Category Archives: Science

Phlogiston, Vitalism, and Information

History is littered with bad ideas. In the realm of politics, bad ideas can kill you; in economics they can impoverish you. In science … well, what can we say about Wikipedia’s list of Superseded scientific theories?

The list is long, the drool is deep. Some of those superseded notions were well intentioned, but simply wrong. They were abandoned with relatively little fuss — like this entry:

Miasma theory of disease – the theory that diseases are caused by “bad air”. No experimental support, and rendered obsolete by the germ theory of disease.

Other items on the list, like Vitalism — the theory that living things are alive because of some “vital force” independent of nonliving matter — were rather goofy from the start. Another example would be Phlogiston theory — proposing that that combustibles contain a substance called “phlogiston” which was released into the air upon combustion. It was superseded by the discovery of oxidation.

And we all remember the Luminiferous aether — which simply doesn’t exist. Some superseded notions still linger in various fringes of society, like flat Earth, the geocentric universe, astrology, etc. You’ll want to review the whole list for laughs.

Why do we mention those things? Because it seems that another one is currently being concocted. Yes, dear reader, you guessed it. We’re talking about the Discovery Institute’s new claim that there’s a mysterious phantasm they call “information” that exists in and organizes the universe, including all living things. Despite certain intentional similarities in terminology, Discoveroid information has nothing to do with information theory, which Wikipedia says is “considered to have been founded in 1948 by Claude Shannon.”

The thing the Discoveroids call information seems vaguely similar to vitalism. No one can detect it with the instruments of science, but the Discoveroids claim they can somehow sense its presence by using William Dembski’s Design Inference, commonly called his Design Filter. We wrote about it here: The Discoveroids and Their Magic Filter.

It’s a good thing they have Dembski, because otherwise they’d never know about this information stuff. Discoveroid information is playing an increasing role in their campaign against the theory of evolution and science in general. Does it exist in a beautifully arranged snowflake? They say no. In an amoeba? They say yes. How do they know? They just do.

Before they invented this phantasmal information stuff, their imaginary designer — blessed be he! — performed only a limited number of tricks. One of those was overcoming the Great Barrier between micro- and macro-evolution. We described that in Discoveroids Dance the Micro-Macro Mambo, where we said:

The imaginary distinction between micro- and macro-evolution depends on a magic barrier between them, which somehow prevents one from gradually becoming the other. That imaginary (and unevidenced and unexplained) barrier says: “A species can mutate thus far and no farther!” It’s the reason creationists give to invoke the intervention of a deity (or an intelligent designer) who is somehow able to overcome the barrier and thus provide the appearance that life evolved naturally over eons, in a long chain of mini steps. Therefore, creationism requires belief in a two-part dogma consisting of: (1) the Great Barrier; and (2) the miracle that breaks through the barrier. … We imagine the designer — blessed be he! — creeps into the genome when no one is looking and, like a sleazy used-car salesman, he resets the invisible mutation-counter from “maximum” back to zero so the creature’s descendants can then continue to mutate to the next level.

What else did the designer do? We’ve forgotten most of the nonsensical claims, but they still insist that he put together the bacterial flagellum. There were one or two other tricks — he mucked around a bit in the Precambrian, and he sometimes adds new features to the genome, which couldn’t possibly evolve because the odds against it are too great — oh, he also fine-tuned the whole universe. Otherwise, the designer didn’t have much of a portfolio. Until now.

The Discoveroids’ latest claim is that the designer makes things complicated. To do that he adds the mystical ingredient of information. It’s something like pixie dust. It’s in your DNA. Without information, DNA is just … well, it’s a big molecule. But when the ghostly goodie of information is added — Shazam! Yes, it’s rather like vitalism, but the Discoveroids don’t want you to notice that.

But what is information? It’s not matter, not energy, not anything you know. It’s information! And it’s a big deal. It permeates the entire universe. Dembski has a new book on it, gushingly described in several Discoveroid posts, most recently here: Bill Dembski’s New Book Is Out and Ready to Order; Pre-orders Are in the Mail. We haven’t read the thing, and in all likelihood we never will, but we notice that it comes with a slogan: “Information all the way down.” Klinghoffer says:

[I]n the end, as at the beginning, there is information. Of course this casts the argument for intelligent design in a fresh and important new light, which is why we’ve been telling you that [Dembski's book] is the next big thing in ID.

