Richard Dawkin’s Gene Analogy

përshëndetje skeptics,

I have recently started to read Richard Dawkins’ book, The Greatest Show on Earth, in Which Dawkins summates all the evidence available for evolution, and puts it in a book, trying as best as possible to explain evolution to somebody who does not agree with it. It is a very interesting book to read, with plenty of interesting examples from nature and analogies, which have enhanced my knowledge of evolution and how to explain it to others.

While I was reading, I came across an analogy which I just had to hear, which answers a question often raised in rebuttal to evolution. When talking with a creationist, the idea that genetic diversity cannot occur often comes up (in contrast to the genetic diversity of the human species from just 2 humans? But that’s another story). They say that in a population, genetic diversity cannot occur. They make an analogy with genes as paint. If you take a species, which ranges in colour from red to blue, and you go about procreating, every time you mix two animals, you will only get closer and closer to purple, and genetic diversity will shrink. Eventually, all you will be left with is purple. How can evolution happen if it works like that.

Dawkins argues that evolution does not work like this. In fact, it works quite differently. He proposes that instead of mixing paint, it is best to imagine evolution as shuffling cards. This is how evolution works, and the evidence is right in front of us.

By imagining evolution as card shuffling, it is much easier to get the idea of evolution. Instead of animals being created by mixing of paint, it is more like they are having two decks of cards shuffled together. In this way, instead of just ending up with a disgusting purple mess, you end up with the world as it is today.

This can be used to explain our tweaking of the canine species. Say for some reason a breeder wants to lengthen the tail of Labradors. When he does it, he picks the Labradors which have the most ‘long tail’ genes (cards), and goes about creating a new species. By isolating these dogs with longer tails from the dogs with shorter tails, you can ensure that more and more ‘long tail’ cards remain in the sub-species every time you shuffle the deck.

The logic behind this ‘shuffling and re-ordering’, as opposed to mixing, is actually pretty clear and is presented to us roughly every 5 seconds. When you breed a man and a woman together, one who subscribes to the ‘mixing’ analogy would expect the baby to come out as a hermaphrodite. Instead, this doesn’t happen, we get either a boy or a girl. This is just the mixing of a deck of 1 card. With one card having M on it, and one card having F on it.

Now, imagine this happening with the whole genetic code. Instead of just the one gene for gender (gender isn’t determined by genes, but it makes no difference to the analogy), you have this going on with every single gene in the code. When a baby is being ‘made’, this process will be occurring. Take a single gene in the code. If the mother has gene A, and the father has gene B, the baby will not have a mixture of A and B as their gene, they will get either ‘A’, or ‘B’. This happens all along the code.

Hopefully, I’ve done a good job at explaining this analogy, and haven’t butchered it. That’s all, by shuffling of cards, not mixing paint, with occasional cards falling out of the deck, or 2 being stuck together and coming apart due to plenty of shuffling, you get evolution.

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Roy Williams Is at it Again

Hello… there,

That’s right, you guessed it, Roy Williams is at it again with his constant crusade of logical fallacies with yet another Seemingly intelligent argument, which, upon some investigation, turns out to be of no particular interest or value. In his most recent hashing of facts and evidence, Roy Williams has made the claim that humans’ ability to articulate the underlying laws of physics is proof of god. He says that there is no evolutionary advantage to us being able to understand, “The deep underlying reason why the apple fell to the ground” as opposed to, “Oh look, the apple fell towards the ground.” In today’s post, I am going to be showing how, 1. We aren’t actually very good with the understanding of the things, 2. We need a lot of help to try to understand the things, and 3. Evolution accounts for our apparent ability to understand the things.

First of all, the fact that we aren’t actually very good at maths. Here is a little thought experiment. Take a dozen or so coins, and ask somebody to be a volunteer for your experiment. Tell them that they are to tell you how many coins are in your hand, without using any sort of counting system. if they played by the rules, they will be clueless as to how many coins you are holding. This is because humans are not very good at counting, believe it or not, humans suck at math. Everything we know about maths, had to be learnt. Humans are good at the talking and the language and the problem solving, but not the math.

That brings me to my second point, If we never taught ourselves a number system to count things, we would be clueless. If you are counting things past about ten, then when you are counting it, you won’t be thinking about the actual amount of things, you are thinking about how many times you have counted one unit. We say, “I counted 43 sheep”, but really we are just adding one more to the clicker, we don’t actually know how much that 43 is.

