forms of life may be possible, but that’s as speculative as the work of Gene Rodenberry, and directly related to it. And they’d still need complex chemistry – life without complex chemistry has no meaning at all, it’s so far removed from anything else in science that you can’t go anywhere from that concept – so they’d still need a very specific recipe of physical laws to make them possible.

    I can’t go into the question of “interesting and boring” to any intelligence, it’s partly mathematical, and too involved to write about here.

    To give an example of the coincidences that can’t be explained by many universes – this universe contained the mind of Shakespeare, the mind of Beethoven. That’s beyond the minimum, to say the least. Very complex forces in unlikely balances led to those. It’s like the monkey doing some very complicated typing with that typewriter, when he’s meant to be doing the simple, random minimum.
    And that reminds me, gotta go. cheers, DM

    PS I’ve not gone into my own personal views too much, because the idea was more to bring you news from outside the bubble, about some quite widely held views among philosophers.

  125. David, I’m a little confused. Are you saying that because some very large and arbitrary numbers that we shouldn’t be here? Or are you saying we’re not actually here?

  126. kuhnigget

    Mr. Martin, you are spouting gobbledygook and making extremely broad statements with no evidence to back them up.

    (Attempts to create a “third way” all basically failed to convince.)

    Failed to convince whom? You? Your philosopher buddies? I’m willing to bet if you polled scientists working in cosmology and astrophysics, you’d find the majority do not consider panspermia the likely scenario for the way life evolved on earth.

    Either way, we have to look outside our universe to explain its existence, which is interesting in itself.

    No, we don’t. And we can’t. All we need do is examine the conditions that exist in our universe. And when we do we find that life can exist here. We know this for a fact because we are here.

    What we call life is carbon-based, and incredibly complex. A cell has been compared to a city in what it does.

    Cells are totally irrelevant to the argument. Cells did not arise spontaneously and no biologist will suggest otherwise. Simple molecules with the ability to make copies of themselves (“fossils” of which can be found in our DNA) were the progenitors of life as we know it. Experiments have shown it is relatively easy to produce fairly complex carbon molecules in the conditions that existed when the earth was young. Nobody’s produced any molecules that can reproduce yet, but then nobody’s been experimenting for half a billion years….yet.

    No, Panspermia isn’t just “a mental exercise without any evidence saying that that is what has happened”. But as you say, we don’t know yet. The evidence is statistical, but that can be very strong evidence.

    Your statistics are groundless. No, I take that back. They are based on your original assumption, which is that microbes are floating around the galaxy…an assumption for which you have no evidence.

    Let me ask you this… If the panspermia theory did prove to be valid, where did the original microbes come from? You still have to evolve life somewhere. The panspermia theory is no better than creationism in that you’re just pushing the question back, adding another layer of complexity. Who created the microbes, or who created god? Same dilemma.

  127. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    So, the possiblity of a single universe created by chance is unconvincing? What about multiple universes that were designed? Or only part of one or multiple universes designed and the rest by chance?

    I can’t go into the question of “interesting and boring” to any intelligence, it’s partly mathematical, and too involved to write about here.

    Can you provide a link that discusses how “interesting” and “boring” are defined in terms of mathematics, since you will not provide even a summary explanation?

    To give an example of the coincidences that can’t be explained by many universes – this universe contained the mind of Shakespeare, the mind of Beethoven. That’s beyond the minimum, to say the least. Very complex forces in unlikely balances led to those. It’s like the monkey doing some very complicated typing with that typewriter, when he’s meant to be doing the simple, random minimum.

    In what way can multiple universes not account for these coincidences? Why should a monkey with a typewriter be “meant” to be doing something simple? From what I understand of a multiple universes explanation, the particular set of physical laws and all of the events that happened from the start onward lead to a “Shakespeare” or “Beethoven” in one universe, multiple Shakespeares and Beethovens in another, none in another, etc.

    Also, in what way does a designed universe account for Shakespeare and Beethoven? Could a single, chance universe not also account for them? If not, then why?

    But still, you have not given evidence that the universe must be a single universe that was designed. Please support your claim.

  128. kuhnigget

    Sorry, one more thing.

    You and your philosopher pals have a serious misconception of the anthropic principle.

    Your comparisons to the infinite monkeys producing shakespeare meme is incorrect and a dodge. The anthropic principle does not “require multiple universes.” At it’s core, the principle makes it clear that any universes that may or may not have existed before (or after) our own simply do not matter. All we know is that our universe can support life, because life is here.

