Tuesday, March 18

Rant

Twenty-Two Stupid People

These people have questions.  They are addressed to Bill Nye.

I'll answer them anyway.
  1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?

    Yes.  Yes he is.

  2. Are you scared of a Divine Creator?

    No.  I don't believe such a being exists.

  3. Is it completely illogical to believe that the earth was created mature, i.e. trees created with rings...  Adam created as an adult...

    An interesting question.  If we take it that you mean the Universe and not just our planet, and that the false history is consistent (that is, we don't find ancient buried cities and then carbon-date them to last week), the answer is yes, it is completely illogical.  It is known as the Omphalos hypothesis, or colloquially, Last Thursdayism, the idea there being that the Universe was created last Thursday, but it was created old.  The reason that it is illogical is twofold; first, if every conceivable test indicates that the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, it doesn't mean anything to say that it's not, and second it rests on an assumption that time is other than a property of the Universe.  Last Thursday, or 4004 BC, or any other date, is something that happened in the Universe.  Saying that the Universe was created last Thursday is the same as saying that the Universe was created in Poughkeepsie.

    The Big Bang is a little different here: It is the zero co-ordinate of all dimensions of our Universe.  To put it another way, the Big Bang didn't happen in any location, it happened everywhere at once.  That's why we can still see it in the sky no matter where we look.  (It's just that the expansion of the Universe has cooled the image down from gamma rays to microwaves.)

  4. Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the bedrock of physics.  It says that the entropy of a closed system always increases.  Every observation we have ever made has borne this out.  For entropy to decrease locally, there must be an external source of energy, such as a BALL OF FLAMING GAS A MILLION MILES WIDE SITTING IN THE FUCKING SKY.

  5. How do you explain a sunset if their [sic] is no God?

    The Earth rotates.

  6. If the Big Bang theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk such theories?

    They don't.  We've already dealt with this misconception with respect to evolution.  With respect to the Big Bang theory, there is, again, no conflict.  The Universe is expanding.  That means that it used to be smaller.  At one time it was very small.  It went bang. The Second Law is not violated by this in any way; the Second Law is in effect in every part of the Universe we are able to observe.

    We can see this bang and study its properties in the Cosmic Microwave Background, radiation that comes to us from everywhere in the Universe because it was originally emitted during that event.

  7. What about Noetics?

    People have been experimenting with Noetics (under various names, and with varying degrees of experimental quality) for all of human history.  The sum total of positive evidence for Noetics is zero.

  8. Where do you derive objective meaning in life?

    There is no such thing.  Meaning is the mapping of a internal (mental) representation to external reality.  It is, by definition, subjective.

  9. If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate?  By Chance?

    The first single-celled organism most likely evolved from something simpler that was not a cell.  We know that it is relatively easy to create the building blocks of life under chemical conditions that would have held on the early Earth.  We know that there are self-replicating molecules that are simpler than any living organism existing today.  These molecules do not exist in any quantity today, because life exists now, and they would be immediately eaten.  We do not know the precise path by which abiogenesis occurred, only that no great leap from inorganic matter to complete modern cells is likely, or needed.

  10. I believe in the Big Bang theory.  God said it and BANG, it happened.

    That is not a question.

  11. Why do evolutionists/secularists/huminists [sic]/non-God believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a creator God but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?

    That depends on what you mean.  Raëlism, for example, is an atheistic religion that believes that life on Earth was initiated by aliens.  There is a concept of panspermia, under which life on Earth initiated from elsewhere in the Universe, by, for example, bacterial spores carried by meteorites.  This is not scientifically implausible, but nor on the other hand is there is any evidence that it happened.  The Raëlians, however, believe in most of what is told in the Old Testament of the Bible - the Garden of Eden, for example, and the Great Flood - just that it was caused by aliens rather than a supernatural deity.  We know that these events did not happen - there was no Garden, there was most certainly no Flood.  Among atheists, these beliefs are held by only a tiny percentage of crazy people.

  12. There is no inbetween...  the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an "official proof".

    Due to prehistoric interracial monkey business, your DNA is around 1% Neanderthal.  Good hominid fossils are scarce, but not so scarce as you claim, nor are they our only line of evidence.  

