Tenth Anniversary for The Skeptical Zone

Who’d have thought it would make it this far?

27th July, 2011, was the date of the very first opening post at The Skeptical Zone. The site was created by Dr Elizabeth Liddle, partly to facilitate extended discussion that got buried at the “Intelligent-Design” promoting site, Uncommon Descent, where Lizzie was an active critic for some time before falling prey to the Barry Arrington ban-hammer. It was also an experiment in attempting to facilitate discussion across widely-differing across widely-differing viewpoints by proposing a code of conduct involving assuming all other participants are commenting in good faith. There have been ups and downs over the years with perhaps the most disappointing aspect that Lizzie herself has ceased to be involved (except she still pays the bills).

So it is something of a miracle that the site is still active albeit well down from its peak around the end of 2015. Anyway, here we still are, some of us. I wonder what the next decade will bring.

Open Thread: Contributions Invited!

And warmly encouraged…

This site is a little quiet these days. I know it is the middle of the Summer holiday season and the impact of Covid has been devastating to normal life. But I wonder why the site is still receiving around 100 unique visits a day when seemingly fewer of those visitors are adding opening posts or leaving comments.

If anyone has thoughts about what would encourage more participation, exchange of ideas, please let’s hear from you.

Le Tour 2021

Can Mark Cavendish win?

Tomorrow, 10th July, the 14th stage of the cycle race, Tour de France, sets off from the city of Carcassonne, exploring the foothills of the Pyrenees and circling back to the town of Quillan, making which would be at a more leisurely pace, an excellent way to experience the sights (and sites) of the Aude department, named for the Aude river which flows through Quillan and Carcassonne on its way from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea.

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Are we on rails?

De gustibus non est disputandum

I’m not a philosopher but a couple of issues that have occupied philosophers over perhaps millenia remain unresolved. Let’s call the concepts free will and determinism. Of course a problem that arises immediately as there seem not to be consensus definitions of either concept. They also seem to be linked (in the opinion of many) in that agreeing or disagreeing with one of these concepts entails acceptance or rejection of the other. A frequently encountered strategy is to add an adjective. So we have libertarian free will, strict determinism and so on. Below is a diagram that attempts to summarize the various proposals.

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Abiogenesis: The Second Data Point?

Will Perserverance find it on Mars?

Abiogenesis, the question of the origin of life on Earth, is a fascinating one and on current information we only have one data point on which to base hypotheses. The facts are that life exists on Earth in amazing variety in many different niches from the coldest, darkest oceans to the driest deserts. Yet that life in all its diversity shares much in common.

With few and very interesting exceptions, the genetic code—the way information that terrestrial organisms use to function, grow and reproduce is stored—is shared across all extant species (and in extinct species where DNA is still recoverable). I know of no other plausible explanation for this than life’s diversity radiates from a common ancestor. So far direct fossil evidence takes life back at least 3.75 billion years and molecular phylogeny suggests an even earlier date for the universal common ancestor. It is reasonable to infer that a molten Earth was sterile and that life based on carbon and water could not have existed on this planet before it was cool enough for water to condense on its surface.

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Design by Natural Selection: The LTEE

Lenski’s Long Term Evolutionary Experiment

Richard Lenski began the LTEE with 12 populations (six Ara^+ and six Ara^-) of the bacterium Escherichia coli on 24th February, 1988. The experiment is currently housed at Michigan State University and has run continuously apart from a short break while relocating to the present site and another during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak.

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Attack Ideas – not the people that hold them!

I heard this first at Uncommon Descent from blog-tsar, Dave Springer. I think it is a reasonable aspiration. Do we at TSZ fall short? Is it possible to attack the ideas of Donald Trump without being disparaging about the person of Donald Trump? I’ll admit to a lapse there. But in general, I think contributors support their claims and naked ad hominem seems rare here to me. Please correct me in comments if your mileage differs. Continue reading

Yuletide greetings, Bonnes fêtes, Happy Holidays!

Above all, here’s hoping for a better year next year: Covid vaccines prove safe, effective and are universally available — USA re-establishes itself as a beacon of democracy — UK re-embraces Europe (or newly independent Scotland joins the EU along with a united Ireland) — consensus and effective action world-wide on climate change.

Suggestions on a postcard or post them here. Remember no topic is off-topic.

Santa destroys Christianity?

