Faith Balanced By Reason

I recently ran into someone using that phrase in a discussion I was involved in. In about half a second this jumped into my brain:

Because the truth is there is no such thing as "balancing" faith with reason, at least not the kind of "faith" we are talking about in the context of religion which is where this phrase is inevitably utilized. Faith is UNreason. Faith is what is resorted to when you realize reason isn't going to support you believing in that thing you really want to believe in. But people don't want to look at it that way, so they instead try to make this silly argument that if they mix in enough reason over here then that it somehow mysteriously offsets the areas where they're not being reasonable over there.

Sorry folks, doesn't work that way.


The Abortion Debate

So I was reading Andrew Sullivan's blog the other day and came across a reference to this bit of nonsense from E.D. Kain. The entire thing can be read at the link, an excerpt follows:

If you believe in your heart of hearts that an unborn child is nevertheless a child – a living, growing, human being – and yet the law of the land dictates that said living, growing human being is not in possession of even the most basic right – the right to life – then how different is this from slavery?

Ugh. Let us re-phrase Kain's idiotic comment in a different context. I believe we can all grant that I am a person? And that I myself enjoy a "right to life"? Tomorrow I am diagnosed with a serious illness. My liver is shutting down. I'm dead in a day if I don't find a liver donor to donate a piece of their liver to me to keep me alive.

There is one compatible donor available.

They say no.

OMG Slavery! My right to life has been denied to me!

Is anyone incapable of seeing the idiocy of that statement? Yes... I have a right to life... however NO person, anywhere in our society, under any conditions... enjoys the kind of "right to life" Kain is claiming is being denied to the fetus. A right to life that over-rides another person's right to control over their own damn body. I cannot declare that because I need a piece of that person's liver to continue living they are legally required to consent to the surgery to cut it out of them and give it to me because I have a "right to life".

But let's go further.

I've been in a car accident. Some idiot drunk driver swerved into my lane and I'm in bad shape. I need a blood transfusion or I'm going to bleed out. I'm a rare blood type. There is exactly one person available who give me the blood to keep me alive. Just give me some damn blood... a little prick with a needle and some temporary inconvenience. Almost non-existent risk. I STILL can't invoke any "right to life" to make that person do it because it's their damn body, not mine.

The person in question is the drunk driver who hit me.It's his fault I'm in this situation! Guess what? STILL can't force them to do it. Their body, their call, no exceptions EVER. And I am not being in any way made a "slave" by having some non-existent right to commandeer another person's body to keep me alive denied to me. And there is damn good reason for that, going down the road where you start saying people can place themselves in positions where they irrevocably forfeit the right to control over their own bodies? THAT gets us slavery.

And if I, an undisputed person with a "right to life", can't require another person to do something as trivial to their body as give a little blood against their will to save my life then someone explain to me what "right to life" Kain is blathering about that would let another "person" require a woman to undergo an entire nine month pregnancy and the act of birth against her will, which is what we are talking about when we talk about making abortion illegal.

If Kain wants to toss the word "slavery" around he might want to take a good long look at what the word means and then have a good long think about what making abortion illegal would involve. He's directing the term at the wrong side of this argument.


Ervin Laszlo's Forum

Anyone who has actual read through the older postings here may be aware that an article he wrote provoked the first substantive post on this blog.

Since then he's established what he is calling the "Forum On Science And Spirituality". So far it is heavy on the latter and light on the former.

The most recent posting there to catch my eye is one that decided to make use of a popular tactic employed by people who peddle bizarre claims that science has dismissed or shot down. It goes something like "oh yeah!? Well scientists thought Einstein was wrong once upon a time!".

The offending article in question is right here.

My response can be read in the comments section there, or right here:


I find myself continually disappointed in the understanding of basic scientific principles demonstrated by contributors to what is supposed to be a “science and spirituality” forum. This time we find ourselves confronted with the old canard that once upon a time people resisted proposals from the likes of Einstein or Galileo and therefore science types should be more open minded to new ideas because they’ve been wrong to dismiss hypotheses before.

