Monday, September 13, 2010

Carbon Dioxide Sensors

Did you ever wonder how mosquitoes find you so quickly? Next time you might try not breathing because they are attracted to the carbon dioxide you exhale. And how do insects detect carbon dioxide? Studies have found two different neuron cell proteins (neural receptors) that seem to do the job. And they do the job exquisitely.

Blood-feeding insects, as one study explained, use highly specialized and sensitive olfactory systems to locate their hosts. The study identified two dedicated neural receptors in flies which together cause nerve signals to be sent when carbon dioxide is present. The experiments found that the presence of both receptors is required—either one alone failed to sense the carbon dioxide.

As one scientist explained, such molecular sensor systems are “exquisitely sensitive” to carbon dioxide levels we don’t even notice. They are, indeed, “wonders of natural engineering.”

Given such an exquisite design, and given that both receptors are required because a single receptor working alone is ineffective, one might think that evolutionists might struggle to explain this engineering marvel.

But evolutionists have no such problem for, as evolutionist Ken Miller has explained, god would never have created the mosquito. It must have evolved.

Religion drives science and it matters.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Why Some People Favor Common Descent

The scientific evidence does not favor evolution but that doesn't mean we know all the answers. In fact some people who agree evolution is unlikely, nonetheless argue for common descent. This can be confusing because common descent is so often presented as integral to Darwin's idea. But this need not be the case.

Evolutionary thought entertains a seemingly unbounded spectrum of hypotheses about how the species arose. It is by no means limited to natural selection, or even common descent. At the core of evolutionary thought is naturalism. The origin of species must be explained naturalistically. Beyond that, practically anything is allowed.

Common descent can also be an open-ended idea. Yes, it is usually considered to be within evolution's strictly naturalistic paradigm, but that is not a necessary constraint. For many people, it is clear that naturalistic explanations don't do a very good job, but nonetheless there is evidence for shared ancestry.

What all this means is that when one person argues against common descent and another for common descent, they may actually be not too far apart. Hopefully we all acknowledge the broad outlines of the evidence. And hopefully we all understand the important role of metaphysics in interpreting that evidence.

But such shared understandings do not narrow us to a single choice. Some may favor common descent while others may not. That does not mean the former denies the evidence against common descent, or that the latter denies the evidence for it. It simply means that our current level of knowledge leaves us with a substantially underdetermined origins problem. We simply do not have sufficient knowledge or evidence, evolutionists notwithstanding, to make heavy-handed declarations about what must be accepted as fact.

The knowledgeable person arguing for common descent views its evidential problems as reasons to reject marrying common descent to evolution, but not rejecting the concept of common descent altogether. But this person's view of common descent is different from the usual evolutionary view, which typically restricts common descent to be within the strictly naturalistic paradigm.

Clearly, it is crucial for people to establish unambiguous definitions for how they are viewing common descent. Most importantly, is their version restricted to naturalism, or not? For instance, those arguing against common descent may have the strict naturalism of evolution in view. In that case, they are not opposing those who, for instance, argue for common descent from an intelligent design perspective.

In my view, evolutionary thought has badly failed on today's science. And so with it the strictly naturalistic version of common descent likewise thus far fails. The only reason to think otherwise is if one carries a priori metaphysical prejudices, as evolutionists do, which color the interpretation of the evidence.

But given this correct understanding of today's science, the question of a broader version of common descent becomes, in my view, far more underdetermined and far more difficult to assess. Problems that are not amenable to methodological naturalism are above my paygrade.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Drosophila’s Altimeter: Evolution Does it Again

Aircraft typically use air pressure measurements to determine their altitude above sea level. They may also use radar to directly measure their altitude above ground. Needless to say each approach is immensely complex. Insects also need to determine their altitude. Many do so by measuring how fast the ground passes beneath them. But new research has found that flies use a different method.

It may seem strange that insects need to measure their altitude. Can they not just “tell” how high they are? If I am on an escalator it is immediately obvious to me that I am moving to higher altitudes. Do insects not have such a simple, built-in, sense?

Such built-in sensing capabilities that we have, such as sensing when we are moving upward, are actually not simple. They merely seem so because we are not aware of the sophisticated measurement and processing systems at work behind the scenes. They are seamlessly built-in to our thinking so it seems to us that we can just “tell” how high we are.

Many insects determine their altitude by measuring how fast the ground appears to be moving beneath them. Of course the ground speed does not vary with altitude. What varies with altitude is the angular rate of a vector from the insect to a fixed object on the ground.

This angular rate also depends on the airspeed of the insect, whether it is turning and the wind. So inferring the insect’s altitude is a complicated task involving several measurements and sophisticated processing.

But the fly uses a different method entirely. Experiments involving a virtual reality arena, in which the fly not only can be tracked but its environment can be controlled, reveal that Drosophila maintains its altitude by monitoring objects around it rather than looking down at the ground.

Once again, we find different, unique solutions in biology. With evolution we must believe that completely different solutions just happen to arise (No, natural selection did not create them—selection only kills off the useless designs. According to evolution, biological variation, such as caused by mutations, is not guided by need. These fantastic designs just happened to arise—every mutation involved was a lucky shot that knew nothing of how crucial it was.)

And of course these different solutions are phenomenally complex. Beyond sophmoric just-so stories evolutionists have no idea how insects were so lucky. And yet, in the face of such ignorance, evolutionists dogmatically insist their idea is a fact. Religion drives science, and it matters.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Evolution is a Fact and a Theory: An Example From Michael Lynch

Evolution cannot be said to be absolutely true, but just about. Evolution could be false, but only if most everything we thought we knew is cleverly misleading us. Short of a massive cosmic conspiracy, evolution must be true. Either Darwin was right, or this is one of those Bobby Ewing dreams. This is how certain evolutionists are of their idea that all life (and everything else by the way) just happened to come together. But how can evolutionists be so certain when there are so many problems with their idea?