Winding down for a very quiet Christmas allows me plenty of time to read and one of my favourite places to read for news and comment is the Guardian. I like it because it was founded in 1821 as a moderate pro-business paper and morphed into a more radical stance with the arrival in 1872 of C. P. Scott as editor and later owner. Later, ownership was transferred to the Scott Trust (now the Scott Trust Endowment Fund) to ensure editorial and financial independence. That the online version is fully-financed and free to all is a bonus, too. I should declare a personal interest as a fourth generation descendant of C. P. Scott is a family friend. Continue reading

The 2020 US Presidential Election

Of course this should normally be a domestic affair for the people of the United States of America. But this year seems so extraordinary in many ways. I’m following events with interest, hope and alarm (not necessarily in that order). In 2016, I posted my thoughts on the imminent election, never for one moment thinking that the US would elect Donald Trump as president. Boy, was I wrong. Can I be wrong again? What do others think? Not that we have long to wait.

Vote early and vote often!

Lockdown!

Share your experience, tips, advice, questions…

As it seems most communities world-wide are going into voluntary or enforced quarantine that involves staying at home and avoiding physical contact as much as possible, I thought we could have a thread where we could try a bit of mutual support by cheering each other up over the next few days, weeks, months… Who knows?

I don’t know: suggestions on films to watch, books to read, gardening tips, exercise ideas

Usual rules apply plus a guideline. Let’s be kind and supportive to each other.

Intelligent Design explains Sex!

A thread for ID proponents to explain their alternative theory for biological phenomena.

Allan Miller has written an article on sex, proposing an evolutionary explanation for why almost all Eukaryota indulge in sex. In response to comments from evolution skeptics questioning his explanation, he challenges them:

OK, you ID types, what’s the Design explanation for sex? You need to explain why all eukaryotes have genes that are involved in meiosis, though some never actually perform meiosis, and in some, the genes are ‘broken’. And you need to explain the taxonomic distribution of asexuality – absent in mammals and birds, but increasingly found as one descends your imagined scala naturae – though intermittent sex remains the norm, even in single celled organisms.

Why? What purpose does it serve that is common to single celled protists and our favourite organism, the chimp? Why wasn’t everything designed to just reproduce asexually?

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Thinking about Thinking

Metacognition as a ladder to enlightenment?

We humans are sentient beings. By some means or other, our species has ended up with, at least in our own opinion, with cognitive abilities that separate sharply from our closest living relatives, chimps and bonobos, with whom we share 99% of our genes. We have made huge advances in knowledge which we can store, share and use in scientific research, cultural development, building infrastructure, exploration, travel, transport. This huge explosion in cultural evolution needed and may be driven by that exceptional intelligence. Is there any limit to what we can achieve? I say there is.

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Happy New Year

To all TSZ Members and Readers!

The end of the year and the imminent arrival of the new decade made me wonder when exactly Dr Liddle set this blog up. I see it was in (or at least prior to) August, 2011. Lizzie put up her first opening post Where does information come from? here. You can tell it’s the first because the link is to “hello_world”, the example post that comes with the WordPress package. UD addicts may like to follow this link to exchanges between Lizzie and the charming Upright Biped that may have had some part in the birth of TSZ. So TSZ is well on the way to it’s first decade – a remarkable achievement considering Lizzie has not actively participated here for some years.

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The Demise of Intelligent Design

At last?

Back in 2007, I predicted that the idea of “Intelligent Design” would soon fade into obscurity. I wrote:

My initial assessment of ID in my earliest encounter with an ID proponent* was that ID would be forgotten within five years, and that now looks to me an over-generous estimate.

*August, 2005

I was wrong. Whilst the interest in “Intelligent Design” (ID) as a fruitful line of scientific enquiry has declined from the heady days of 2005 (or perhaps was never really there) there remain diehard enthusiasts who maintain the claim that ID has merit and is simply being held back by the dark forces of scientism. William Dembski; the “high priest” of ID has largely withdrawn from the fray but his ideas have been promoted and developed by Robert Marks and Winston Ewert. In 2017 (with Dembski as a co-author) they published Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, which was heralded as a new development in the ID blogosphere. However, the claim that this represents progress has been met with scepticism.

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Paging Dr. Holloway!

TSZ member Eric Holloway is the latest rising star of the “Intelligent Design” movement. Such a meteoric rise is bound to attract attention and it has indeed caught the eye of veteran biologist Professor Joseph Felsentein who noticed a comment young Eric posted here at TSZ and remarks


Eric Holloway just made a dramatic announcement on The Skeptical Zone, in Dieb’s thread on the number of posts at the ID site Uncommon Descent. In this comment he concludes “At least in my personal interactions with people, it seems like ID has won the debate”.

Professor Felsenstein has a few questions for Eric and hopes he may find the time to respond. I’m just helping out in case Eric has missed Joe’s post at the Panda’s Thumb.