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Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Did the dying Stephen Hawking strengthen the case for God by reintroducing fine-tuning?
Sun, 20 May 2018 16:00:53 +0000
File:Soapbubbles1b.jpg

soap bubbles/Timothy Pilgrim

In his final paper, with Hertog, scaling back the multiverse? From Philip Goff at the Guardian:

But if all of the universes have exactly the same laws '" as in Hawking and Hertog's proposal '" the problem returns, as we now need an explanation of why the single set of laws that govern the entire multiverse is fine-tuned.

Hertog seems not to agree, arguing that the paper does make progress on fine-tuning: 'This paper takes one step towards explaining that mysterious fine-tuning ... It reduces the multiverse down to a more manageable set of universes which all look alike.' However, this merely puts off the explanation of fine-tuning, for the result is that the laws underlying the generation of the multiverse are fine-tuned. We now need to explain not only why our universe is fine-tuned but why every universe is fine-tuned! In terms of explaining the fine-tuning, this is not a step forward but a step back. More.

Goff wants a 'scientific account of fine-tuning.' What if the scientific account is that there is some sort of intelligence inherit in or beyond the universe? Then we must choose between 'science' and reality.

Rejection of multiverse thinking may strengthen the case for God by default. But the enthronement of evidence-free irrationality that multiverse theory embodies is not evidence for God as such. It would, however, cause careful thinkers to reconsider all alternatives.

The problem with multiverse theory is not that there might not be other universes but that they are wished into existence in order to avoid the implications of the fine-tuning of our universe. Then comes the war on falsifiability

See also: Stephen Hawking's final theory scales back multiverse

What becomes of science when the evidence does not matter?

The multiverse is science's assisted suicide

and

Question for multiverse theorists: To what can science appeal, if not evidence?


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At CSICOP: Why millennials and liberals turn to astrology
Sun, 20 May 2018 13:12:25 +0000

Astrology Signs Chart From Sturt Vyse at CSICOP:

One of the most noteworthy aspects of belief in astrology is that it is more often embraced by liberals, which places it in the company of the anti-GMO and anti-vaccination movements (Vyse 2015). A 2009 Pew Research Center study found that people who described themselves as liberal were almost twice as likely to say they believe in astrology than self-described conservatives: 30 percent of liberals compared to 16 percent of conservatives (Liu 2009). Similarly, a 2015 study using data from the General Social Survey data of the National Opinion Research Survey at the University of Chicago found that conservatives were more likely to endorse the statement, 'we trust too much in science and not enough in religious faith,' and liberals were more likely to have consulted their daily horoscope or astrological profile (DellaPosta, Shi, and Macy 2015, 1482'"1483).

According to the Pew study, belief is also more likely to be a youthful phenomenon, with the youngest age group, 18-to-29-year-olds, having a 30 percent belief rate and belief decreasing with each increasing age bracket' More.

Vyse provides a helpful survey of a robust data set that shows that, ever since astrology ceased to be regarded as a science, it has found a home mainly among people who are not orthodox religious believers. He also provides evidence that interest in astrology is more prevalent among those undergoing life crises who wish they had more control over events. Plus:

The foregoing summary provides a few hints as to why astrology might be surging at the moment. First, it is a youthful movement, and another recent Pew Research Study shows that Millennials are less religious than older generations but not less spiritual. In answer to the question, 'Religion is very important,' only 41 percent of Millennials said yes, in comparison to 59 percent of Baby Boomers.

'

Second, two factors are very likely combining to make astrology more appealing at the moment'-liberalism and a need for control. Astrology has a stronger appeal for liberals than conservatives, and in the United States, since November of 2016, the liberal world has been rocked. If ever there was a time when liberals might be looking for a compensatory sense of control, now is it. Conservatives are feeling better, but even if the tables were turned, the Pew survey data suggests they would be more likely to take refuge in religion rather than astrology or other forms of spirituality.

