Prostituting science

One thing that disappoints me is the way that some scientists prostitute their science. The way that some scientists use their academic qualifications or reputation to support unscientific messages. I realise that everybody who does this has their own reasons and these are usually related to ego, ideology or money.

This is something we should all be aware of when “experts” are rolled out to support questionable or controversial causes, as well as when they are used to advertise commercial products. A blatant example of this was revealed in a blog report on a recent debate about intelligent design (ID) (see ID Was Spanked In Fort Worth). The main speakers were Dr. Lawrence Krauss (opposing ID) and  Dr. David Berlinski (supporting ID). After the debate an audience member:

“heard Krauss ask Berlinski why he wasted his intellect advocating for intelligent design. To which Berlinski replied that he doesn’t believe a word of it, but is happy to cash the checks the Discovery Institute writes him. Strangely enough, this would be consistent with Berlinski’s odd statement early on in which he admitted that his own ethical orientation was focused on living as contentedly and as selfishly as possible. It was a weird aside at the time; realizing that he could be exercising that ethic by making chumps of the Discovery Institute seems somehow poetically appropriate.”

I realise that this is hearsay – and Berlinski may well deny these comments whether he made them or not. However, I think the report does illustrate the problem.

Now, Berlinski is not a scientist – he has a PhD in philosophy. Perhaps philosophy is sufficiently divorced from reality as to enable spokespeople to be found who will support any position. However, we can also find scientists who do the same thing. The Discovery Institute has managed to find 700 PhDs prepared to sign their “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” list (see Dissenters from Darwinism in context and Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?). Climate change deniers have produced similar lists and include scientists and engineers who provide professional “respectability” to the attacks on the findings of climate scientists.

Motivations for prostitution

Perhaps it is easy to understand how a financial return can motivate people to attack their professional colleagues. After all, we have all got to live somehow. But, of course, they don’t all do it for money. People easily select evidence or bend the truth to support strongly held ideological and religious beliefs. And I wouldn’t discount ego. It’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond. And how else would ID guru Bill Dembski (author of blog posts like  Theistic Evolutionists Close Ranks — Let the Bloodletting Begin! and  Would you want your child to marry an atheist?) get himself described as the “Newton of information science.”

I think that retired scientists who make extra money as consultants can easily get themselves into this sort of position. They are susceptible to being bought by commercial, political and ideological organisations. They can produce reports and pontificate without the backup of proper peer review. They quickly become divorced from current evidence in their former field and have limited access to laboratories and a healthy professional environment. I find it interesting that many of the activists against the scientific consensus on climate change are actually retired scientists.

Selecting the evidence rather than following it

Whether these spokespeople are making money, advancing their strongly held belief system or exercising their ego one thing they do have in common is selecting evidence to support a preconceived scientific, ideological or commercial position. And science shouldn’t do that. We should be wary of preconceived beliefs and, in any case, always follow the evidence – not select the evidence.

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114 responses to “Prostituting science

  1. We should be wary of preconceived beliefs and, in any case, always follow the evidence – not select the evidence.

    But Ken, how can anyone approach these issues without preconceived beliefs? And these subjective beliefs tell us how to interpret evidence, what we accept as evidence, or not, etc… There are no “brut facts” per say that are not subjectively filtered through the fallible human mind. And even the best scientists are not free of peer pressure, financial considerations, discipline from their universities and fellows, etc… Look how glodal warming deniers and ID people are treated – whether you think these scientists have a valid case or not their treatment is a clear warning to all not to buck orthodoxy. Think exactly like us or you will pay…

  2. For anybody interested in the sordid details of the “Dissent from Darwinism” list and just how flimsy it is, here’s a video of someone who did some background checking and came up with some interesting results.

    List of Scientists Rejecting Evolution- Do they really?
    http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=Ty1Bo6GmPqM

    James said…”Look how glodal warming deniers and ID people are treated…”

    Yes, look how they are treated. Look hard.
    Global warming deniers make a statement.
    They’re asked to back that statement up with evidence.
    Global warming deniers quietly disappear from thread.

    Here, just a few days ago on this site we had…
    Climate change: the science – public disconnect
    http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/climate-change-the-science-public-disconnect/

    Both James and TC Moga ran like rabbits.
    The paper? Abandoned at our doorstep like some waif from a Dickensian novel.
    Too bad. So sad. :)

  3. First Cedric, I never ran anywhere, and I never denied man made global warming. And it could very well be that higher CO2 levels may be benefical as this recent National Geographic article states:

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/11/081112-ice-age-global-warming.html?source=rss

  4. BTW Cedric, your grammer is horrible. That of a child really. It wouldn’t be a “Dickensian” novel – it would be simply a Dickens’ novel… Using Dickensian makes no sense in the context…

  5. James said…”First Cedric, I never ran anywhere…”

    No. Heaven forbid.
    You didn’t run off.
    You just became suddenly very busy with something else.
    Re-arranging your socks or something.
    We understand. Really. :)
    …………………………………………….

    Dickensian
    Adjective
    1. of Charles Dickens (1812–70), British novelist
    2. denoting poverty, distress, and exploitation, as depicted in the novels of Dickens.
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Dickensian

    (yawn)

  6. No. Heaven forbid.
    You didn’t run off.
    You just became suddenly very busy with something else.
    Re-arranging your socks or something.
    We understand. Really.

    No, I really had no opinion on the matter. It’s not a hill I want to fight on. And I NEVER denied global warming. So why would I “run” from the argument?

    Dickensian
    Adjective
    1. of Charles Dickens (1812–70), British novelist
    2. denoting poverty, distress, and exploitation, as depicted in the novels of Dickens.

    I said nothing about definitions – I said grammer, you do know the difference? Your use of the word in that context was frankly childish, like you were trying to impress your teacher…

  7. James said…”No, I really had no opinion on the matter. It’s not a hill I want to fight on.”

    Of course not. :)
    You cut and paste some global warming denier crap.
    Make approving comments about global warming deniers and then…disappear.

    ……………………………………………..

    “Your use of the word in that context was frankly childish..”

    So your opinion of my writing style is important because…? :)

  8. ‘Dickensian” -an adjective, applied in this case to the noun “novel” – ie a novel in the style of Charles Dickens, portraying poverty, distress, exploitation… (sigh)

    As for the way the ID people are treated – any ‘evidence’ of mistreatment is tenuous at best. The NCSE website (don’t have the url to hand cos I’m writing this during a break in conference proceedings) is a useful resource for this. OTOH, there have been instances in the US where people espousing evolutionary views have been required to resign their positions.

  9. @ James – November 17, 2008 at 2:26 am

    “how can anyone approach these issues without preconceived beliefs? “ – this is just an excuse for sticking with those preconceived beliefs and avoiding (or distorting) the evidence. The processes of science are there to reduce the influence of preconceived beliefs. It seems to me that these sort of “excuses” arise from a desire to discredit science – especially where it doesn’t support what you want to believe.

  10. “how can anyone approach these issues without preconceived beliefs? “ – this is just an excuse for sticking with those preconceived beliefs and avoiding (or distorting) the evidence. The processes of science are there to reduce the influence of preconceived beliefs. It seems to me that these sort of “excuses” arise from a desire to discredit science – especially where it doesn’t support what you want to believe.

    No Ken, it’s about the facts. All men, even scientists, have bias and preconceived beliefs. The scientific method can help to mitgate these, but they don’t eliminate them. You agree of course?

  11. And let me quote the well know atheist Professor of Philosophy, Thomas Nagel:

    I am talking about something much deeper-namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

    The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 130.

    How much does this kind of bias effect atheistic scientists? How much would this bias effect their interpretation of the evidence or what they consider evidence? Nagel is honest, but could not this mind set effect the atheistic scientist unawares?

  12. James tries on another cookie-cutter argument…

    “All men, even scientists, have bias and preconceived beliefs. The scientific method can help to mitgate these, but they don’t eliminate them.”

    ARGUMENT FROM SUBJECTIVITY
    (1) Everything is subjective.
    (2) No subjective proof can be superior to any other subjective proof.
    (3) Based upon my subjective opinion, your opinion, that if everything is subjective then, perforce, God is subjective, is false.
    (4) Therefore, God (objectively) exists.

    (How many times will he repeat this one, boys and girls?)

    http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/GodProof.htm

    James said…”the well know atheist Professor of Philosophy, Thomas Nagel…”

    Who?
    (shrug)

  13. James said…”An honest atheist…”

    Never heard of him.
    The reason why his opinion is important is?

    …………………………………………….

    So, James about this evidence thingy.
    What is your non-arbitrary definition of evidence?
    Reference please.
    You brought it up after all, so… :)

  14. Never heard of him.

    Because you are clueless? Just asking…

    What is your non-arbitrary definition of evidence?

    I asked you first…

  15. James said…”Because you are clueless? Just asking…”

    Oo, yeah, that’s the spirit. :)

    Actually, there are probably zillions of philosophers I’ve never heard of. The same applies to everybody else.
    It’s a big world out there.
    Call me clueless if you want.
    It doesn’t mean anything and you’re still going to lose this one.
    Just like all the others.
    You know it, I know it.

