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Monday, January 17, 2005

Evolution versus Creationism - Part 3 - Intelligent Design

(Warning - this is longer than usual. What'd you think - enlightenment is free?)

How do you get from primordial soup to living cell? That's it. That's the kryptonite in the creationist's napsack. But that seems to be where it stays. They rarely (if ever) actually pull it out and examine it. How many times I have heard, "Ah, but intelligent design disproves everything you're saying." When I try to respond, deaf ears. The answer is somewhat complicated, so I somewhat understand, but it somewhat irks me that many creationists aren't willing to fully examine what they believe, especially given how vehemently they believe them. This I also understand...somewhat.

They assume the Kryptonite works because it was handed to them by someone in whom they have implicit trust. If they put it to the test, this, the last hope for an argument that has been all but decimated in every debate it has entered, what happens if it fails? What happens if the evolutionary scientist is not weakened by the moment? What happens if the non-believer walks up, grabs the rock, crushes it into a fine powder, and sniffs some of it up his nose, and lives?! These are serious questions for some. Not me.

One thing I like about believing as I do is that I really have nothing invested in my beliefs, with the exception of my admittedly irrational belief in rationality as a superior method of thinking. But beyond that, I could change my mind about anything. Sure, it might be hard to get used to something new, but I'd be OK. All I need is for an assertion to meet my evidentiary requirements, then I'm the first to start exploring the logical consequences of it on my life. Creationists, however, do not enjoy such luxuries. Their belief in God's creation of the world is the capstone on the arch of their religious faith. If it falls, the arch falls, and life as they know it changes forever. As I am the type to rip off the band-aid all at once, to the truly open-minded, I say get on with it. So let's pull out the Kryptonite and take a look.

Here's what's about to happen, and it may not be pretty. I'm going to put forward a theory for how you get from non-living chemicals floating around in a liquid to a living cell. It all comes down to chemistry and the theory of self-organization, which is most eloquently articulated by Stu Kauffman in, At Home In The Universe. (You simply cannot consider yourself a scientist without knowing what's inside this book.) I will start by drawing attention to the fact that something this ostensibly miraculous is actually not so uncommon in nature - we'll look at phase transitions. Then, we'll look at how connections between entities can become so complex that the entity itself eventually becomes something entirely different (via, you guessed it, a phase transition). I'll then bring these two ideas together by talking about a chemical reaction network and how you to get to catalytic closure. Finally, we'll use some back of the envelope stats to conclude that life from chemicals in a soup is not only possible; it's probable. So consider yourself warned - serious scientifigeekification ahead.

Phase Transitions
The idea that something seemingly random can suddenly transform into something orderly may seem strange. In the world of science, these transformations are called phase transitions. The easiest example is ice. The arrangement of the molecules in liquid water is pretty much random in the sense that the nature of water is not dependent upon the specific arrangement of water molecules. But suddenly, when the temperature of the water reaches 0 degrees Celsius, the water molecules assemble themselves into the orderly substance we call ice. If you look at ice molecules under a microscope, they are crystallized in a stacked arrangement – an orderly arrangement. Ice is, in fact, defined by the arrangement of the constituent molecules as much as it is by the temperature. The phase transition in this case is the change in the physical state from liquid to solid, which corresponds to a change from disorder to order.

The point of this is to suggest that the emergence of complex life was just a phase transition, where a teeming soup of replicating molecules transformed into a cornucopia of living diversity. It's really about connections. The following toy problem illustrates what I mean.

Buttons and Thread
Imagine throwing 1000 buttons onto a hardwood floor. Now randomly pick two buttons and connect them with a string of thread, and put them back down. Keep doing this. Sometimes you’ll pick up two buttons you haven’t picked up before. Sometimes, one or the other will already have a thread tied to it. No matter, you just keep connecting buttons. Over time, you’ll find that when you pick up some buttons, they are interconnected with several others. This is an example of a random graph. We'll call these interconnected clusters webs. If you keep glancing at the whole floor as you connect pairs of buttons, you’ll start to see that more and more webs are emerging. You’ll start to see “islands” of buttons with nothing connected to them, bordered in all directions by webs of varying sizes. If you keep going, you’ll find that webs begin to become connected to other webs, resulting in larger and larger webs. You’ll also find that fewer and fewer islands remain. Eventually, the whole thing will be connected; it will become one big web. But it doesn’t happen steadily.

This random graph undergoes the equivalent of a phase transition when the ratio of buttons to threads reaches 0.5. So you can actually predict when the giant web will emerge! When there are 500 threads on the floor, something happens. Below 0.5, all you have is random assemblage of webs and islands – and the largest web is pretty small (a maximum of say 100 buttons). But as you approach 0.5, the webs get larger and begin to interconnect but there are still quite a few of them. But as the 0.5 mark is passed, whamo, the majority of the webs become interconnected, in one giant web. And it doesn’t matter how many buttons you use. If you throw 10,000 on the ground, as soon as there are 5000 threads, you can be sure that there will be a giant web. This is a classic example of a phase transition.

The key thing to take away from this is the idea that a phase transition can almost instantaneously change the face of things. Below 0.5, the random graph above is nothing more than a bunch of buttons and threads random connected and strewn about. Above 0.5, you quickly have a makeshift fishing net! Think about that. If you found this button and thread net hanging in your garage, would you think of it as a net or as a collection of buttons and threads? This is abstraction at its finest, and it happens via phase transitions. So what, right? Why should we believe they play a role in the origin of life explanations? Well let’s try a random graph with chemicals.

Reaction Networks
Considering how the random graph underwent a phase transition, let's jump from talking about abstract non-living systems to talking about abstract living systems. A metabolic (or chemical) reaction graph is a graph with chemicals represented as circles, reactions represented as squares, lines indicating the reactions between chemicals, and arrows pointing to the products of chemical reactions. (click here for an example)

They come in handy when you want to visually represent all of the reactions that take place between a certain set of molecules. A reaction graph (or reaction network) is a good way to show what’s going on within a chemical system. For simplicity, we’ll look at an abstract reaction graph. Instead of using real chemicals and concerning ourselves with the specific details of reactions, this reaction graph will use generic chemicals and some simple kinds of reactions.