Completely overlooking the fact that these were both examples of science working the way it is *supposed* to work. Science is skeptical by design, and for good reason. You are not entitled to simply stroll in with a new hypothesis that sounds interesting and have everyone instantly take you seriously. You WILL be challenged, vigorously and ruthlessly. Your idea WILL be required to bring evidence to the table to support it… the more “revolutionary” it is the higher the bar will be set because the more currently established evidence it must call into question and require re-interpretation of and we don’t just do that willy nilly because someone thinks “wouldn’t it be neat if…” That would result in limitless wastes of everyone’s time to the detriment of the entire process. Sagan summed this principle up most succinctly with his observation that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

You will notice that initially harshly challenged these revolutionaries may have been.. but they were given opportunity to make their cases, and when that was done their ideas were relatively rapidly accepted, incorporated, and built upon. If you have a revolutionary idea that is actually correct, then you can find the evidence to demonstrate that and you can present it, and your hypothesis will undergo *and survive* all the testing and challenges and attempts to falsify it which it will then be endlessly subjected to and science will continue it’s march forward with your new idea tucked firmly in with the other theories and hypotheses which have met the very deliberately harshly rigorous criteria science sets for claims to knowledge. If you cannot bring that evidence to the table then your idea will rightly be marched right over top of and ground underfoot.

To imply that the proper and deliberate application of the critical review required by the scientific method is nothing more than the stubborn clinging to of “old dogmas”, and to attempt to draw any degree of relation between this and the resistance to contradictory information encountered in the confines of religious teachings and church hierarchies demonstrates a profound lack of familiarity with how science operates and why it enjoys it’s unparalleled success at uncovering new information about the world while slaying erroneous or just plain useless ideas one after another.



I miss that guy... as a posting at Pharyngula just highlighted.

Ignorant, Stupid, or Delusional?

a.k.a. "the three degrees of cluelessness".

It's an unfortunate fact that there is a strong tendency for people to lump these three things together, mainly because their observable effects tend to be prettty much identical... the making of spectacularly stupid statements.

The problem is if you don't differentiate between someone saying something stupid because they've never been taught any better, someone saying something stupid because they're genuinly not bright, and someone saying something stupid because they've decided they have a preferred view of the world and to hell with any pesky facts that contradict it... then you've basically decided that you're not in the business of changing anyone's mind about anything. The status quo is just fine with you. For example, this guy appears to have no interest in doing anything but hurling invective at people on the internat all day. Does he need to differentiate between the ignorant and the stupid to do so? Well, no. I'm not sure exactly what he gets out of doing what he does, but whatever.

For those of us interested in actually teaching people things however differentiating between those three classes of people matters. Because an alternate set of terms for them is:

Teachable, Teachable With Difficulty, and Not Worth The Effort.

If you are responding to every stupid infactual statement someone makes by calling the person who makes it a retarded fuckwad you are driving away those that might be educated with even a little effort. And if the existence of people who make stupid statements is irritating enough to you that it evokes that kind of response one would think you had a legitimate interest in reducing their numbers. Which means at least engaging with the teachable, if not the "teachable with difficulty".


At first glance it can be hard to tell the difference between these three types of people of course. Some individual came storming in to your discusion of the evidence for the age of the earth ranting about how the magnitic field of the planet is decaying therefore the earth HAS TO BE YOUNG!!!!


Ranking Presidents

Every few years the Sienna College Research Institute conducts a survey of historians to rank the US presidents. they just finished the latest round since 2002. Anyone who follows politics in the US even a little will probably have heard Bush or his supporters saying how history will judge his legacy kindly. Well, history has a long way to go:

Worst Ever: A. Johnson, Buchanan, Harding, Pierce and G.W. Bush

Bush was ranked 5th worst of all time.

Now that alone is pretty bad... but frankly if I was surprised by anything it was that he managed to come in that high. So I decided to figure out why. It's just... sad.

The rankings were conducted based on 20 independent criteria... these were Bush's rankings in each (out of 43):

Now, there are 3 categories he did uncharacteristically well on relative to his general performance... and 2 he did somewhat better on. Let's take them in order.

Bush's Great Presidential Strength
Criteria # 7. Bush's top score out of all 20 criteria evaluated. He ranked 18th out of 43 on this one. It was....


I shit you not.


Defining a Bailout

Did I mention I'm Canadian?