    ………………………………………………….

    Cedric said…”What is your non-arbitrary definition of evidence?”

    James reverts to kindergarten with…”I asked you first…”

    James, you forgot to add “Nyah, nyah, so there!”

    (giggle)

    But seriously folks…

    I was’t the one that originally brought up the topic of a non-arbitrary defintion of the word evidence.
    You did.
    You do remember that don’t you?

    Personally, I think it’s a silly question.
    Designed to go down a dead-end.

    The only reason why I bring it up is beacause you foolishly decided to proclaim in you next posting that you “presented evidence”.

    You used the word evidence. Not me.
    This is immediately after you demanded a non-arbitrary defintion of the word “evidence”.
    Oops.

    So we have two possible results here, James.
    Either, you are using the standard old-fashioned common usage of the word “evidence” as used by the English speaking world and available in any good dictionary…

    OR….

    you’ve discovered a “non-arbitrary” definition of the word “evidence” that common mortals have yet to discover.

    (Of course the third possibility is that the word “evidence” to you is just meaningless babble that you just like to throw into conversation at random.)

    So James, what is your non-arbitrary definiton of the word “evidence”. Reference please. :)

  16. Cedric, As I and Iapetus made clear in the thread where I was speaking of my “morning tea event” the definition of evidence is person dependent, subjective and arbitrary. There is no non-arbitrary definition. So when you ask for evidence one has the right to ask what you mean by evidence and how/why you limit or don’t limit the criterion.

    Even so, I offered the evidence of existence (that something rather than nothing exists) and the fact that the universe was fine tuned for biological life. Now I believe these are evidence for something – do you?

  17. James said…”So when you ask for evidence one has the right to ask what you mean by evidence and how/why you limit or don’t limit the criterion.”

    Ok, sounds good. We’ll play your rules.
    (Ahem)

    Ready?

    What you mean by evidence and how/why you limit or don’t limit the criterion?
    (References please.)
    …………………………………….

    James said…”the fact that the universe was fine tuned for biological life,”

    How do you know actually know this?

  18. What you mean by evidence and how/why you limit or don’t limit the criterion?

    No way Homer. You are the one who asked for evidence so now it is up to you to define what you want, what you call evidence and why. Be specific please… Or this discussion ends… I have no idea why I keep getting back into the sand box with you.

    How do you know actually know this?

    Nope, not going there until you answer…

  19. James said…”No way Homer.”

    Homer?
    What ever happened to me being your “bro”?
    Has the zest of the seventies now left you?

    James said…”You are the one who asked for evidence…”

    Huh?
    When? :)

    Remember this conversation?

    (ahem)

    ……………………………………………..
    James: You want evidence, then give me a non-arbitrary definition for evidence.

    Cedric: You’re just throwing out this question because you want to go down a dead-end and take me with you.

    James: Cedric, I offered the evidence that you asked for.

    Cedric: What happened to your question about evidence?
    Suddenly you feel that you now can launch into a conversation without bothering to define it?
    Did you find a non-arbitrary definition that you are now comfortable with?
    Share.

    James: Any rational person would understand the evidence I presented and why it is a valid argument/question.

    Cedric: Evidence. That word again. What do you mean by it?

    James: (silence)

    Cedric: Oh and er…you seem to have forgotten to answer my question about your defintion of evidence, yeah?

    ………………………………………………

    James pouts..”Or this discussion ends… I have no idea why I keep getting back into the sand box with you.”

    Because you enjoy it.
    You have nothing better to do.
    In this, you’re just like me.

    This discussion will not end, James.
    Nope.
    You cannot tear yourself away from me.
    You’ll be back in the very next thread.
    You know it.
    Ready to drink the dregs of intellectual defeat.
    And I’ll be there too. Ready to have my fun with you. :)

    James holds his breath and says…”Nope, not going there until you answer…”

    Aww, isn’t that sweet.

  20. 8:

    I don’t have any practical examples, having never seen someone treated like that, or had to avoid another scientist over religious points of view, so I’d have to say it must be very rare.

    I would simply not work with someone whose science seemed shoddy, and I think that’d be true of most other scientists. After a while they’d probably end up isolated and their career might suffer as a result, but that would be because of their poor science, not active mistreatment in the vein that some theists have suggested.

    (On a broader note, I do think that people need to be mindful that gossip can speak louder than reality, esp. when politics is involved and it pays to actually ask the person than presume what their position might be. I’ve copped my fair share of that, as we all probably have one time or other, but that’s not about religion, etc.)

  21. 4:

    You seem to be confusing grammar with your preference to have it refer only to Dicken’s novels.

  22. This discussion on evidence is becoming very tiring. James, if you are in the court and the prosecutor provides “evidence” that you were in a crime scene, you cannot escape with your usual philosophical tricks asking the prosecutor what is his definition of evidence.

    Your morning tea event might have happened (as explained before) but in order to persuade others that it happened you need to show evidence. That is, something that *confirms* that your morning tea event happened after all -a photo, a video, etc.

    Same applies to science: e.g. when we know that a certain radio isotope has a specific half-life (and we do know it because we have measured it) we can infer the age of the earth using radiometric dating. And this constitutes “evidence” that the earth is a few billion years old. Clear as the sky.

    I don’t expect you to acknowledge anything like that though. You are going to embark on yet another slippery slope where you will once again defy all of sciences and all progress made through science. Following this slope, you will find yourself accepting absolutely nothing, and being trapped in an neverending regression… Unless God tells you to stop.

  23. This discussion on evidence is becoming very tiring. James, if you are in the court and the prosecutor provides “evidence” that you were in a crime scene, you cannot escape with your usual philosophical tricks asking the prosecutor what is his definition of evidence.

    It is an important question. Probably most of what you know relies on memory, and much of that can’t be reproduced or documented. Yet those event are just as true and real as anything that can be demostrated in a court of law. This is not a trick – it is a fact.

    Your morning tea event might have happened (as explained before) but in order to persuade others that it happened you need to show evidence. That is, something that *confirms* that your morning tea event happened after all -a photo, a video, etc.

    But demostrating the event has nothing to do with the fact of the event. It remains true whether I can persuade anyone or not.

    Same applies to science: e.g. when we know that a certain radio isotope has a specific half-life (and we do know it because we have measured it) we can infer the age of the earth using radiometric dating. And this constitutes “evidence” that the earth is a few billion years old. Clear as the sky.

    So, I’m not a YEC… But I will ask you, since no one else seems to want to answer – what is a created, fine tuned universe evidence of? Anything? What is biological life evidence of? Anything?

  24. Given that almost no-one here is likely to agree with your proposition that the universe has a creator, you’re unlikely to get an answer ;-) Or at least, not an answer that you’d appreciate.

  25. what is a created, fine tuned universe evidence of?

    Alison’s response covered it well. Bit leading, isn’t that question?

    I have no evidence to assume a Creator in the first place, so why are you asking me about a ‘Created’ Universe? Also, I don’t have any evidence that the Universe actually is ‘fine-tuned’ to support life. This planet Earth supports life well, but I’m not so certain that the Universe in general does, it seems relatively barren of life, by accounts so far.

    What is biological life evidence of?

    Well, given the structure of life on Earth in all its particulars, I would say it is pretty good evidence of a shared biological ancestory arising from non-living chemical compounds. Proposing a conscious Creator based on the existence of life seems about as useful as proposing a conscious Rainmaker based on the existence of rain.

  26. Furthermore, James, with regards to that bizarre Nagel quote that you posted, I can only say that personally, I have no fear of any God existing, simply because there are almost infinite scenarios to invent once I stray into metaphysical excuses for resisting observation. I could hypothesise that a golden-winged woman of massive girth dribbled the universe into existence from a salmon’s mouth. I could hypothesise that we are just a speck in the hairbrush of a god who is much more preoccupied with Universe 2.0 right now than he/she/it is with us. I could hypothesise that a man-God sent a man-God-man to save us all from an abject state that he inflicted upon us. I could claim the same of a goose-God coming to save all geese. I could hypothesise that a series of cosmic crocodiles swish their tails about and from all the consequent ‘cosmic energy’ they produce comes our existence. I could put forth effectively whatever theory I like and then dance about because no-one can disprove it.

    Once we start throwing up stories as ‘explanations’ of the world, we suddenly have so little to go on except the stories themselves. I love stories. I was raised a Christian and I was a believer, I’m very fond of Biblical stories (excepting the sickest story of all time: Abraham and Isaac). There is little to fear in stories about the supernatural, but they are also of considerably less use than science when it comes to explaining the natural world.

  27. I have no evidence to assume a Creator in the first place, so why are you asking me about a ‘Created’ Universe? Also, I don’t have any evidence that the Universe actually is ‘fine-tuned’ to support life. This planet Earth supports life well, but I’m not so certain that the Universe in general does, it seems relatively barren of life, by accounts so far.