In chemistry, reactions are really nothing more than molecules breaking apart and mixing together to form new molecules or energy or both. Imagine chemical A and chemical B. You can turn chemical A into chemical B, and vice versa. These are one substrate, one product reactions. You can also combine A and B to get AB, and you can cleave AB to form A and B. Simple, you're now an expert at chemistry. From there, you just add more chemicals and do more of the same kind of thing.

For example, look some more reactions you can get from As and Bs:
• AB + A = AA + B
• AB + A = ABA
• AB + A = A + BA

I could go on and on showing the endless ways these chemicals could react to produce new chemicals. But that is not my purpose. The relevance of the reaction graph is that it works a lot like the button and thread network. Basically, you can think of the buttons as chemicals and the reactions as threads. Here's what really matters: A network of chemicals can emerge from a random soup of chemicals simply by tuning the ratio of chemicals to reactions.

Instead of throwing buttons on the floor, let’s throw a bunch of generic chemicals into a beaker. If you’re dumb enough to try this, please place your computer next to the beaker so that there is a high likelihood that it will be destroyed if something goes wrong. I’d hate to get sued. Anyhow, for any set of chemicals, a chemist could predict what reactions would take place. The laws of chemistry dictate what the reaction graph will look like. Not too exciting really. But what happens when you add more chemicals to the mixture? You get a whole bunch more reactions. Things start picking up a bit. Thinking in terms of As and Bs, this makes sense. It’s easy to grasp that mixing AA and BB will have more possible reactions than mixing A and B. There are only three possible reactions when mixing A and B:
• A can become B
• B can become A
• A and B can become AB

That’s about it. But look at AA and BB.
• AA and BB can become A and ABB
• AA and BB can become AAB and B
• AA and BB can become AB and AB
• AA and BB can become A and AB and B
• AA and BB can become AABB
• AA and BB can become A and A and B and B

It turns out that as the molecules get bigger, as you add Cs, Ds, and so on, the number of possible reactions increases exponentially. This is not only because of the reactions that can proceed between the initial chemicals. The products of those reactions then become the substrates for new reactions, thereby further increasing the number of reactions. So as you add more and more molecules, the number of reactions that can take place goes up very quickly. And just like the button and thread web, when the ratio of molecules to reactions gets to a certain point, the whole thing becomes an interconnected network.

Now for the big question: can we imagine a reaction graph for a set of chemicals that could lead to the origin of life? In other words, what would the reaction graph of the primordial soup look like? Since there is really no way of knowing, the best we can do is to explore the idea in generic terms to see if anything interesting happens.

Catalytic Closure
Self-organization theory, by putting together the notion of phase transitions together with the complexity of chemical networks, actually shows how the interconnected network can become collectively autocatalytic (self-perpetuating, stable, and catalytically closed), meaning the whole thing can provide for itself, withstand being perturbed, and just keep on running – like a living organism. The secret ingredient is a decent helping of catalysts.

Without catalysts, the fact is that the network is pretty boring. Yes, once the ratio of reactions to chemicals gets high enough, the whole thing becomes connected. But just being connected isn’t enough to produce life. Chemicals just sitting in a beaker together don’t always react very quickly – even if they are connected. Like a bunch of shy kids at a school dance, they take a while to warm up to each other and start interacting. If the kids are too shy, the dance never takes off and everyone ends up going home early. Similarly, a beaker with a set of chemicals that don’t react very much isn’t going to lead to the emergence of life – that’s for sure. Thankfully, catalysts are big stars in the world of chemistry.

Catalysts push chemical reactions along. In the school dance, this would be the equivalent of a teacher convincing little Jimmy to ask Mary Sue to dance. So the reaction graph we’re after has to have catalysts. But since everything is connected, all chemicals are either substrates or products. That means that some chemicals will have to act as catalysts in addition to their day jobs as substrates and products. This is acceptable. There are plenty of examples of this in nature.

But the mere presence of catalysts still doesn't get us to catalytic closure. In order for the system to become autocatalytic, a set of connected catalyzed chemicals must be present. Within the larger connected web of reacting chemicals, there must exist a subweb of catalyzing reactions. Catalytic closure, which Kauffman asserts should be a major component of any definition of life, means the system is continuously reacting using chemicals it has or produces. Little pockets of catalyzed reactions in the system won’t achieve this. The catalyzed reactions must all be connected to get closure. Luckily, with the help of our old friend statistics, this is not too hard to imagine.

The question now is what is the likelihood that a system with a connected catalyzed reaction subgraph would arise naturally in the primordial soup? Is it a fairytale or could it actually happen? To find out, we really need to know which chemicals can serve as catalysts in any given system. But rather than get tangled in analyzing each chemical, let’s just assume that each chemical has a one in a million chance of catalyzing any given reaction. As remote as these chances may seem, we can still easily show how increasing molecular diversity will inevitably result in the emergence of a collectively autocatalytic set.

Think back to the fact that chemical reactions increase exponentially as the number of molecules in a system increases. If you keep raising the diversity of molecules in the beaker, eventually the ratio of reactions to molecules will reach a million to one. Therefore, the average chemical in the system will undergo a million different reactions. So, probability tells us that each chemical will then catalyze at least one reaction (remember it has a one in a million chance). That means that the ratio of catalyzed reactions to molecules in the system would then be 1.0. At that point, it is highly likely that a large web will emerge, containing a fully connected catalyzed reaction subgraph. At that point, it will be collectively autocatalytic…and alive.

This explanation may seem too generic to be real but that is the point. The key to this line of reasoning is the idea that once any chemical mixture gets to a certain level of complexity, it is easy to see how living order can emerge. It needn't necessarily even be organic; that just happens to be what was around on earth way back when. If we change the likelihood of catalysis to one in two million, well then the system just needs to have more living diversity, which is really just more time. The message is that the primordial soup had eons of time to work with. It is entirely plausible (and actually very probable) that the molecular diversity became sufficient to cause phase transitions that resulted in collectively autocatalytic, living systems. If this seems like the ultimate just-so scientific explanation, I understand. I’ve only scratched the surface on it. Stu Kauffman is the father of self-organization theory, so you can expect much better from him. Read his book for the juicy details - there's depth to be absorbed.

