Category Archives: Evolution

Whack-a-Creationist

Whack_CreationistMy post called “Is Evolution a Theory” has 127 comments! However, many of them are complete Creationist nonsense — like these little moles. Fortunately, I have some very educated, generous readers who share fantastic info in their comments. One of those readers, Ian, while correcting a creationist said,

“At least then we might be able to have a sane discussion about some topic. Rather than playing rhetorical whack-a-mole.”

WhackI had not heard the expression “whack-a-mole” so I looked it up.  It is a fantastic description of a common form of debating.  I actually have a post called “Fart Logic” that describes a similar style of bad debate.  Anyway, I was so excited to learn the phrase “whack-a-mole” that I created these series of images appropriate to the context Ian mentioned it in.  Hope you enjoy them!

The Wiki article on “Whack-a-Mole” mentions several uses of the phrase:

  • a repetitious and futile task: each time an adversary is “whacked” it only pops up again somewhere else.
  • It is used in the computer and networking industry to describe the phenomenon of fending off recurring spammers, vandals or miscreants.
  • In the military it refers to ostensibly inferior opposing troops who keep re-appearing.

Ian works in computer science (and other fields) but I can also imagine him having a few arcade games in basement with whack-a-mole being one of them.

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Is Evolution just a Theory?

GravityMy son has a skilled science teacher who just finished teaching him an accurate, detailed overview of genetics. Today they began studying Evolution. My son related these three claims that the teacher made today:

  • “Evolution is JUST a theory”
  • “Evolution is FULL of holes”
  • “Evolution can not be proven”

This teacher’s statements are generic ID, anti-evolution propaganda and shows either the ignorance of the teacher or her significant religious blindness or both. A friend and I are going to try and address this at the school.

Question to readers: How would you approach this issue?

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Darwin’s Sorest Trouble

Darwin understood that his own theory demanded that the earth be hundreds of millions of years old.  But due to limited physics of his day, scientists at that time calculated a very young age of the sun which made Darwin doubt his theory.  In fact, due to these doubts, in later editions of  “Origin of Species”, Darwin removed all mention of timescales.  Below I will give a chronological outline of the story of how we have come to understand the Sun’s source of energy and its age.  My main source and inspiration for this post is Frank Close’s book, “Neutrino“.

2700 BC:  Ancient Egyptians view the sun as a big ball of fire — no theory of its fuel yet.  This celestial body they deified as “Ra“.
500 BCAnaxagoras, apparently found a newly crashed hot meteorite and reasoned that, coming from the sky where the only hot thing was the sun, then it must be a piece of the sun and thus the sun was made of red-hot iron.  This theory then held for more than two thousand years.
1850 ADJohn Waterstone, a schoolteacher, does calculations showing that if the Sun’s heat comes from chemical energy (cooling iron or whatever), then the sun could only last 10,000 years.  So looking for other candidates for sources of energy, he theorizes that the energy of rocks falling into the sun transferred their falling kinetic energy into heat.   But he realized there were not enough material in the solar system to power the Sun, so, in 1853 he proposed that perhaps the Sun was falling in on itself and consequently releasing energy.  Waterstone’s ideas would be picked up 10 years later by William Thomson.

Kinetic Theory of Gas

1859:  Charles Darwin publishes “On the Origin of Species“.   His theory of evolution implied that the Earth had to be more like hundreds of millions of years old.  Yet the known laws of physics could not explain how the Sun could have burned so long.

Charles Darwin

1860William Thomson[aka, Lord Kelvin] explores Waterstone’s ideas further.  First he explored the notion of material crashing into the Sun.  But he sees that even of all the planets crashed into the Sun, it would only give it 3,000 years of life.  Next he explored Waterstone’s notion of a collapsing sun’s kinetic energy, and calculates that even if the best scenario, the sun could be more than 100 million years old.

William Thompson (Lord Kelvin)


1860’s: Darwin writes the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, about Thomson’s work on the age of the sun and says they “have been for some time one of my sorest troubles.”

Alfred Wallace

1896: Henri Becquereldiscovers radioactivity.  1898: Marie Skłodowska Curiediscovers Radium1903: William Wilsonshows that a few grams of Radium per cubic meter of the Sun would be enough to explain its power but quickly, solar spectrum experiments showed no radium on the Sun but instead, hydrogen and helium.

Marie Curie (1898)

1905: Albert Einsteinpublished his theory of relativity and shows that mass, when converted to energy yields unbelievable energy.  E=MC↑2.

Albert Einstein 1905

1913: Earnest Rutherfordspeculates that H and He may react differently in the Sun because of its enormous temperatures and thus releasing energy in the nucleus of the atom.  Thus the Sun was thought of as a nuclear furnace though the mechanism were a mystery, the source of power was now understood.

Gold Foil experiment exposing the structure of the atom.

Earnest Rutherford

1920: Francis Aston discovered that helium had 1/120 less mass (thus given up as energy) than 4 atoms of hydrogen.   Sir Arthur Eddingtonthen proposes that hydrogen in the Sun combines to form helium and looses mass and thus yields energy.

Arthur Eddington

1939: Hans Bethe publishes his paper “Energy Production in Stars”.  He discovered the CNO cycle to explain this but then realized that the Sun was not hot enough to support this reaction (other stars are hot enough, however).  He then Bethe explored Eddington’s notion of hydrogen as the fuel and soon elaborated the P-P chain as the mechanism of our sun of converting mass into energy and thus allowing it enough fuel to last about 10 billion years.  Darwin (1809-1882) was vindicated.