    Either the universe was created or it is eternal. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was created by an intelligence. And the universe itself is tuned for life, if there were not universal constants (gravitational force, strong/weak nuclear force, ratio of protons to electrons, etc, etc..) life here would be impossible. Never mind the fine tuning that had to go into our eco system here for life to develop.

    Well, given the structure of life on Earth in all its particulars, I would say it is pretty good evidence of a shared biological ancestory arising from non-living chemical compounds. Proposing a conscious Creator based on the existence of life seems about as useful as proposing a conscious Rainmaker based on the existence of rain.

    Well you have no evidence that biological life did or could rise from non-living chemicals. That is a faith position. So we have a universe tuned for life, a eco system tuned for life. Then, by some kind of natural magic, comes the kind of life that can thrive in this very eco system. Never mind the evolution of this life – where literally millions and millions of things had to go right to get the life forms we see today. At what point do you sctatch your chin?

  28. Given that almost no-one here is likely to agree with your proposition that the universe has a creator, you’re unlikely to get an answer Or at least, not an answer that you’d appreciate.

    But why not Alison? We have two choices for the creation of a fined tuned universe, and a fine tuned eco system, and the first biological life – intelligence or non-intelligence. Why is non-intelligence more plausible in your mind?

  29. Once we start throwing up stories as ‘explanations’ of the world, we suddenly have so little to go on except the stories themselves.

    Unless the stories are true. For centuries the greeks posed an eternal universe, like I have discussed, in the last century many good scientists held to the steady state (eternal) universe, but scripture said this: “n the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..” That the universe was finite and had a beginning. Has not science caught up to scripture?

  30. And the universe itself is tuned for life, if there were not universal constants (gravitational force, strong/weak nuclear force, ratio of protons to electrons, etc, etc..) life here would be impossible. Never mind the fine tuning that had to go into our eco system here for life to develop.

    It seems like a massive leap, though, to go from saying that life exists, to claiming that universal constants mean the universe is fine-tuned for life. Do you have any evidence that life could NOT exist under a differing set of universal constants? Why do you project a God onto this ‘fine-tuning’ argument? This argument sounds incredibly weak, along the lines of: “Golly-gee! Life came about by means or other! Therefore God!”

    Well you have no evidence that biological life did or could rise from non-living chemicals. That is a faith position. So we have a universe tuned for life, a eco system tuned for life. Then, by some kind of natural magic, comes the kind of life that can thrive in this very eco system.

    I have a lot more evidence to suggest that life came about from non-living chemicals than I do for any other theory I know of, though. Alison, as a biologist, can probably cite much better than I can, if she has time. Shared characteristics between animals could suggest, for example, a common creator. However, we have such glorious examples as ring-species (wiki it) and we can see evolution in action as scientists. Given simple fact like this, a Common Creator Theory (CCT) seems impractical. How does CCT account for speciations that scientists have catelogued? How does CCT account for the existence of ring-species? How can CCT avoid sounding like a clumsy God-of-the-gaps claim? Origin of Life research is not a scientific dead end, it has given rise to many useful theories, theories far more useful than just alleging a God-of-the-gaps. In July the Panda’s Thumb posted this helpful summary: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2008/07/what-critics-of.html

    That is for the leyman. I am certain that a specialist in the field could present much more detail.

    Never mind the evolution of this life – where literally millions and millions of things had to go right to get the life forms we see today. At what point do you sctatch your chin?

    Things don’t ‘need to go right’ for something to evolve. Evolution has no end-goal. Environmental factors and an organism’s evolutionary history confine and shape what it can be, according to which of the organism’s lineage survives conditions best. Things don’t have to “go right” for an eye to come about, an eye (or even a rudimentary eye like a photosensitive strip) just happens to considerably advantage an organism towards survival. Conditions made the giraffe, the giraffe isn’t made to suit conditions.

  31. Unless the stories are true. For centuries the greeks posed an eternal universe, like I have discussed, in the last century many good scientists held to the steady state (eternal) universe, but scripture said this: “n the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..” That the universe was finite and had a beginning. Has not science caught up to scripture?

    You’re just being silly now, talking about “science catching up to scripture”. I know the Bible, and I just cannot see what the heck you are talking about. I can see that science provides much more detailed, compelling explanations of the natural world that do not fall back on the supernatural as an ultimate excuse. I do not see any case, immediately, where the Bible has anticipated scientific discoveries. Oh, granted, I’ve read Ray Comfort’s claims about the Bible anticipating science, but those arise from a general ignorance of science and an obstinate incuriousity about anything in the natural world that sits outside of his Bible-blinkers. If you really do believe that scripture trumps observation, then I have little to do but pity you, love you all the same, and hope you learn not to be so stubbornly ignorant. As much for the sake of those around you, as for your own sake.

  32. Apologies for not proof-reading well enough, James. My posts are peppered with typos. I am not usually up so early and I’m yet to have my morning cup of tea. In case the skipped words are confusing:

    ‘“Golly-gee! Life came about by some means or other! Therefore God!”’

    ‘Given simple facts like this, a Common Creator Theory (CCT) seems impractical.’

  33. Matty: “Things don’t ‘need to go right’ for something to evolve [...] Conditions made the giraffe, the giraffe isn’t made to suit conditions.

    Very, very well said -I applaud!

  34. But why not Alison? We have two choices for the creation of a fined tuned universe, and a fine tuned eco system, and the first biological life – intelligence or non-intelligence. Why is non-intelligence more plausible in your mind?

    I don’t want to rush to answer a question directed at someone else, but I’ll insert my response here cautiously: I have never observed intelligence that has not risen directly from a material source (e.g. a brain).

  35. If you really do believe that scripture trumps observation, then I have little to do but pity you, love you all the same, and hope you learn not to be so stubbornly ignorant. As much for the sake of those around you, as for your own sake.

    Well thanks for you concern. But did not scripture teach that the universe was finite and had a beginning? Is not science NOW saying the same thing? There really was no evidence for a finite universe until this last century – yet that is exactly what scripture predicted…

  36. I have never observed intelligence that has not risen directly from a material source (e.g. a brain).

    And I have never observed life coming from non-life, or a effect without a cause.

  37. It seems like a massive leap, though, to go from saying that life exists, to claiming that universal constants mean the universe is fine-tuned for life. Do you have any evidence that life could NOT exist under a differing set of universal constants?

    Do you have any evidence that universal constants are even possible in another model?

    Why do you project a God onto this ‘fine-tuning’ argument? This argument sounds incredibly weak, along the lines of: “Golly-gee! Life came about by means or other! Therefore God!”

    No worse than saying golly gee – the universe created itself, ordered and tuned itself, then created conditions for biological life, then created the bioligical life that would thrive in that specific eco system. Really now Matty, how silly…

    I have a lot more evidence to suggest that life came about from non-living chemicals than I do for any other theory I know of, though.

    Ok, then prove that this could or did happen. Repeat it in the lab. Then prove that it could happen in early earth conditions.

    Origin of Life research is not a scientific dead end, it has given rise to many useful theories, theories far more useful than just alleging a God-of-the-gaps.

    Until now, it is a “naturalism of the gaps” theory. You “assume” that a natural theory will fill the gap.

  38. Well thanks for you concern. But did not scripture teach that the universe was finite and had a beginning? Is not science NOW saying the same thing? There really was no evidence for a finite universe until this last century – yet that is exactly what scripture predicted…
    Well, first of all, I’m not a physicist. Nor even a scientist. I’m a humble English Lit student who does not feel quite so arrogant enough to claim he understands current theories about the origins of the universe itself. I very much doubt you have even the foggiest idea what you are talking about as we enter this field, either.

    My first question would be, just because science claims the universe has a beginning, why should we take that to mean any pre-Universe existence was a God? Why a God? Why not… …more materiality? Why not almost anything? Again, you are using the God-of-the-gaps instead of honest, evidence-based enquiry.

    Moreover, every single creation story ever predicts a universe with a beginning. What is there to make your superstitious (and perhaps correct) prediction more compelling than that of Maori myth and legend, or any other set of cosmogonies? If your particular scripture has such amazing predictive power as you claim, why does it not have consistent predictive power? Why is one rather rudimentary prediction so exciting, and why should we imagine it is anything more than happy coincidence that it marries with the science of today?

  39. Things don’t have to “go right” for an eye to come about, an eye (or even a rudimentary eye like a photosensitive strip) just happens to considerably advantage an organism towards survival. Conditions made the giraffe, the giraffe isn’t made to suit conditions.

    How silly. What possible advantage would a light sensitive patch have?

  40. Moreover, every single creation story ever predicts a universe with a beginning. What is there to make your superstitious (and perhaps correct) prediction more compelling than that of Maori myth and legend, or any other set of cosmogonies? If your particular scripture has such amazing predictive power as you claim, why does it not have consistent predictive power? Why is one rather rudimentary prediction so exciting, and why should we imagine it is anything more than happy coincidence that it marries with the science of today?