My only aim in this lengthy discussion has been to propose a VERY plausible way to get around the supposed intelligent design problem. Once again, we are confronted with the limits of man's imagination, not the limits of nature. So...I say again, please bring me an argument against evolution that holds water. Please.

16 Comments:

Blogger ajs said...

Coming from a chemistry and physics background, I must say that while these ideas are very credible, your numbers may be a bit off. Where you say 1 in a million, this may seem like a very small chance. But let’s take a look at an example.

Since the beginning of the earth (roughly 4.5 billion years ago) there have been about 10^14 seconds. If you wrote that out, you’d have 100,000,000,000,000. Now multiply that by 10. Now you have 10^15. Now multiply that by 10, then that quantity by 10, then that quantity by 10, then that quantity by 10, then that quantity by 10, then that quantity by 10, then that quantity by 10, then that quantity by 10, and you’d STILL have a number LESS than the molecules of water in a TEASPOON.

My point with this was, the number and size of atoms and molecules is SO tiny, that a 1 in a million chance is actually quite large. Even a one in a billion billion billion chance will happen 1000 times. And that’s just in a teaspoon of water, a relatively simple molecule. The chance of something happening will only increase with greater molecule complexity.

Now imagine the primordial earth, and all its mass. Just how many teaspoons would that be?

With so many atoms and molecules bouncing around in the primordial soup, isn’t it more than likely that SOME combinations occurred in such a way to spur the first semblances of life on Earth? Now given the 100,000,000,000,000 seconds since the beginning of Earth’s time, the unimaginably large number of atoms and molecules, evening a drop of water, the oscillation of molecules (they vibrate around a frequency of about .0000000001 per second, or 10^9 configurations every second), and the interdependent configurations of atoms (spatial and temporal), you have a number so large that a collective effort of every computer on Earth couldn’t contain it. Autocatalysis and chemical networks stemming from a seemingly random soup of organic molecules at this point seems not only plausible, but probable.

1/18/2005 05:45:00 PM

 
Blogger Mephistophocles said...

I have two observations. Don't get me wrong - I'm no creationist, and certainly no Christian, but as I see it, there are still a couple of falacies in your argument.

1. a. Where'd the primordial soup come from? b. How did the laws of reaction governing your entire argument come into being? What I'm saying is that I don't think you have solved the ex nihlo equation. I think that in order to truly explain evolutionary theory, one must explain not so much how a living cell evolved from another material, but how something can evolve from nothing. As long as there is some sort of matter to work with, then we must continue to take a step back, and ask what this material evolved from. Now I grant you that one may mathematically continue to approach zero without ever reaching it, but this leaves us only two options. The first is that something did in fact evolve (or was created) from nothing. The second is that time had no beginning (and our understanding of it may therefore be invalid).

2. Assume you have unlimited access to all the chemicals in existence. Now create life. Create a concsious being. Can you do it?

Again, please don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to defend creationist ideals, or even ID. I'm just not sure that we currently have the scientific knowledge to explain origin. As I've said in an earlier post, the easiest arguments to accept here (at least from a philosophical standpoint) are firstly, the theory of intelligent design, and secondly, the theory of circular existence.

1/18/2005 06:22:00 PM

 
Blogger NeoHuman said...

Is it really something you can argue with creation science advocates based on evidence? Many have tried and failed as it would appear a severe case of confirmation bias and no amount of evidence or the fact that this is a scientific consensus position will sway them.

But I can understand where they are coming from as I would guess many people even those that use rationality or critical thinking will still feel they are justified for various reasons if they dismiss the work of scientists or academics qualified in their fields.

While only a second year philosophy student I still feel reasonably confident that those even with doctorates who believe ethics is absolute are mistaken. I’m also a secular humanist strong atheist and think even the most qualified Biblical Scholar who think the Bible can be used as a historical document are wrong. I also know that at least a few psychologists still think homosexuality (I’m not if you infer that) is a disease and even if this became a consensus position I would still think it would be wrong.

I know for instance that you are a human induced Global Warming sceptic even though this is a consensus position by the worlds leading climatologists. In fact I find that many Libertarians are sceptical about many claims of environmental damage by humans on the Earth’s ecosystems dismissing the work of mainstream environmental/biological scientists.

I once had an argument with several Libertarians that there views since they rely on fringe science/scientists, or information from biased lobby industry related groups or academics or scientists not qualified in that field(Lomborg is a fine example or that science fiction writer) or uninformed qualifications that when checked with the experts are false, that your stance on GW is no different form the creation science people and isin fact a severe case of confirmation bias and the file draw problem.

On the other hand science and the society has on many instances held views that have turned out to be wrong, race, eugenics, and female sexuality/masturbation are good examples.

So the question is when can you feel reasonably justified dismissing the work of those that are qualified in that field especially when the have a consensus position or is it like the creation science people a severe case of confirmation bias, you on GW me on absolute ethics and the historical Jesus?

BTW before you throw at me that I’m some tree hugging leftie I go right across the spectrum Libertarian on sex and drugs, conservative on abortion, would favour the death penalty for non-circumstantial cases. I do however have what you may called some leftie views on the environment but I base them on consensus views of scientists and evidence and would even consider the nuclear option if a cost/benefit analysis including waste and security came out for it.

1/18/2005 06:59:00 PM

 
Blogger gtrude said...

"I think that in order to truly explain evolutionary theory, one must explain not so much how a living cell evolved from another material, but how something can evolve from nothing"

I don't bring this up to argue, but your comment got me to thinking, is this statement actually true?