    Your assumption that this is a statistical improbability requiring an infinite number of universes is just not valid. In order to make that statement you must assume that somehow the process that set the laws of our universe down the way we know them to be – a way that allows life to form – is somehow difficult or statistically unlikely. But you have no way of knowing that. For all we know, these laws are the most likely to occur, whatever universe is starting up. An infinite number of universes could spring to life and all of them could have these same physical laws. You simply don’t know anything different. Therefore, again, the only thing the anthropic principle tells us is that life can arise in our universe, because it is here.

    Thus, your argument from statistics is one that is based upon your own, unprovable assumption about the likelihood of physical laws being different at the moment our universe came into being. And you have no evidence to back up that assumption.

  129. kuhnigget

    PS I’ve not gone into my own personal views too much, because the idea was more to bring you news from outside the bubble, about some quite widely held views among philosophers.

    Widely held among philosophers who, apparently, do not require evidence to back up their theories, as opposed to scientists, who do.

    This is classic crank behavior. “I do not need evidence because I am privy to esoteric knowledge that you fail to grasp.”

  130. David Martin

    I’m disappointed to find that you haven’t understood what I’ve said. Much of it is agreed on by respected physicists and scientists on both sides of the argument. You keep saying “where’s the evidence” – read back a bit. I’ve told you the strong evidence about the background parameters of the universe, which during the 1980s was so powerful that it set one lot of us looking at the bio-friendly universe (designed for life to evolve in), and the other lot looking at many universes. And what I’ve got back from you is a kind of mush – with much goodwill, to me not worth answering. For example this statement is totally wrong:

    “The anthropic principle does not ‘require multiple universes.’ At it’s core, the principle makes it clear that any universes that may or may not have existed before (or after) our own simply do not matter. All we know is that our universe can support life, because life is here.”

    This is just plain and simply wrong. You’ve read some spin about it, rather like creationists read spin all the time. Anyone can check this – ‘phone a university. Sometimes they twist it round, but if you look into it properly, you’ll find that the Anthropic principle, as used by Hawking and others, certainly requires many universes, or some equivalent.

    Some of the other things you’ve written I literally don’t understand! You’re saying anything that comes into your heads, or so it seems. Anyway, I hope the discussion had some benefit nevertheless, perhaps to others reading this.

  131. kuhnigget
  132. You only ever need one of anything for something to come about. There’s only one universe that we know about and we’re here.

    I don’t know that the universe was designed for life to evolve in either. A particular form of life arose within the constraints and laws of this particular universe. Stuff happens so to speak.

  133. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    When responding to people, please indicate to whom you are addressing your comments. You seem to be lumping all of us into a single, collective “you”.

    Your last post, I’m guessing, was addressing what kuhnigget was saying, so I’ll continue to await your answer to my post.

  134. kuhnigget

    And I’m sorry, Todd, I should have addressed my last post, too.

    Mr. Martin, you are acting like a crank.

    This is just plain and simply wrong. You’ve read some spin about it, rather like creationists read spin all the time. Anyone can check this…

    You are the one spinning things, Mr. Martin. I have on my desk here a reprint of the original paper published by George Gale in Scientific American, which summarized the work of Carter, Dicke and Penrose, whose ideas gave the principle both its “strong” and “weak” forms. I am not reading anyone’s spin, unlike, apparently, you.

    Now if you want to prove that you are not a crank, please address everyone’s questions regarding your theories. I’ll summarize mine:

    1) what evidence for your conclusions do you have, other than a statistical argument based upon your own conclusion (for which you have shown no other evidence)?

    2) can you substantiate your claim that the majority of scientists support the panspermia hypothesis, or is just your philosopher friends?

    3) do you have evidence of microbes floating through space?

    4) who created the microbes?

    I’ll wait.

  135. Greg in Austin

    @David Martin,

    Perhaps you could provide some references to this information that “respected physicists and scientists” have. With all due respect, despite how confident and knowledgeable you may sound, good skeptics are not going to believe you just because you say its true.

    Please link to your, “strong evidence from the 1980’s.” Please link to your mathematical definitions of “interesting and boring.” Most of the people who read this blog are very intelligent, and to presume that we cannot understand what you are trying to say is insulting. Back it up with your sources.

    8)

  136. David Martin

    Well if you put it like that.. you’re all different (life of Brian). I must say, there was one point I wished I’d answered Todd. It was

    “Why should a monkey with a typewriter be “meant” to be doing something simple?”

    Although it can be found in an earlier post, I’m sorry it wasn’t clearer. The monkey and typewriter represents, as it does generally, events that arise in a probabilistic way. If you have enough universes, or a monkey typing away for long enough, you’ll get something interesting eventually.

