You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘The Sunday Smackdown’ tag.

I am going to use the discussion points found on RichardDawkins.net as the basis of this feature.

Calilasseia is the author of the post and deserves many rich accolades for assembling so much useful information in one spot. This constitutes an open thread of sorts, please leave your opinions and observations in the comment section.

Enjoy!

[24] Inheritance basics (and the canards destroyed thereby).

Getting back on topic with respect to evolution, there is a basic concept that needs to be deal with here, and which at a stroke deals with several creationist canards, such as the farcical “I’ve never seen a cat give birth to a dog” nonsense, which, if it ever happened without laboratory intervention involving IVF and implantation, would constitute a refutation of evolutionary theory.

That concept is, quite simply, inheritance. Inheritance is a process, that even the mythology creationists claim to adhere to, accepts as valid. Though given the hard evidence from approximately four thousand years of agriculture prior to said mythology being written, not to mention the evidence of inheritance in humans that must have been visible even to pre-scientific man, said mythology would look even more ridiculous if it tried to deny the validity of inheritance. Well, guess what? Here’s the simple point that every creationist fails to understand, and which lies at the root of many of the canards they give credence to, and to reinforce this point, I’ll make it stand out:

Evolution is based upon inheritance.

That’s right. Now this is so simple a notion, that many of the people writing about evolution have failed to reinforce this achingly simple fact, presumably on the basis that they assume that their readers understand this. The problem is, of course, that creationists manifestly don’t understand this. If they did, they wouldn’t erect some of the half-baked nonsense that they do. Where evolutionary theory differs from other ideas about the biosphere, is that it postulates that inheritance unifies the biosphere. Evolutionary theory postulates that ultimately, we and all the other living organisms on the planet are linked by inheritance. Which, as a corollary, leads to numerous testable ideas, ideas that have been tested, and which, as a result of passing those tests, have in turn given rise to a whole new scientific discipline called molecular phylogeny. This isn’t magic, because inheritance isn’t magic. Inheritance is a process that is so simple, it was amenable to systematic analysis by a monk. Which once again, demonstrates the utility value of paying attention to reality, and learning from empirical test, as Mendel did.

Now, since evolutionary theory postulates that inheritance is a key process in the development of the biosphere, this should deal at a stroke with the fatuous “I’ve never seen a cat give birth to a dog” drivel that creationists erect, because there is no way that a cat could pass on an entire, complete set of genes from an entirely different lineage to its offspring. An organism can only pass on whatever genes it dispenses in its gametes, and most of those it will have obtained from its parents, the odd mutation here or there contributing a small additional amount of variation. However, thanks to meiosis, which I briefly mentioned in [14] above, offspring are not exact copies of their parents (which would be hard to achieve anyway with a 50/50 split of genes inherited from each). Meiosis involves some interesting gene shuffling, so that different gametes contains different mixtures of the parental genetic material (for which, again, that nice Mendel fellow provided evidence in those pea plant crossing experiments). As a result, variation will be disseminated across generations. It is this variation that evolution works with. To reinforce this point, inheritance is a dynamic process across generations, and it is the outcome of that dynamic process that provides the raw material for evolutionary mechanisms to work upon.

Oh, and a video bonus!

I am going to use the discussion points found on RichardDawkins.net as the basis of this feature.

Calilasseia is the author of the post and deserves many rich accolades for assembling so much useful information in one spot. This constitutes an open thread of sorts, please leave your opinions and observations in the comment section.

Enjoy!

The asinine “were you there?” canard.

This canard is particularly loathed here, not only because it is about as palsied and cretinous a canard as it’s possible to erect, but because it is also manifestly dishonest. Dishonest because of the inherent double standard that supernaturalists in general, and creationists in particular, adopt when deploying this canard. Namely, that they think it is perfectly legitimate to hand-wave away massive amounts of hard evidence from observational reality using this duplicitous rhetorical device, yet expect the critical thinkers to accept without question the unsupported blind assertions of their mythology, which makes fantastic claims about the past history of the universe that by definition were not only unobserved, but impossible to verify empirically because those claims involve magic. If you think that this double standard is legitimate, be prepared to have your discoursive dishonesty subject to withering critical scrutiny.