On to my next and final point, Evolution accounts for our ability to discover the maths of black holes, and the big bang. We are humans, and humans, face it, are not very strong. We are very weak, and we are very slow, so we must have something to survive with, that is our humongous brains. So obviously, it benefits us to be able to problem solve, and communicate, and count things to a small degree. When we learnt how to count up to the number of appendages on the ends of our arms, we had to be able to describe it to people, so we gave all the appendages on our arms names, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. With this we had maths, from there, everything flowed, because our problem solving ability leads us to question things, and so we used math to figure out those questions. Then the human condition of curiosity took over, looking into the world around us. It is possible to explain our maths ability through evolution.

I will leave you with a quote from Richard Dawkins, “Bertrand Russell used a hypothetical teapot in orbit about Mars for the same didactic purpose. You have to be agnostic about the teapot, but that doesn’t mean you treat the likelihood of its existence as being on all fours with its non-existence.” Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, writer and atheist of some note.

The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of the Creation-Abiogensis/Big Bang ‘Debate’

Hello there, all my moral, just, secular people,

Today’s post was inspired by a television show which aired on the ABC (Australia) entitled Q&A, which every week presents a handful of politicians, public figures, theologians and atheists, for an open discussion and Questions from the live and internet audiences, hence the name Q&A. This weeks program was a special program, because it put forward only two panelists, along with the host, and these where the Atheist Richard Dawkins, and Catholic priest George Pell. Richard Dawkins has made appearances on the show before, but this was the first time he went ‘head-to-head’ with only a Christian joining him on the panel. The show has made quite and impact in the media, with a lot of discussion about it going on even on the radio the next morning. The show can be viewed in full right here at this link here -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi1EDDuMksw. I will surely be making my comments on the show over the next few days, but here is today’s rant.

During the show, this oft quoted argument was brought up by George Pell, he said (not an exact quote) “Science can tell us a lot about the ‘how’, with evolution and the big bang, but it doesn’t tell us a lot about they ‘why.'” This argument is talked about by Roy Williams in his book I am reading at the moment, and I have heard it from others too. This whole argument is both a red-herring and a non-sequiter, and Richard Dawkins summarized it very well, “That’s just not a valid question.” The whole question of ‘why’ does the universe exist, is not relevant, its like asking why unicorns aren’t very good at snooker. In that way it is a non-sequiter.

Even if you do grant that ‘why’ is a valid question, it is not a question for the science, nor is it a question which could change the fact that the big bang or abiogenesis happened. The question is for philosophers and humanists.

The ‘Why’ question, “Why are we here.” Is also a good example of the unstated major premace fallacy, the question just assumes that there must be some meaning for our existence, when it is quite plausible that we could have no purpose to exist.

This question is also a red herring because it side-steps the real question of the ‘how’. This is the whole problem with Roy Williams’ book, at the start he asks the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ question, and he says, “Science knows the how, but not the why, I’ll write a book about the why.” In this way he can write a whole book without having to address a single question about ‘how’.
It is a really annoying question, because to people who are not aware of the fact that ‘why’ is not a logical question, the argument can have some weight. Most people like to have a purpose for their life, and this is where they get all caught up. The miss the point that Atheism has a point too, “We only live for 80 or so years, and we have no afterlife to look forward too, so lets just make the world as good as possible in this short time.”

I will leave you with my favourite quote from the entire evening where George Pell accidentally walks all over his own argument to try to just contradict Richard Dawkins on everything,
“Dawkins: the only thing that might convince me that Christianity is true is if a 700 ft Jesus walked into the room and said ‘I exist’, and I’m not even sure if that would convince me.
Pell: I’d say ‘you are hallucinating’.”

Investigating Agnosticism

Hello there!

Recently, during my internet browsing, I have been finding a few articles critical of agnosticism. They talk about how agnosticism is self-defeating by definition and is a silly, fence-sitting, worthless position to take on the stance of religion. I am going to contend that view in today’s post. It is worth pointing out that these attacks on agnosticism or in fact, staw-men logical fallacies, which will be covered at a later date. I will start by drawing out a few lines in the sand. I am going to define the four main different types of agnosticism.

The first, and weakest agnosticism is the view that there has never been and will never be any proof for god, for evolution, for creation, or anything historical or theological, also known as forever an historical agnostic, or FHA. When talking about this sort agnosticism, I agree that it is a very weak position, and there is no science to back it up. There is nothing going for this agnosticism, and it is just making a bad name for agnostics as a whole. It is more often a made up position by Christians trying to attack some secular position than one taken by seculars themselves.