    But as I said, we can look for signatures of whether an object like the universe arose in a probabilistic way – if so, it’ll be full of things that are done to a minimum. In the same way, if the monkey types a well-known poem, it’ll be a simple one, with minimum use of the shift key, minimum length, perhaps even no capital letters, as in some poems of the 1960s. The first few thousand poems he types, over the first few billion years, will all be very simple. Occasionally you’ll get a more complicated one, but statistically we can expect simplicity.

    Likewise in a universe that is one of many universes with varying laws. When we get a special one that can contain life, we can expect it to be full of minimums. (minima?) Anyway, I was just saying that this one we live in isn’t very minimal – it’s full of unlikely extra touches, like Beethoven and Shakespeare. So it looks like the monkey may have been trained – it looks like a set up, rather than true random stuff.

    Hope this makes sense guys. Cheers, DM

  137. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    Thanks for the brief explanation of the minimum bit. Next question: minimum as compared to what? You have no models against which to compare to determine what actually is a minimum. For all you know, the current universe, even with all of its apparent superfluous coincidences like Shakespeare, is the minimum. Are you saying then, that a special, life-containing universe should only contain the simplest forms of life, as these would be the minimums? And really, when viewing things from an evolutionary perspective, what would be unlikely is a lack of “extra touches” like Beethoven and Shakespeare, depending on the environment in which that life developed. And your statement about how “it looks like a set up” sounds amazingly like the arguments put forth by ID proponents. Because they can’t comprehend that something that looks designed could possibly come about through incremental, step-wise processes and/or chance events, they conclude “It must be designed!”

    Second, I would agree that the universe is far from “true random stuff”, but I would stop short of saying that it is designed in toto. For every event, there is a range of possibilities that suddenly get closed off, as well as other possibilities that open up. There may be chance occurrences within this stepwise process from one spot to a possible future (e.g., a choice that avoids some otherwise unrelated event, rather than connecting with it), so I still find your “designed” universe idea rather unconvincing, based solely on what you have provided us here. Design is unneeded.

    You still have yet to provide convincing evidence for the universe being designed, let alone anything that identifies who or what designed it. Also, still waiting on reasoning as to why a multiple universe approach is unconvincing, as well as why you feel that there are only two possibilities (multiple universes or design). What about some of the alternatives I suggested? Why do these fall flat?

    Links to back up your assertions would help, particularly where you feel either unable or unwilling to explain or answer a question.

  138. David Martin

    Thanks Todd, just this last answer. You seem genuinely interested in what I’m saying. (post an email address if you want more, I’m not going on here.) I’m sorry not to back up what I’m saying more fully, but I’m shocked that some things I’ve said that are well-known are being challenged. We’ve been looking at the idea that the background parameters were designed. That’s the way to look at it – don’t think of the universe as designed. The background parameters appeared with the big bang, and once put there, they spawn everything else. And they’re incredibly fruitful, even spawning things like Beethoven, yoghurt, dolphins, and interesting stories that arise constantly.

    There’s no need for panspermia, that was incidental – the key things I’ve said apply anyway. I don’t know how many support it either – all I was saying is that it has gone from a wild fringe theory to central mainstream thinking in 30 years. That was to illustrate how rapidly our view of things is changing.

    [The summary of that summary is seriously wrong. Somewhere someone made a boob, if it was an article in Scientific American, that could be it. (Journalists and others never expect to be challenged, they’ve only had Christians to deal with so far, so they get lax after a while.)]

    The background parameters include the laws of physics. As you keep saying what’s the evidence, perhaps I should describe them. It’s a set of ratios between the sizes of particles, and some laws about how matter and space behave. In this universe, the laws make matter hang together in stable ways. Gravity makes stable orbits, so life has time to develop. A slight tweak anywhere, and matter might fly apart. Multiply one of the numbers by one plus a tiny fraction, and sometimes you get a universe empty of life. That’s the fine-tuning, which as I keep telling you, is a problem that’s already on the map. You should know about it, if you know about these things. Anyway, cheerio. DM

  139. kuhnigget

    Mr. Martin, still waiting.

    Meanwhile, you evidently have access to esoteric knowledge the rest of us lack. To wit:

    When we get a special one that can contain life, we can expect it to be full of minimums. (minima?)

    How do you know it is special? What do you have to compare it to? For all you know, if there were other universes they might have been positively teeming with life. Ours might be the only one that has so little life.

    In short, you are trying to construct arguments based upon your own unsubstantiated conclusions. You’d think a philosopher would recognize circular reasoning when he sees it.

    But I’ll keep waiting for that evidence….

  140. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    A slight tweak anywhere, and matter might fly apart.