Firstly, evolution is not a theory, it's a fact. Simply stated, living things change over time through "replication". This I can prove by simply looking at my garden from year to year. So what Darwin proposed was a theory on what drives/controls this evolution. This he dubbed natural selection.....but on to my point (since I realize that this is commonly refered to as evolutionary theory and I'm just nit-picking).
Darwin himself says that he makes no attempt to explain how life started, or from where it originated. Instead, he says, he is attempting to understand the mechanism by which life evolves. So my question is this.....If natural selection is accurate in describing how life changes from one form into another, is it invalidated simply because it does not account for how life came from non-life?
As an analogy, Newtonian physics certainly has holes, and can't account for all gravitational conditions, but it's still the prevailing explanation at engineering schools since it does accurately account for that which it intends to, i.e. everyday conditions

1/19/2005 02:58:00 PM

 
Blogger Mephistophocles said...

Yes, that's a good point - I suppose I should clarify what I meant. I'm not trying to discredit Darwin, natural selection, or evolutionary process and theory. When I said one had to explain origin in order to explain evolutionary theory, that may not have been the best choice of words. Evolution (as you said, gtrude) can be observed at any time. It's the origin of all this that I'm interested in, and I think (correct me if I'm wrong) it's what Caveman was trying to work out in his post. But he started with primordial soup. How did the primordial soup (if that was in fact the first substance) come into being? If it wasn't the first substance, then what was? And how did that come into being? Where is the beginning?

As I said before, this leaves (in my mind) only two options. Either the first substance was created ex nihlo (implying intelligent design, and a damn powerful being at that - no human can create ex nihlo), or the chain continues into infinity. If the chain does in fact continue infinitely, then our understanding of time itself is incorrect, as time = infinity. Therefore, time had no beginnning and will never end. As I said, I don't think science currently possesses the knowledge to explain either infinite time or creation ex nihlo. I may be incorrect, but if such an explanation does in fact exist, I have never run across it. I am a philosopher, though, not a physicist.

For the sake of argument, suppose we reject ID as a possiblilty. This means that, logically, time is in fact infinite. This leaves us with a circular system. Origin, then, is an illusion. We see everything as being bound to time. Every living thing naturally ages and dies. Every tangible thing we humans have ever known had (or will have) a beginning and an end. Therefore it is psychologically impossible for us to accept or visualize infinity. We can't relate it to anything, so therefore it's just a concept, and nothing more. What I'm trying to say is, this may be why we attempt to confine time to a rational number, therefore implying an intelligent creator (i.e., a god or gods). This would seem to explain men's insistance that there is a god - we cannot accept the idea that there never was a beginning, so we invent one - and install a omnipotent, omniscient (and, ironically, infinite) being that created the beginning. Being that this imaginary god is all-powerful, we worship it, and attempt to show other humans why it would be prudent for them to do the same.

As a friend of mine would say, I'm fishing in a muddy river here. I have no evidence for either ID or infinite time. Still, lacking solid numbers and scientific facts to back me up, the above argument seems to me the most likely explanation.

1/19/2005 04:34:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Actually...the point of this whole series is to demonstrate that arguments for creationism, which are usually positioned as arguments against evolution, are not sufficiently supported to warrant assent.

I'm NOT in any way trying to explain the origin of matter. I'm trying to look at creationism critically by examining the two most popular explanations for the diversity of living organisms on this planet. As always, I prefer evidence against an assertion over evidence for one. It just so happens that most of the evidence offered AGAINST evolution is simultaneously offered as evidence FOR creationism.

So, in their arbitrarily critical way, the creationists hold that evolution is invalid because:
1. There is no survival benefit associated with intermediate designs
2. The fossil record does not sufficiently support the notion of intermediate designs
3. The 2nd law of thermodynamics says that complex designs cannot evolve
4. Getting from non-living matter to living cells is so complex that it must have required an intelligent designer.

There you have it - creation science in a nutshell. But when you scrutinize these ideas, you find that they are incorrect. So, with all of the evidence for evolution, so much that I could be at this for years if I wanted to, it simply makes no sense to abandon it.

Creationism, however, rests on nothing but the hopes and wishes of believers. Anything the creationist will try to explain with supernatural hokus pokus, I will explain with science, and, in most cases, I'll have a GREAT DEAL of evidence to back up my argument. In the case of intelligent design, I admit that the evidence really just isn't there. But if we can conceive of a plausible scenario, plausible in that it is consistent with natural laws as they are currently understood, are we not standing on firmer ground than we are if we just throw our hands up and say it must have been God?

How about a little perspective? How many times in the history of mankind have the religious insisted that one thing was true only to eventually BE FORCED to concede that they were wrong? Anyone ever heard of Galileo? Creationism, in my view, is just another manmade invention that will inevitably be supplanted by science.

1/19/2005 10:20:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"I know for instance that you are a human induced Global Warming sceptic even though this is a consensus position by the worlds leading climatologists."

Don't get me started, buddy. Here's the deal. is the Earth warming? Maybe. Does human activity have something to do with it? Maybe. Is current human activity effecting climate more than it has in the past? Maybe. Assuming human activity is negatively impacting the climate, do we have anything to worry about? NO!

We live in world with long periods of homeostasis punctuated by cataclysmic events that change the face of things for eons. I absolutely do not concede that the consensus opinion among the world's leading climatologists is that there is a HUMAN-INDUCED (to borrow your phrase) global warming trend. In fact, the existence of the warming trend itself depends entirely upon how much time you're considering. Has climate been warming over the last 20 years? Maybe. But who cares? Even if GM is single-handedly responsible for a two or even five degree increase in climate, BIG FREAKING DEAL!

Nature is stronger than anything we can do - you'd think the tsunamis in South Asia would have drilled that into our heads by now. Humans may have an impact here and there on this world, but when Mother Nature really flexes her muscles (she hands us another ice age, for example), nothing we've ever done will matter.

Don't misunderstand - do I think we should be forward thinking in dealing with our environment? Absolutely. Not because I care about the Earth. Fuck the Earth - it'll be here long after we're gone. I'm just pragmatic - I want a good environment for my kids and their kids and so on. So I support clean air campaigns and polluting regulations and things like that. But I do not in any way buy into the environmental wacko nonsense about how we're threatening the earth and our future. At the end of the day, behind every serious environmentalist is a pent-up anti-capitalist. How's that for a massive offensive generalization?

