Friday, November 28, 2014

Of Time and Miracles

Is crossing a large chasm of space and time resources a miracle?
Treating the empirical time scale of the evolution theoretically as infinity they have then an easy game, apparently to avoid the concept of purposesiveness. While they pretend to stay in this way completely ‘scientific’ and ‘rational’, they become actually very irrational, particularly because they use the word ‘chance’, not any longer combined with estimations of a mathematically defined probability, in its application to very rare single events more or less synonymous with the old word ‘miracle’.”
 -- Wolfgang Pauli to Niels Bohr, 2/15/1955, letter 2015 in von Meyenn (2001), p.105

Thursday, November 27, 2014

alignment with the Forces of Darkness

We've been told by more than one of our colleagues that, even if Darwin was substantially wrong to claim that natural selection is the mechanism of evolution, nonetheless we shouldn't say so. Not, anyhow, in public. To do that is, however inadvertently, to align oneself with the Forces of Darkness, whose goal is to bring Science into disrepute. Well, we don't agree. We think the way to discomfort the Forces of Darkness is to follow the arguments wherever they may lead, spreading such light as one can in the course of doing so. What makes the Forces of Darkness dark is that they aren't willing to do that. What makes Science scientific is that it is.
  -- Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini and Jerry Fodor, "What Darwin Got Wrong"

Monday, November 24, 2014

Is the Origin of Life Part of Evolution?

I was trying to locate somebody's article/post about the double message from academia about whether origins of life are properly part of evolution.  I didn't find what I was looking for but I was amused at the first three hits on Google for Berkeley.  The one marked "Misconception" is a short summary of the message to the negative.  (This idea is often used as a counter-criticism of any criticism of the Urey-Miller experiments or of the state of 'origins of life' research.)  Looking below at the other two and you see that at the same institution Evolution 101 doesn't start with cells like the Darwin cartoon above implies but it ends with cells and starts with soup.  How we got from soup to cells is precisely the topic of 'origins of life'.  101 is usually the introductory material for a science, in this case evolutionary biology.  In the other link, the subtitle to 'Origin of Life' is 'Understanding Evolution.'  How do speculations about the "ultimate cold case" help a student understand a process that rather depends on cells already existing with their genetic code?  It's not really Darwin's bag after all.

To understand the double-think about origins of life, I don't think you have to look any further than that the tenuity and the mutual contradiction of the hypotheses are much more obvious in origins of life than in evolutionary biology proper.  The miraculousness and the void of sufficient material causes is also much more obvious.  Hence the need for many to distance it from the rest of evolutionary biology for which the most general outlines have some consensus at least.