    First, not many myths have a specific defined creation story like Genesis. And second, the idea of a creator and creation may in fact be intuitive. And Matty, this is a rather big point – as a matter of fact, it goes to one of the most important questions that can be asked or answered. But you are free to see it as a “happy coincidence.” I don’t expect anything else.

    My first question would be, just because science claims the universe has a beginning, why should we take that to mean any pre-Universe existence was a God? Why a God? Why not… …more materiality? Why not almost anything? Again, you are using the God-of-the-gaps instead of honest, evidence-based enquiry.

    Do you have evidence of a pre-material cause for the universe? Can you observe this pre-material cause? What about the problem of infinite regress? Where did that pre-material cause come from? Why did it create this universe? With the particular life supporting features?

  41. No worse than saying golly gee – the universe created itself, ordered and tuned itself, then created conditions for biological life, then created the bioligical life that would thrive in that specific eco system. Really now Matty, how silly…

    Firstly, I don’t assume that the universe ‘created itself’, I do not know the Universe’s origins any better than you do. We can see quite clearly, through science, how the conditions for biological life arose, and how feedback loops encouraged and sustain life, and we can see how life adapted to specific eco-systems. The beginning remains somewhat mysterious, but I don’t see why we should suddenly jump to a supernatural cause on that basis.

    If you do feel compelling to superimpose a supernatural first cause, then why your particular God-of-the-gaps? Why not “Beginning Fairies” from another dimension? Why are we not, rather than a god’s creation, tiniest portions of physical mold spores on a metaphysical slice of toast? Why not pretty much anything?

  42. How silly. What possible advantage would a light sensitive patch have?

    I’m caught between tears, laughter, and extremely heartfelt pity. I fear that, in answering this, I will me snort my tea through my nose.

    For goodness’ sake James! Think! Can you think of no function for a photosensitive strip on an otherwise blind organism? Does light have no role in the ecosystem in your mind? Does nothing cast shadows? Are you seriously claiming that an organism that can detect some light has no advantage whatsoever over a totally blind organism?

  43. For goodness’ sake James! Think! Can you think of no function for a photosensitive strip on an otherwise blind organism? Does light have no role in the ecosystem in your mind? Does nothing cast shadows? Are you seriously claiming that an organism that can detect some light has no advantage whatsoever over a totally blind organism?

    Obviously you have no idea where this is going – so yes tell me exactly what advantage a light sensitive patch have would have – specifically…

  44. Obviously you have no idea where this is going – so yes tell me exactly what advantage a light sensitive patch have would have – specifically…

    It would have a better awareness of the lay-out of its environment, probably better ability to navigate due to this awareness. It could possibly also detect prey.

    Pretty much the same advantages of any other eye, greatly watered down.

  45. Firstly, I don’t assume that the universe ‘created itself’, I do not know the Universe’s origins any better than you do. We can see quite clearly, through science, how the conditions for biological life arose, and how feedback loops encouraged and sustain life, and we can see how life adapted to specific eco-systems. The beginning remains somewhat mysterious, but I don’t see why we should suddenly jump to a supernatural cause on that basis.

    Not somewhat mysterious, totally mysterious. And why assume that a non-rational pre-material cause could create the universe? Or from there, biological life? What makes you think that is even possible or rational?

    If you do feel compelling to superimpose a supernatural first cause, then why your particular God-of-the-gaps? Why not “Beginning Fairies” from another dimension? Why are we not, rather than a god’s creation, tiniest portions of physical mold spores on a metaphysical slice of toast? Why not pretty much anything?

    Is your non-rational pre-material cause any more plausable than beginning fairies? I don’t think so…

  46. It would have a better awareness of the lay-out of its environment, probably better ability to navigate due to this awareness. It could possibly also detect prey.

    But why would a light patch cause it to detect and avoid prey? It is just skin after all and skin cares nothing about prey…

  47. Is your non-rational pre-material cause any more plausable than beginning fairies? I don’t think so…

    Well, I agree, as soon as we get into metaphysics things are totally mysterious. However, I have seen significant gains in knowledge about our origins and the natural world through materialist enquiry. I have never seen any significant gains in knowledge about our origins and the natural world that can be attributed to metaphysics. I am, fundamentally, not a skeptic, but a fallibilist. I tend to side with the evidence, and the evidence shows quite clearly that metaphysical enquiries have not led us anywhere useful.

    I would, given how we have come to learn about the world, believe (and yes, it is just a belief, but it is an evidenced belief) that a naturalistic origin is significantly more likely than a magical one.

  48. But why would a light patch cause it to detect and avoid prey? It is just skin after all and skin cares nothing about prey…

    I said ‘organism’, didn’t I? Not ‘lone patch of skin attached to nothing that has any other characteristics’. Stop beating up straw hydra. (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003998277_blob07.html)

  49. I said ‘organism’, didn’t I? Not ‘lone patch of skin attached to nothing that has any other characteristics’. Stop beating up straw hydra.

    That is correct Matty, a light patch alone means nothing. So, then how did this early creature know to interpret shadow or light as harmful or non-harmful?

  50. I would, given how we have come to learn about the world, believe (and yes, it is just a belief, but it is an evidenced belief) that a naturalistic origin is significantly more likely than a magical one.

    How do you know that your non-rational pre-material cause for the universe is not a magical belief? How do you know that it is even possible for such entity to created such a universe? Because you see physical cause and effect here? That is quite a leap…

  51. That is correct Matty, a light patch alone means nothing. So, then how did this early creature know to interpret shadow or light as harmful or non-harmful?

    It didn’t ‘know’ or ‘interpret’, it survived. Those individuals that interpreted light accordingly would survive and pass on their genes. Those individuals that did not interpret light accordingly died and their genes had progressively less influence on the gene pool.

  52. How do you know that your non-rational pre-material cause for the universe is not a magical belief? How do you know that it is even possible for such entity to created such a universe? Because you see physical cause and effect here? That is quite a leap…

    Firstly, it’s not ‘magical’ because it’s not metaphysical. Secondly, I did not suggest an ‘entity’, only an unknown physical process. Thirdly, as I said, it is only an evidenced belief, I don’t deny leaping a tad.

  53. Those individuals that interpreted light accordingly would survive and pass on their genes. Those individuals that did not interpret light accordingly died and their genes had progressively less influence on the gene pool.

    You are missing the point. Why would they interpret light at all?

  54. “What possible advantage would a light sensitive patch have?”

    Long story (very) short, its “food”-seeking. (Food in quote, as I’m including things like oxygen, minerals, etc.) You don’t have to “see” the food, just move towards where it is, e.g. water near the surface of a pond, rather than near the bottom; near phosphorescent food source, etc. Light-seeking behaviour is seen in bacteria, for example. Sight, as in “seeing” is different thing. In some cases light-seeking is a side-effect of seeking minerals, rather than true light-seeking.

  55. Matty, you rock – are you sure you’re not a biologist in disguise? James, there’s a huge amount of peer-reviewed publications out there on the evolution of the eye, if you’d only take the blinkers off & go look for it. Or if you’d prefer a ‘popular’ book, you could do a lot worse than Simon Ings’ book The Eye: a natural history. (Matty – I’ll blog on in soon.)

    However, since we seem to be going down James’ usual circuitous attempt to hi-jack the thread, I’m going to skip back to Ken’s original topic for the post – prostituting science. Ken, did you see the story in the Sunday Star-Times along this line? It was talking about the people who work for the big tobacco companies, & how they were quite willing to admit the ill that smoking does, but still enthusiastically developed & pushed the product. There’s a weird sort of cognitive dissonance there that I really can’t fathom, although doubtless filthy lucre plays a role. And before our resident troll says something like ‘see, scientists are baaad‘ – yes, some are. So are some judges, journalists, doctors, teachers, sportsmen – there are both good & bad people in every walk of life.

  56. You are missing the point. Why would they interpret light at all?

    Because very basic environmental sensory signals would reach a very basic brain of sorts that would already be adapted to interpreting sensory (touch) signals.

  57. Firstly, it’s not ‘magical’ because it’s not metaphysical. Secondly, I did not suggest an ‘entity’, only an unknown physical process. Thirdly, as I said, it is only an evidenced belief, I don’t deny leaping a tad.

    No, it may not be “metaphysical” but it could be just as magical. Especially if it was impossible for a non-rational pre-material cause to do the job. And at this point, you have no idea if such a physical process could do the job. BTW metaphysical does not necessarily mean the supernatural.

    http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/teleo.html

  58. Because very basic environmental sensory signals would reach a very basic brain of sorts that would already be adapted to interpreting sensory (touch) signals.

    Yes but touch is very different than light. Light still means nothing… How does it connect light/shadow with touch?

  59. James, there’s a huge amount of peer-reviewed publications out there on the evolution of the eye, if you’d only take the blinkers off & go look for it. Or if you’d prefer a ‘popular’ book, you could do a lot worse than Simon Ings’ book The Eye: a natural history. (Matty – I’ll blog on in soon.)