Last - go to Columbia and watch some lady dump her family's excrement in the river and come tell me that we're destroying the environment. PLEASE! If someone sees you spill a drop of motor oil on the lawn next to the Home Depot, you'll be there for three hours with your local hazmat team filling out paperwork and watching the massive cleanup process.

Damn you for getting me riled on American Idol night.

1/19/2005 10:35:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

One more thing - I keep getting this whole, "you're biased against religion and creationism, so your conclusions always suit your purposes."

As Michelle Malkin once wrote, "Banging....head....against....wall." Let's get one thing straight, once you decide how you come down on an issue, bingo, you're biased. You've made up your mind. That, in itself, is wholly irrelevant here.

What matters is:
1. How do you arrive at your beliefs?
2. What would it take to change your mind?

I arrive at my beliefs using critical rationalism. I freely admit that past suppositions, as well as emotions related to the consequences of one belief over another, can impact my ability to truly be critically rational. That's why I write them down and post them, and, most importantly, that's why I allow you folks to post comments. If you catch me, I'll own up to it.

All I require to change my mind is a solid argument against my stance OR a REALLY solid argument for an alternative, solid enough that, pound for pound, it outweighs my current position. Simple.

So, please dispense with this, "you're biased" crap and bring me an argument. I don't pull punches - I tell you what I believe and why. If you want to change my mind, get to work. If you choose to believe that I am just rigging all the cards in my favor, then you're probably in the wrong place. You're not the arguing type. Via con dios.

1/19/2005 10:44:00 PM

 
Blogger NeoHuman said...

>If you choose to believe that I am just rigging all the cards in my favor, then you're probably in the wrong place. You're not the arguing type.

Whoa up cave-man, let’s look at it without going defensive the use of the word Or “or is it like the creation science people a severe case of confirmation bias, you on GW me on absolute ethics and the historical Jesus? “ meant it was in question, not that it is in fact the case. Did you notice I also included myself?
Also while only having a lay understanding of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance it looks like even intelligent people with qualifications can get it while thinking they are being rational and not know it.

>Assuming human activity is negatively impacting the climate, do we have anything to worry about? NO

Could you explain your reasoning for that? NO need to shout.

>I absolutely do not concede that the consensus opinion among the world's leading climatologists is that there is a HUMAN-INDUCED (to borrow your phrase) global warming trend

Well that’s the thing, being a lay person I get my info from respected science broadcasters and publishers Scientific American, New Scientist, ECOS, (our main government scientific establishment the CSIRO publication) science programming like The Science Show and Catalyst from our Australian National broadcaster, programming form the BBC’s science units. Not light weights like the Discovery Channel and they have consistently said it is a consensus.
Even your erstwhile lapdog Tony Blair realizes this.

BTW when you have the major scientific associations like The Royal Society, Members of the Academies of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, etc lending their weight to human induced GW you and other skeptics –even with scientific backgrounds- are on the fringes and well in the minority.

>Even if GM is single-handedly responsible for a two or even five degree increase in climate, BIG FREAKING DEAL!

Again I don’t have a science qualification but years of watching often award winning documentaries you pick up a few things. First the difference between now and the last ice age was 5C
Hmmm I think that qualifies as a BIG FREAKING DEAL! And that the range of 10C is thought to be enough to cause a major extinction event.


>Nature is stronger than anything we can do - you'd think the tsunamis in South Asia would have drilled that into our heads by now. Humans may have an impact here and there on this world, but when Mother Nature really flexes her muscles (she hands us another ice age, for example), nothing we've ever done will matter.


Yes nature can kick our butt, but we have the numbers and technology and have had the time. If you were a bit more interdisciplinary you would know that humans have impacted on local environments in very substantial ways, and in some cases destroying their societies in the process.

One thing we can agree on is yes in the end it doesn’t matter the Earth will be fried by the Sun and all life on earth will cease to exist. But we don’t live in that time frame.

You say you are just being pragmatic and use critical reasoning well from were I’m standing ignoring the work of mainstream environmental and biological scientists means that you are not.
Please supply some substantial reasons why you should and that there is a conspiracy by science journalists to report these lies.


>But I do not in any way buy into the environmental wacko nonsense about how we're threatening the earth and our future. At the end of the day, behind every serious environmentalist is a pent-up anti-capitalist. How's that for a massive offensive generalization?

I suppose to the uninformed concepts like ecosystem species interdependence and critical species in food chains, loss of top soil, over fishing of the world’s fisheries would seem like wacko nonsense.


Yes as generalizations go, really sad if you actually believe it and shoots down your credibility as well. Now if could only tie in the Jews as well that would be a great conspiracy theory. BTW are you lumping in the environmental scientists with your run-of-the-mill greenie?



>Last - go to Columbia and watch some lady dump her family's excrement in the river and come tell me that we're destroying the environment. PLEASE! If someone sees you spill a drop of motor oil on the lawn next to the Home Depot, you'll be there for three hours with your local hazmat team filling out paperwork and watching the massive cleanup process.


Come on caveman leave the red herrings out of it, surely you don’t have a problem extrapolating the effect of large communities dumping their sewers into rivers. Why we have sewage treatment plants in the first place? Many of your fellow skeptics find those government pollution regulations as unfounded and the government shouldn’t interfere in anyway with business sector. Do you go along with them or that smoking doesn’t cause cancer? (this is not to dismiss by association but to see where you stand. Was/is the ozone hole a myth as well?

I don’t blame your tone because basically I called into question your intellectual objectivity but as I said I think we are all open to it. As I see I go to respected science publications and broadcasters and the consistent picture they are presenting is a scientific consensus not only on GW but on wide scale environmental degradation, and they are concerned enough about it that both governments and people in general should do something about it. Is that same as the so called doomsday scenarios or just telling people they are going to make their lives that much harder if not impossible in the future?

I see parallels between the extreme GW/environmental skeptics and the creation science advocates because you have to deny the work on the majority and rely on fringe science often by those without qualifications in the fields. I talked with one libertarian who would acknowledge many major environmental impacts but just not HIGW. Should I try to look him up and bring him on in the discussion? You can explian to him why he is wrong.