Well, I am. And recently while I've been keeping up on economic news I've been encoutering two really popular themes about the home country.

  1. "Canada's banks are really, really stable."
  2. "That's a LIE! The government gave them a massive bailout!!!"
So, which is it? (Spoiler: It's the first one.)

First, some examples of people making the latter claim. This guy at Pacific free Press"Sean" in the comments section. The people at "Global Research". etc...

I'm particularly dissapointed in that last one... I'd expect someone who uses the word "research" in the name of their very organization to, well, research things. And it's not like it takes a lot of reseacrching to find the problem in these claims after all. Opening a dictionary and looking up the definition of two little words would get the job done:

  1. Bailout: noun. A rescue from financial distress.
  2. Insurance: noun. A promise of reimbursement in the case of future loss.
Now, let's look at what that link at "Global research" has to say about how the Canadian governemnt "bailed out" the Canadian banks, shall we? I'm going to go ahead and highlight a word in the statement they spend consireable time ranting about:

"Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) will purchase up to $25 billion in insured mortgage pools as part of the Government of Canada’s plan, announced today, to maintain the availability of longer-term credit in Canada." (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Supports Canadian Credit Markets, CHMC Press Release, 10 October 2009)
So apparently the Canadian banks were rescued from the financial distress of... holding a bunch of mortgages that they were guaranteed not to lose a penny on.

Wow, they must be so grateful for that "bailout".

What actually happened, is that the government bought the mortgages so that the banks would have more cash on hand to engage in more lending. And the reason the government wanted this to happen is because at the time the global recession was seizing up credit markets all over the world and they wanted to make sure Canadians kept ready access to credit while this was happening. It was a simple recession-fighting measure that had nothing to do with rescuing (a.k.a "bailing out") the Canadian banks. There was nothing to rescue them from.


People who just aren't helping.

This will require a little background...

A few weeks ago while I was engaging in some discussion about evolution in a comments section somewhere I encountered a poster who goes by the name of "Human Ape" who is... well, very angry about some things. That's something I can empathize with, since I happen to get pretty angry about a lot of the same things he does.

I didn't really have much interaction with him but apparently he clicked through the links to my blog, read some stuff here, and posted a comment in "The Creationist Mindset" post stating, and I quote:

"Lance is a typical creationist. Too stupid to understand anything. I admire the patience you have with idiots."
I replied, and moved on. Then the other day while I was wandering through the blogosphere I came across this post on his blog.

First of all, asshole Christians, intelligent design creationism and Bible creationism are the exact same things, and if you deny this obvious fact you're a fucking liar.

If you retards call magic "design" it's still magic. Understand Christian assholes? If not you can fuck off.

...and, well, it continued on.

Recognizing the author as the same person who just three weeks ago was admiring my "patience with idiots" I left a comment suggesting that getting that worked up about the issue was counter-productive and he really might want to try taking a deep breath and counting to 10 before posting these things. Which led to this, and this.

Apparently in three weeks Human Ape's position on the possession of patience with dealing with creationists had gone from "I admire that" to "that makes you responsible for terrorism".

That's quite the impressive turnaround in his worldview in less than a month.

Now the problem I have here isn't with some angry person on the internet calling me names. It's with some angry person on the internet running around everywhere making atheists look like people with Tourette syndrome and serious anger management issues. I'm engaged in an effort to employ reason and logic to bring undertanding of certain complex scientific realities to people who don't understand them and don't believe in them... and I really don't need my position being associated with conduct like this. It doesn't exactly make my task easier. I can understand the occasional outburst, dealing with this particular debate can ger *really* incredibly frustrating... but when you start declaring that the only two sides of the issue are that you're either screaming profanity at creationists or you're a terrorist sympathizer we're a little beyond that.

Now apparently making this point to this particular person is not really an option that is available consideering the response it generated the first time I tried it... but for anyone else out there feeling frustrated when you discuss evolution or religion with fundamentalists and feeling the urge to scream obscenities at them... could you please fight it? For me?

I'll give you a cookie...


That Pesky Second Law of Thermodynamics

It seems creationists never get tired of this one. I've lost count of how many times I've been told that it makes evolution impossible, and I just ran into someone using it again over here.