Now, having dealt with the dishonesty at the heart of this canard, I’ll deal with why it is asinine. This canard is beneath deserving of a point of view for one simple reason. Physical processes leave behind them physical evidence of their having taken place. This is a basic scientific fact, one that science has relied upon for 300 years in order to make sense of the real world, and denial of this basic fact once again merely demonstrates that you are more interested in propping up a doctrine than learning about the real world. Furthermore, physical evidence of the occurrence of particular processes is frequently persistent, which means that said evidence remains in place for a long period of time, including periods of time that are orders of magnitude greater than that asserted to have existed by your ideology. Once again, scientists, and those here who accept the results of the diligent labours of those scientists, aren’t interested in doctrinal assertions, they are interested in reality, and if reality sticks the middle finger to doctrinal assertions, tough.

That physical processes leave behind them evidence of their having taken place, and that said evidence is persistent enough to await our attention, are basic principles that are relied upon by branches of science as diverse as geology and forensics, and if you want to assert that those principles are false, good luck with this, given the massive amount of evidence supporting those basic principles. As a corollary of this, if you erect the “were you there” nonsense in a thread, you will be in no position to complain when the critical thinkers subject the combination of scientific ignorance and discoursive mendacity inherent in this canard to withering attention.

Indeed, in order to deal with a particularly retarded variant of this argument, I’ll state another elementary principle applicable to the refutation of this cretinous piece of creationist apologetic fabrication. Namely that physical phenomena exist independently of our observing or measuring them. And, since those independently existing physical phenomena leave behind them physical evidence of their having taken place, which we can alight upon at any time provided the evidence is persistent enough, this palsied, encephalitic canard should now be well and truly dead with a stake through its heart.

I am going to use the discussion points found on RichardDawkins.net as the basis of this feature.

Calilasseia is the author of the post and deserves many rich accolades for assembling so much useful information in one spot. This constitutes an open thread of sorts, please leave your opinions and observations in the comment section.

Enjoy!

[22] The infamous canards surrounding “information”.

Now this is a particularly insidious brand of canard, because it relies upon the fact that the topic of information, and its rigorous analysis, is replete with misunderstanding. However, instead of seeking to clarify the misconceptions, creationist canards about information perpetuate those misconceptions for duplicitous apologetic purposes. A classic one being the misuse of the extant rigorous treatments of information, and the misapplication of different information treatments to different situations, either through ignorance, or wilful mendacity. For example, Claude Shannon provided a rigorous treatment of information, but a treatment that was strictly applicable to information transmission, and NOT applicable to information storage. Therefore, application of Shannon information to information storage in the genome is a misuse of Shannon’s work. The correct information analysis to apply to storage is Kolmogorov’s analysis, which erects an entirely different measure of information content that is intended strictly to be applicable to storage. Mixing and matching the two is a familiar bait-and-switch operation that propagandists for creationist doctrine are fond of.

However, the ultimate reason why creationist canards about information are canards, is simply this. Information is NOT a magic entity. It doesn’t require magic to produce it. Ultimately, “information” is nothing more than the observational data that is extant about the current state of a system. That is IT. No magic needed. All that happens, in real world physical systems, is that different system states lead to different outcomes when the interactions within the system take place. Turing alighted upon this notion when he wrote his landmark paper on computable numbers, and used the resulting theory to establish that Hilbert’s conjecture upon decidability in formal axiomatic systems was false. Of course, it’s far easier to visualise the process at work, when one has an entity such as a Turing machine to analyse this – a Turing machine has precise, well-defined states, and precise, well-defined interactions that take place when the machine occupies a given state. But this is precisely what we have with DNA – a system that can exist in a number of well-defined states, whose states determine the nature of the interactions that occur during translation, and which result in different outcomes for different states. indeed, the DNA molecule plays a passive role in this: its function is simply to store the sequence of states that will result, ultimately, in the synthesis of a given protein, and is akin to the tape running through a Turing machine. The real hard work is actually performed by the ribosomes, which take that state data and use it to bolt together amino acids into chains to form proteins, which can be thought of as individual biological ‘Turing machines’ whose job is to perform, mechanically and mindlessly in accordance with the electrostatic and chemical interactions permitting this, the construction of a protein using the information arising from DNA as the template. Anyone who thinks magic is needed in all of this, once again, is in need of an education.