Hans Bethe

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My Worldview

Below are my posts written to explain my personal philosophy, values or worldview.
Updated to and including my December 2010 posts

My odd traits and stories

Though I am an atheist, I have religious and superstitious tendencies.  Atheists come in many flavors.  One stereotype is that they are dry, bland, hyper-rational, religion haters. These indexed posts give you an idea of why this atheist may not fit your stereotype.

Resume-like Posts

Some readers like to know a little more about the author because we all know that one’s experience highly influence their worldviews.   Well, here more than you may care to know.  🙂

Miscellaneous

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Filed under Cognitive Science, Consciousness, Critical Thinking, Ethics, Evolution, Philosophy & Religion, Science

What makes Humans Unique?

NOTHING !

Shrub_of_life

Unique vs. Superior

Well, sure, we are unique, if by “unique” you mean that which puts any living thing in its own place on the shrub of life !  But then every creature is unique !  But that is rarely what the question implies, instead, the inquirer is asking “How are human’s uniquely superior to animals”?   This attempt to define humans as the paragon of animals is instinctive.  Try referring to people as animals and a child will be surprised.   But still, as natural as this tendency is, isn’t this question embarrassingly anthropocentric ?

Perhaps bats can echo locate better than any flying animal, but does that make them superior or just unique.  Dogs’ sense of smell makes humans look olfactory blind.  Bonobos’ social arrangements make humans look barbaric.  The variety of environments bacteria can thrive in makes humans look pathetically weak.

Human Exceptionalism

Matt Ridley’s book, “The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture”, starts with a chapter on this subject “The Paragon of Animals”.    The Exceptionalism argument has a long history — and the exceptionalist’s best arguments are continually refuted by scientists who discover facts.

The Myth

“Humans are uniquely …”

The Truth

Science’s Counter Evidence

Political animals
— Aristotle
Apes are political
— Goodall
Reasoning animals
— Descartes
Apes reason
— Goodall
Capable of conscious choice
— Marx
Apes capable of conscious choice
— Goodall
Capable of subjectivity
— Malik
Baboons do abstract reasoning
— Goodall
Capable of moral reasoning
— Darwin !
Darwin later in life,
countered his own argument !
Wage war
Gombe forest chimps wage war
–Goodall
Cultural animals Showed whales, dolphins and chimps have culture and passed on teachings.
— Desmond Morris (1967, “The Naked Ape”)
Capable of Language
Monkeys have vocabulary for referring to different predators and birds.  Parrots and apes can learn quite large lexicons.
Capable of Theory of Mind
Chimps regularly engage in deception

The reflex to establish that “one’s tribe is the best of all tribes” pollutes the human history, politics and religion.

Even scientists buy into this enticing reflex.  Evolutionists even were deceived by the myth when they first layed out the “Tree of Life”.  The “Tree” analogy implied linearity, purpose and pinnacles, thus many biologists (seeing through the myth) now prefer “shrub” to avoid thus false connotations.  Here is another picture of a taxonomy of life that shows it less like a “Shrub” but they still call it a “Tree” (being a tradition and all).  Check out this cool interactive site.

tree-of-life

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Mirror Neurons : Our Moral Imagination

WrightI am reading Robert Wright’s excellent book on “The Evolution of God”.  Over at “Liberty and Skepticism“, I wrote a short post on one of Wright’s recent essays — please go take a look.

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Overwhelm them with Facts !

primatetreeI have heard it said that the best way to defeat creationists is not through argumentations, but to keep doing science and overwhelm them with facts !  This graphic above is by Mark A. Klinger, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh.  It illustrates the part of the tree that IDA may help elaborate–yet another transitional animal.  Below is a quick BBC video.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | Sc…“, posted with vodpod

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Atheist Confirmation Bias

RNA-from_SoupRNA has been made from a prebiotic soup of chemicals or so it would seem by cursorily reading many blogs that may be jumping the gun on celebrating the opportunity to silence those yet another anti-evolution argument.   But careful reading shows the Manchester scientists have just put together a building block to RNA.  And this is only one study which has not been carefully picked apart except in the peer rewiew sense.  The press and the religious community have to have their go at it yet.  We are not yet certain if the study was done correctly or has generalizability.

Alas, we all want the silly anti-evolutionary arguments to rightfully go away, but we have to be patient, take care not to over-state,  guard against confirmation bias and prove we are committed to the scientific method.

But WOW, this is kind of exciting !

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Evolution of the Eye

Dawkins posted a good article on how fast evolution can create complexity.  He mentions Matt Ridley’s Evolution Site’s illustration and I link them both hear for you.  This is the counter-intuitive stuff that makes it hard for non-math people to get when it comes to evolution.  Brilliant work !

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Random Becomes Amazing

sparrow_in_flightOne of the huge problems talking to doubters of evolution is catching them up with modern science and math.  The confirmatory data of  biology and paleontology itself is overwhelming.  But to me, the icing on the cake are the mathematical simulators of apparently intelligently designed forms and behaviors spontaneously emerging from very simple algorithms.  Once someone sees simple algorithms generate beautiful awe-inspiring forms, it helps make the evolution talk much easier.

In March, The American Physical Society presented research showing that ants search blindly and randomly but that even with such simple methods, an  apparently complex intelligent behavior emerges.

To see how amazing behavior in birds can emerge from very simple algorithms, I have included here two sites that illustrate bird flight where you can adjust the variables:  A fascinating 2D model and this beautiful 3D model.

Lastly, and I first studied this many years ago, here is the classic Game of Life by Conway which started everything back in the early 70’s.  This alone, if demonstrated properly to a evolutionary-naive listener can make the rest of the education much easier.  Here is a page of links, and this is a fun model.

There are also simulators which show how different tree shapes all come from the same algorithm and how seashell shapes all come from a single algorithm.  I can’t find them — if you run across them, please let me know.

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