Let's begin by getting something straight. This is the actual, real life, second law of thermodynamics:

∫(δQ/T) ≥0

It is not some kind of cosmic legislation written down in the Universe's list of statutes that states "things shall not get more complex naturally!" It's a mathematical expression. More precisely, it's a mathematical expression that describes a specific set of conditions. But when you need to explain what that means to people who don't "speak math" you have to translate it into english instead, which is where the problem happens.

You can do it well:

"The total energy available to do work in an isolated system can never increase."  or... "The total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease" or several other formulations that are all equally valid. (The "isolated system" part is particularly critical)

Or you can do it like creationists:

"The Second Law of Thermodynamics, simply stated, says that everything has a tendency to run down, decay and get worse, if left to itself.

Click the link, I don't make this stuff up. They actually say this. The second law of thermodynamics makes abandoned houses get run down and cars left outside get trashed. It's not just that guy, I've heard this so many times I've lost track. Ugh.

While we're on the subject, you can do the same thing with the meaning of entropy.

Real definition: Entropy = The total energy in a system no longer available to perform work.

Creationist definition: Entropy = Disorder and decay!

Now to get into why creationists have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to thermodynamics we should start by defining some terms...

Entropy: See above
System Boundary: The dividing line between the system you are examining and it's surrounding environment. Can be physical, or simply definitional... but MUST BE SPECIFIED.
Open System: A system which can exchange matter and energy with it's surroundings across the system boundary.
Closed System: A system that can exchange energy but NOT matter across it's boundary.
Isolated System: A system that cannot exchange either matter or energy across it's boundary.

It's only in that last one where the second law says you can't see a decrease in entropy. Where there is no external source of energy providing fuel for the process the system is going to continuously use up the energy it has available to work with until it's all gone.

Creationists try to claim the second law means evolution is impossible because it causes localized decreases in entropy. For the second law to actually say that was impossible evolution would have to be doing this without getting the energy for it from anywhere... the earth would have to be an isolated system that does not receive any external energy input.

So... the next time a creationist tells you the Second Law makes evolution impossible then assuming it's daytime tell them to go outside, look up, and ask them if they see a giant ball of burning plasma in the sky bombarding them with light and heat. (a.k.a.... energy!)

I almost feel embarassed to be burning a post on such a worn out issue, but as long as creationists keep using it people need to keep correcting them I guess.


The (Vastly) Underappreciated Importance Of Falsifiability

I would say this is something that's usually only properly appreciated by people with a science background... except I've met so many people who work in the sciences who also don't get it that I would feel dishonest making that claim.

The quick and dirty version of the concept of falsifiability is if you're going to make a claim, or present a theory/hypothesis... you need to know how to tell if you're wrong. That sounds like it should be simple and straightforward but it just flies right over the heads of an astounding number of people on a regular basis. Religious people in particular, but it's not just isolated there. I know a disturbing number of people who think of themselves as rational scientifically minded individuals and are actually quite skilled and knowledgeable in the sciences, who simply do not properly appreciate why falsifiability is so important. They reach the point of knowing they have to be able to tell if they're wrong so they can slap a "right" or "wrong" label on an idea and stop there. It's a little more than that.

See, the primary way we figure out if we're wrong about something is we use it to make a prediction, then test it. When we hit a situation where something is unfalsifiable it's generally for one of two reasons.
  1. It can be used to predict nothing. 
  2. It can be used to predict anything.
Now in the first case it should be obvious that this makes whatever idea you came up with effectively worthless. It doesn't actually contribute to our understanding of how the world works in any way whatsoever if it can't make any predictions about how that world will behave. As soon as I post that list however I find people have a tendency not to understand why that second one is bad. Being able to predict anything! Wow! That's great!

No... that's useless.

In this context, "predict anything" means no matter what happens, no matter what outcome a test has, you can claim it was predicted by your "theory". To demonstrate why this is so spectacularly pointless, an example of such a "theory":

Newton Vs. The Matter Directing Elves


More On Probability

This might drive home how slippery a subject probability is. Warning... anyone not terribly interested in the finer points of how probabilities of events are calculated will risk being rendered unconscious by reading this post. It is not building up to any profound philosophical or political insights, there's no payoff for you if you wade through it t reach the end... it's just arguing about how to properly move numbers around.