As for the canard that “mutations cannot produce new information”, this is manifestly false. Not only does the above analysis explicitly permit this, the production of new information (in the form of new states occupied by DNA molecules) has been observed taking place in the real world and documented in the relevant scientific literature. If you can’t be bothered reading any of this voluminous array of scientific papers, and understanding the contents thereof, before erecting this particularly moronic canard, then don’t bother erecting the canard in the first place, because it will simply demonstrate that you are scientifically ignorant. Indeed, the extant literature not only covers scientific papers explicitly dealing with information content in the genome, such as Thomas D. Schneider’s paper handily entitled Evolution And Biological Information to make your life that bit easier, but also papers on de novo gene origination, of which there are a good number, several of which I have presented here in the past in previous threads. The mere existence of these scientific papers, and the data that they document, blows tiresome canards about “information” out of the water with a nuclear depth charge. Post information canards at your peril after reading this.

Whilst dwelling on information, another creationist canard also needs to be dealt with here, namely the false conflation of information with ascribed meaning. Which can be demonstrated to be entirely false by reference to the following sequence of hexadecimal bytes in a computer’s memory:

81 16 00 2A FF 00

To a computer with an 8086 processor, those bytes correspond to the following single machine language instruction:

ADC [2A00H], 00FFH

To a computer with a 6502 processor, those bytes correspond to the following machine language instruction sequence:

CLC
ASL ($00,X)
LDX #$FF
BRK

To a computer with a 6809 processor, those bytes correspond to the following machine language instruction sequence:

CMPA #$16
NEG $2AFF
NEG ??

the ?? denoting the fact that for this processor, the byte sequence is incomplete, and two more bytes are needed to supply the address operand for the NEG instruction.

Now, we have three different ascribed meanings to one stream of bytes. Yet, none of these ascribed meanings influences either the Shannon information content, when that stream is transmitted from one computer to another, or the Kolmogorov information content when those bytes are stored in memory. Ascribed meaning is irrelevant to both rigorous information measures. As is to be expected, when one regards information content simply as observational data about the state of the system (in this case, the values of the stored bytes in memory). Indeed, it is entirely possible to regard ascribed meaning as nothing other than the particular interactions driven by the underlying data, once that data is being processed, which of course will differ from processor to processor. Which means that under such an analysis, even ascribed meaning, which creationists fallaciously conflate with information content, also requires no magical input. All that is required is the existence of a set of interactions that will produce different outcomes from the different observed states of the system (with the term ‘observation’ being used here sensu lato to mean any interaction that is capable of differentiating between the states of the system of interest).

I am going to use the discussion points found on RichardDawkins.net as the basis of this feature.

Calilasseia is the author of the post and deserves many rich accolades for assembling so much useful information in one spot. This constitutes an open thread of sorts, please leave your opinions and observations in the comment section.

Enjoy!

 

[21] “The universe is meaningless without my magic man”

To which the short answer is “so [frakking] what?”

Leaving aside for the moment the total failure of supernaturalists to support the assertion that their particular pet species of magic man actually exists, which also impinges upon [20] above, the idea that the universe needs this entity to impose meaning upon it is a piece of intellectual constipation that I, for one, find mind-numbingly boring, tedious and unimaginative. Douglas Adams said it best – “Isn’t it enough to realise that the garden is beautiful as it is, without having to imagine fairies at the bottom of it?”