    Lucy was a striking find, for both her age and the completeness of her remains, but Turkana Boy while only half as old (1.6My vs. 3.2My) is considerably more complete.  Selam is a fossil of an Australopithecus afarensis child, the same species as Lucy, a less complete skeleton but with a remarkably preserved skull.  Kadanuumuu is another significant a. afarensis find, again only a partial skeleton, but of a full-grown adult.  There are many other partial finds of a. afarensis, and many more of other hominid species.

    On the question of "inbetween", I assume that by this you mean a transitional fossil, between, in this case, apes and hominids.  Firstly, this betrays a misunderstanding, in that all species are transitional, because evolution doesn't stop.  Second, Lucy is not "inbetween" apes and hominids - Lucy was a hominid.

  13. Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

    I'm not sure what you are asking.  Metamorphosis happens; it is neither required nor precluded by evolutionary theory.  The best answer is that it is neutral.

    Update: Geneticist Adam Rutherford says thisThe post-birth transformation of a tadpole into a frog is a means of eliminating competition between young and mature as they’re in completely different ecological niches.

    So the answer is yes.

  14. If Evolution is a theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is Evolution taught as fact?

    There are several misconceptions in this question.  First, creationism is not a theory in the scientific sense (and the Bible is not a theory in any sense).  Second, a theory, in science, is the highest level of understanding we can have, an explanation that has been rigorously tested and found to work.  Gravity, for example, is a theory (the theory is called General Relativity).  Saying that evolution is a theory is like saying that Einstein was a Nobel-prize-winning physicist.  It is not a slight, it's an honour.

    Third, evolution is both a theory and a fact.  Again, this is like gravity: Gravity is a fact; you drop something, and it falls.  The theory is the explanation of how this happens.  Evolution is a fact: We have seen new species evolve, both in nature and in the laboratory.  The theory explains how this happens.

  15. Because science by definition is a "theory" - not testable, observable, or repeatable, why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?

    Your confusion is understandable, because you are operating under a definition of science that is the diametric opposite of the truth.  A theory is, by definition, testable, observable, and repeatable.  Karl Popper defined proper scientific theories as falsifiable - that is, we can never prove them to be true beyond all possible doubt, but we can prove them to be false.  The purpose of science is to find the false theories (or more generally, false hypotheses) and throw them out.

    This is precisely why we object to creationism and intelligent design: Because they are deliberately constructed so as to be unfalsifiable; they are the opposite of science.

  16. What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?

    Mutations can occur in several ways.  Genes can be modified in place or moved (which are information-neutral), the can be deleted (which leads to a decrease in information), or they can be inserted or duplicated (which lead to an increase in information).  All of these types of mutation have been observed on innumerable occasions; mutations are not at all rare.  Despite ongoing protests by the mathematically illiterate, there is no question whatsoever about the possibility of the natural increase of genetic information.  It is possible, it happens, we have seen it happen.

  17. What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in salvation?

    Purpose and meaning are something intelligent entities construct for themselves; they cannot be granted externally.

  18. Why have we found only 1 "Lucy", when we have found more than 1 of everything else?

    In fact, we have found zero of many fossils.  The fossil record of bats, for example, is poor, because they simply don't fossilise well. If you want to leave a lot of fossils, you either need to be a vast group of animals existing for tens of millions of years like the dinosaurs, or be a hard-shelled marine invertebrate.  Also, there is only one Lucy for the same reason that there is only one Christina Hendricks - Lucy is defined by what she is, and you can't have two.  Turkana Boy is a far more complete skeleton of an early hominid, but is younger than Lucy.  Lucy is (or was, depending on your criteria) the oldest find of a significantly complete hominid; more often, we only find the skull, or teeth.  Teeth are harder and fossilise better than any other part of our body.  We do have a number of other early hominid skeletons, though not as many or as complete as we'd like.

  19. Can you believe in "the big bang" without "faith"?

    Certainly, in much the same way that you can believe in the Colosseum in Rome when viewing its ruins.  We can see the Big Bang today in the Cosmic Microwave Background.  We know that it happened because it's still there.

  20. How can you look at the world and not believe someone created/thought of it?  It's Amazing!!!

    Cymothoa exigua is a species of marine louse that enters a fish's mouth via the gills, destroys the fish's tongue, and then attaches itself to the stub, taking over the tongue's function.  If you search for it, you will find pictures.  It has a face.

