2024! I’m almost glad to see the back of 2023 but have little expectation of good news and I’m finding it hard to be optimistic. Is there anyone still reading The Skeptical Zone that can suggest something that could happen that might help me regain a bit of that lost optimism?
One regret I have regarding the demise of Uncommon Descent is being unable to continue discussion with Upright Biped, a regular at UD who believed he had an argument against the natural evolution of the genetic code, which I refer to as his “semiotic hypothesis”.
Whilst wrapped up in impenetrable jargon and idiosyncratic prose, it is/was quite a simple argument: that the first organisms could not evolve the genetic code without already having the metabolism in place and vice versa, an insoluble chicken-and-egg conundrum. Continue reading →
I was wondering what had happened to Uncommon Descent’s owner, lawyer Barry Arrington. Having bought the blog from “Intelligent Design” theorist* William Dembski, he established a reputation as a bit of a martinet, quick to delete comments and ban commenters he didn’t like. But recently, things have been much quieter and moderation has been light to non-existent, with no contributions from Arrington.
But he must have been saving himself up for a relaunch, as now a long (in comparison to Arrington’s other opening posts) post by him, What Must We Do When The Foundations Are Being Destroyed?, has appeared. I wonder initially who Barry means by “we” but the article soon makes it clear the call to arms is for the religious authoritarian right. It’s an annoying read as there is an inaccurate, misleading, selective point in almost every sentence so that, for me, it almost achieves the status of being so polarized in its essence as to be not worth responding to. But then that fulfils Barry’s prophesy and puts me on his level, on the other side of the barricade he is keen to erect.
I’ve been commenting at Uncommon Descent recently, initially because Upright Biped had reappeared there promoting his semiotic theory and I felt he wasn’t getting the response he needed. Upright Biped then withdrew but I haven’t been able to resist the urge to continue to chip in.
The discussions there often are dominated by right-wing religious commenters and I think it is only right, and good for them, to rattle their cages to challenge their assumptions, misconceptions, and misrepresentations. So when someone posted that life had to be more than chemicals as chemicals were random, I felt obliged to point out that chemical reactions are decidedly not random. I gave the example that hydrogen and oxygen, when mixed and a spark supplied, will react in exactly the proportion of two hydrogen atoms linking to one oxygen atom to form one molecule of water.
Imagine my surprise when a regular, BA77, misunderstood my point, thinking I was saying water is simple, and went off on a long diatribe to claim water’s admittedly strange and fascinating emergent properties are evidence for “Intelligent Design” (i. e. God). I find the claim unconvincing.
Humans know about what surrounds them by virtue of their sensory perception. It is impossible otherwise to know about the world outside our head. It is necessary but is it sufficient? No. To develop our full intellect we need to develop our cognitive skills and, crucially, learn a language. Luckily, humans are a social species and language together with the physical adaptations necessary to speak, hear and understand develops in childhood seemingly without much effort, just by being immersed in the family group.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Richard Lenski began the LTEE with 12 populations (six and six ) 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.
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 →
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.
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 →
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.
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.
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?
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.