Likewise, why should the universe be required to genuflect before supernaturalist anthropocentric conceit, and be required to be meaningful only because an invisible magic man that we have invented decrees thus?

We are beings that are capable of eliciting meaning for our own lives, and the world around us, without outside interference. Erecting an imaginary source of outside interference is nothing more than a gargantuan Little Orphan Annie complex, a wish to remain a child with a nice Daddy figure to run the world around us so that we don’t have to get off our arses and expend the effort. This is such an utterly lame stance to adopt. It’s indolent, naive, simplistic and dumb. Surely there is far more majesty in knowing that the universe, quixotic and capricious though it may seem to be at first sight, is comprehensible by diligent intellectual human effort, and that exercising that effort not only leads to a breathtaking vista of understanding that adds to the majesty, but gives us the power to work toward a better destiny for us all in a manner that produces real, substantive results? Once again, the evidence we have is that fabricated magic men are superfluous to requirements and irrelevant in this vein, and indeed, are increasingly a hindrance. “Magic man did it”, once again, is little more than a synonym for “don’t bother asking questions, don’t bother being curious, don’t bother trying to learn”. What gives meaning to the world around us is the effort we exert to understand the world and put that knowledge to constructive use.

I am going to use the discussion points found on RichardDawkins.net as the basis of this feature.

Calilasseia is the author of the post and deserves many rich accolades for assembling so much useful information in one spot. This constitutes an open thread of sorts, please leave your opinions and observations in the comment section.

Enjoy!

[21] “The universe is meaningless without my magic man”

To which the short answer is “so fucking what?”

Leaving aside for the moment the total failure of supernaturalists to support the assertion that their particular pet species of magic man actually exists, which also impinges upon [20] above, the idea that the universe needs this entity to impose meaning upon it is a piece of intellectual constipation that I, for one, find mind-numbingly boring, tedious and unimaginative. Douglas Adams said it best – “Isn’t it enough to realise that the garden is beautiful as it is, without having to imagine fairies at the bottom of it?”

Likewise, why should the universe be required to genuflect before supernaturalist anthropocentric conceit, and be required to be meaningful only because an invisible magic man that we have invented decrees thus?

We are beings that are capable of eliciting meaning for our own lives, and the world around us, without outside interference. Erecting an imaginary source of outside interference is nothing more than a gargantuan Little Orphan Annie complex, a wish to remain a child with a nice Daddy figure to run the world around us so that we don’t have to get off our arses and expend the effort. This is such an utterly lame stance to adopt. It’s indolent, naive, simplistic and dumb. Surely there is far more majesty in knowing that the universe, quixotic and capricious though it may seem to be at first sight, is comprehensible by diligent intellectual human effort, and that exercising that effort not only leads to a breathtaking vista of understanding that adds to the majesty, but gives us the power to work toward a better destiny for us all in a manner that produces real, substantive results? Once again, the evidence we have is that fabricated magic men are superfluous to requirements and irrelevant in this vein, and indeed, are increasingly a hindrance. “Magic man did it”, once again, is little more than a synonym for “don’t bother asking questions, don’t bother being curious, don’t bother trying to learn”. What gives meaning to the world around us is the effort we exert to understand the world and put that knowledge to constructive use.

I am going to use the discussion points found on RichardDawkins.net as the basis of this feature.

Calilasseia is the author of the post and deserves many rich accolades for assembling so much useful information in one spot. This constitutes an open thread of sorts, please leave your opinions and observations in the comment section.

Enjoy!
[20] Teleology/ethics redux.