    Alison, I have read about eye evolution. Quite a bit actually (and I don’t see a lot of evidence, just a lot of just so stories). But this is why I’m asking these specific questions – lets see how Matty does.

  60. Yes but touch is very different than light. Light still means nothing… How does it connect light/shadow with touch?

    You getting mixed up. The crucial difference is not between ‘light’ and ‘touch’ themselves, but between how the body-brain registers senses of ‘light’ and ‘touch. If the senses register through the same basic medium (the body-brain) then it is not hard at all to hypothesise that the brain could produce make-shift interpretations of light senses based upon previous interpretations of touch senses. Those initial interpretations do not even have to be very good, natural selection would take the task of ‘tuning’ them.

  61. James: repeat, repeat, repeat, eh?

    1. I’ve already told you how light-seeking is advantageous.

    2. You talked about a “light-sensitive patch” in response to a post about an eye: they are different things. Eyes have very obvious advantages, too: you’re just trolling again.

    Now that’s dealt with, getting back on topic: I guess there will always be people who do harm, even though some probably may only see it in hindsight. I suppose that emphasises the need for the science itself to be open to scrutiny, so that the politics/business/etc can be separated from the science. I can’t imagine a scientist working for a tobacco company once the damage they cause was established, but I guess there must be some. Maybe they just have an incredibly cynical view about life? Y’know the “I might as well make money, it’ll all be the same anyway” sort of attitude.

    It makes you wonder if there is sense distinguishing those would have signed up to “cause no harm”, in some way, from those who haven’t?

  62. Right, sorry for feeding the troll. I just can’t resist trying to help James understand how futile and impractical his position is.

    There are obviously a few cynical Rand-infatuated scientists who dismiss communitarian ethics and go for a buck instead. It seems to affect many different fields. I often wonder how many of those scientists and engineers employed by the Japanese Centre for Cetacean Research feel guilty that they are not contributing to scientific knowledge. I assume they cannot all be so deluded as to think they are achieving anything of scientific importance.

  63. @ alison:

    Haven’t seen the Star-times article – I’ll have a look on the website. I agree with you about filthy lucre – there’s a great quote somewhere about how peoples objectivity and messages get distorted as soon as there is a commercial interest.

    As for scientists being biased, bad and wrong – they are just as bad as any other group. I have come across scientists who belief in astrology, racism, sexism, spirits and all sorts of religious beliefs. Strangely, I haven’t come across any creationists in person – but I know three NZers signed the Discovery Institutes’s Dissent petition (an engineer, and geographer and a physicist – all for religious motives).

    The basic things that saves science is it’s social activity (requirement for peer review and evidence) and the requirement to map against reality. Without this all sorts of weird things would be claimed in the name of science. and that is basically what “creationist science” does.

    The Wedge people really expose themselves with their campaigns to rewrite science standards for US Education Boards. Their major aim is to remove the need for evidence and checking against reality from the definitions of science.

    We know where that leads.

  64. Heraclides said…”I can’t imagine a scientist working for a tobacco company once the damage they cause was established, but I guess there must be some.”

    Disgusting thought but it happens.
    The tobacco companies make money from lung cancer, emphysema and a thousand other complaints.
    For decades, they fudged their research and engaged in muddying the waters in order to protect their profits.
    They knew exactly what they were doing to people.

    To make it work, they hired Phds to throw sciency-sounding words at the general public in order to create the impression that there was still a major controversy in the scientific community over the tobacco-cancer link.

    People addicted to nicotine looked for a shadow of doubt about the medical links between tobacco and cancer and Big Tobacco shamelessly fed those doubts.

    What surprised me was how exactly the same people involved with spinning the “science” of “tobacco doesn’t REALLY give you cancer” are the same people now involved with spinning the “science” of “there’s no such thing as global waming, go ahead and burn that coal”.

    Same people. Same tactics.
    The American Denial of Global Warming
    http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=2T4UF_Rmlio

  65. Matty Smith said…”Right, sorry for feeding the troll. I just can’t resist trying to help James understand how futile and impractical his position is.”

    Hypnotising, isn’t it? :)

    Well, done by the way.

  66. @ 60 (& echoing Cedric) – Matty does very well indeed :-)

  67. The crucial difference is not between ‘light’ and ‘touch’ themselves, but between how the body-brain registers senses of ‘light’ and ‘touch. If the senses register through the same basic medium (the body-brain) then it is not hard at all to hypothesise that the brain could produce make-shift interpretations of light senses based upon previous interpretations of touch senses. Those initial interpretations do not even have to be very good, natural selection would take the task of ‘tuning’ them.

    That is correct Matty, but this mean a novel interpretation through the neural pathway since light is not touch. The neural pathway will now have to correspond light with touch, something it did not do before. And that can only happen by mutation. So now we have a light patch caused by a mutation and a novel neural function also caused by a mutation. Do we agree so far?

  68. That is correct Matty, but this mean a novel interpretation through the neural pathway since light is not touch. The neural pathway will now have to correspond light with touch, something it did not do before. And that can only happen by mutation. So now we have a light patch caused by a mutation and a novel neural function also caused by a mutation. Do we agree so far?

    No, I do not agree because I do not agree with your premise that only mutation could cause ‘a novel neural function’. I tend to regard brain-function as more fluid than that. This is not necessarily something that requires a mutation towards a structural change in the brain, just a change in how current structures are employed. Again, I could be wrong. I’ve read relatively little about this area.

  69. @ James – November 19, 2008 at 10:23 am

    “Alison, I have read about eye evolution. Quite a bit actually (and I don’t see a lot of evidence, just a lot of just so stories).”

    Care to list what you have read on this question? I’m not suggesting that you haven’t – just curious about your sources. I mean – look at the web sites you usually use as sources (e.g. “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God” for “evidence” on physical constants!!).

    Are you reading actual reliable science sources – or just apologetic stuff?

    If you do read the good stuff – let us know your sources.

  70. 69 -

    FWIW, much of evolution proves to be re-use of existing genes for new purposes, often by altering the regulation of the genes, rather than the genes themselves.

    About “feeding the troll”, you’re welcome to do want you want of course! :-) Its not my blog anyway… I’ve just seen too much of that one idiot, that’s all. I doubt you’ll teach him to see how silly he’s being, but you might help lurkers get the picture for their benefit. At least that’s how I (self!) justify dealing with people like him when I do.

    68 & 69:

    It wouldn’t need a novel interpretation in the sense you’re implying, either. Many neural responses are essentially based on repetitive exposure to patterns regardless of the actual sensory source. An example I’m familiar with is that for the totally deaf who use sign language as their primary language, sign language is processed in Broca’s area (the main language “centre” of the brain), not the visual cortex. The same neurons, those in Broca’s area, are processing language from either audial or visual senses. Note there is no mutation or any genetic event going on in the example I’ve given.

  71. @ 71

    Thank you, Heraclides. That is precisely the sort of explanation I had anticipated, given the little that I do know.

  72. No, I do not agree because I do not agree with your premise that only mutation could cause ‘a novel neural function’. I tend to regard brain-function as more fluid than that. This is not necessarily something that requires a mutation towards a structural change in the brain, just a change in how current structures are employed. Again, I could be wrong. I’ve read relatively little about this area.

    Well a mutation is a change, it means change. And that is the problem – you have a mutation that creates a light patch – but that patch is useless until the neural system can process that light information into something useful – a function it did not have. So how long did these creatures survive with a useless light patch before a new mutation just happens to come along that could process that specific light information? But this must take place at most evey point of the development of the eye – a change in the eye structure, then a corresponding change in neural network that would utilize this new function, on and on. Just when does this all start sounding like magic to you guys?

  73. James,

    Not only have you avoided my posts, it seems you are not thinking either. In an earlier post, I pointed out to you that “light patches” (which are not eyes) are present in bacteria. Bacteria don’t have neurons, they’re single cells. This point and a little common sense would make you suspect that light-sensing evolved well before neurons, which you could easily check for yourself. I also alluded to how light-sensing is useful without neurons earlier, too.

    “Just when does this all start sounding like magic to you guys?”

    Yes, your posts sound more and more like magic the more you write :-) Ignoring what doesn’t suit you, taking enormous logical leaps, confusing different things, and on and on…

  74. The same neurons, those in Broca’s area, are processing language from either audial or visual senses. Note there is no mutation or any genetic event going on in the example I’ve given.

    This would not work going from a light patch to a human eye per say, because we know most of the systems involved both brain and eye. And there is a great deal of corresponding brain novelty with eye develpoment,there had to be for the information from the developing eye to be processed, used. And there is no evidence that these early, very simple creatures had this kind of plasticity.

  75. James, I suggest you re-read the last ten posts or so carefully, and with your brain engaged this time.

    Furthermore, it would not hurt to do as Ken asked earlier and cite your readings on eye evolution.

  76. Right, I need to avoid being snarky, and be frank instead:

    Well a mutation is a change, it means change. And that is the problem – you have a mutation that creates a light patch – but that patch is useless until the neural system can process that light information into something useful – a function it did not have.

