Saturday, November 22, 2008

Out of Thin Air [chapter 1]

I just watched the first sermon of the Out of Thin Air presentation. Not surprisingly, I was unimpressed and unsurprised at the content. There was actually very little content. The main points I was able to pick up are:
- life is meaningless without god to give us purpose.
- Darwin is wrong because evolution does not account for the origin of life.

There is nothing new to see here. We all know that life's purpose is what you choose for it to be. And the theory of evolution does not pretend to describe the origin of live. Not that the origin of life is a fruitless area of study. These standard talking points were accompanied by the usual anti-intellectual lies. As we learn more the theory of evolution is weakened. Louis Pasture proved that life cannot originate from non-life. These are either the result of willful ignorance or deliberate prevarication.

The thing that bothered me the most was a quote from George Wald. The only place I could find the quote online was from conservapedia. Which means authenticity is questionable.
When it comes to the origin of life, we have only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of God. There is no third possibility...Spontaneous generation was scientifically disproved one hundred years ago by Louis Pasteur, Spellanzani, Reddy and others. That leads us scientifically to only one possible conclusion -- that life arose as a supernatural creative act of God...I will not accept that philosophically because I do not want to believe in God. Therefore, I choose to believe in that which I know is scientifically impossible, spontaneous generation arising to evolution." - Scientific American, August, 1954.

Assuming this is even an accurate quote, and I have my doubts since Wald has been quote mined in other fora. There are even several permutations of the quote sourced to the same article in Scientific American in on the conservapedia page. That is enough to convince me that some one has messed with Wald's words. This could ultimately be resolved by looking up the article. But as I said in my last post, one man's opinion is inconsequential to the theory of evolution. It doesn't matter if he won the 1967 Nobel Prize for Medicine. But just to give Wald the benefit of the doubt, the article he wrote for Scientific American in 1954 also includes this passage:

When one has no means of estimating the probability beforehand, it must be determined by counting the fraction of successes in a large number of trials.

Our everyday concept of what is impossible, possible or certain derives from our experience: the number of trials that may be encompassed within the space of a human lifetime, or at most within recorded human history. In this colloquial, practical sense I concede the spontaneous origin of life to be "impossible." It is impossible as we judge events in the scale of human experience.

We shall see that this is not a very meaningful concession; For one thing, the time with which our problem is concerned is geological time, and the whole extent of human history is trivial in the balance.

In other words the common conception of what is impossible is different from what can be understood scientifically. Based on this quote it would seem that Wald is not arguing for life originating spontaneously despite the evidence, but that the fact that there is life means that it must have happened at least once.

20 comments:

Herb said...

I have this deep emotional desire to know the source of origin of terrestrial lifeforms, but I cannot comprehend any natural hypotheses for abiogenesis (though I must admit I've never actually bothered to study any of them in detail). Supernatural explanations give me no headache, however, therefore I will attribute the origin of terrestrial lifeforms to something I term "god" but also stress that my emotional desire to understand origin questions does not extend to this god thing. I am perfectly satisfied simply stating "I don't know" its non-natural/supernatural/magical origin (or non-origin, if it always has been), even though I am incapable of simply stating that "I don't know" about the possibility of natural abiogenesis of terrestrial life and leaving it at that. Yes, I am very smart.

Tim said...

The part about meaning is hard to answer because the presence, absence, or perceived possibility of "meaning" is such a subjective, emotional thing. In the way the word is usually used in such contexts it seems to me to refer to an emotional state that is utterly vague and subjective. It may be that for Boonstra, what he means by "meaning" is impossible without the belief in God's existance, but by the same reasoning, he cannot generalize from his own case to everyone else. And the part about Pasteur is embarrassingly bad (on Boonstra's part). Are you really going to finish the series? What would have to happen for you to decide that it was no longer worth your time to pursue this debate at this level? (I don't mean this as a rhetorical question - I presume you could have a definite and sensible answer)

Iron Soul said...

I'm not sure what my fascination with this is. I think the coming holiday weekend, may break my momentum and that will be the end. We'll see. On the other hand I sort of feel like it is a good mental exercise to try to identify the errors and try to analyze it a little.

Iron Soul said...

Herb,
Thanks for your comment. I like the way you've summed up.

Tim said...

Here's something interesting I recently learned: the Dartos muscle wrinkles the scrotum. I've known the cremaster muscles for years, but it never even occurred to me that there was a muscle for wrinkling the scrotum. I wonder how one would work it out . . . Jeff, do you know?.

Iron Soul said...

Hot and cold compress?

Reverted said...

Jeff:
Please, PLEASE do not burn yourself out on stupid!

You know as well as I do that there is nothing to learn in that series---and nothing "important" that you haven't heard a hundred times before, either.

P.S. How are those compresses going? Is that a key muscle group you're going to focus on for your next competition? Gonna practice your poses in front of the mirror?

Iron Soul said...

Well, whether it was by wisdom or having my priorities in order, I have not managed to find time for any more Shawn Boonstra. It is still sitting on my TV though.

Tim said...

Jeff, I would encourage you to take Hume's advice to heart, and as you consider that Boonstra DVD, ask yourself, "Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." Hume himself probably couldn't come up with a better example of material that ought to be committed to the flames. Do the right thing, Jeff.

Herb said...

Tim, you bring back vivid memories of our campfire on our little camping trip to the Oregon coast in the summer of 2006. Woo hoo hoo! (I assume you still have the photos.)

Tim said...

Here's one of them. May it serve as an inspiration.

Herb said...

Thanks, Tim. Those are amusing memories. By the way, have you and Lydia obtained and posted your Huntington Library and Gardens pictures yet? If so, I'd love to see them. (Jeff, time to switch compresses again!)

Tim said...

Lydia did, but I've only posted one so far. I haven't taken anything I've really liked for a long time, and spend hardly any time at flickr these days, though yesterday I did put some pictures of Joshua Tree up.

(and now back to cold, Jeff)

Herb said...

Nice. Joshua Tree is awesome. And you've GOT to see Valley of Fire State Park and Red Rock Canyon when you guys get a chance to come see us in Las Vegas. Valley of Fire is especially incredible!

(Ok, Jeff, cold on one side, hot on the other.)

Tim said...

Cold on one side and hot on the other? That is an interesting technique. Will Jeff be able to wrinkle one side of his scrotum and leave the other side smooth? Cool! THAT would win competitions!

Herb said...

Does your enthusiasm for this idea mean you volunteer to help oil Jeff down for his next competition, Tim?

Tim said...

Only if the next competition involves scrotum poses.

I imagine some interprative dartos flexing, then maybe Jeff showing off the exquisite control he has of his cremasters by making his nuts dance to the infectious rhythms of some hot new band! Can't you just see it -- Jeff standing legs apart, arms akimbo, while his testicles pop up and down at an outrageous pace! The crowd screams in delight!! His skillfully oiled scrotum glistens and flashes as the photographers lose all self-control!!!

Herb said...

I can only imagine the amazing flickr album you'd make from images of such an event.

Iron Soul said...

Hey I think this is a record for comments. I better get a new post up for you to defile with Dartos flexing and book burning.

Lori said...

It is quite a show, let me tell ya!