But if you do believe that all or even most environmental scientists are greenie/ant-capitalists I suppose there isn’t any point trying to have a serious discussion

1/21/2005 12:01:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

OK Neo - I'll admit that I get frustrated with insinuations that all I've done is focus on the research that confirms my biases. When it comes to the creationism versus evolution, I've spent a lot of time looking at both sides. Yes, I have a bias, but I came by it in the right way.

Just so you know, I was raised Baptist, and life would have been (and might still be) much easier for me if I simply accepted what I was taught. However, the ideas kept knawing at me until I took it upon myself to start at the beginning (existence of God, etc.) and work my way up. As a biology major in undergrad, I played the role of the skeptic to my evolution professors. Eventually, they convinced me, which almost instantaneously removed the knawing feeling. Since then, I've remained open minded, looking for evidence against my beliefs. I just can't find it. Maybe my bias is a built-in need for things to add up. But, in the end, I stand by my claims of objectivity.

As for global warming, here's where you're likely to think me the worst of illogical conspiracy theorists.

"But if you do believe that all or even most environmental scientists are greenie/ant-capitalists I suppose there isn’t any point trying to have a serious discussion"

I'm sorry, but this is precisely what I believe. As a university student in the US, you are in a truly strange ideological environment. You are surrounded by a population of individuals who, almost to a man, share a common set of views about the world. At the root of these views is a disdain for capitalism.

It breaks down like this. Life as a university professor, especially one with tenure, bears very little resemblance to life in the "real world." The general goal of acedemia is to enlighten the masses, the result of which, it is hoped, is the elimination of (or at least minimization of) the misery that seems to plague so much of this planet? A lofty goal, indeed, and rather than accept that misery is a fact of life for an astounding percentage of the Earth's population, acedemics insist that utopia is possible, if only bad social, economic, and political systems can be removed. Capitalism, in their minds, is number one on the list of bad systems. It pits human against human in a crass contest of exploitation and materialism.

It's easy, however, to see why academics don't appreciate capitalism. Their world has no use for it. In academia, the consequences of mediocrity very rarely include homelessness. In the real world, they do. This is why most students have liberal leanings and then, after they've spent time outside the university environment, many many of them adopt a more conservative outlook on life. As they say, if, before the age of 30, you're not liberal, you're heartless, but if, after the age of 30, you're liberal, you're senseless. But staying in academia effectively allows you to live in the under 30 dream world indefinitely.

The contest in the ivory tower is a bureaucratic political one that is focused less on merit and more on approval. In short, to get tenure, those who have it must give it to you. This automatically weeds out individuals who see the world differently. Over the last 50 years, this process has yielded a university environment that is intensely leftist. Check out this blog by a student who has experienced exactly what I'm talking about. http://organicrepublican.gnxp.com/. So where does this leave us?

The anti-capitalist mentality sees mass industrialism as a direct destroyer of our environment. Admittedly, if left unchecked, I have no doubts that big corporations would pave over the entire planet. Yes, there is cause for restraint. Yes, there is a dire need for regulations that force companies to tread lightly where Mother Nature is concerned. I am completely on board with that notion. However, it can, and often does, get taken too far. Global warming is a prime example.

Global warming has never been a scientific issue; it is a political issue. More importantly, like evolution, it is very difficult to mount a solid argument against it - there's tremendous difficulty in isolating variables and conceiving of repeatable experiments. This makes confirmation bias on the part of so-called academic experts nearly irresistable.

Sure, there are piles of documentaries claiming that the "scientific" consensus is that HIGW is real and problematic. But for every scientist who says this, there is one who disagrees. Unfortunately for them, however, they are on the wrong side of the politial fence. As the gatekeepers to reputable academic publishing are the most liberal of liberals, it is very easy to see how their views don't make it to the mainstream.

As you have rightly pointed out, even the most erudite and intellectual of people can fall prey to confirmation bias. Global warming, by way of anti-capitalism, is the most stark example I can think of.

I assume you read my post called, "The Lowdown on Global Warning." That's where I'm coming from in this. Just like labor statistics and deficit numbers, you can cook the figures to come out with whatever conclusions you want. The fact, however, is that predictions about global warming have been dramatically wrong again and again. If we humans are really impacting our Earth that severely, it would seem that we could come up with even conservative estimates about what our actions will do to the planet's climate. But we can't, and I believe this is simply because the climatic fluctuations of the Earth are driven by forces that dwarf anything we do.

So, in summary, I'm all for taking care of our environment. However, the scientists leading the charge are clearly driven by political views, not scientific ones. You have to be careful when recognizing authority. You cite:

"Scientific American, New Scientist, ECOS, (our main government scientific establishment the CSIRO publication) science programming like The Science Show and Catalyst from our Australian National broadcaster, programming form the BBC’s science units. Not light weights like the Discovery Channel and they have consistently said it is a consensus.
Even your erstwhile lapdog Tony Blair realizes this.

BTW when you have the major scientific associations like The Royal Society, Members of the Academies of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union"

Sorry, I'm not impressed. These Brits are the same people who have successfully vilified the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as food supplies. This ostensibly scientific opinion is political, pure and simple - GMOs are a major threat to traditional farming. Scientific American is also to be scrutinized. Check out: http://www.enlightenedcaveman.com/2004/12/is-man-inherently-selfless.html.

Just something to think about. Oh yes, and if you question my generalizations about academia, read some David Horowitz. He's an ex-leftist leader who had a dramatic change of heart and mind, and is now a leading conservative writer. As I assume you are an open-minded person, I would implore you to read his book, Radical Son. It will paint a very disturbing picture for you. And, on academic matters, check out the columns here:

http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/GetArticleByTopic.asp?D=Academia+%2F+Campus+Campaigns+&ID=1

I can feel a new post coming on...

1/21/2005 01:24:00 AM

 
Blogger NeoHuman said...