At the risk of setting the cat among the pigeons here, is it possible that belief in superstitions contributes to, and is not merely the result of, political misfortunes? There is a long history of that kind of thing.

* At one time, astrology was considered a science for the perfectly good reason that the heavenly bodies were considered to be bigger and more powerful than Earth. Why would it not be reasonable to believe that they influenced or even controlled events here (as the sun does)? To believe otherwise would be counterintuitive and would require some explanation. Well, the counterintuitive thesis turned out to be correct but the psychological needs cited by Vyse persisted. And not usually among the people some pundits would expect.

See also: Does post-modern naturalism lead to a rise in superstition?

Occult gaining ground among 'sciencey liberals'

Skepticism is largely wasted on 'skeptics': Astrology division


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New book challenges sexual selection theory in evolution
Sun, 20 May 2018 12:31:01 +0000

The book, Darwin's Secret Sex Problem: Exposing Evolution's Fatal Flaw: The Origin of Sex, by Bible commentator F. Lagard Smith,m is endorsed by emeritus biology prof (Cedarville University), John E. Silvius. From the publisher at Amazon:

Darwins Secret Sex Problem What Darwin Ignored . . . For all his revolutionary insight into the fascinating processes of evolution so useful to current scientific research, health care, and technology, Darwin never seriously confronted the crucial, insurmountable gap in his grand theory between asexual replication and sexual reproduction. Nor could Darwins famed natural selection have provided simultaneous on-time delivery of the first male/female pair of millions of sexually unique species required for evolutions bedrock premise of common descent, a fundamental flaw fatal to the romanticized microbe-to-man Evolution Story. Darwins Secret Sex Problem is a witty, engaging, scientifically sound exploration of perhaps the greatest secret of sexualitythe utter inability of Darwinian evolution to explain its origin (John E. Silvius, PhD, Senior Professor Emeritus of Biology, Cedarville University). I highly recommend this book by F. LaGard Smith, a nonspecialist whose careful research demonstrates that he understands the crucial issues surrounding evolutions fatal sex problem, and who has a remarkable ability to communicate complex concepts to a broad audience (Geoff Barnard, PhD, MA, retired Reproductive Endocrinologist and Cambridge University Research Scientist). More.

Fatal flaw? That's a bit sweeping. It's more like this: Darwinism behaves in the academy like a typical authoritarian cult. Once official explanations are forthcoming, the discipline's mediocrities know enough not to lift the edge of the rug' So, the public can safely we told, there is little or no dissent. And sexual selection has the earmarks of a questionable theory anyway: The emotional content for the theorist may be much higher than the true effect in nature.

See also: Making a monkey of Darwinian sexual selection theory

Researchers: Darwinian sexual selection can be selection for extinction

and

Can sex explain evolution?


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Neuroskeptic serves up some skepticism about a recent memory transfer claim
Sun, 20 May 2018 04:00:31 +0000

For sea slugs, via RNA transfer. At Discover:

There's a couple of reasons why I don't think this is evidence of 'memory transfer'.

Firstly, what was transferred here was hardly a memory in the usual sense of the word. It is simply an increase in the sensitivity of a set of neurons, a single reflex pathway. This 'memory' is not specific to any particular stimulus. The training consisted of shocking the animals, which makes them more likely to withdraw in response to touch '" not to shock, but any touch. It's just 'turning up the dial' on that reflex. It is hard to see how this relates to the far more complex types of memory in humans. More.

See also: Neuroscience: RNA can transfer memory in sea slugs Science Mag: ''It's a very controversial idea,' admits study coauthor David Glanzman, a neuroscientist at UCLA.' Replication studies are needed here, if they are allowed.

and

Neuroskeptic: Research casts doubt on the idea that the brain is a machine with parts


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Asked at Gizmodo: Does Earth's Shifting Orbit Influence How Life Evolves?
Sat, 19 May 2018 21:44:11 +0000

From Ryan F. Mandelbaum at Gizmodo:

A team of researchers from the United States and New Zealand took a look at how likely species were to go extinct and how likely new species were to appear during a 60-million-year period, long before humans evolved. Upon analyzing fossil data, it seemed to them as if astronomical cycles led to climactic effects that ultimately aligned with new species of plankton appearing and going extinct on Earth.

