Saturday, September 24, 2011

The simplest life?

A religious reader recently suggested I watch an intelligent-design propaganda video starring Michael Behe.  If you're not familiar, Behe is a biochemistry professor at a respected university, but is also affiliated with the Discovery Institute, the creationist intelligent-design advocacy group.  I can't be bothered to dig up the video again, but the gist of it was as follows.  Behe argues that life is too complex to be formed by Darwinian evolution.  He says that scientists once thought single-celled organisms would be extremely simple, but then found things such as (his perpetual favourite) the bacterial flagellum, which is a complex structure.  He argues that even the simplest life is "hopelessly complex", therefore gods.

What Behe surely knows, but is not telling in the video (no wonder his side got called liars by a Christian judge in the Dover trial), is that today's single-celled organisms are far from the simplest life.  These are highly-evolved lifeforms, having the same billions of years to evolve that we have.  Most people are not aware of this, but (if I remember my biology properly, somebody correct me otherwise) there is far more genetic diversity in the microscopic world than there is in the macroscopic.  All of the plants and animals are more closely related to us genetically than many bacteria and archaea are to each other.  The earliest single-celled lifeforms most certainly would not have had complex structures like flagella, and Behe knows this.  Why didn't he say so?


Magnamune said...

Because he's a dishonest theist?

You're right about the microbial diversity, by the way. I don't know the numbers, but I do know that microbial life is incredibly diverse.

Anonymous said...

I think that the fact of existence is an amazing achievement of nature. The incredible progress that has been made bit-by-tiny-bit, gradually over billions of years, as the universe struggled to become what it is, is humbling and awe-inspiring.

But if a god created all this, then it becomes UN-amazing, it's a PATHETIC WASTE of "omnipotence". If you're magical and all-powerful, why should your creations rely on circulatory systems, nervous systems, DNA, be dependent on messy sexual reproduction, surviving by violently consuming one another? Why are we bound onto the surface of planets, while the vast majority of space is uninhabitable, radiation-soaked vacuum?

A god who could truly do ANYTHING should've done MORE. FAR more. Reproduction could be asexual. With fireworks! More creatures could regrow lost limbs. Or fly! The universe could be FULL of life instead of empty. Instead of stars and planets surrounded by hostile emptiness, it could be an infinitely tiered latticework of livable, explorable space, with no constrictions like gravity or pressure.

I can come up with better, more fantastic, more successful, more peaceful, more MORAL universes with simply my imagination, certainly better than creationists seem happy to give their god credit for. If there is a god responsible for all of creation, then he is a remarkably unimaginative god, creating a world shackled by the laws of nature, which is exactly what you would expect if it really WAS nature that was responsible for the universe.

Admin said...

I like the last comment. I might post it as a full post.

Jim said...

I would applaud that comment, but then I would be the weird guy all alone applauding to myself. But very well said.

GM said...

We dont actually know how the universe came into being and began to be the way it is, how the first life came from non life, how come humans are so unique among animals with the next surviving species being far less intelligent. We have a bunch of wild theories, yes. But A) they change every 10-12 years and B) most dont even make testable predictions that have been proven! And yet many atheists believe they have a good chance and bring them up whenever the gaps are mentioned. Why? Because we all want life to make sense, but the fact is we may never know the answer. How is believing the wild theory of a professor you respect any different than believing a religion? I guess the main difference is there is no normative behavior imperatives so you feel you can switch at any time and you are free. Byt it is not rational. It is better to say we have absolutely no idea at this point.

Just realize that by laughing at religious explanations you are implying that you know how it happened. You don't either. Realize that you dont believe relgions because you consider them DISPROVEN to a high degree of certainty, and that is the real reason you laugh at them. Not because you actually know what happened.

Jim said...

Religion has zero proof of any gods. Period.

Science, that is the Big Bang and Evolution, has mountains of evidence pointing to it being correct.

I choose to accept science as a fact because the alternative is believing in religion, which is just a bunch of bullshit without any proof to back it up.

But you, GM, would argue that a choice between a theory of the origins of life with mountains of proof vs. one without any proof whatsoever should only be decided once we know everything. This is the height of absurdity. You choose to believe in religion because it is simpler. It is the easy way out. It involves minimal commitment. It doesn't require brains, or learning. It involves following. Doing as you're told. Listening and agreeing. You never have to question. Never have to think for yourself. And, best of all, you never have to question your mortality.

People who follow religions are cowards. You hide behind your fears and your ignorance. You condemn those who think and ask questions, and who stand up to their inevitable death for no other reason than to spread knowledge.

How I would pity you if you weren't so ignorant.

Admin said...

G.M. is using the 'argument from ignorance' again. He's hoping, perhaps even praying, that despite the total lack of evidence of magic guy in the sky, that somewhere out there, there is evidence. We have every reason to believe natural origins (ie. everything that has ever been proven has been naturally caused) and none at all to believe supernatural origins (ie. supernatural has never been demonstrated to even exist, and therefore is unlikely to cause anything). Yes, we can laugh at religions even if we have no idea what really happened. I do not hide behind the argument from ignorance to dismiss a ridiculous idea.