    The light patch produces the same kind of data as ‘touch’ already does. So the brain does not need a mutation to process it, it can already interpret the data, albeit perhaps not with a lot of precision. The brain need not mutate to handle ‘light’ data, because ‘light’ data and ‘touch’ data are just two different sets in the same data format.

    And there is no evidence that these early, very simple creatures had this kind of plasticity.

    Could one of you wonderful scientists (eg, not James) tell me how true this claim is? It sounds rather dubious to me. It seems pretty intuitive that a brain would have the plasticity to interpret new sensory data if it already knows how to handle one kind of sensory data.

    (P.S. Ken, I like your little smiley at the base of the blog, it reminds me of Poneke’s blog here in Wellington)

  77. James’ reply side-steps to avoid his earlier goofs, a familiar, boorish, pattern coming from him. Its one of the key reasons these days I rarely have much to do with him.

    Of course, its a way of trying to make others do the work, instead of him reading for himself… Which also brings us back to James not telling us his science-based sources on eye development, I note.

    James can try back his own statements. In order to honestly say this “would not work” he must be able to tell us how how eyes evolved from simple light-sensing structures according to scientists, and be able to present evidence-backed reasons why this “would not work”. After all, you can’t say that something “would not work” unless you know in detail how it has been proposed to work and have a solid explanation of why it couldn’t with reasoned justifications…

    A few things he’ll need to avoid. No logical leaps (there is a lot of evolution to account for between light sensitive patches and eyes and your posts are taking huge liberties with that). No avoiding the implications light-sensitive responses developing before neurons. No avoiding proto-neurons. No avoiding the adaptability that independence of a neuron from the original external source provides. No avoiding the common molecular mechanisms of neural action (with adaptability this gives). No avoiding that existing systems can and do use more than one sensory input. No circular arguments. No arguments not based on evidence or fact (which rules out arguments from apologetics, by the way). No “cut’n’paste arguments” (quotes are fine as long as they are referenced and you back them with your own words: quotes alone won’t cut it). No mixing different levels of development and/or evolution (you’ve already tried that incidentally). No referring to things that apply to brains to organisms that don’t have brains and vice versa. No vagueness about level of development or evolution (e.g. “simple” precisely means what?) And so on.

    What I’d like to see James do is fill in the things he’s left out. The things he’d know if he had genuinely “read about eye evolution”. The things he’d have to know in order to make out that this “would not work”. I’m waiting :-)

    Could one of you wonderful scientists (eg, not James) tell me how true this claim is? It sounds rather dubious to me. It seems pretty intuitive that a brain would have the plasticity to interpret new sensory data if it already knows how to handle one kind of sensory data.

    Actually, why not get James to justify himself? He made the statement after all.

    A deeper problem is that James is leaving out things, providing himself with “gaps” that he then tries to point at. I’ve little doubt he is getting this from “Christian” sources who will have left out things for essentially the same reasons, and he’s gullibly swallowed the lot. Instead he ought to go out and read what he’s missing. (And perhaps think why his “Christian” sources left those things out.) Perhaps he’s too frighten in case it makes him change his position? Whatever.

    Interesting to note that in using the word ‘early’ he’s accepting evolution, though.

    James:

    The expression is per se. ‘Per say’, is hilarious! :-)

    If think my “No” list is harsh, its not. Scientists don’t skip these (among many other things), so you can’t in your reply either.

  78. I don’t know if I am muddying things here by using leyman’s terms. I realise, by dint of my ignorance about biology, that I’m not using ‘whole’ or precise rebuttals, however hopefully using the basic concepts that I am familiar with, I can demonstrate to James that basic evolutionary concepts are coherent and not so hard to grasp when one is reasonably informed. The only issue seems to be, James, getting you to inform yourself.

  79. @68 (& sorry if I’m duplicating someone else, I just skimmed down to here) – you certainly don’t need a mutation to get nerves moving from interpreting light to interpreting touch (or vice versa). There’s been some fascinating work done where blind people have learned to ‘see’ with their chests: a small video camera mounted on a glasses frame sends a low-res pixellated image to a waist mounted computer. This in turn activates a set of 256 servos that cause pressure changes in a chest-mounted vest. So the person wearing the vest gets a pattern of ‘touches’ that corresponds to the pixellated image. Blind people wearing this get-up can apparently learn to navigate around objects & even – amazingly – distinguish between faces. And they do this by translating the ‘touches’ into some sort of mental visual image.

  80. 79: You’re doing fine.

    80: There are lots of lovely examples of this sort of thing, they’re great aren’t they?

  81. you certainly don’t need a mutation to get nerves moving from interpreting light to interpreting touch (or vice versa). There’s been some fascinating work done where blind people have learned to ’see’ with their chests: a small video camera mounted on a glasses frame sends a low-res pixellated image to a waist mounted computer. This in turn activates a set of 256 servos that cause pressure changes in a chest-mounted vest. So the person wearing the vest gets a pattern of ‘touches’ that corresponds to the pixellated image. Blind people wearing this get-up can apparently learn to navigate around objects & even – amazingly – distinguish between faces. And they do this by translating the ‘touches’ into some sort of mental visual image.

    Alison, humans already have the redundant neural network and the “intelligence” to interpret this information. Along with other people telling them how to interpret this information. Why on earth would these simple creatures equate light with touch? Something physical, other than the patch itself, must happen. It can’t be mental since they don’t reason.

  82. The light patch produces the same kind of data as ‘touch’ already does. So the brain does not need a mutation to process it, it can already interpret the data, albeit perhaps not with a lot of precision. The brain need not mutate to handle ‘light’ data, because ‘light’ data and ‘touch’ data are just two different sets in the same data format.

    That is the point Matty, light is not touch. The creature must now have have the ability to translate light or shadow into a reaction. But why would it? There is no reason to – unless there was some kind of corresponding physical change in the neural function, the ability to now react to light like touch..

  83. That is the point Matty, light is not touch. The creature must now have have the ability to translate light or shadow into a reaction. But why would it? There is no reason to – unless there was some kind of corresponding physical change in the neural function, the ability to now react to light like touch..

    James, you’re operating on wilful ignorance right now. Several biologists/commenters/scientists have just pointed out that early brains do inherently have the plasticity of function that you deny: “No avoiding the implications light-sensitive responses developing before neurons. No avoiding proto-neurons. No avoiding the adaptability that independence of a neuron from the original external source provides. No avoiding the common molecular mechanisms of neural action (with adaptability this gives). No avoiding that existing systems can and do use more than one sensory input.”

    I believe you are, as Heraclides puts it, deliberately avoiding aspects of rather basic neurological make-up that demolish your position. Heraclides is clearly inviting you to seek out some facts about the brain’s composition and its innate plasticity when it comes to interpreting sensory functions.

    Let me say it one more time: A brain that can react to touch can also react to light using the same methods and by adapting the same ‘neural network’.

    Alison, humans already have the redundant neural network and the “intelligence” to interpret this information. Along with other people telling them how to interpret this information. Why on earth would these simple creatures equate light with touch? Something physical, other than the patch itself, must happen. It can’t be mental since they don’t reason.
    Firstly, let’s not confuse things. We are talking about physiological ‘interpretation’, not ‘intelligent’ interpretation. We are talking about an organism’s brain sparking a physical react to basic sensory data sets (touch and light). We’re both clear on this, and everyone else, being considerably more informed than either of us, is as well. You have no need to patronise anyone, it makes you look more foolish, and I’m not merely keen on making you look like a fool. The one thing theists deserve is the doctrinal compassion and patience that they so often fail to dish out. Alison, as a biologist, is unlikely to tell you a story like that if it is not relevant to the point. I very much doubt she would neglect to mention a ‘redundant neural network’, if that was how brains worked, then she would not be so silly as to post an entirely pointless story as an argument. The problem is, you have a fundamental ignorance about brain function, even more fundamental than my own, and it is clouding your ability to participate here. Let me ask you outright, James, because we are already somewhat out of our depths in the world of neuroscience:

    Do you believe that every shift in brain function comes about through genetic mutation? What basis do you have for believing this claim?

  84. Again Matty, one simple question – why would these early creatures interpret or react to light as they react to touch? In other words, why would the existing neural pathways (if it is the same one used for touch)now react to light? This question is getting lost in the maze.

    BTW, light being translated into reaction is no simple process, let me quote Behe on exactly what happens:

    When light first strikes the retina a photon interacts with a molecule called 11-cis-retinal, which rearranges within picoseconds to trans-retinal. (A picosecond [10–12 sec]is about the time it takes light to travel the breadth of a single human hair.) The change in the shape of the retinal molecule forces a change in the shape of the protein, rhodopsin, to which the retinal is tightly bound. The protein’s metamorphosis alters its behavior. Now called metarhodopsin II, the protein sticks to another protein, called transducin. Before bumping into metarhodopsin II, transducin had tightly bound a small molecule called GDP. But when transducin interacts with metarhodopsin II, the GDP falls off, and a molecule called GTP binds to transducin. (GTP is closely related to, but different from, GDP.)