    And how do you know this with any certainty? Because we can’t observe other universes (yet) where there may be different physical laws and “background parameters”, you cannot say that a slight tweak here or there would preclude life developing or cause matter to fly apart. All you have said here, thus far, is speculation, which has been the point of my questions all along. Speculation is fine, and philosophy serves as a great way to generate new ideas that may point to areas for further investigation, but in the end, it doesn’t prove anything by itself.

    The “well-known” things might be well-known by those who are actively studying philosophy, but outside that circle, not many would likely grok. And you shouldn’t be so surprised that what you say is being challenged. If you claim something, yet provide no citations, links, or other support for your claims, you will get called out on it. If someone came in here stating with the same amount of certainty that the universe was completely a chance thing and that there were, indeed, multiple universes, they would be getting the same treatment.

    To sum up, you called into question the “weak” attacks made by Phil in his comments regarding creationism, which, despite your statements, is still alive and kicking. You then went on to mention that a “chance” universe requires belief in multiple universes, and that an apparently designed universe, by contrast, is arrived at through observation. Yes, the universe has the appearance in some aspects of design, but, at present, there is no way to determine that that is, in fact, the case. More likely, the apparent design is, like pareidolia, an artifact of the human predisposition to see patterns.

    Your arguments in this thread have lacked any substantive evidence to support them, instead being based on speculation and opinions. Perhaps because of this, your arguments have done little to elevate “designed single universe” over “chance multiple universes” or any other idea. And, from what I’ve seen lately on shows like The Universe, the multiple universes idea, with all of its little variations, seems to be rather popular, as well.

    I’ll not bring the conversation to e-mail, however, as that would deprive anyone following along of what would come out of that conversation. You don’t need to continue here, but that’s up to you.

  141. David Martin

    look, you obviously don’t understand the basic landscape within which the discussion takes place. These are mostly not my ideas, they’re ideas that went onto the map and into history over the last few decades. Read “The Goldilocks enigma” for a simple summary, though Paul Davies’ earlier books are far better.

  142. kuhnigget

    look, you obviously don’t understand the basic landscape within which the discussion takes place.

    Only those who know the secret handshake get to join the club.

  143. Todd W.

    @kuhnigget

    Yeah. Since I haven’t studied that area of philosophy in any detail, I asked my questions based on the information provided. At least he provided one source, though what particular statement that source supports is left as a mystery.

  144. kuhnigget

    @ Todd:

    I’ve enjoyed Paul Davies’ books for years. Unfortunately, I don’t get the impression Mr. Martin truly understands them. He does seem very good at tossing around a few sciency words, however. Alas, they frequently seem to land in rather random order.

    I’d still like to know where those original microbes came from, though. So I will continue to wait with baited breath and a promise that, if admitted to the secret philosopher’s society, I will sit quietly at the back and not get in anyone’s way….

  145. Darth Robo

    A few appeals to authority here and there. I’m guessing creationist pretending not to be a creationist?

  146. @ Todd W. & kuhnigget,

    I think that you two might find this interesting; it is a re-post from an article in the 2 August 2008 issue (click on my name for the link) of NewScientist — Space:

    Is our universe fine-tuned for life?

    DON’T take our starry skies for granted. If you were unlucky enough to be living in some other universe, you might have nothing to stare at but black holes.

    At least, that’s the view of a new study that examines the nature of other universes that might support life and suggests that our cosmic habitat is nothing special after all – wondrously starry skies apart.

    The idea that certain aspects of our universe make it uniquely suited to life has never been properly tested, says Fred Adams of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “You hear people say our universe is fine-tuned for life, that stars are rare and couldn’t form if certain things were different,” he says. “The truth is, no one has done the calculations.” Adams has now rectified that situation and found that it is not unusual for stars to form that can support life.

    Claims of fine-tuning have generally been based on what happens when you vary a single characteristic of the universe, say the strength of gravity, while holding all others constant. That, says Adams, is too artificial a scenario to tell you anything about whether there are other universes that can support life. “The right way to do the problem is to start from scratch,” he says. “You have to turn all the knobs and find out what happens.”

    To do this, Adams started with a simple definition of a star: a massive body held together by its own gravity that is stable, long-lived and generates energy through nuclear processes. Just three constants are involved in the formation of such stars. One is the gravitational constant. The second is alpha, the fine structure constant that determines the strength of interactions between radiation and matter. The third is a composite of constants that determines the reaction rates of nuclear processes.

    Adams selected a range of possible values for each of these constants, then put them into a computer model that created a multitude of universes, or a virtual “multiverse”. Each universe within the multiverse used different values for the three constants and was subject to slightly different laws of physics.