First, in response to recent posting activity, I’d like to cover the matter of teleology. Which is defined as ‘the doctrine of final purpose’. Basically, teleology erects the assertion (hand in hand with supernaturalism) that the universe and its contents are subject to an externally applied overarching ‘purpose’. This is merely another example of the pervasiveness of the human tendency to project our own intentionality upon our surroundings, a process that our species applied from prehistoric times onwards. The operation thereof is very simple. Humans are beings who think about their actions (well, at least some of us are), and who frequently engage in activities with a specific end goal in mind. As a consequence, when our prehistoric ancestors saw natural forces at work, and saw that those natural forces shaped the landscape (and their own populations), they considered it entirely natural to conclude that this was the work of some entity similar to themselves, namely an entity with internally generated thoughts and goals, acting to achieve those goals. Basically, our prehistoric ancestors fabricated invisible magic men of various species because they didn’t know any better, and in the absence of substantive scientific knowledge, doing so was the only way that they could make sense of a complex, dynamic world. It would take our species a good 200,000 years to reach the point where we could make sense of the world in a proper, rigorous, quantitative manner without erecting such fabrications, and thus, said mythological fabrications have enjoyed far more persistence and persuasiveness than their complete absence of genuine explanatory power warrants.

Teleology is merely an extension of this. Because we have end goals and act to achieve those end goals in the real world, our ancestors assumed that the events around them arising from natural forces had a like origin, and that some sentient intent and planning lay behind them. However, this is merely another of those presuppositions that, in the fullness of time, was found severely wanting when subject to proper, intense critical scientific test. NO evidence has EVER arisen supporting the idea of an externally applied teleology governing the universe and its contents, indeed, with several physical systems, the idea that this is even possible looks decidedly nonsensical, in the light of the fact that those systems are best represented by systems of equations that are highly nonlinear, exhibit extreme sensitivity to initial conditions, and wildly bifurcating behaviour. There is an entire branch of mathematics devoted to the study of such systems, namely the mathematics of chaotic dynamical systems, and even relatively simple, supposedly deterministic systems of equations have been demonstrated to exhibit wide variance in behaviour with only tiny changes in initial conditions. The Verhulst Equation that is used to model population dynamics is a prime example – even small changes in the fecundity parameter in this equation will lead, once the equation enters the bifurcating régime, in wildly different outcomes even if one starts with the same initial conditions. Indeed, once that equation enters the chaotic régime, our ability to predict future behaviour of the system is severely truncated.

Now, if a simple ordinary differential equation can manifest this diversity of behaviour, it doesn’t take much imagining, at least amongst those who paid attention in the requisite classes, to realise that a physical system such as the weather, which is best modelled using the Navier-Stokes Equations among others, is not going to be in any sense ‘directable’, no matter what delusions of grandeur any sentient entity has with respect to this. The Navier-Stokes Equations are not only highly nonlinear interlinked partial differential equations (and in the most general case, tensor differential equations to boot, involving at least one second order tensor quantity), but have proven to be so intractable to attack by mathematicians, that the very existence of a general analytical solution to them remains unknown, despite a century or more of intense labour by the world’s best mathematicians to answer this question. Indeed, anyone who succeeds in this endeavour will win themselves a $1 million prize courtesy of the Clay Mathematical Institute, and immediately find themselves receiving lucrative job offers from aerospace companies such as Boeing to come and help them streamline their supercomputer models of fluid flow. At the moment, Navier-Stokes turbulent flow modelling requires expensive teams of top-class mathematicians, computer scientists, and a $50 million supercomputer as baseline pre-requisites, and those operating in this field will readily tell you that there are limits to how far in future time one can push the models, particularly those using these tools for weather modelling. The idea that the behaviour of a physical system, governed by equations of this sort, is ‘directable’ by any sentience will result in considerable mirth amongst those who know. So if you think your magic man is capable of imposing an overarching teleology upon the universe and its contents, and micro-managing the entire show, those two gentlemen called Navier and Stokes flushed that presupposition down the toilet over 100 years ago.