    GTP-transducin-metarhodopsin II now binds to a protein called phosphodiesterase, located in the inner membrane of the cell. When attached to metarhodopsin II and its entourage, the phosphodiesterase acquires the chemical ability to “cut” a molecule called cGMP (a chemical relative of both GDP and GTP). Initially there are a lot of cGMP molecules in the cell, but the phosphodiesterase lowers its concentration, just as a pulled plug lowers the water level in a bathtub.

  85. Ack! He quoted Behe! I’m in the python’s lair now, coils of pseudoscience will descend upon me!

    Is that your specific source, quoted for Ken’s benefit?

    Admit it, James, you do not know enough about science to know just how complex that process really is, or even whether Behe is correct in all his particulars. I certainly do not. Even if it is a complex process, that does not tell me whether or not light and touch can be registered using the same neural framework. Complexity itself is not an argument.

  86. Ok Matty, back to: why would these early creatures interpret or react to light as they react to touch? In other words, why would the existing neural pathways (if it is the same one used ifor touch)now react to light?

  87. (I just left the computer with the distinct impression that I might have been offered a road map as evidence that two buses can never take the same route). :/

  88. Ok Matty, back to: why would these early creatures interpret or react to light as they react to touch? In other words, why would the existing neural pathways (if it is the same one used ifor touch)now react to light?

    I do not know enough about neuroscience to answer that properly. I better field that reply to people more informed than me. I think I have given you a very basic answer though:

    An early organism would react to light and touch the same way if it interprets light and touch as the same kind of signals. It must interpret light on a very similar way to how it interprets touch, because it has no different methods of interpretation, just a different sensory organ producing (presumably) somewhat different signals – a variation on the theme of touch.

    It all seems pretty intuitive and easy to get one’s head around, at least as a basic hypothesis.

  89. And your suggestion is a) eminently testable & b) very reasonable as a tentative explanation.

    Now I’m going back to the “eye” book; I need an antidote to Behe! ;-)

  90. 90:

    Indeed. Horribly remiss of me to leave these out. I was focussing to much on what he wasn’t doing, to think about what he needed to do.

    Shame he’s already done some of the ‘No’s. Sort-of failing before he’s starting in a way!

    Like your latest posts on your blog, by the way.

  91. Quoting Behe, eh? How reputable :-)

    Nice line in post 88.

    Still waiting for James to put forward his explanation of why “it would not work”.

    (89: Nutshell answer: if the downstream molecular pathways are the same or paralogous, then the same or paralogous responses can be delivered to different inputs. The language example I gave before is an example of this. It involves a larger system, but I chose it in part as I hoped it would be easier for a non molecular-biologist to see the essence of the thing without having to dig into molecular biology. James is mixing different levels of complexity and types of organisms, etc., which is one of the ‘No’s I gave. Its also trolling in a sense.)

    Still waiting, James ;-)

  92. @ 91 “Like your latest posts on your blog, by the way.” – thank you, kind sir :-) I was hoping they weren’t too scrappy; didn’t want to let it slip while I was gadding about in Wellington but also didn’t have time for anything more substantive!

  93. Still waiting for James to put forward his explanation of why “it would not work”.

    Heraclides, even if our creature could use the same path ways to interpret touch and light, there is no reason I see for equating touch with light without a further physical change in the neural network. And the fact is Heraclides, as the eye develops there needs to be corresponding changes in brain function to process the increasing information better sight would provide. I don’t think you would deny this. So we have random changes in the eye and random changes in the brain that would be nesessary to process said information.

    Now Heraclides I never said I was anything but a layman on these issues, but if my above over view is wrong, then show how…

  94. You haven’t provided an explanation: do you understand what that involves? (Haven’t we been through this before and you were found to be lacking?)

    Your first sentence is self-contradictory, read it closely. It says if something already works, then something needs to change in order to the for the something that already works to work; obviously this makes no sense: if it already works, nothing needs to change. (Incidentally, in writing ‘path ways’ rather than ‘pathways’, you seem to not what that means.) No-one said anything about equating touch with light and no-one has written to that effect either. (This makes me wonder, again, if you understand what you are writing. Excuse my manners, but it looks to me as if you’re babbling.) What was written was that both senses might be processed by the same neurons in the brain. This is observed to happen as I have pointed out to you.

    Your second sentence both shifts the subject matter (you started with a “light patch”, now you want to start with an eye) and in doing so skips over an enormous number of issues. Check my ‘No’ list. You’re breaking a few ;-)

    The third sentence is moot as it relies on the second.

    The fourth takes another enormous leap of logic! Check the ‘No’ list. (Sounds like the sort of thing I’ve seen in apologists trying to argue “science” to “prove” their religion.)

    As for the fifth, your usual attempt to have other people “answer to you”… well, how original…

    In any event well done on disrupting yet another thread :-/

    So back to the actual topic :-) Perhaps its not directly related, but the media (e.g. the 7pm “current news” shows on TV) need to be made to use “experts” that have been approved to be current experts on the area they seek opinion from? They seem to too often rely solely on those promoting the product, then a quick sound bite from some more-or-less random “professor” (presumably to self-justify “balance”). I actually suspect that they think the title ‘professor’ is the key point, not their expertise or how up-to-date they are! I have the idea of licenses and whatnot, but the medical profession uses them to at least some effect, but there would seem to be needed some way of establishing to the audience that the person speaking is presenting a view that does actually represent that of current science. A licence itself wouldn’t really work in the sense, that its what’s said, not just who the person or their title is and its precisely the problem that prostituting science already seems to have as Ken was pointing out. (Besides licences introduce a lot of other issues, some of them I’d probably object to!) Perhaps membership of some reasonably specialised organisation, approved by the national science organisation? The organisations can dismiss members who are out of line and the national body can track what organisations it considers “worthy” of “professional society” status and that this done in a more formalised, organised way as a working mechanism that media can use in the real sense, not more-or-less randomly as it currently is. I’ve a mind to talk to the science media people about this. Thoughts, Alison, Ken?

  95. “…but the media (e.g. the 7pm “current news” shows on TV) need to be made to use “experts” that have been approved to be current experts on the area they seek opinion from?”

    That sounds like a good idea.
    I’d be very interested to know how your average journalist or news channel goes about vetting science information.
    Judging from some of the news lately, there doesn’t seem to be enough thought or care taken.

    Scientists need to raise their profile and establish stronger, regular contact with the media.
    I know that the media is just out for a quick, entertaining sound-bite but if that’s the medium then… work with what you’ve got.

    I’d like to see scientists, as a body in their local area, lending support to a small cadre of eminent scientists that would make themselves available to their local media outlets.
    Not just be available but actively promote themselves as people who are genuinely qualified to speak on scientific issues.
    They would be the “go to” people that a journalist, running to a tight dead-line, could get credible science information.
    Science information that understands that it has to be sound-bite worthy and, yes, “entertaining”.
    (Just grit your teeth and work with it.)

    There also needs to be a push to target media management to act in a more responsible manner and not idlely give “woo” equal airtime just because people mindlessly lap it up.

  96. I don’t think eminence is needed so much as relevance. Very senior people are often asked things off their patch and their replies can be slightly wide of the mark. (“Eminence” when its used off the person’s actual expertise is in a way another stand-in for ‘title’, rather than expertise.) I’d elaborate, but I have to head into town. (Why did Christians burden us with this ridiculous shopping thing! JK.)

  97. Heraclides said…”Very senior people are often asked things off their patch and their replies can be slightly wide of the mark.”

    Oh I agree entirely.
    (You don’t want a geologist talking about biology for example.)

    The cadre of scientists needs to be the right size to cover all the various major fields and yet not be too diluted (public recognition-wise).
    For the media-savvy science/science-savvy media thing to work, some kind of balance has to be found.

    You need “faces” that the public will eventually come to recognise.
    They should be presentable, well groomed and very comfortable with a pithy comment or a handy quick-fire analogy.
    Yes, it’s stupidly superficial.
    Yet the media runs on stupid superficiality.
    If your beard is too shaggy or if your lisp is too pronounced or if you can’t connect with you audience in the 20 second slot you have, then your message will be lost.
    (Even though you may be a Nobel Prize winner.)

    On the science side of things, they should have very respectable qualifications, be active in their field and have the full support and trust of their collegues to represent good science on TV.

    It’s a tall order but I’d like to see some organisation on this front.

  98. Well, TV news just needs to move toward stories modelled on those by Alison Ballance, Amelia Nurse and Veronica Meduna on Radio NZ National. I’ve summarised the 6pm news from TV3 and TV One regularly over the past two years or so, and I must admit it would be hard to ‘infiltrate’ and change attitudes at those stations. Both stations are totally uncritical of pseudoscience. When Olympic cyclist Hayden Roulston attributed his win to ‘reiki healing’ a few months ago, they gave him full, credulous coverage. They even sent a report a ‘reiki practitioner’ on Close Up. They routinely exploit and follow terminal cancer patients seeking ‘alternative’ treatments. I know from thousands of hours of hours of experience that our current crop of television journalists are rapacious, well-dressed morons who regard science as an impediment to a good story.