Hmm not sure where we can go on this, while I see some parallels (so I cannot dismiss it out of hand) even so to dismiss all or even most academics this way or stereotype a scientists from multitude of scientific disciplines as anti-capitalistic basically undermines the whole edifice of objective science. While you might have an easier case against the soft sciences like sociology you would have a harder time with the earth and biological ones.

I could easily but incorrectly counter that you are just part of the anti-intellectual business-can-do-no-wrong economically conservative mindset who only look at the positives of economic growth and business and ignore the negatives.

I didn’t watch all the doco The Corporation but if you take the line that since their bottom line is profit regardless of social or environmental outcomes, one from socialist perspective could easily stereotype all corporate behaviour as money hungry sociopaths who only worry about their bottom line. Makes sense from that perspective.

This sort of argument if not examined critically can justify any stance. It allows the creation science crowd to dismiss the work of earth and biological science and scientists. You rely on these people in your arguments against the young earther’s but dismiss them when it comes to studies done on the environment.

Do I have the same doublestandard; I’ll have to look into it?

This is a topic I’m very interested in how do we know that we are not suffering confirmation bias if other intelligent or qualified cannot see that they are doing it?

I hope to start a blog debate on it if you are interested I’ll let you know if I succeed.

1/23/2005 08:03:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Let me just make this clear - it is the unprovable nature of the global warming theory that makes its adherents so vulnerable to confirmation bias. It's similar to evolution only insomuch as we can't prove that the ancestors of many of today's animals possessed body attributes that were intermediates between modern and prehistoric samples - the fossil record just isn't that detailed. We also can't prove a heck of a lot about how evolution has done its thing throughout history because we simply don't have the time to replay the tape, so to speak. So we base our belief that they (intermediate designs) existed, and our belief that evolution works in a certain way, on circumstantial evidence. But, and this is important, evolution is different from global warming where it really counts.

1. Evolution logically complements ideas in many well-understood scientific fields - genetics, ecology, population biology, geology, chemistry, etc. This means that, in order for evolution to be incorrect, logically speaking, many other accepted ideas must be wrong. For example - carbon dating is well-established. You'd be hard pressed to find a serious scientist that thinks it's bunk. But if the world is only 10,000 years old, it has to be. Global warming, however, has no such allegiances. It can be right OR wrong, and it has no bearing on any established areas of science. Here be dragons.

2. You can make predictions about evolution in isolated circumstances, even if they're general. For example, you can predict that populations of antigens will develop antibiotic resistance if they are not entirely wiped out by antibiotic treatments. Thanks to evolution. However, as fas as I know, no reputable scientist has ever made a prediction about human impacts on global climate that was true, or if it was true, was repeatable. This means that you can put global warming right there with the existence of God in terms of provability.

The bottom line is that we can protect against confirmation bias by only accepting the credibility of "experts" who are subject to some level of accountability for their assertions, relevant accountability, that is. In terms of global warming, the only accountability we can expect has to do with toeing the party line. This is not relevant - we should not care what ideological perspective occupies the mind of a scientist or scholar. When it comes to evolution and the other aforementioned scientific disciplines, there are very real penalties for publishing politically motivated nonsense. Someone will repeat your experiments, and if they find that you've fudged your work, bad things will happen.

So, I don't think my feelings about global warming are in any way "convenient" because I happen to disregard the so-called experts, but do not do the same when other experts confirm my assertions with respect to evolution and creationism. Different experts, with different motivations, in different circumstances...different assessments. This is nothing more than precision thinking, in my view. You might even call it nuance.

And...lest I forget:
"...one from socialist perspective could easily stereotype all corporate behaviour as money hungry sociopaths who only worry about their bottom line."

If one were to say that, I would not disagree with him or her. The beauty of free market economics is that things can be this way and the masses are still better off. Of course, as with any good thing, too much can be, well, too much. That's where anti-trust regulations and sensible environmental regulations come from. Read some of the Federalist Papers and some Milton Friedman and you'll find that these guys had a tremendous awareness of how businesses can (and will) collude and conspire to rip off the consumer and destroy anything that tries to stop them. They understood human nature. But, nevertheless, capitalism is the single force that accounts for more prosperity on this planet than anything else. It's not perfect, but nothing is, and certainly nothing is better.

So Neo, in my view, your debate is a non-starter. Somehow, however, I bet someone will disagree with me...

1/23/2005 10:08:00 PM

 
Blogger Michael Gersh said...

EC, your colloquy with Neo is a beautiful example of what I have been saying in this creation debate. He believes in HIGW. You believe in "evolution." Leaving alone the fact that you have chosen only a part of Darwin's theory to debate, both of you show an irrational belief in a scientific theory. Both beliefs require leaps of faith to cover unknown ground.

The flaw in both of these positions is the reliance on the scientific method, which requires repeatability of an experiment before belief can be invoked. We can neither show a repeatable experiment, or even a computer model of the past that can predict the future (these models that have been used to predict GW have been in existence since 1988, yet no prediction they have made has ever come true in these 16 years), in the HIGW religion; nor can we repeat the formation of life from the primordial soup. Not that we haven't tried. Scientists have indeed observed, and repeated, the formation of amino acids from some seed chemicals and electricity (to simulate lightning). But we have never observed life forming from these organic chemicals. Probabilities may be fine and well, but for scientific rigor we need at least one experimental success, followed by a repeat of same. This has not occurred, though not for lack of trying.

Caveman, I appreciate your point of view. Myself, I have no problem admitting that my own denial of a living intelligent God is an artifact of religious thinking. My denial of the position of the Global warming alarmists is also irrational: with experts on both sides of the debate, I believe one side, and ridicule the other whenever I get the chance. You should reread your essay on the probability of the formation of organized cellular life and tell me if you truly believe that such complicated gobbledygook should be enough to convince anyone with a leaning toward skepticism of your position.