It’s good that they keep inventing these new campaigns from time to time. It gives the intelligent designer something to do. Without the Discoveroids, he’d just be another imaginary entity who provides imaginary solutions for imaginary problems. We’ve got enough of those already, and they’re boring. But thanks to the Discoveroids, we now have an endless source of entertainment.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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AIG Talks About Ebola, Again

Our last post about AIG and Ebola was AIG Can Solve the Ebola Problem. Today they’re at it again — no doubt to serve the needs of the millions of people who turn to AIG for information about such things.

The new article is titled Is the Ebola Epidemic Evolution in Action? It was written by three of the creation scientists at Answers in Genesis (AIG), the online ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo).

The three authors are: Elizabeth Mitchell (a creationist gynecologist), Georgia Purdom (this is her AIG bio page), and Tommy Mitchell (here’s his AIG bio page). Yes, it appears that Elizabeth and Tommy Mitchell are married to each other — a creationist power couple.

Most of the article seems to be standard information about Ebola, but we’ll skip that because there are more authoritative sources. What we’ll do here is give you the parts that are pure creationism. Okay, let’s get started, with some bold font added by us for emphasis. One of their introductory paragraphs asks:

In the past, outbreaks have remained geographically confined to the regions where the organism that harbors them lives. Why is this one different? Is Ebola wielding the power of Darwinian evolution over medical science?

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! What kind of a question is that? The kind that would occur only to a creationist. Skipping a load about case histories, symptoms, etc., they mention that the virus mutates, and then they say:

But is this evolution? No. When a virus or microorganism mutates, it might change some of its traits, producing some mutant copies better able to face the challenges in its environment and some less able. Obviously the ones better able to cope survive and become the “parents” of the next generation. But they do not change into different kinds of viruses or microorganisms. Ebola virus remains Ebola virus. This is not an example of molecules-to-man evolution.

Got that? It’s not turning into a crocoduck. Mutation isn’t evolution. Let’s read on:

What about concerns recently mentioned in the news that Ebola could evolve into an airborne virus? Many experts doubt this will occur. Why? Well, even though viruses mutate rapidly, they do not acquire the genetic information to build brand new structures that would make them into a different kind of virus.

You can relax, dear reader. The AIG creation scientists assure you that Ebola won’t become airborne. They explain why:

[W]hen we look at the reason many experts believe the virus will not be able to make this leap, we can see it is the distinction between molecules-to-man evolution (which does not happen) and variation within a created kind (which happens all the time) that makes this confidence possible. The fact that organisms are unable to gain new genetic information to add structures and functions leading them to become a different kind of organism, from the human point of view, is a very good thing.

Skipping over some stuff, they ask a very important question:

Why Did God Make Viruses?

You know the usual creationist answer, but it bears repeating. They say:

Because we are confident that the original world was good until the curse of man’s sin fell upon it, we know that the original viruses — like the original kinds of bacteria and all other microorganisms — must have been harmless and served useful purposes. Over the past 6,000 years many disease-causing variations have developed in viruses and indeed in all classes of microbes. However, the more science learns about this hard-to-see part of our world, the more hints we see that these things were designed as a vital part of our world.

Ebola isn’t God’s fault — it’s yours! Here’s more:

Ebola is indeed the latest challenge in this sin-cursed world, and a very dangerous one. But it is not powered by Darwinian evolution.

Ah, if it’s “not powered by Darwinian evolution,” we have nothing to fear. Then we come to the final paragraph, and it’s the funniest thing we’ve ever seen in an AIG article. Here it comes:

This information is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended as professional medical advice. The information should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor or other health care professional. If you have specific questions about any medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment, you should consult your doctor or other healthcare provider or go to a hospital.

That was priceless. Although AIG insists that they know far more about science than all those horrible secularists and evolutionists do, and although two of the three authors of their latest Ebola article are (or were) physicians, they have enough sense to caution their drooling readers not to rely on them. They don’t need to worry. The only people who take AIG seriously are already brain-dead.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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How Not To Enter the Space Age

This is way off topic, but it interests us, and there’s nothing else going on at the moment. So let’s talk about the wealth of the solar system. We assume that a great deal has been written on this subject, but we suspect that virtually all of it is worthless. Let’s look at something we found at PhysOrg: Who owns the moon? It says, with our bold font:

[B]ig corporations, rich entrepreneurs and even US politicians are eyeing up the moon and its untapped resources. Russia has plans for a manned colony by 2030 and a Japanese firm wants to build a ring of solar panels around the moon and beam energy back to Earth.