On the other hand if you are such a hopeless geek that you consider reading about that to be a payoff in itself, carry on.

There is a raging debate going on in certain quarters about the following question:

"I have two children. One is a boy. What is the probability I have two boys?"
The two answers most people are arguing over are 1 in 2 (50%), and 1 in 3 (33%).

This is an example of a question where overthinking the problem gets you into trouble. I generally hate to use the term "overthinking", in most cases as far as I'm concerned there's no such thing as too much thinking... but there are exceptions to every rule and this is one of them.

First, I'm going to do this the easy way.

One kid is a boy. One kid is of unknown gender. Assuming for the sake of simplicity no biological biases towards a kid being either gender the odds of the unknown kid being a boy are 50%. Therefore the odds of there being two boys is 50%.

That seems pretty obvious, right? Now let me take you on a trip through the wonderful world of people who love to overcomplicate things and trip themselves up.

Now, generally speaking there are two ways to approach a problem like this. Start with what you know about the situation, and construct a matrix of all possible outcomes given that information. (The easy way we just used)

Start with a matrix of all possible outcomes assuming you know NOTHING, then start introducing information and eliminating outcomes that information makes impossible one by one. (a.k.a.: the hard way that is just asking for trouble and gives us answers like 13/27 when people do it wrong)

Now, for an example of this calculation gone wrong, you can see write-ups of it by a couple of it's advocates. One is at the New Scientist... and one is in an article in the NY Times. Neither of these people is anywhere in the neighborhood of being clueless about probability, but that isn't stopping them from making the same error by overcomplicating a simple situation while all the while thinking what they're really doing is revealing a profound counter-intuitive truth that the general public just doesn't understand probability well enough to grasp. The New Scientist write-up is particularly mind-bending since it decides to also introduce the information that the boy we know about was born on a Tuesday then insist that it matters. (It doesn't).

For the purposes of illustrating the concept, I'm just going to deal with the approach in the Times to the simpler problem, walk through it, and show where it makes it's mistake.


Hypocritical Political Leaders... Better Than The Alternative?

Interesting point I saw raised a while back by one of the readers at Andrew Sullivan's blog, which has since been percolating in the back of my brain...is it really always such a bad thing to have hypocritical political leaders?

The immediate reaction to that question will tend to be an emphatic "yes!", but given the assumption that no politician we ever get in office, anywhere, in any capacity, is ever going to be perfect... do we really want a leader who does the NON-hypocritical thing and says "well, I really have quite a few shortcomings when it comes to financial ethics (for example)... so I'm not going to try and make anyone else play by those rules any better than I do"... or do we want the leader who is going to crack the whip and keep everyone else in line regardless of how good he is at staying in line himself, even if that is hypocritical of them?

Or the leader who can't stay on a diet, so he does the non-hypocritical thing and refuses to contribute any effort into educating the children of the nation that eating healthy is a good thing?

Or, pick your personal shortcoming...

I have to say, after giving it considerably thought, given those two options I kind of want the hypocrite. I mean sure, ideally I'd want the leader who holds the government and the nation to the highest standard AND meets that standard themselves... but let's be realistic. Not happening. Any human being is going to fall short of the standards we'd like to see maintained in *some* area. But we still want the nation held to the highest standards in ALL areas, at least ideally. So... if you look at it a certain way, hurray for hypocrisy!

On the other hand, there's hypocrisy and there's hypocrisy. For example... if I think it through I'm pretty ok with the guy who rides around in private jets burning through fossil fuels while trying to champion the envirnoment. I mean... bad optics, but I find it hard to get seriously outraged about it.

However, no matter which way I look at it I get enormously ticked off by the guy who is condemning people as shameful and immoral for their sexual orientation while they're running around Europe with a gay escort they claim is only there to "carry their luggage".

And the difference between those two that's making me reach different conclusions about how acceptable they are is the first one is an example of someone trying to improve the lives of others with their advocacy even if they're not perhaps living up to their own ideals... and the other is just some jerk who is spreading hatred and bigotry over an issue that I frankly have difficulty believing he actually really thinks is the great evil he runs around telling people it is so that they'll give his organization money to fight it.