'Our results... show that known processes related to the mechanics of the Solar System were shaping marine macroevolutionary rates comparatively early in the history of complex life,' the authors write in the study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. More.

It certainly seems like an idea worth pursuing because all life forms would be affected by significant changes in Earth's orbit. But this is structuralism (evolution is not random but controlled by physics and chemistry).

See also: Biophysics is starting to matter in evolution Much that happens to embryos is not usefully seen as natural selection acting on random genetic mutation but as applied physics and chemistry. Yes, we are talking about structuralism, the much-maligned approach to evolution that sees it as critically dependent on physics and chemistry, not accidentally so (as in random evolution).


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Epigenetics: '[n]ew ideas closely related to Lamarck's eighteenth-century views have become central to our understanding of genetics'
Sat, 19 May 2018 17:11:08 +0000

From Israel Rosenfield and Edward Ziff, in a discussion sparked by The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) at New York Review of Books:

When the molecular structure of DNA was discovered in 1953, it became dogma in the teaching of biology that DNA and its coded information could not be altered in any way by the environment or a person's way of life. The environment, it was known, could stimulate the expression of a gene. Having a light shone in one's eyes or suffering pain, for instance, stimulates the activity of neurons and in doing so changes the activity of genes those neurons contain, producing instructions for making proteins or other molecules that play a central part in our bodies.

The structure of the DNA neighboring the gene provides a list of instructions'-a gene program'-that determines under what circumstances the gene is expressed. And it was held that these instructions could not be altered by the environment. Only mutations, which are errors introduced at random, could change the instructions or the information encoded in the gene itself and drive evolution through natural selection. Scientists discredited any Lamarckian claims that the environment can make lasting, perhaps heritable alterations in gene structure or function.

But new ideas closely related to Lamarck's eighteenth-century views have become central to our understanding of genetics. In the past fifteen years these ideas'-which belong to a developing field of study called epigenetics'-have been discussed in numerous articles and several books, including Nessa Carey's 2012 study The Epigenetic Revolution2 and The Deepest Well, a recent work on childhood trauma by the physician Nadine Burke Harris. More.

Epigenetics is another nail in the coffin of traditional Darwinism because the just-so stories of natural selection acting on random mutations depend, among other things, on the assumption that the inherited genome is a sort of lockbox with no influences other than its own random mutations. If the genome is as plastic as it now appears, many non-random factors influence it in predictable ways. The market for Darwinian just-so stories about how and why changes occur is likely to tank as the new approach sinks in.

See also: Early life experiences influence DNA in adult brain

and

Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you're wanted in the conference room!


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Researchers teach a spider to jump on demand
Sat, 19 May 2018 16:17:25 +0000

From National Geographic:

They trained Kim by creating a gentle tool to repeatedly bring her from one platform to the other. This conditioned the spider to eventually start jumping to the target without the assistance of the tool. They used 3D CT scanning and high-speed cameras to capture and research the spider's jumps.More.

It seems odd to think of teaching an arachnid something but this method might get past usual barriers by addressing something the spider does anyway and avoiding the need for the spider to know it is interacting with another life form.

The researchers' aim is jumping microbots.

See also: Does intelligence depend on a specific type of brain?


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Panspermia (maybe life came from outer space) is back, in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology
Sat, 19 May 2018 11:11:11 +0000
Fig. 5

Fig. 5. The evolution from squid to octopus is compatible with a suite of genes inserted by extraterrestrial viruses.