    About a quarter of the resulting universes turned out to be populated by energy-generating stars. “You can change alpha or the gravitational constant by a factor of 100 and stars still form,” Adams says, suggesting that stars can exist in universes in which at least some fundamental constants are wildly different than in our universe.

    [Although] some universes were filled with things we might not usually think of as stars – radiating black holes or bodies formed of dark matter – they all gave out enough energy to power some form of life, and lasted long enough for life to evolve.

    That may not necessarily be life as we know it, however. Since the simulations didn’t rely on the stars producing carbon, Adams points out that very different life forms to ours might be better suited to some of the universes. Because life depends on chemistry, and chemistry depends on alpha, varying alpha changes the nature of life. “You have no idea what life would be like in a universe with different constants,” Adams says.

    Adams reckons his results, which will be published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, suggest that the “specialness” of our universe could well be an illusion. And this is only the very beginning of what can be probed to undermine the idea that our universe is fine-tuned for life. There are plenty more constants and processes that can be tinkered with, he says.

    Adams’ approach is “extremely interesting”, says Michael Murphy of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. “I’ve long had a suspicion that this talk of fine-tuning needs constant questioning and re-examination,” he says. “It’s sometimes hard to recognise that living somewhere else in a different way might be just as easy.”

    Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena is also impressed, and intrigued by the idea of unusual life forms that, say, feed off black holes. “I don’t know what it would look like or how it would work, but black holes radiate, just like stars do. Why couldn’t you have life arise in the ‘atmosphere’ of a gently radiating black hole?” he wonders.

  147. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Very interesting. Thanks for the post!

  148. kuhnigget

    Interesting, and just convinces me further that Mr. Martin is yet another in a long line of nutters (there, I’ve said it) who don’t really understand the “science” they are shilling. Of course, as Dave himself said, “These are mostly not my ideas…” which is the typical escape route.

    Still like to know where those microbes came from, tho.

  149. @ Todd W.,

    You’re welcome! At your service! :-)

  150. IVAN3MAN

    kuhnigget: “… that Mr. Martin is yet another in a long line of nutters (there, I’ve said it)…”

    Tell it like it is, kuhnigget! :-)

  151. David Martin

    It doesn’t remove the main problem at all – there is a very long list of coincidences, and if even a few are left the problem remains. Simulations that try things with one or two of them will never remove it, though they won’t tell you that in the spin. But philosophers know this well – that’s why they worked for twenty five years on many universe theories. They’d never have bothered if the problem wasn’t deeper than this article implies. Look outside the bubble of misinformation.

  152. Oh, those philosophers! Is there nothing they don’t know!

  153. Todd W.

    Starting to sound like argument from personal incredulity.

  154. David Martin

    Just as a footnote, in the sets of laws they tried out in the work described in that article, they couldn’t get carbon. They actually made universes very similar to ours, and only changed a few parameters (which means it has no effect on the real issues). But they still couldn’t get what to biologists is absolutely essential for what we call life. Carbon forms long stable chains, which allow life to get its complexity, we know of no substitute. Anything else doesn’t allow the complexity needed. In our universe a fortunate resonance allows carbon to form in stars – three helium nuclei have to collide at the same time – and they only hold together because this resonance (discovered by Fred Hoyle) is numerically exactly right. A very slight difference to an apparently random number, and there’d be no carbon here. This is one of the 50 or so “coincidences” that made life possible. These coincidences are what made atheists get to work on many universe theories.

    So the work described in the spin article you pasted in above is as speculative and careless about realism as the work of Gene Rodenberry, and actually very similar. Look at it carefully good skeptics, it’s an excellent example of what you need to see through.

  155. @David Martin

    Carbon is a precondition for life? It is as far as we know so far but there is nothing precluding non-carbon based life. I think the New Scientist article provided by IVAN3MAN actually suggest this possibility.

    50 or a million “coincidences”? It doesn’t matter. We’re still here.

  156. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    Your argument seems to be that “chance” cannot account for all of these different “coincidences”, therefore, the universe must be designed. That is where you are arguing from personal incredulity. Although the probabilities may be small, these “coincidences” can occur by chance, as well as by a cause-and-effect stepwise process, without any manner of intelligence or designer being invoked.

    And, to invoke an “it must be designed” argument begs the question of who or what this designer is, not to mention who or what designed the designer?

    As to carbon being absolutely essential for life, I seem to recall hearing that silicon may also serve as a basis for life. But, other elements being building blocks of life is just as much speculation, at this point, as carbon-only approaches. In this particular universe that we inhabit, the only one that we can observe at present, carbon seems to be necessary. That does not preclude other universes using different building blocks. Heck, even our universe may contain life somewhere that is based on something other than carbon. It’s an awfully big place, and we haven’t even scratched the surface.