Of course, I appreciate that a certain segment of the population views that last situation differently. Your mileage may vary.


People Don't Understand Media Bias

(I'm flirting with starting a running "people don't understand..." theme on the blog, considering the endless supply of topics it supplies.)

There is a general public awareness, at least in the United States, that there exists this thing called "The Liberal Media". To a certain extent, that label can be justified. Journalism, as a profession, does tend to be populated by people who identify as liberals much more than conservatives. Unfortunately, that isn't how the term is usually used. People aren't claiming there are liberals in the media... they're claiming the content of the media is deliberately and blatantly biased towards liberal ideology.

Now here's the problem. The people making this claim have a definition of "biased" that is... well... let's call it "divorced from reality".  You see, bias in journalism is when instead of reporting the plain facts of the matter at hand, you distort them to say something else that suits your own agenda. In the minds of the people who rant and rave about "The Liberal Media" however bias is when you report a bad thing about someone they like, and don't immediately follow it with either a good thing about someone they like, or a bad thing about someone they don't like. Because see... you have to be "balanced".

Now I may be crazy, but I always thought the job of the news was to report the facts, not to play reality referee and dishonestly manipulate the reporting of the facts so it looks like both sides of any ideological dispute were perfectly equal. I'm pretty sure in fact that THAT would be displaying bias.

For an example of what we're talking about, this startlingly insightful individual (you'll encounter their like a lot if you spend any amount of time in political discussion forums) has concluded that Fox News provided the fairest news coverage in the country of the 2008 elections.

Yeah, you're reading the title of the link right. Fox. When you click on that link you'll find the study they cite to back up this entertaining claim is one done by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism which... counted how many positive and negative things different networks said about the candidates. Seriously.

"Well... they said this many nice things about one side... but only this many nice things about the other side... BIAS!"

Yes, the only possible way that could happen is biased reporting. As opposed to... just possibly... there actually being in real life more positive or negative aspects to report about one side than the other. (But nah... it's clear McCain ran exactly as effective a political campaign as Obama did, right? I mean Obama ran what is widely regarded as one of the most effective campaign operations in modern political history... and McCain told the nation that Sarah Palin was the most qualified person in America to run the country after him. That's got to balance out, right?)

You know, there are days when it's really hard to be optimistic about the future of the species.

Let's apply these brilliant criteria for unbiased journalism to a hypothetical test case. We're going to travel back in time and cover, say, one of the trials of Charles Manson. On the one hand, we have the coverage by GNN (Generic New Network). On the other hand, we have the coverage by Faux News.

GNN: Every story they write is talking about this guy being accused of murdering people! They mention he's a repeat offending ex-convict! It's all negativity all the time!They never say anything nice about the guy!!!

Faux: They put up some stories about him being accused of murdering people. But they also put up just as many stories about how he considers himself a dedicated family man.

GNN is, therefore, 100% horribly horribly biased. Faux News on the other hand is what journalism is meant to be. They're balanced. And that's fair.

And that's what's really important in journalism. Right?


Proving Evolution : Post 7 - Piling On... And Finishing Up.

Chromosome Fusions

A lot of animals have different numbers of chromosomes. An often raised objection to evolution is that this means at some point an organism would have been born with a different number of chromosomes from the rest of the population but it wouldn’t have had anything it could mate with that had the same number of chromosomes so the mutation wouldn’t have been preserved. This objection is based on the false idea that animals with different numbers of chromosomes are incapable of interbreeding.

If this was true the existence of modern domesticated horses would be something of a genetic miracle. Domestic horse populations have 64 chromosomes… wild horse populations have 66.

In reality chromosome fissions and fusions are hardly an unknown phenomenon.

One such fusion clearly occurred after the hominids branched off from the rest of the primates. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, all the rest of the primates have 24. Evolutionary theory and the nested hierarchy then tells us this means there was a fusion event which reduced the number of chromosomes in humans to 23 after their ancestors split off from the wider population. If this prediction is true, we should be able to see clear evidence of it in a chromosomal analysis.

Lo and behold:

Chromosome fusion

There is overwhelming evidence that human chromosome 2 is the product of the fusion of two chromosomes which just happen to look basically identical to two chromosomes found in chimpamzees… as seen in the image included in the above link.