We need to be clear about the legal validity of extraterrestrial real estate as the same ideas that were once used to justify colonialism are being deployed by governments and galactic entrepreneurs. Without proper regulation, the moon risks becoming an extra-planetary Wild West.

What we think they’re trying to say — or what needs to be said — is that without a clearly defined and dependable system of property rights, it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to justify the immense investment required to develop the potential of resources on other worlds and their moons. What company is going to invest the billions that will be necessary to search for, obtain, and bring to Earth the much-needed commodities that may be found out there if some crazed outfit — with ships and weapons — doesn’t recognize their rights?

Who will bring law and order to the solar system? Some bloated, corrupt, and utterly worthless committee of the United Nations? Some treaty signed by nations who may not even be involved in such activities? The European Parliament? The World Bank? A bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels? Back to PhysOrg:

To figure out whether “earthly” laws can help decide who owns what in space – or if anything can be owned at all – we must first disentangle sovereignty from property. Back in the 17th century, natural law theorists such as Hugo Grotius and John Locke argued that property rights exist by virtue of human nature but that they can only have legal force when they are recognised by a sovereign government. Within the context of space law, the big question is whether sovereignty reaches infinity – how high must you go to escape your country?

Goofy questions. If it were your decision as head of some big mining company, would you launch a ridiculously expensive mission based on some law your government passed, or some international treaty? What if there’s a bandit country whose ships visit your mining operation on one of Jupiter’s moons and they take over everything you’ve been working on? You can’t call the cops. Whatcha gonna do? Call the insurance company? Ooops — because no one is allowed to own any property out there, your investment is uninsurable. Let’s read on:

When the US was confronted with this query in the early 1950s, it lobbied for the recognition of outer space as a global commons.

[...]

This principle can be found back in Article II of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty which clearly forbids “national appropriation by claims of sovereignty, means of use or occupation by any other means”. It has been widely accepted: no one complains the various moon landings or satellites in space have infringed their sovereignty.

Isn’t that sweet? “Global commons” means that no one owns anything. It means no private company will ever develop the resources that are out there. Government clerks might talk about it, but no one in his right mind thinks they could ever accomplish anything. PhysOrg continues:

Historical records of the Space Treaty negotiations clearly indicate people were against private appropriations at the time, but an explicit prohibition never made it into Article II. Lessons have been learned from this omission and the ban [against private property] was far more explicit in the subsequent Moon Agreement of 1979. However only 16 countries signed the agreement, none of which were involved in manned space exploration, leaving it somewhat meaningless as an international standard.

Ignoring all the dreamy nonsense, and looking at things from the viewpoint of a potential investor in what could be a fantastic enterprise, the Moon Agreement sounds like the babbling of a pack of clowns. Here’s more:

So while the idea of buying some lunar real estate might be fun, in order for these plots to be recognised as property there needs to be legal recognition by a superior authority such as a nation state. As states are not allowed to claim sovereign rights in outer space, landed property on the moon and planets will in all likelihood be outlawed.

Legal commentators are hopeful that states will remain loyal to the treaty and refrain from recognising or endorsing a private property claim. If there is a precedent, it lies at the bottom of the ocean. In 1974, the US government refused to recognise the exclusive mining rights of Deepsea Ventures to the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

This is all nonsense. If the wealth that is probably out there is going to be discovered, mined, and brought to Earth where it’s needed and will benefit everyone, all of those “experts” need to get out of the way.

There’s a lot more in the PhysOrg article, but very little of it makes any sense to us. In our humble opinion, if anything of value is going to happen out there, the people who are capable of doing it have to take the initiative. Space entrepreneurs will have to agree among themselves to recognize and defend each other’s claims. It’s absurd to depend on politicians and diplomats back home. A government committee can’t even operate a fast-food franchise. Letting them make rules for the development of the solar system is insane — in our humble opinion, of course.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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James Tour: Creationist Organic Chemist

We found this at the website of Pat Robertson’s Christian News Network (CNN). Their headline is Renowned Chemist Says Evolutionists Do Not Understand the Origin of Life.