  21. Relating to the big bang theory...  Where did the exploding star come from?

    First, addressing your misconception: It was not a star. Stars did not begin to form until around 100 million years after the Big Bang. 

    But the broader question: We don't know.  It is very likely impossible to know.  In fact, it is reasonable to argue that the question is not meaningful - "where" is a question relating to space, and space originated with the Big Bang.  But we know that the Big Bang happened, because we can see it.

  22. If we came from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?

    Because one isolated population of proto-simians evolved into apes and hominids, while other populations evolved into modern-day monkeys.  Speciation - the evolution of a new species - and extinction - the death of an existing species - are distinct events, and you can have one without the other.  When dodos were wiped out, no earlier species was automatically restored to existence; your proposition makes no more sense.

Why do I say these people are stupid?  With the exception of question 16, which involves information theory, none of this touches on my formal education post high-school.  Nor did I have to look up any of the basic facts, though I did check the specifics.  All of this knowledge is readily available; you have to actively resist learning it.

And if you actively resist learning, you are stupid.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 05:59 PM | Comments (14) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
Post contains 2109 words, total size 16 kb.

1 Pixy, Brickmuppet is still spammed, which probably means others are, too.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Wednesday, March 19 2014 02:09 AM (+rSRq)

2 Fixed now, I think.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wednesday, March 19 2014 04:26 PM (PiXy!)

3 If the Second Law of Thermodynamics prevented evolution, it would also prevent reproduction, wouldn't it? You start with two rabbits and end up with 14 -- that's an increase in order, ain't it?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Thursday, March 20 2014 02:58 PM (+rSRq)

4 The Second Law objection is all kinds of weird, yeah.

But I think having 14 rabbits around the place would definitely count as a decrease in order....

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Friday, March 21 2014 12:08 PM (PiXy!)

5 Re: your answer to #17. Unlike the others, the proposition "purpose and meaning are things constructed by intelligent entities" is not an empirical statement, as there is no empirical observation which could refute it. Equally, no empirical evidence could refute its negation, that some things do have purpose and meaning independent of projections of intelligent entities' subjective experience. Therefore no scientific theory, in Popper's sense, has anything to say to it.

However, the proposition is fraught with difficulties once you examine its logical consequences. Specifically, it becomes extremely hard to explain how an intelligent entity can exist at all within the universe, as the thoughts of such entities are purpose and meaning. If no physical object has inherent purpose or meaning, then no physical object can think and intelligent entities can't be physical objects. But then what exactly are they, and how can they influence physical objects?

Posted by: Michael Brazier at Saturday, March 22 2014 04:33 PM (VlMqg)

6
Unlike the others, the proposition "purpose and meaning are things constructed by intelligent entities" is not an empirical statement, as there is no empirical observation which could refute it.
Yes, it's a more subtle question, and it takes more work to trace it back to its empirical roots.  Purpose and meaning are a question of information processing, associating one piece of information with another.  Purpose and meaning associated with observable reality are the association of one piece of information with a representation of some part of reality.

Thoughts in general are just information processing, which is a purely physical operation.
If no physical object has inherent purpose or meaning, then no physical object can think and intelligent entities can't be physical objects.
No physical object has inherent purpose or meaning.  But physical objects (or more precisely, physical systems) can process information, and thus generate thought, purpose, and meaning.   Since thought, purpose, and meaning are generated by physical processes, they are themselves physical processes, and can interact with other physical processes.

To take a less-than-ideal analogy, waves aren't inherent in the ocean.  But the ocean has waves nonetheless.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Saturday, March 22 2014 05:08 PM (PiXy!)

7 It might help explain where I'm coming from if I say that the brain is a computer.  Not as an analogy or a metaphor, but by the mathematical definition.

(Not necessarily a very good one, though.)

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Saturday, March 22 2014 05:21 PM (PiXy!)

8 Information processing is not a purely physical operation - it's a logical or mathematical operation - so reducing thought to information processing doesn't resolve the issue. It's quite as hard to explain the operations of a computer without reference to their purpose and meaning as it is to explain the behavior of a human being without such reference.

In fact, we don't have to look at things as complex as human beings (or computers) to find problems with this position. Consider the role of DNA - it's precisely the function of that molecule to mean the enzymes which carry out the operations of a living cell, and no coherent explanation of DNA can be made which doesn't account for that function. But we cannot plausibly claim that the information in a strand of DNA was constructed by intelligent entities like ourselves ...