Abstract: We review the salient evidence consistent with or predicted by the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe (H-W) thesis of Cometary (Cosmic) Biology. Much of this physical and biological evidence is multifactorial. One particular focus are the recent studies which date the emergence of the complex retroviruses of vertebrate lines at or just before the Cambrian Explosion of 'ˆ 500 Ma. Such viruses are known to be plausibly associated with major evolutionary genomic processes. We believe this coincidence is not fortuitous but is consistent with a key prediction of H-W theory whereby major extinction-diversification evolutionary boundaries coincide with virus-bearing cometary-bolide bombardment events. A second focus is the remarkable evolution of intelligent complexity (Cephalopods) culminating in the emergence of the Octopus. A third focus concerns the micro-organism fossil evidence contained within meteorites as well as the detection in the upper atmosphere of apparent incoming life-bearing particles from space. In our view the totality of the multifactorial data and critical analyses assembled by Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe and their many colleagues since the 1960s leads to a very plausible conclusion '" life may have been seeded here on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth allowed it to flourish (about or just before 4.1 Billion years ago); and living organisms such as space-resistant and space-hardy bacteria, viruses, more complex eukaryotic cells, fertilised ova and seeds have been continuously delivered ever since to Earth so being one important driver of further terrestrial evolution which has resulted in considerable genetic diversity and which has led to the emergence of mankind. (open access) - Cause of Cambrian Explosion - Terrestrial or Cosmic?, Edward J. Steele, ShirwanAl-Mufti, Kenneth A. Augustyn, Rohan Chandrajith, John P.Coghlan, S.G.Coulson, Sudipto Ghosh, Mark Gillman, Reginald M.Gorczynski, Brig Klyce, Godfrey Louis, Kithsir Mahanama, Keith R.Oliver, Julio Padron, Jiangmen Qu, John A.Schuster, W.E.Smith, Duane P.Snyder,'Dongsheng Liu, March 13, 2018 More.

Note that both Fred Hoyle and Francis Crick both considered an extraterrestrial origin for life (panspermia) seriously, if only in despair over the conundrum of life's origin of Earth. Origin of life researchers routinely describe a variety of accidentally favorable Earth origin sites. The finds are interesting but there is a risk of missing the bigger picture: Earth was not nearly as favorable to the origin of life in general as we sometimes assume it to be (simply because we have not found life anywhere else).

The advantage of panspermia, in general, is that it does not require exotic, once-in-a-quintillion scenarios to have happened on Earth, where we can assess the chances. Panspermia postulates the existence of a more favorable location somewhere, without locating it.

But now, not only do the present authors wish to explain the origin of biological information, life, new genes, and humans via panspermia, they also want to explain the abrupt appearance of complex life on earth, that way:

Thus the possibility that cryopreserved Squid and/or Octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted (below) as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus' sudden emergence on Earth ca. 270 million years ago. Indeed this principle applies to the sudden appearance in the fossil record of pretty well all major life forms, covered in the prescient concept of 'punctuated equilibrium' by Eldridge and Gould advanced in the early 1970s (1972, 1977); and see the conceptual cartoon of Fig. 6. (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, 1981)

They go further:

Therefore, similar living features like this 'as if the genes were derived from some type of pre-existence" (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, 1981) apply to many other biological ensembles when closely examined. One little known yet cogent example is the response and resistance of the eye structures of the Drosophila fruit fly to normally lethally damaging UV radiation at 2537 ..., given that this wavelength does not penetrate the ozone layer and is thus not evident as a Darwinian selective factor at the surface of the Earth (Lutz and Grisewood, 1934) and see Hoyle and Wickramasinghe (1981, p.12'"13). Many of these 'unearthly' properties of organisms can be plausibly explained if we admit the enlarged cosmic biosphere that is indicated by modern astronomical research '" discoveries of exoplanets already discussed. The average distance between habitable planets in our galaxy now to be reckoned in light years '" typically 5 light years (Wickramasinghe et al., 2012). Virion/gene exchanges thus appear to be inevitable over such short cosmic distances. The many features of biology that are not optimised to local conditions on the Earth may be readily understood in this wider perspective.