The second stage of agnosticism is a weak one, and is on about level pegging with the third stage of agnosticism, but I rank this one lower because it is easier for a creationist to attack that level three. This agnosticism states that there is never any way in which science could prove or disprove a god, because supernatural things are outside the realm of science, also known as forever a theistic agnostic, or FTA. This is also a very weak view on religions, because obviously, there is a way in which a god could be proved. You simply observe a true miracle, which has no possible other mechanisms of action, something truly amazing. This would be some interesting evidence for a supernatural deity, but more than one account would be required.

The third stage of agnosticism is still a very weak position that I do not agree with, and it takes the view that there is currently no evidence for god, or a supernatural deity, and that at some day there may come to bear some proof either way on the subject, or currently agnostic, CA. This is a position that I will agree with, but that I do not take up myself. It is a correct view to a sense, and I take up some of the ideas of this agnosticism. But the bits I do agree with from it are better fit into the final stage of agnosticism.

This fourth stage is probably how I would best describe myself. It is a much stronger view on deities, and I think that most of the world’s atheists will technically fall into this group. This agnosticism is of the view that there is currently no proof for a god or deity, (no proof = current disproof in science) and that a god is almost impossible, because of some fundamental boundaries. However, if it comes to pass that there is some proof of a god, then this view will change to suit that observation, otherwise known as agnostic atheism, or AA. This is my world view.
There is almost certain proof against an all-powerful or all-knowing god in today’s world, but if it is proved that there is a god, then I will happily bow down and worship him, once proper evidence comes to bare.

That’s all for agnosticism today, I will leave you with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, ” Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.” Kurt Vonnegut, an American Writer of some note.

An argument from beauty

Today, I had an Ethics and faith lesson with our school father (I go to an Anglican school) and he reminded me of an argument that I have been hearing for a long time. It’s actually three arguments, the first is, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, the second is “Why do humans and other animals exist?”, and the third is “The earth is so beautiful, it can’t have happened by chance.”His answer to all of these questions is that there must be a supreme being or god who designed it intentionally for us, so it is beautiful and appealing to us. All of these arguments are of the kind ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc’, and I have covered that in my brief of logical fallacies which can be found on the home page. I will answer these questions in my blog post today.

The first argument, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” This can be explained easily with chance. Simply, there is only one way in which there is nothing, null and void, but there are infinite ways in which something can exist, and seeing that 1/∞ = 0, (1/2 = 0.5… 1/10 = 0.1… 1/100 = 0.01) it just has to happen. No god is needed to explain everything because something must happen. It would be more surprising if there was nothing, and we would need to have a god to explain it, but there would be nobody around to ask the question, and that leads me to the next argument.

“Why do humans and other animals exist?” This is the second question asked by my Ethics and Faith teacher. He says that there must be a god who put life on a planet to explain this. There isn’t a need for this. It has been estimated that there are about 150 billion galaxies in the known universe. There are also anywhere from 10 million to 200 billion stars in a galaxy, I will take an average of 100 billion stars in a galaxy. That comes out at about 15 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 (15 000 billion billion stars.) That means about that many rocky planets, so that means a lot of possibilities for life. The odds are slim for an individual planet, but with that many dice-rolls 10 heads in a row is not un-common.Once there is some sort of self-replicating organism, then evolution takes over and does its thing.

Now, the third argument. “The world is so beautiful, this can’t have happened by chance.” First of all, yes there is beautiful things like rainbows and forests and mountains, but there are equally bad things like some fish species or snakes or spiders and other animals which may kill you, not to mention all of humanities problems. There is as much beautiful stuff as there is not beautiful stuff. This is because the definition of beautiful is ‘the top 50% of things in the world on a scale of beautifulness’. There will always be beautiful things. But just for my teachers sake let’s try and explain why some things are so beautiful. Our subjective grading of what the most beautiful things are is taken from a data set of one.

Say the world was a little less beautiful than what it is, we would still think of the most beautiful things as ‘the most beautiful things’ and the least beautiful things as ‘the least beautiful things.’ If the world was a little more beautiful than what it is, we would still have the same titles for the most beautiful and least beautiful things. We get used to what is beautiful and what is not because we grow up in our world, not another world.

What I’m essentially saying is that things are the way it is because they are the way they are, and we wouldn’t be asking these questions if the world was different. I will leave you with a quote from Richard Dawkins, “The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity.” Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary biologist, skeptic, atheist and author of some note.

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