Note that this is not just evidence that human and chimp genetic sequences kind of look the same. The telomere and centromere sequences in the middle of human chromosome 2 are clear indication that that chromosome is the product of the combination of two different pre-existing independent chromosomes. If humans had been independently created in their modern form rather than having evolved into it from a common ancestor with other animals there is no reason to expect find something like this in the human genome… but there it is.

Biogeography and Paleobiogeography

Biogeography is the mapping of spatial patterns of biodiversity. Ie: which animals and types of animals are found in which geographic regions. Combined with paleobiogeography, which is the mapping of the same in the fossil record, this presents us with yet another piece of corroborating evidence for evolution. Fossil forms which are morphologically transitional stretching back from modern animals back to earlier ones are found in geographically contiguous locations throughout the record. Obviously this is something which is to be expected if all those transitional forms were to have evolved one from the other. If they were not transitional ancestral organisms but rather just completely independent separately created lineages of some kind there would be no reason to expect the geographical distributions we do observe that they fall into.

Properties of DNA Replication

Proving Evolution: Post 6 - Phylogenetic Analysis

Previously we skimmed over the creation of a phylogenetic tree with a simplified example of how they are constructed using only a few major genetic characteristics. In the last post we touched on how even much less obvious genetic characteristics can also be analyzed for phylogenetic relationships… like ERVs. As the discussion progresses the importance of the nested hierarchy and it’s nontrivial nature will continue to become more apparent. Like in the case of ERVs it goes significantly beyond such superficially obvious observations as “we never expect to find snakes producing orange juice”. It applies right down to the molecular level even to genetic sequences which have absolutely no reason, from the standpoint of observing the “obvious” groupings of organisms, to display nested hierarchical patterns... except that evolutionary theory says they should because of their patterns of common ancestry.

When actually constructing a consensus phylogenetic tree such as the one shown at (Life on Earth) not only are a great many genetic traits taken into account, but a rigorous mathematical analysis of the actual DNA sequences of the organisms in question (where such DNA is available) is done to create cladograms (the branching diagrams showing patterns of descent) with the highest possible percentage confidence. These techniques have been tested in situations where the correct evolutionary relationships are already independently known for an absolute certainty to verify that they do in fact not simply produce an evolutionary relationship but the correct evolutionary relationship to within a very low margin of error..

One example:


In the paper above the researchers started with an original sample of DNA from Trypanosoma cruzi. They bred it over successive generations and allowed it to continually mutate, and every 70 generations 2 of the resulting DNA sequences were isolated at random and then used to found new populations. This process was repeated 4 times until 16 different ancestral DNA sequences had been generated. A rough diagram illustrating the process is shown in Figure 1 on page 2 of the paper.

Now this might not sound like much… but the number of possible phylogenetic trees that can be generated for a group of N different related genetic sequences increases in a steeply exponential manner as N increases. That number is described by the equation: (2N-3)!/((2^(N-2)) (N-2)!).

For 2 organisms this gives us only 1 possible tree (which should be obvious).

For 3 organisms it gives us 3 possible trees.

For 5 it gives us 105.

For 10 it gives us over 34 million.

For 16 organisms that gives us a total of (29!)/((2^14)(14!)) = 29!/1.428x10^15 = 6.19028x10^15 possible phylogenetic tree diagrams that can be generated. Picking the correct one isn’t something you can do by luck... unless of course you can beat better than 6 quintillion to 1 odds. And if that's the case, why aren't you in Vegas right now?


Proving Evolution : Post 5 - Non Coding Genetic Sequences

Alright… so we’ve covered radiometric dating and why it’s considered reliable, the geologic column and the fossil record conforming to overall evolutionary expectations, the existence of transitional sequences within the fossil record showing evidence of past evolutionary events, and the distribution of genetic characteristics among modern life that conforms to the pattern produced by a biological evolutionary process in which traits are inherited from common ancestry. We’ve covered that the fossil record also overlays that distribution to a high degree of accuracy with characteristics in inner nested groups in the hierarchy having their first representations later in the fossil record.

Next piece of evidence. Vestigial and other non-coding genetic characteristics.