They appear to want to replace ID with panspermia and (this is where accusations of heresy might surface) they do not seem to regard Darwinian evolution as a creative force that can turn cows into whales all by itself. The fact that so many people signed off on the paper (who are '''? One source reports33 authors altogether) suggests that many would like to discuss these problems with more options on the table than inventing implausible scenarios whose main virtue is that they dutiful defend Darwinism.

They reason,

The transformation of an ensemble of appropriately chosen biological monomers (e.g. amino acids, nucleotides) into a primitive living cell capable of further evolution appears to require overcoming an information hurdle of superastronomical proportions (Appendix A), an event that could not have happened within the time frame of the Earth except, we believe, as a miracle (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, 1981, 1982, 2000). All laboratory experiments attempting to simulate such an event have so far led to dismal failure (Deamer, 2011; Walker and Wickramasinghe, 2015). It would thus seem reasonable to go to the biggest available 'venue' in relation to space and time.

In short, they are looking for a powerhouse of information, just as one might be looking for a powerhouse of energy. Where is it?

They suggest looking at viruses:

"We should then plausibly view viruses as among the most information-rich natural systems in the known Universe (Fig. 4). Their size dictates they are very small targets minimizing the probability of destruction by flash heating or ionizing radiation, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe (1979) e.g. Chapter 1. Their nanometer dimensions plausibly allow easy transport and dispersal by micrometer sized dust grains and other protective physical matrices of similar size. They are then nanoparticle-sized genetic vectors which contain all the essential information to take over and drive the physiology of any given target cell within which they mesh. Their replicative growth means they are produced, and exist, in huge numbers on cosmic scales; so that they (and to a lesser quantitative extent their cellular reservoirs) can suffer huge losses by inactivation while still leaving a residue of millions of surviving particles potentially still infective. A virus then is a type of compressed module in touch with the whole of the cell's very ability to grow and divide to produce progeny cells and thus to evolve."

Like ID, this is an 'information first' approach that features 'information-rich visions,' even with respect to humans:

The most crucial genes relevant to evolution of hominids, as indeed all species of plants and animals, seems likely in many instances to be of external origin, being transferred across the galaxy largely as information rich virions. In some cases it is possible to imagine '" fanciful as it might seem - multicellular life-forms that were established on an icy cometary or planetary body to be transferred as frozen eggs, embryos or seeds (Tepfer and Leach, 2017) in large icy bolides that have been transported to the Earth in soft landings (Frank and Sigwarth, 2001; Snyder, 2015); certainly the terrestrial evidence for Earth's own pervasive Icy Biosphere is compelling and consistent with such a picture (Priscu and Christner, 2004; Fox, 2014; Christner et al., 2014). It is plausible that in the warmed and liquid subsurface interiors of the comets, or planetary moons such as Jupiter's Europa and Saturn's Enceladus (Hoover, 2011; Snyder, 2015) cellular reservoirs for viral replication would, by necessity, need to exist. More.

If you are tempted to simply dismiss the authors' thesis, keep in mind that they are not trying to minimize the difficulty of the OOL problem. They are asking for their ideas to be considered in the light of the admitted difficulty.

An obvious objection is, what resources elsewhere than Earth enabled all that information to be assembled and coordinated, never mind transported? How likely are we to find out?

There's been some pushback:

Stedman added that, for a virus, such as the RNA-based ones known as retroviruses, to somehow turn a squid into an octopus, that virus would have to evolve on a world where squid were already plentiful.

Modern retroviruses have evolved to be extremely specific about which hosts they infect, Stedman said. But a retrovirus from outer space wouldn't have evolved to be specific for Earth-based creatures, and "certainly not specific enough for something like a squid '- unless you have massive amounts of squids on some planet incredibly close to us that is spitting off all of these meteors. But I think that kind of assumption is highly unlikely," Stedman said. '" Brandon Spektor at LiveScience More.