    Please provide more concrete evidence to support your assertions, if you want them to stand up to scrutiny here.

  157. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    One thing more. In addition to the argument from personal incredulity, you are engaging in an either-or fallacy, which ignores a good chunk of other possibilities between the two extremes (pure, random chance or design, to the exclusion of other options that I mentioned previously).

  158. David Martin

    You’ve not understood, it’s that simple. But physicists and thinkers on both sides of the fence understood what it meant, and BOTH adjusted their views accordingly.

    One more try. It’s simpler than the things you say back at me. Try to get these simple concepts – not my ideas, I promise you, this is from the history of philosophy, 1979 to present day. Sorry if this sounds a bit patronising, but I think you’re skim reading what I write.

    You have a set of laws that appear with the big bang. A simple set of ratios between particles, and equations for how a few forces at work that affect matter. They include a few fixed numbers – constants.

    The question arises of how those laws came about. No-one had really thought about it before, but we all assumed you could take these laws as having arisen randomly. Then two very highly respected philosophers, Rees and Carr, pointed out in 1979 that you couldn’t just take them that way – there was a problem. They pointed out a long list of what looked like coincidences in the laws, which didn’t have to be that way, but which made life possible.

    Ever since then we’ve been trying to explain them. Everyone agreed that one way or another, these laws were not simply random. No, you can’t just say “we’re here, so they’re explained”, and the Anthropic principle certainly doesn’t say that, though some idiots have believed it when told it does.

    Explanations for these coincidences come under two headings only. Anyone with an open mind will look at both.

    Opinions are formed on information. Good information and bad information will lead to different opinions. Use the reference section at the end of “The Goldilocks enigma” for further reading.

  159. I think David Martin you are in need of a good dose of the good Dr Victor Stenger. He is a physicist and a philosopher…
    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/

    Try this article by Stenger too…
    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/coincidence.cfm

  160. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    Okay, so we’ll accept for a moment that the ideas you are presenting are not necessarily your own, that you are simply reporting what others have said. That takes some, not much, but some of the criticism off you and places it on them. However, that is mitigated by the fact that you present the arguments as concrete and proven.

    You state that “philosophers”, giving few names, no links, only one reference, are trying to explain supposed coincidences, and that there are only two explanations: design or chance/multiverse. When any other option is brought up, you simply restate that design and chance are the only options without presenting any evidence, either your own or from “philosophers”, that shows why other options cannot, in any regard, be considered as plausible and of equal value for inquiry.

    When you aver that the chance/multiverse explanation can’t explain the coincidences, you do not provide any evidence or reasoning as to why. When you state that design must be right, you provide no evidence to support that approach, other than “probabilities”, which prove nothing, other than that something may be more likely to occur than something else.

    Your arguments lack weight. You fall into several logical fallacies, a couple of which I mentioned in a couple other posts. Yet you fail to acknowledge any of it. “I am right, all of you clearly just don’t get it.” seems to be your mantra. Perhaps we would “get it” if you actually backed up your statements with some manner of solid evidence and avoided the flaws of logic.

    I don’t mean to sound rude or hostile, and apologize if I’m coming off that way. But, the onus is on you to back up and prove your claims, whether they are yours personally or just from others but asserted by you.

  161. David Martin

    I was just trying to get you to first base, which involves accepting the exisiting landscape. The existing landscape allows a very wide range of things to be true, it doesn’t restrict any of us that much.

    But understanding it is necessary for you to then understand the arguments I have – in that context they’d then make sense. I don’t blame you for not understanding the existing situation, it often gets distorted – with an agenda – these days. I haven’t recommended any advanced reading, start from the Paul Davies and references he makes.

    Can I just remind you that in the philosophy of science we take statistical evidence as evidence.

  162. Todd W.

    @David Martin

    Can I just remind you that in the philosophy of science we take statistical evidence as evidence.

    Perhaps that is the disconnect. The rest of us are trying to talk reality, rather than merely ideas.

  163. IVAN3MAN

    David Martin:

    Carbon forms long stable chains, which allow life to get its complexity, we know of no substitute. Anything else doesn’t allow the complexity needed.