Oh dear, a “renowned chemist” is revealing our deepest secret. Or is he just making a fool of himself? Or maybe CNN is simply getting carried away? Let’s find out. We’re told:

A prominent chemist who was recognized this year as one of the 50 most influential scientists in the world says most scientists do not understand how evolution could explain the existence of life.

Aaaargh!! To begin with, the origin of life, although it’s certainly an interesting unsolved problem, is not part of the theory of evolution, which describes the behavior and development of life after it exists. And who is this renowned scientist that CNN is touting? They say:

Dr. James Tour is a well-known professor at Rice University, specializing in chemistry, nanoengineering, and computer science. Over the last 30 years, Tour has authored over 500 research publications, and he was recognized as one of “The 50 Most Influential Scientists in the World Today” by TheBestSchools.org. Tour has also received awards and recognitions from the American Chemical Society, Thomson Reuters, Honda, NASA, and others.

Wikipedia has a writeup on him: James Tour. He seems to be a competent organic chemist. But it also says this:

In 2001, Tour signed the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, a controversial petition which the intelligent design movement uses to promote intelligent design by attempting to cast doubt on evolution. To those who “are disconcerted or even angered that I signed a statement back in 2001″ he responded “I have been labeled as an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent. I am not. I do not know how to use science to prove intelligent design although some others might. I am sympathetic to the arguments on the matter and I find some of them intriguing, but the scientific proof is not there, in my opinion. So I prefer to be free of that ID label.”

He had also said that he felt the explanations offered by evolution are incomplete, and he found it hard to believe that nature can produce the machinery of cells through random processes. On his website, he writes that “From what I can see, microevolution is a fact” and “there is no argument regarding microevolution. The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution.”

This is bizarre. He insists that he’s not a slavish follower of the Discovery Institute’s nonsense, yet he dances the micro-macro mambo, which we described in Common Creationist Claims Confuted. He’s obviously some kind of creationist, but he follows his own path — a creationist beaker keeper.

This illustrates something we’ve said before: A creationist can be an architect, engineer, dentist, inventor, or a number of other things — even, as in this case, an organic chemist. But they function in those occupations by using knowledge, skills, methods, and technologies that are clearly non-biblical. Most importantly, their creationism — as an imagined cause or mechanism — can’t be investigated, so it never leads to anything of scientific value. Okay, let’s return to the CNN story:

In a video released in late 2012, Tour explained that he has had extensive experience studying the origin of life. “I will tell you as a scientist and a synthetic chemist,” Tour said, “if anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me, because I make molecules for a living, and I don’t just buy a kit, and mix this and mix this, and get that. I mean, ab initio, I make molecules. I understand how hard it is to make molecules.” Despite his experiences and expertise, Tour admits that he does not understand how evolution could account for life’s existence.

He’s misusing the word “evolution,” which — as we’ve already said — doesn’t account for life’s existence. But he’s correct that nobody has yet succeeded at synthetically generating life. We’ve discussed that in The Origin of Life — Miraculous or Mundane? Then they quote Tour again:

“I don’t understand evolution, and I will confess that to you,” he says in the video.

Yeah, we can see that. CNN continues:

Is it okay for me to say, ‘I don’t understand this’? Is that all right? I know that there’s a lot of people out there that don’t understand anything about organic synthesis, but they understand evolution. I understand a lot about making molecules; I don’t understand evolution. And you would just say that, wow, I must be really unusual.”

It’s okay to say that. But what can’t be said — at least not logically — is “I don’t understand this, therefore Oogity Boogity!” Here’s more:

“Let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science — with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners,” Tour stated. “I have sat with them, and when I get them alone, not in public — because it’s a scary thing, if you say what I just said — I say, ‘Do you understand all of this, where all of this came from, and how this happens?’

The answer he inevitably receives, Tour explained, is: “no.”

Egad! The deep dark secret is out! Darwin is doomed! Well, maybe not. Skipping quite a bit, here’s another excerpt:

After recognizing that evolutionists are “collectively bewildered” by life’s origins, Tour joined nearly 900 other scientists in signing A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, which states: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

Whoopie! Here’s the stunning conclusion of the article:

If evolution cannot account for life’s existence, then how did life originate? Tour says the most reasonable answer is simple. “I believe fundamentally that God created us all,” he told the Houston Chronicle.

Okay. That’s what he believes. All he needs to do now is accomplish something of scientific value based on that belief. Nobody’s ever done it before, but maybe Jimmie Tour will be the first. We shall see.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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