Posted by: Michael Brazier at Sunday, March 23 2014 08:06 AM (VlMqg)

9

Michael, evidently you haven't spent any quality time with Claude Shannon.

Information processing is an energy transaction that follows well-defined rules.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Sunday, March 23 2014 10:40 AM (+rSRq)

10
Information processing is not a purely physical operation - it's a logical or mathematical operation - so reducing thought to information processing doesn't resolve the issue.
As Steven noted, information processing is a well-defined physical process.
It's quite as hard to explain the operations of a computer without reference to their purpose and meaning as it is to explain the behavior of a human being without such reference.
It's not hard at all.  We do normally use a higher level of abstraction, because it's more useful to describe an instruction as multiplying two floating point numbers than to describe all the bitwise operations involved.  But we use high-level abstractions to deal with everything in the world.
Consider the role of DNA - it's precisely the function of that molecule to mean the enzymes which carry out the operations of a living cell, and no coherent explanation of DNA can be made which doesn't account for that function.
DNA is a great example of how information processing is a purely physical process.  DNA maps genes to proteins.  We can completely describe DNA on the basis of physical chemistry and never once mention the word "meaning".

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Sunday, March 23 2014 12:14 PM (PiXy!)

11 Claude Shannon's work makes no reference to physical processes at all. It applies to a large number of physical processes, which makes it extremely useful, but in itself it's pure mathematics. (The same holds true for the theory of differential equations; it's about mathematical functions, though it applies to a host of physical systems.) And the fact that mathematical abstractions do sometimes apply to physical processes is mysterious in itself, if meanings and purposes have no objective reality.

"We do normally use a higher level of abstraction, because it's more useful to describe an instruction as multiplying two floating point numbers than to describe all the bitwise operations involved."

Ah, no. "This instruction multiplies two floating-point numbers" isn't a more abstract explanation of the instruction than the series of bitwise operations which implements it. It's a different type of explanation. The bitwise operations explain how the instruction is done; saying that it multiplies floating-point numbers explains what the instruction is for.

A genuine example of a higher level of abstraction would be the description of a gas in terms of its pressure, temperature and volume, instead of the positions and momenta of the gas molecules; or the consideration of an iron pendulum simply as a mass subject to certain forces, without regard to its chemical or electromagnetic properties. It would be wrong to claim that the molecules of a gas exist for the purpose of imparting pressure, temperature and volume to the gas. It would be even more wrong to claim that the metallic nature of the iron pendulum exists for the sake of its mass. But it is exactly correct that the circuitry of a math coprocessor exists to carry out arithmetic on floating point numbers.

Posted by: Michael Brazier at Monday, March 24 2014 03:47 PM (VlMqg)

12
The bitwise operations explain how the instruction is done; saying that it multiplies floating-point numbers explains what the instruction is for.
No.  Seriously, no.  It's a different level of abstraction.  Saying that it's a floating-point operation is identical to saying it's the set of bitwise operators that comprise a floating point operation.  It is precisely the same as describing matter according to its bulk statistical properties rather than its quantum mechanical properties.

It's you ascribing the meaning here.  The CPU doesn't know or care.  (In this example, that is; I'm not saying a computer can't in principle ascribe meaning to things.)

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Monday, March 24 2014 04:40 PM (PiXy!)

13

Claude Shannon's work makes no reference to physical processes at all.

The core of Shannon's work was to relate information processing to the laws of thermodyamics, and show that dense information was a high-energy state, and that data losses in communications were a form of entropy. You don't consider that to be "physical processes"?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Tuesday, March 25 2014 12:33 AM (+rSRq)

14 I read Shannon's work in the opposite direction: thermodynamic entropy is a form of lost information. A state has high entropy when it can't be distinguished (by outside observers) from a large number of other states, which is to say when information on its internal structure can't be recovered. Systems with large energy differences have little entropy because a great deal of information can be recovered from them.

But - while high-energy states are dense with information, to say that dense information is a high-energy state is a fallacy of the converse. So is an argument that, because information theory applies to physical processes, everything to which it applies must be a physical process.

And Pixy? Quicksort and mergesort both sort lists into order. Does that make them the same algorithm?

Posted by: Michael Brazier at Tuesday, March 25 2014 03:56 AM (VlMqg)

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