    Carbon chauvinism is a relatively new term meant to disparage the assumption that extraterrestrial life will resemble life on Earth. In particular, it would be applied to those who assume that the molecules responsible for the chemical processes of life must be constructed primarily from carbon. It suggests that, as carbon-based life forms who have never encountered any life that has evolved outside the Earth’s environment, human beings may find it difficult to envision radically different biochemistries. The term was used as early as 1973, when Carl Sagan described it and other human chauvinism that limit imagination of possible extraterrestrial life in his Cosmic Connection.
    In a 1999 Reason magazine article discussing the theory of a fine-tuned universe, Kenneth Silber quotes astrophysicist Victor J. Stenger using the term:

    There is no good reason, says Stenger, to “assume that there’s only one kind of life possible” – we know far too little about life in our own universe, let alone “other” universes, to reach such a conclusion. Stenger denounces as “carbon chauvinism” the assumption that life requires carbon; other chemical elements, such as silicon, can also form molecules of considerable complexity. Indeed, Stenger ventures, it is “molecular chauvinism” to assume that molecules are required at all; in a universe with different properties, atomic nuclei or other structures might assemble in totally unfamiliar ways.

    Claim: The cosmos is fine-tuned to permit human life. If any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different, life would be impossible. (This claim is also known as the weak anthropic principle.)

    Response:*

    1. The claim assumes life in its present form is a given; it applies not to life but to life only as we know it. The same outcome results if life is fine-tuned to the cosmos.

    2. We do not know what fundamental conditions would rule out any possibility of any life. For all we know, there might be intelligent beings in another universe arguing that if fundamental constants were only slightly different, then the absence of free quarks and the extreme weakness of gravity would make life impossible.

    3. Indeed, many examples of fine-tuning are evidence that life is fine-tuned to the cosmos, not vice versa. This is exactly what evolution proposes.

    4. If the universe is fine-tuned for life, why is life such an extremely rare part of it? [99% of all life that had existed on the Earth, is now extinct.]

    5. Many fine-tuning claims are based on numbers being the “same order of magnitude,” but this phrase gets stretched beyond its original meaning to buttress design arguments; sometimes numbers more than one-thousandfold different are called the same order of magnitude (Klee 2002).

    6. How fine is “fine” anyway? That question can only be answered by a human judgment call, which reduces or removes objective value from the anthropic principle argument.

    7. The fine-tuning claim is weakened by the fact that some physical constants are dependent on others, so the anthropic principle may rest on only a very few initial conditions that are really fundamental (Kane et al. 2000). It is further weakened by the fact that different initial conditions sometimes lead to essentially the same outcomes, as with the initial mass of stars and their formation of heavy metals (Nakamura et al. 1997), or that the tuning may not be very fine, as with the resonance window for helium fusion within the sun (Livio et al. 1989). For all we know, a universe substantially different from ours may be improbable or even impossible.

    8. If part of the universe were not suitable for life, we would not be here to think about it. There is nothing to rule out the possibility of multiple universes, most of which would be unsuitable for life. We happen to find ourselves in one where life is conveniently possible because we cannot very well be anywhere else.

    9. Intelligent design is not a logical conclusion of fine tuning. Fine tuning says nothing about motives or methods, which is how design is defined. (The scarcity of life and multi-billion-year delay in it appearing argue against life being a motive.) Fine-tuning, if it exists, may result from other causes, as yet unknown, or for no reason at all (Drange 2000).

    10. In fact, the anthropic principle is an argument against an omnipotent creator. If God can do anything, he could create life in a universe whose conditions do not allow for it.


    *Source: The TalkOrigins Archive.

  164. kuhnigget

    @ Todd:

    In the philosophy of science, apparently, statistics = evidence, spin = anything that doesn’t back up your opinion, “the existing landscape” = my ideas which are True and not your ideas which are hopelessly antiquated.

    [Offering secret insider handshake.]

  165. kuhnigget

    Speaking of careless work, Mr. Martin…

    Where did those microbes come from again?

  166. Todd W.

    @kuhnigget

    How many kuhniggets would you rate the posts in this thread?

  167. IVAN3MAN

    N.B. The system here, for reason, prematurely closed the “blockquote” function at my post above. If we don’t get a preview/edit facility here soon, I’M GONNA KILL SOMEBODY!

  168. kuhnigget

    @ Ivan3Man:

    I’M GONNA KILL SOMEBODY!

    Heh heh… Then they’d could come back as a ghost and Leander could study them.

  169. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Hmm…you can kill someone only if you are allowed to get on the internet from prison. Your posts are always so informative and refreshing. And I like the pics you find, too.

  170. IVAN3MAN

    @ kuhnigget,

    😆

    @ Todd W.,

    Thank you for the compliment! As for going to prison for killing someone, if the Judge were to see what kind of cranks we have to put up with on these threads, he probably will declare the killing of one of them as “justifiable homicide” and let me off on a suspended sentence. :-)

  171. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Time served, as it were?