I also wonder why you so vociferously deny your belief in your version of evolution, especially considering the three founding posts of this weblog. Relax caveman, you are merely a product of the evolution of the human mind and, as enlightened as you may be, the primordial cave mind persists. We humans have a need to have beliefs to explain the unexplained, and if there is anything that has never been scientifically explained it is the moment of the creation of the first living cell. Even the creation of the universe has a cosmological underpinning, with every sub-microsecond fully elucidated, while your creation exposition merely, and lamely, calls upon probability to fill in the gap in our understanding. You believe that a natural, repeatable process created the first living cell. Others believe that God did it. To assert the superiority of one belief over the other is scientifically, and rationally, not to mention philosophically, baseless. It is merely your belief.

1/24/2005 01:39:00 PM

 
Blogger NeoHuman said...

Had a little think about it but will have to be short i'm running behind in my work.

I thought that saying someone is anti-capitalist is basically an ad hominine attack and certainly something that would need at least some evidence even if you accept a some vague definition.

It's no better than a creation science guy saying you are biased because you haven't found Christ.

Secondly those science journals and publications cover mainstream science and are not just British. Couldn’t find the link to that Scientific American but you had do better than send me to right wing blogs or groups I wouldn’t bother sending you one. That’s why I rely on mainstream publications, if you take a widespread of independent publications from reputable sources you see them backing the mainstream views in science. Unlike yourself who must look to lobby groups and fringe science

Don't know which way the science goes on GM crops I head both sides but I do know it isn’t all of the British science establishment against it. You think my info sources are biased I remember that self same British publication and others saying that the fear of GM crops was unfounded. So they weren’t biased on this but are on GW and other environmental problems?

Also basically dismissing the leading international science bodies with something as flimsy as they are anti-capitalists is just plain laughable nothing but an ad hominine attack. You would again dismiss the best of the best who support your view on evolution but you won’t accept them on the environment.

Also I checked with a climatologist they are put through peer review process like evolution and use interdisciplinary data to check their models. The climate models won’t give the unrealistic expectations -just % projections based on detailed understandings of the science- that the skeptics put on them but they are checked with past and present climate scenarios and do prove their validity.

BTW what’s the point of adhering to those environmental regulations you don’t believe the science and objectivity of the scientists who do them.

As it's your blog you can have the last say.

Good luck on your book.

1/26/2005 10:02:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

I don't know if I'd call it an attack, but calling someone an anti-capitalist is certainly not a compliment. And the evidence I have for connecting global warming greening and anti-capitalism comes from a good bit of personal experience. (As you may be able to tell, I have no aversion to arguing with complete strangers, especially when they voluntarily express sentiments that seem nonsensical to me.) I have yet to meet someone who was seriously concerned about global warming who did not also harbor a disdain for the "ownership class" or a sense of guilt for being part of it. I'm not saying they don't exist. And I'm not even going to suggest that my sample size is large enough to be statistically significant. However, my own personal experiences in this case are bolstered by the experiences of people I respect intellectually.

"...but you had do better than send me to right wing blogs..."

Scuse my French, but why the fuck not? What do have to lose from reading the opinions of people who disagree with you ideologically? I did not send you to Organic Republican to get you to buy into his politics. I wanted you to read the experiences of a conservative and outspoken student who was all but ostracized in academia. Maybe he's lying. Sure. But maybe he isn't. Maybe David Horowitz isn't. Maybe Mike Adams isn't. Be honest, what would happen if, in a small group seminar that drifted off into a political discussion, you stated that you were all for Bush and his policies in Iraq? What do you think would happen to you? How fast would you get shouted down? Is it that hard for you to imagine that the same thing would happen to a grad student seeking a PhD or an associate professor seeking tenure? Do you not think that denying the existence of a vast HIGW problem would be tantamount to putting a Bush sticker on your office door?

Maybe it's easier to dismiss the whole thing as a big conspiracy, and to dismiss guys like me as whackos. But if you take the time to examine the so-called free exchange of ideas in universities, you'll see that certain political ideas are simply not tolerated. And it just so happens that a denial of the "crisis" of HIGW is one of them.

"You would again dismiss the best of the best who support your view on evolution but you won’t accept them on the environment."

I assume you meant that I accept the ideas of scientists on evolution but not on global warming. Yes, that's correct. It's not hippocritical. It's precision thinking. Your comparison doesn't hold up chiefly because evolution has a proven predictive power. HIGW does not. Not by a long shot. The global warming alarmists have been making predictions for decades about how high the climate will rise and how much devastation will ensue. They have all been wrong. There's also the fact that evolution is not logically isolated.

As I've said before, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that bolsters evolutionary theory. And, more importantly, if evolution is wrong, then much of what we know about immunology and even economics is wrong. I'm willing to admit that this is possible, but at this point, the evidence does not support it.

HIGW, however, has no anchors in anything as concrete and well-understood as the maturation of the human immune system. It can be right or wrong and it has no bearing on anything already established. This is why it is entirely possible for many scientists, scientists with a leftist worldview, to take up an argument that is simply incorrect, especially given the political aspects of assent.

"The climate models won’t give the unrealistic expectations -just % projections based on detailed understandings of the science- that the skeptics put on them but they are checked with past and present climate scenarios and do prove their validity."

Sorry. This is simply wrong. It is impossible to prove the validity of their models if they can't make a prediction that actually comes true. I noticed that you've been weighing in over at Mark Bohner's Random Thoughts blog. (http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2005/01/resolved_the_ip.html)

Here's an environmental engineer who lays out a very detailed analysis of the facts of the global warming debate and concludes that the crisis is entirely overblown. Your response is once again to fall back on the notion that the mainstream publications can't be wrong. From your view, it's just insane to believe that there's something akin to a conspiracy. All I can say is that I've stated my experiences and pointed you to others who have similar ones. If you choose to believe that we are all fringe lunatics with an axe to grind, I don't know what else to do.

Sooner or later, you'll become acquainted with the reality of this human drama. It's up to you whether you welcome it or get blindsided by it later in life.

1/26/2005 11:24:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to Gtrude on the theory of evolution. It is indeed a theory. A theory simply means the absolute end -you can't possibly prove it wrong end of ends. However if using theory as in " Well that's just your theory" then and only then would the word theory be used as "untrue" or "unproven" and if someone were to use the example above, they would indeed be ignorant.

2/01/2005 09:06:00 PM

 

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