Yes. 'Is compatible with,' as in Fig 5.1 copied above, is not a form of evidence. So far we are still in the land of Darwin's heirs

But it's good to be allowed to have the discussion.

See also: Exoplanets break apparent rules for planet formation

SETI seeks to rebrand its goals, in pursuit of funding from the U.S. Congress

and

What we know and don't know about the origin of life


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Astrophysicist as advice columnist: Question, should I study string theory?
Fri, 18 May 2018 20:50:39 +0000

Calabi yau formatted.svg From Sabine Hossenfelder at her blog BackRe(Action), responding to a physics major who has heard from cosmologist Brian Greene that string theory can be a grand theory of everything:

Greene states very carefully that superstring theory 'has the capacity to embrace' gravity as well as the other known fundamental forces (electromagnetic, weak, and strong). What he means is that most string theorists currently believe there exists a specific model for superstring theory which gives rise to these four forces. The vague phrase 'has the capacity' is an expression of this shared belief; it glosses over the fact that no one has been able to find a model that actually does what Greene says.

Superstring theory also comes with many side-effects which all too often go unnoticed. To begin with, the 'super' isn't there to emphasize the theory is awesome, but to indicate it's supersymmetric. Supersymmetry, to remind you, is a symmetry that postulates all particles of the standard model have a partner particle. These partner particles were not found. This doesn't rule out supersymmetry because the particles might only be produced at energies higher than what we have tested. But it does mean we have no evidence that supersymmetry is realized in nature. More.

String theory is what happens to science when evidence isn't Cool, like it used to be. Good career choice? Depends on what becomes of science.

Lost in Math Hossenfelder is the author of the forthcoming book Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray (June, 2018)

See also: Sabine Hossenfelder: Hawking's final theory is just one of 'some thousand' speculations

and

Post-modern physics: String theory gets over the need for evidence


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Convergent evolution: Green blood evolved four times in lizards
Fri, 18 May 2018 16:31:19 +0000
Lime-green lizard in New Guinea

green blood is produced by high concentrations of biliverdin, a toxic green bile pigment/ Chris Austin, LSU.

From Louisiana State U:

Green blood is one of the most unusual characteristics in the animal kingdom, but it's the hallmark of a group of lizards in New Guinea. Prasinohaema are green-blooded skinks, or a type of lizard. The muscles, bones and tongues of these lizards appear bright, lime-green due to high levels of biliverdin, or a green bile pigment, which is toxic and causes jaundice. Surprisingly, these lizards remain healthy with levels of green bile that are 40 times higher than the lethal concentration in humans.

Not clear why the lizards' good health is a surprise here. They aren't humans; they are not even mammals. But hey, picky picky. ðŸ'

Green blood likely emerged independently in various lizards, which suggests that green blood may have an adaptive value. Slightly elevated levels of bile pigments in other animals, including insects, fish and frogs, have played potentially positive roles in these animals. Previous studies have shown that bile pigment can act as an antioxidant scavenging free radicals as well as preventing disease during in vitro fertilization. However, the function of green bile pigment in these lizards is still uncertain.More.

The fact that green blood may have adaptive value doesn't explain how it managed to arise independently four times by the mechanism of natural selection acting on random mutation (Darwinism) unless the probability calculations can be shown to work. But who really does that math? Only Darwinism skeptics.

For example, an extra set of teeth might be adaptive to humans if they came in at around forty years of age. But what are our chances of getting the extra set via natural selection acting on random mutations?

Convergence is best seen as an argument for dusting off structuralism.

See also: Biophysics is starting to matter in evolution. Much that happens to embryos is not usefully seen as natural selection acting on random genetic mutation but as applied physics and chemistry. Yes, we are talking about structuralism, the much-maligned approach to evolution that sees it as critically dependent on physics and chemistry, not accidentally so (as in random evolution).

Why a four-eyed fossil lizard is a problem for Darwinism

and

Evolution appears to converge on goals'-but in Darwinian terms, is that possible?

and


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