  172. Darth Robo

    >>>”These coincidences are what made atheists get to work on many universe theories.”

    I see…

  173. IVAN3MAN

    @ Todd W.,

    Yep. However, according to Wikipedia, in some U.S. states, such as Pennsylvania, suspended sentences have not been authorized by the legislature and are therefore illegal. Not so in the U.K.

    P.S. At the first line, in my previous post above, it should read: The system here, for some reason, prematurely closed the “blockquote” function at my post above.

    Man, I need a coffee break; otherwise, I will kill somebody!

  174. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Hmm…might I suggest proofreading before hitting submit?

  175. IVAN3MAN

    @ Todd W.,

    I used to work as a proofreader, and to paraphrase a biblical proverb: It is easier to spot a splinter in someone else’s eye, than to spot the bloody plank in one’s own eye!

  176. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    It is easier to spot a splinter in someone else’s eye, than to spot the bloody plank in one’s own eye!

    Now, do you have evidence to back up that claim? 😛

  177. kuhnigget

    @ Ivan:

    Having just finished proofing 380 pages of galleys for a new book, sending it all off to the publisher, and then finding a @#%@#$ typo on the bloody back cover,/i>, I can attest to the truth behind that maxim.

  178. kuhnigget

    Of course, that is only anecdotal evidence, I hasten to add.

  179. @ Todd W.,

    Of course, I have evidence — click on my name.

  180. IVAN3MAN

    @ kuhnigget,

    Yes, I noticed — you did not close your italic tag properly. :-)

  181. kuhnigget
  182. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Clearly, the Lego speak sooth.

  183. IVAN3MAN

    @ Todd W.,

    Yea, brother!

  184. kuhnigget

    Twiddling thumbs….dum de dum…waiting for Mr. Martin and his philosopher pals to tell me where those microbes came from….dum de dum dum dum dum……dum.

  185. IVAN3MAN
  186. The microbes came on giant space crickets!!! Oh dear god… run for the hills…

    I, for one, welcome our new cricket riding microbe overlords.

  187. kuhnigget

    Hmmm….even the crickets seem to be silent. Perhaps the alien microbes gave them a nasty staff infection and silenced their sweet, sweet song forever….

    Or, just another nutter heads for the hills.

    Meh!

  188. “nasty staff infection”
    Sounds nasty. I wouldn’t like one there.

  189. David Martin

    Hello, you guys asked for more references earlier, and I only gave you “The Goldilocks enigma” by Paul Davies, which summed up the state of the discussion in 2005.

    I should also have mentioned “”Universe or multiverse?” Edited by Bernard Carr, which came out in 2007, and includes brief essays from about 30 of the top names in physics and the philosophy of science. That includes Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies, Weinberg etc. The book also includes two theist philosophers (who are pretty useless, as Christians tend to be) – but they’re included because almost everyone agrees that it’s either design or some version of multiverse theory.

    You can get the book from Amazon. Dawkins is not included, mainly because he doesn’t admit the discussion exists. Most of the contributers are atheists, all but three or four. All these atheists have decided there’s a need for many universes in one form or another, so none of them feel the way out you guys chose was viable (life Jim, but not as we know it).

    Your belief that non-carbon based life was the way out was a faith anyway, but the 25 atheists who are seen as among the top thinkers on the planet all took another way out – the multiverse. Also a faith, as although you might get predictions for experiments, multiverse ideas will only be one interpretation of experimental results, just as the first multiverse theory (Everett’s in the 1950s) was just one interpretation for quantum theory. In fact that was also an attempt to avoid design – they had realised that according to quantum theory you need an observer outside the universe to bring the universe into a concrete state of existence.

    You need to realise that no physicist would go to an idea as intangible as many worlds unless they were desperate, and if there were no other way out. Every time purposeful intention seems to appear, they get out of it using many worlds, but you can get out of more or less anything that way. Think about it – what observation can’t you get out of that way?

    Anyway, one of you kept asking about some microbes… I didn’t answer because it seemed a stupid question. But the answer is of course that we don’t know. Maybe life started in one place, maybe many. Recently we found it appears much more easily than we thought. Life seems to be written into the universe, and places where it can evolve into complex life seem abundant. This view is known as the biophilic universe, or biofriendly universe. It’s a view that is hugely succesful at explaining what we find, for those who are not fooled by the spin and bias.

    I talked to some stupid creationists. They were weirdly similar to many atheists I’ve talked to, though less intelligent – both groups are living within a bubble of misinformation.

    Christianity and atheism are equidistant from the truth (ie a long way!), don’t be fooled into believing that you must choose between them….. be skeptical about both. See you guys, DM

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