But once again, this is not the point of the post. He seems to have a hard time staying on topic, and just keeps coming back here telling me not to mock the religious. Perhaps he should go find a post in which the point is why it is OK to laugh at religious people. Behe is misleading people, that's the point. And as he once again has no argument with the point, our second conversation is over.

GM said...


GM said...

I read your responses, and I think the problem is, you have become intellectually complacent/lazy. You like to put people into nice little boxes based on heuristics before even applying appropriate reading comprehension.

"Disagrees with something? Must be a theist. Let's whip out the usual theist bashing."

Kind of reminds me of those "support" channels which you email with a problem and they give you a generic form letter that totally misses your point. Or how some neo-cons always use the "ah, so you're a pinko socialist, wealth redistributor, conversation is over" instead of actually discussing the substantive issues.

I will try to point out the fallacies:

1) Jim said:

"You choose to believe in religion because it is simpler."

I never even said what I believed. This is your usual laughable tactic of labeling someone and ascribing beliefs to them because you sense they might disagree with something in your statements. Straw man argument.

If you are going to respond to my post, at least do me the favor of NOT misrepresenting what I said or putting words in my mouth. I specifically commented from the point of view of a scientist.

2) Jim said:

"I choose to accept science as a fact because the alternative is believing in religion, which is just a bunch of bullshit without any proof to back it up."

That is a false dichotomy. Science isn't a "fact", science is a system of human endeavor and is made up of many disciplines. Each of these disciplines have tools that they use to discover the truth about this world. These tools do not yield a perfect result and the body of knowledge science produces does NOT include how the first life began, how the universe began, how humans are so unique today when it comes to intelligence without any near competitors. It is so far from being a fact it's not even funny. Fact is: provable truth.

3) Jim said:

"Science, that is the Big Bang and Evolution, has mountains of evidence pointing to it being correct."

This is such a loaded statement I don't even know where to begin.

Once again, "science" is not "the big bang and evolution". The fact that you label all this as "Science" once again underscores my point that you treat "science" as this all knowing oracle. What I call "worshipping at the altar of science". Trust me, I know how much science can actually reveal to us, and what benefit it is to society. But labeling all scientific theories as "science" and therefore "correct and mountains of evidence" is just plain wrong, and is the result of running things into the "I can't be bothered to think and discern the facts, so I am going to say simplistic and false bullshit" filter.

GM said...

Let me try to tease apart what you said:

"evolution has mountains of evidence pointing to it being correct"

Yes, correct. We have lots of evidence that evolution happens. And that it is at least one of the forces responsible for the speciation we see today. For example: this is a great website for that.

But it has nothing to do with ABIOGENESIS. Evolution requires replication, and abiogenesis is the question of how the first life began from non-replicating things.

Let me also note that "evolution" is once again some catch-all term you use to make yourself feel good. It's actually quite complex and we are discovering new things. For example, here is something from just this year which I found out about with great interest:

Gee, I guess these theories are "evolving", and we DON'T know everything yet.

But, even if "evolution" turns out to the the ONLY process by which all speciation occurred (whatever that means), that still will have NOTHING to do with the question of abiogenesis.

The wild theories I am referring to are "primordial soup" theory, "panspermia" theory, "deep-hot-biosphere" theory, "autocatalysis" theory, "PAH world hypothesis" and so on. They have about as much proof as string theory does in physics.


I will leave the question of "big bang being correct" to the gentle reader. However I will throw in a link and a quote:

"Common misconceptions about the Big Bang Theory:
The BBT is not about the origin of the universe. Rather, its primary focus is the development of the universe over time."

" "That the universe is expanding and cooling is the essence of the big bang theory. You will notice I have said nothing about an 'explosion' - the big bang theory describes how our universe is evolving, not how it began." (p. 44). The March 2005 issue also contained an excellent article pointing out and correcting many of the usual misconceptions about BBT."

You, Jim (and possibly Admin) are harboring misconceptions about just how much science knows about what happened long ago and how things got started. WE HAVE WILD THEORIES, yes, but don't try to misinform people that we know more than we do. Especially after complaining that "Behe is misleading people". DOn't be guilty of the same thing, THAT IS MY POINT.

GM said...

5) Jim said, "mountains of evidence"

You see, your entire thing is, "Science is Awesome. We have Mountains of Evidence. Religion is Superstition. It has Zero Evidence. It sucks. People just snap and make an emotional conversion FOR NO RATIONAL REASON and then they are idiots!"

But actually you are committing lots of emotional overstatements as well.

Notice in my post that you REPLIED TO, I specifically said:

"We have a bunch of wild theories, yes. But A) they change every 10-12 years and B) most dont even make testable predictions that have been proven!"