    Oh… …and don’t get me started on how they treat climate science. These are the guys who employed the late Augie Auer!

  99. “If your beard is too shaggy or if your lisp is too pronounced or if you can’t connect with you audience in the 20 second slot you have, then your message will be lost.”

    I’ve noticed that they seldom apply this rule to their economists.

  100. It says if something already works, then something needs to change in order to the for the something that already works to work; obviously this makes no sense: if it already works, nothing needs to change. (Incidentally, in writing ‘path ways’ rather than ‘pathways’, you seem to not what that means.) No-one said anything about equating touch with light and no-one has written to that effect either. (This makes me wonder, again, if you understand what you are writing. Excuse my manners, but it looks to me as if you’re babbling.) What was written was that both senses might be processed by the same neurons in the brain. This is observed to happen as I have pointed out to you..

    You have explained absolutely nothing Heraclides. Touch if felt through the skin, the skin is depressed. Light does no such thing, there would be no reason for the creature to react to light as it reacted to touch – you just assert that it is so without showing why or how that could be. How light could cause the same reaction.

  101. *face palm*

    You’re so confused James. Let’s try something:

    Early Organism Population (EOP) has a sense of touch, and skin that registers that sense. A biological signal travels to EOP’s rudimentary brain. A mutation occurs in EOP’s skin, some of EOP’s skin cells start to register light instead of touch. These new cells use the only signalling process available to them, the same one as touch uses (they, after all, mutant ‘touch’ cells in this theory). EOP’s brain receives a new signal from the light cells, a variant of the touch signal. Over generations, those EOPs that react to the signal appropriately survive.

  102. “I’ve noticed that they seldom apply this rule to their economists.”

    ROTFL.

  103. On the topic of science & the media – I did think (& hope) that this matter of putting the relevant scientists in touch with the media on given issues was something that was to be addressed by the Science Media Centre. However, since its launch I haven’t seen much from it, & as Matty points out, even though the Centre’s there the mainstream media certainly don’t make much (any?) use of it. (I rather hope Peter’s reading your blog, Ken, as he may be able to bring us all up to date on this.)

    And the credulity/gullibility of some in the media really does beggar belief. I remember that when some charlatan claimed he could find Maddy McCain (? having an elderly moment & that’s probably entirely the wrong surname: that 4-year-old child who went missing in Portugal) using a GPS system & a strand of her hair, the papers reported it as is where is – no hard questions at all! Mind you, considering that they work for channels that regularly screen appalling nonsense like ‘Sensing Murder’, what do you expect?

  104. I think part of the problem is that you need to put mechanism and processes in place, so that its “natural” for the media to take them up and in some ways obligate them to use it, make it “official” in some sort of way so that they’ll use it to satisfy their “we’re supposed to look as if we’re being balanced” thing. (I know this view is a bit negative, but the stories coming out are nutty enough to make you think that way…!)

    I’m guessing that if it involves too much effort, or there is some silly nay-saying going on a higher levels of the broadcasters, then you’re going to have a hard time of it.

    Some of the rubbish on TV is extraordinarily stupid, but perhaps they see themselves as there for entertainment, not for informing (being it the news, opinions or science)? If so, it’d reflect a larger demise in the whole industry.

    I might try find time to write up what I was thinking more formally, as I’m likely to make a messy effort of it here (my posts here are off-the-cuff) and then forward it along. Have to worry about making my living first…

  105. A mutation occurs in EOP’s skin, some of EOP’s skin cells start to register light instead of touch. These new cells use the only signalling process available to them, the same one as touch uses (they, after all, mutant ‘touch’ cells in this theory). EOP’s brain receives a new signal from the light cells, a variant of the touch signal. Over generations, those EOPs that react to the signal appropriately survive.

    That is the jump in logic Matty. Why would the creature now register light at touch? Why would light or shadow cause any reaction?

  106. No jump, James. Re-read what Matty wrote, & what you quoted. If you’re going to argue science on a science forum, at least get your skills up to scratch.

  107. 101: Still trolling. “you just assert that it is so without showing why or how that could be” Not true, you’ve already had both examples (and not just from me) and a brief pointer to where the answers lie. If you can’t your own homework and follow the leads you’re given, that’s not our problem.

    You appear to not know the difference between receptors and subsequent processing. Read the subject, as others have suggested to you many times for many topics: this would have been clear to you had you tried to. You need to read something substantial (e.g. a book, not a internet article) as you’re missing vast chunks of basic stuff. And if you want to claim what you know is science, it’ll have to be written by someone with relevant expertise in the area.

    Likewise, if you tried to construct a explanation (a proper one), the exercise would quickly expose the sort of contradictions, misunderstandings and lack of knowledge you show here for yourself before you make a mess. But you never seem to really try.

    Getting back to the topic, you’re right, Alison, the SMC has a mechanism for providing relevant experts for media already. This leaves them as the “vetting” authority I guess, for their mechanism, anyway. With that in mind, my own idea may be a bit redundant. (But I like it all the same-its mine!)

    I was contacted myself about a topic, so the SMC must be being used at some level. (Although I was never told would be using the information, something I must about.) It would be interesting to have stats on how often the SMC is used and how its being used. Also stats for how many experts they have on tap and for how many fields, etc.

    I can’t find anything on the SMC site about providing a setup for blogs as Peter mentioned on this blog might happen sometime ago. (I wrote to him about this recently, but haven’t gotten a reply: probably too rushed off this feet!) Does anyone have any news on that front?

  108. James: Your lack of any scientific knowledge is fundamental. Clearly even the basics confuse you immensely, it is no wonder you find evolution baffling, if you cannot even conceptualise a hypothesis this simple. I have to consider carefully, though, what I gain if I give up this argument with you? It is clear that you need help – that you need to learn how to learn again. I am bearing all this in mind. Let me try to address your objections explicitly:

    EOP Recap

    “A mutation occurs in EOP’s skin, some of EOP’s skin cells start to register light instead of touch. These new cells use the only signalling process available to them, the same one as touch uses (they, after all, mutant ‘touch’ cells in this theory). EOP’s brain receives a new signal from the light cells, a variant of the touch signal. Over generations, those EOPs that react to the signal appropriately survive.”

    Why would the creature now register light at touch?

    This question is oddly phrased. The creature would not ‘register light at touch’, it would register light using the same sort of signalling ‘code’ as it uses to register touch. Light and touch are, in this example, like two phrases made up of the same words.

    Why would light or shadow cause any reaction?

    We’ve covered this objection already. Light and shadow would not ’cause any reaction’, precisely, but those with a sense of light would die less frequently in certain circumstances. For example, if EOP feeds on photosynthetic algae, then EOPs will thrive in lighted areas. Any EOPs that stick to the darkness (away from the algae) will not thrive as well. Natural selection will favour any later mutations that focus this sense of light/sight

  109. Sorry, I’m knocking off these posts from work, mostly, so they’re not the best. That should say, “…like two different phrases made up of the same words.”

  110. And, James, please tell me if these responses are not adequate. Still confused? Does it still seem ‘like magic’?

  111. Matty, It is not a silly question to ask why a creature now interprets light/and shadow as touch. Or what mechanism would cause that. Now perhaps your just so story above is correct. It is plausible – but on the other hand we have no idea if that is how it actually happened.

    So, I give you the point, for now…

  112. James said…”It is not a silly question to ask why a creature now interprets light/and shadow as touch.”

    It’s very silly however to just repeatedly ask questions, ignore the answers and say “Nah huh, I don’t believe you. Therefore Set did it.”
    Very silly.

    James said…”It is plausible – but on the other hand we have no idea if that is how it actually happened.’

    Maybe you could shock us all and perhaps read a science book on the subject?

    “Or what mechanism would cause that. Now perhaps your just so story above is correct.”

    Reading a science book devoted to biology would really help you.

    Biologists love to talk about the mechanisms of biology.
    (It’s a requirement, actually.)
    If you can understand the mechanisms and the evidence found, then maybe you would not be so quick to dismiss things you don’t understand as “just-so” stories.

    Probably you don’t even remember the last time you picked up a science book.
    Not one appears on your reading list.

    Go out and read up on the evolution of the eye.
    They have published books on this very subject, especially designed to reach special people like you.
    The information is out there.
    Learn.
    If you’re too lazy for even that…then how about a video with pretty pictures?
    http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=rUOpaFVgKPw

  113. I’m not interested in point-scoring, James. I am just glad that you agree my hypothesis is ‘plausible’. I hope you only continue to discard the many other myths you’ve imbibed. I’m sorry I called your question, ‘silly’. I don’t want to be snarky, but you would be much better off in these debates if you read about what are debating – science – from credible sources.

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