As a corollary, if there is hard evidence from 300 years of continued scientific endeavour, that an externally applied overarching teleology is not only conspicuous by its absence, but wholly absurd in the light of the divergent behaviour of key physical systems (and that’s before we enter the world of quantum indeterminacy), then likewise, the idea that there exists one, single, overarching set of ethical precepts applied externally to the universe from the same source, a set of precepts that remains unconditionally valid for all time, is similarly ludicrous. Nietzsche castigated philosophers who erected grand, assertion-laden metaphysical systems for the purpose of imposing their pet ethics upon the universe even without the benefit of the latest scientific knowledge, and recognised the basic fallacy underlying this exercise. Modern physics simply propels the fallacy into the realms of Pythonesque absurdity. Apart from the cosmic level of anthropocentric conceit required to erect the notion, that the affairs of one small collection of primates on one small planet, orbiting an average star situated in a nondescript galaxy, are the central reason for the universe being here, there is the central absurdity involved in imposing an overarching set of ethical precepts upon a universe in which the supposedly central characters don’t put in an appearance for over 13 billion years. The monumental metaphysical profligacy this assumes would make William of Ockham barf.

This brings us on to the corollary canard …

I am going to use the discussion points found on RichardDawkins.net as the basis of this feature.

Calilasseia is the author of the post and deserves many rich accolades for assembling so much useful information in one spot. This constitutes an open thread of sorts, please leave your opinions and observations in the comment section.

Enjoy!
[19] The tiresome “design” argument.

Let’s get this straight here. This is nothing more than the resurrection of the Paley’s watchmaker zombie, which stinks even more after 150 years of rotting in the grave than it did when Paley first erected it. Aside from the fact that this argument fails spectacularly because artefacts arising from known manufacturing processes are qualitatively different from the rest of the world, and said artefacts are not self-replicating entities, the entire “design” argument fails for one very important reason. Propagandists for mythology have never presented a proper, rigorous means of testing for “design”, and for that matter, don’t even understand what is needed in order to provide genuine evidence for “design”. The fatuous “it looks designed to me, therefore my magic man did it” argument will, once again, receive the piranha treatment if you make the mistake of deploying it here (see [1] above). Make no mistake, this is nothing more than the typical supernaturalist elevation of ignorance to the level of a metaphysic. The “design” argument consists of nothing more than “I can’t imagine how a natural process could have achieved X, therefore no natural process could have achieved X, therefore magic man did it”. Learn once and for all that reality is not only under no obligation whatsoever to pander to this sort of ignorance and wishful thinking, all too frequently, it sticks the middle finger to said ignorance and wishful thinking.

Now, I’m going to be kind here, and explain what is needed, in order to have genuine evidence for “design”. You need ALL of the following four criteria satisfied, namely:

[19.1] That there exists a detailed, rigorous, robust methodology for segregating entities into the “designed” and “not designed” classes (“It looks designed, therefore magic man” isn’t good enough);

[19.2] That the methodology cited in [19.1] above has been tested upon entities of known provenance, and found to be reliable via said direct empirical test;

[19.3] That the methodology cited in [19.1] above, and determined to be reliable in [19.2] above, is accompanied by a rigorous demonstration of its applicability to specific classes of entity of interest;

[19.4] That the methodology cited in [19.1] above, determined to be reliable in [19.2] above, and determined to be applicable to the requisite class of entities in [19.3] above, yields an unambiguous answer of “designed” for the entities to which it is applied.

Unless you have ALL FOUR of the above criteria fulfilled, you have NO evidence for “design”. Don’t even bother trying to claim otherwise until you’ve spent at least a decade or so devising the rigorous and robust methodology specified as an essential requirement in [19.1] above, because the critical thinkers will know you’re lying. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the task at hand, just fulfilling [19.1] above would constitute a major scientific achievement, and by the time you got to [19.4], you would be in Nobel-winning territory. That is, of course, if you fulfilled [19.1] to [19.3] above properly. If you ever made it to [19.4], your name would be indelibly stamped upon history. The idea that some random poster on the Internet is going to achieve this with nothing more than blind acceptance of mythological assertion to guide him is, needless to say, regarded here as a complete non-starter.

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