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 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.

Common Trends in Evolution

Does evolution repeat itself? Could evolution repeat itself? Where do people stand in relation to the thoughts of  Gould and Conway Morris?

Gould has a point, everything is in a state of becoming. As Heraclitus would say, all is change. Replay the tape and nothing would be the same. But would or could there be any similar trends? Would life in general proceed in such a radically different way that Gould makes out?

From “Life’s Grandeur”, Gould states:

“…no persuasive or predictable thrust toward progress permeates the history of life…

“Wind the tape of life to the origin of multicellular animals in the Cambrian explosion, let the tape play again from this identical starting point, and the replay will populate the earth (and generate a right tail of life) with a radically different set of creatures. The chance that this alternative set will contain anything remotely like a human being must be effectively nil, while the probability of any kind of creature endowed with self-consciousness must also be extremely small.”

Conway Morris disagrees with Gould’s conclusion. He champions an inevitable path and cites convergent evolution as evidence which suggests this.

In “The Crucible of Creation” he states,

“What we are interested in is not the origin, destiny, or fate of a particular lineage, but the likelihood of the emergence of a particular property, say consciousness. Here the reality of convergence suggests that the tape of life, to use Gould’s metaphor, can run as many times as we like and in principle intelligence will surely emerge.”

I’m interested in what people have to say about this and its relation to topics such as the emergence of bilateral symmetry and differentiation from head to tail, extreme specialization, encephalization, endothermy, caring for young, transitions from aquatic to terrestrial living and other related topics. These processes have occurred multiple times in different lineages over time.

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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Something fun for a change…Ant on a rubber band.

Does someone with an open mind want to try to tackle this? Its about a theoretical ant on a rubber string. If the ant is crawling on the string, but the string is expanding, can the ant ever reach the end. In the video they claim it can, because the ant’s progress gets stretched towards the end, at the same time the string is stretched. But this is a bizarre interpretation in my opinion. This is only true if the string is being stretched in only one direction, that is, the direction that it is approaching. So the string is secured at one end, and streched at the other end, so indeed it keeps getting closer to the end.

But if neither end is secured, and it is stretched, there is no reason for the ant to be stretched in the direction of its progress, thus it would never go anywhere. But neither the narrator, nor anyone in the comments seems to have a problem with this. Why?

And is this in any way analagous to spacetime stretching?

An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity: W. The Sacraments

The vast majority of Christians agree that Baptism and the Eucharist are sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ, in which God’s grace is bestowed on those who receive them with the right disposition. In this essay I shall argue that notwithstanding believers’ protestations to the contrary, the standard Christian understanding of these sacraments is a magical one. In addition, Christian accounts of how the sacraments impart grace are, as far as I can tell, nonsensical: they explain nothing. Finally, the metaphysical schemes used by various Christian denominations to explain the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist all turn out to be philosophically incoherent.

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God as Author and the Problem of Evil: A Response to Feser

Abstract

In a recent article, Edward Feser argues that the logical problem of evil rests on a category mistake regarding the nature of God and of his relationship to the world, and that a proper understanding of God’s nature and how he is related to the cosmos enables us to resolve this problem. To help his readers achieve a correct understanding of the Creator and his relation to creatures, Feser proposes an analogy between God and the author of a novel: God is “the necessary precondition of there being any natural order at all, just as an author is the necessary precondition of there being any novel at all.” I maintain that there are several fundamental flaws in the “author” analogy which render it useless as a tool for eliminating the logical problem of evil, whatever its other merits may be.

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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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Evolution Reflected in Development

Below is an image of the developmental path from human conception to adult in comparison with evolutionary path from prokaryote to human.

Unlike Haeckel’s biogenetic law with its focus on physical forms, the comparison above also concerns activity, lifestyle and behaviour. Comparative stages may be vastly different in detail, but the similarity of general lifestyles and consecutive stages are there to be observed. Continue reading

The Fridge-o-matic Challenge

I once offered nonlin.org the ‘fridge-o-matic’ challenge. The idea was to give me a number from 1 to 9 (a shelf in my fridge/freezer), and a lateral location Left, Middle or Right, and a depth locator Front, Middle, Back. That gives 81 sectors. I go to the named sector and fumble for the nearest organism (he’d have to trust me not to cheat). If it’s a stew or pizza I’d need more info. Then I’d need a chromosome number in that organism, and a gene number on the chromosome. We could shortcut the back’n’forth by giving numbers 1-50 and 1-10,000 which I’d then normalise to the actual counts.

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The Reformed Joker with a Serious Message

Russell Brand provides some food for thought in this video.

He quotes Edward F. Edinger explaining that we need a central living myth to give us a reason for our existence. “Meaning is lost, and in its place primitive and atavistic contents are reactivated. Differentiated values disappear and are replaced by the elemental motives of power and pleasure, or else the individual is exposed to emptiness and despair.”

Look at how much extra wealth Jeff Bezos has acquired since the pandemic took hold. Coronavirus is changing our world. Society is becoming more divided than ever at a time when we should be working together and seeking unity.

And here I am pointing two fingers, one at society in general and the other at myself.

We need people like Daniel C. Wahl and Declan Kennedy if there is going to be any sort of future worth living.

 

 

 

The genetic code and intelligent design

Joe G has been looking into the posts here at TSZ. Apparently this inspired him to get into a series of outbursts of rage. Well, maybe not. Looking at his blog rage seems to be his normal state. Back in his blog he’s stated fuming about what he thinks are facts that prove intelligent design, I mean Intelligent Design, with capitals because, let’s not forget, ID is about “God.” So I’ve been trying to explain to him why that’s profoundly and irremediably wrong. Here I’ll expand a bit on that, and thus willl try and avoid contaminating other threads with Joe G’s angry prose.

To get this started, I’m going to check Joe G’s latest attempt, Joe G starts thusly:

The genetic code is evidence for Intelligent Design based on the following facts:

Facts!? Wow, this is starting so well, I’m sure I’m going to be convinced! Good-bye sinful atheistic life!

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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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The arrival of individual self consciousness.

Either the gentle arousal of sleeping beauty or disturbing a sleeping dragon, which is it?

The part:
An individual human could not become a self-reflective, thinking adult without the necessary bodily systems, processes and organs which comprise the whole organism.

The whole:
Earthly life could not reach a stage in which individual organisms become self-reflective, rational thinking beings without the forms of life which develop in a way that comprises the vast supporting structure that allow these few seeds of nascent self-aware consciousness to spring from the living earth. Life on earth is one self-regulating body while humanity provides the mind within that body.

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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