There are substantial scientific problems with evolution. Consider Michael Lynch’s recent paper where he states that:

a general theory for the population-genetic mechanisms by which complex adaptations are acquired remains to be developed.

How can evolution be a fact if such a fundamental problem remains unsolved? The answer, evolutionists explain, is that there are many hypotheses for how complex adaptations arose, and that this question constitutes part of the theory of evolution. In other words, just because we know evolution is true doesn’t mean we understand all the details. You don’t doubt gravity just because you don’t know everything about how it works. You don’t doubt the Earth circles the Sun even though you cannot stand back and observe its trajectory.

This is how evolutionists handle scientific problems. Such problems are said to be research problems. They cannot threaten the fact of evolution, say evolutionists, any more than physics quandaries can threaten the fact of gravity or the heliocentric system.

If fundamental scientific problems have you questioning the fact of evolution, then you will be told you don’t understand how science works and that you are anti science. That’s how evolution works. It is a fact and a theory. Religion drives science and it matters.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design: The Banality of Evolution, Part 3

In the twentieth century evolutionists resisted the idea of a “Big Bang” beginning of the universe. They wanted a universe that had no beginning but the evidence did not cooperate but rather increasingly pointed to the Big Bang model. Now cosmologists, such as Cambridge University’s Lucasian Professor of Mathematics Stephen Hawking, say the Big Bang is no longer a problem to understand. It turns out the universe “blasted itself into existence spontaneously,” as one science writer put it. Or as a leading physicist explained, a consequence of general relativity is that “universes are free! It costs precisely zero energy (and zero anything else) to make an entire universe. From that perspective, perhaps it's not surprising that the universe did come into existence.”

Hawking and co-author physicist Leonard Mlodinow write in their new book, The Grand Design:

Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist … On the scale of the entire universe, the positive energy of the matter can be balanced by the negative gravitational energy, and so there is no restriction on the creation of whole universes.

There you have it, the culmination of evolutionary thought: The universe can and will create itself from nothing—universes are free! Evolutionary thinking, going back centuries, has thoroughly compromised science. It is now its own reductio ad absurdum.

Cosmologists report speculative hypotheses with all the certainty of a child telling you about their imaginary friend. Others in the field commend the “findings” and journalists dutifully pass along the new truth. For whom should we have more pity, the cosmologists promoting their “truths,” or the journalists who must package the silliness?

Here is one example of how evolutionary thinking influences cosmology. Hawking and Mlodinow explain that the discovery of planets orbiting distant stars refutes Isaac Newton’s suspicion that planetary systems did not arise from the unguided play of natural laws.

But why is that so? Certainly distant planets, by themselves, do not reveal their origin. In fact, several of the distant planets have contradicted evolutionary theories.

So how do Hawking and Mlodinow conclude that these planets refute Newton? Their hidden premise is that god would not create such planets. He would only create the planets that orbit the Sun and no others. The finding of others, given that religious premise, proves that planetary systems can evolve (in spite of the empirical evidence). Religion drives science and it matters.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dawkins Versus Darwin

Jonathan Jones has found a new role for Richard Dawkins—as a foil against which to prop up Charles Darwin. Dawkins is strident and clever where Darwin was thoughtful and straightforward:

[Darwin’s] masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, is a modest book. It begins with evidence – and down-to-earth, homely evidence at that … Darwin is the finest fruit of English empiricism. His modest presentation of evidence contrasts, I am sorry to say, with the rhetorical stridency of Richard Dawkins.

Darwin was “the finest fruit of English empiricism”? His book “begins with evidence”? Well there is evidence to be sure, but evolutionary thought is about as far from English empiricism as possible. Strangely, evolutionists confuse empiricism with rationalism (which admittedly is something like confusing black with white). Which brings us to how Darwin begins his book. His first major theme leads to this powerful conclusion:

In genera having more than the average number of species in any country, the species of these genera have more than the average number of varieties. In large genera the species are apt to be closely, but unequally, allied together, forming little clusters round other species. Species very closely allied to other species apparently have restricted ranges. In all these respects the species of large genera present a strong analogy with varieties. And we can clearly understand these analogies, if species once existed as varieties, and thus originated; whereas, these analogies are utterly inexplicable if species are independent creations.

And from which empirical finding did Darwin learn how species would look if independently created? Unfortunately that was just the beginning of Darwin’s metaphysical mandates.

Evolutionary thought, as exemplified in Darwin’s writings, is a subtle intertwining of obscure observations interpreted according to religious dogma. Darwin and the evolutionists that followed present a seemingly never ending stream of non obvious and profound evidences reduced to simplistic interpretations.

Jones continues:

[Darwin] let his astonishing, earth-shattering theory emerge from common-sense observations of nature.

If common-sense observations of nature point to evolution, then why didn’t Darwin write about them? Darwin could not let his theory emerge from common-sense observations of nature because there are very few such observations amongst a plethora of contradictory observations.

Jones continues:

[Dawkins] offers no intellectual history of how Darwin's big idea was born from centuries of natural science, how the religious Victorians created an intellectual atmosphere in which such a leap in the dark could be contemplated.

What the Victorians created was only the latest in a series of religious traditions leading to evolution. Such religious traditions, going back centuries, did not merely allow for the contemplation of a naturalistic origins narrative, they demanded it. From the wide spectrum of religious traditions, these evolutionary traditions penetrated the sciences in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and went viral. The fact that some evolutionists, from T.H. Huxley to Dawkins, are more vociferous does nothing to justify the movement.