WHAT PART OF "NO TESTABLE PREDICTIONS THAT HAVE BEEN PROVEN" don't you understand? That is utterly incompatible with saying they have "mountains of evidence".

Notice, I am NOT saying that the modern theory about tectonic plates is to be rejected in favor of religious explanations. Or the modern understanding of medicine, hormone imbalances, etc. Those theories DO have mountains of evidence. BUT OTHERS DO NOT. I am talking about THOSE theories. Did you even read what I said? I WILL REPEAT:

" And yet many atheists believe they have a good chance and bring them up whenever the gaps are mentioned. Why? Because we all want life to make sense, but the fact is we may never know the answer. How is believing the wild theory of a professor you respect any different than believing a religion?"

This is also an argument from ignorance where you have "Science of the gaps". Basically saying that when we don't know something we will fill it up with hopeful statements about "Science With Mountains Of Evidence, D'OH Fool", except oops, there are dozens of competing theories and zero proof that any of them is true. And almost no reason to think we will ever know what happened back then.

You may as well be an agnostic.

GM said...

6) Admin says:

"G.M. is using the 'argument from ignorance' again. He's hoping, perhaps even praying, that despite the total lack of evidence of magic guy in the sky, that somewhere out there, there is evidence."

There actually is evidence, otherwise very few people would believe in a religion. For example, the three Abrahamic religions are based in Judaism. Judaism has several extremely hard to address claims in its favor -- it is hard to address them because they are truly a unique situation.

Just as the earth is unique for harboring life,
or human beings are unique among animals,
so is the Jewish "Torah", or central body of writings, unique from all other mythologies of the day.
How unique? Well it kind of spells it out in Deuteronomy 4:32-40. Every religion starts with a few people who have a "revelation" and you either believe them or not. The proof that Jewish people have is that their entire nation of ancestors is claimed to have witnessed an event. Any religion would benefit from such an audacious claim, precisely because it is almost impossible to forge. How impossible? Well, what's eerie is that thousands of years later, the same claim is still true: not a single other religion claims to have started with a revelation to an entire nation. Also the other prophecies about the Jewish people remaining few in number but always surviving and coming back to their land came true but fly in the face of everything we know from history and sociology, because once again it is unique.

Are these airtight proofs? Certainly not. But they are EVIDENCE, which you claim there is none of. For Jewish people for example, this is the starting point and you are just going to dimiss it out of hand. Come on, admit that you want to just dismiss it quickly, and not give it the same consideration as you would give evidence that favors something you like. If you want to read why that happens, you can read my blog post if you like:

7) Again here is my main argument: be honest with yourself. We don't know how the universe or life began any more than religious people, we don't know how humans are alone on the earth as the "intelligence singularity" and so on. We have theories, great. But everyone has theories. Your theories just happen to be entirely naturalistic and religions claim that they were revealed by a supernatural revelation. Instead of engaging in polemics, simply be honest with yourself: the REAL reason you don't believe religions is because you consider their claims to be DISPROVEN. So focus on DISPROVING real world claims of religions and not laughing at their explanations for how life began, because you also have no idea.

That would be more rational.

Jim said...

GM said, "Science isn't a "fact"".

The fact that you would even write this sentence in a serious response proves your ignorance. I chose not to read after this point because it was so laughably ignorant.

Admin said...

Jim, GM thinks because we don't know something that it gives him the right to make up whatever crazy shit he wants, and to not be laughed at. Argument from ignorance.

GM said...


It's like arguing with cult fanatics.

" 'Science isn't a fact.' Ha ha you are so wrong, science IS fact! I just stopped reading after that "

And missed my whole point, way to go Jim.

Admin: exactly what crazy shit have I made up? Tell me. You are either refusing to engage your reading comprehension or purposely trying to ignore my main point. You. Don't. Know. How life began. Or how the universe began. Or why humans are unique. You Don't Know a lot of things. I don't either. It's OK, really.

Scientists make up all kinds of crazy shit. I have just quoted you some of it.

But misinterpreting the Big Bang Theory to show that science has "mountains of evidence" to "know" how the universe began is just misleading and I have to call you out on it.

If you want to use reason, please take the time to disprove falsifiable claims and show why you don't believe them.

Admin: By refusing to even engage my argument, after I specifically laid it out in detail repeatedly, smacks of intellectual cowardice. This from a guy whose headline declares, "I refuse to bypass my intellect."

Apparently for Jim it's enough to cling to a false statement like "science is fact" and stop reading when someone points out it's wrong. Is it for you? Would you point out if Jim's wrong? Or is this just another party with an agenda to prove things regardless of rationality or reason? If so, you can continue without me. My comments have spoken for themselves.

Admin said...

GM, you're mistaken if you think I read your last group of posts. I skimmed the most recent one. I noticed that you think we're having a conversation.

Now do you have a comment on Behe misleading people or not?

Admin said...

Jim, let's try to keep GM on topic. He seems to have a problem with that. This thread is about Behe and the simplest life.