Vestigial genetic sequences.

Looking at the nested hierarchy shown in the third image of post 4 in this series we can see humans and chimps (along with the rest of the primates) are grouped inside a larger group of animals. Their grouping also indicates a recent evolutionary divergence from that group. This is corroborated by the fossil record. Now… the members of this larger group of animals are capable of synthesizing ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C. Humans and primates are not. As our little evolutionary branch of the tree only recently diverged from the rest of the group, and since large scale gene deletions are extremely rare (usually a gene is disable because of a disabling mutation… it is not completely removed from the DNA) if evolutionary theory is correct we should expect to still be able to find clear evidence of the genetic sequence responsible for the synthesis of ascorbic acid in humans and primates (even though we are not capable of such synthesis) and subsequently compare it to the functional sequence in other animals and determine what alteration made to it caused it to become non-functional. This is a prediction unique to evolution, relying entirely on the premise that we inherited our genetic material from an ancestral source we share in common with those other animals in the larger group.

This prediction was confirmed in the early 1990s with the identification of the L-gulano-gamma-lactone oxidase genetic code in humans and primates. Subsequent analysis showed it had experienced a frame shift mutation that had caused it to become non-coding.

Let me summarize this again to ensure it is fully understood.

1. Humans and primates do not produce their own ascorbic acid. From simple direct observation there is NO reason to think they would have the genetic code required to do so.
2. The nested hierarchical structure humans and primates fit into within an evolutionary framework however indicates that they diverged from a wider group at a time when ascorbic acid synthesis was already present in the genome of the group, and thus that genetic information should have been inherited.
3. Since we do not produce ascorbic acid, and since it would be unusual to have an entire gene simply deleted in entirety from the genome, evolutionary theory and evolutionary theory alone predicts we should find vestigial genetic code for the production of ascorbic acid which was inherited from an earlier common ancestor in the human and primate genomes… and which has since been deactivated by mutation.
4. They looked for it. They found it. Deactivated by a frame shift mutation that wiped out the end of the sequence on that gene. Prediction confirmed.

Once again… I can’t stop someone from looking at this clear example of evidence of common evolutionary descent and declaring “it just looks that way because it was designed that way” but at this point, whether it’s impossible to disprove that statement or not, it would be beginning to get silly… proposing that the same non functional section of genetic code would be designed into humans and primates… and in such a way that it looked just like a functional piece of code in other animals that had undergone a mutation. If you want to design an organism that doesn’t synthesize its own ascorbic acid you sure as heck don’t need to give it most of the genetic code to do so only to make it not do so!

And this is hardly the only example of a vestigial genetic sequence that fit this pattern…. Olfactory receptor genes, RT6 protein genes, etc… the genetic code of all kind of organisms is packed with pseudogenes that used to code for something in an ancestor… still codes for that same function in related organisms, but has been disabled in one particular group by a crippling mutation while the bulk of the genetic code remains present.

Continuing on that line, there is also the matter of endogenous retroviral insertions.

Proving Evolution: Post 4 - The Nested Hierarchy

This is one of the most fundamental concepts which need to be understood if you want to properly grasp the evidence for evolution. It describes the structure of the pattern of biological diversity produced by an evolutionary process. Evolution is the only process ever proposed which predicts and explains such a pattern.

The nested hierarchy is a consequence of the way in which genetically heritable traits are transmitted from generation to generation. For an illustration, see the following:

“NGT” represents a point at which a new genetic trait is introduced to a population which through natural selection comes to be spread throughout that population to the point where it reaches fixation in the genome. From that point on it will be heritable by all the future generations of that population. Such an event can occur at any time, in any group, but due to the nature of biological reproduction and genetic heritability it can be propagated only “downstream” of the point at which it is introduced. So, the earlier in the process a new trait is acquired, the wider a cross-section of the final population it will be present in. Any traits acquired after that point will be found grouped into smaller and smaller cross-sections of the population and always completely contained within the groupings of earlier acquired traits.

For example, let's say that trait "D" up there was the introduction of, say, a specific alteration to the eye of one species that significantly improved it's visual acuity. That species up top on the other hand, developing along that path that leads to them having traits "A" and "F"... their eyes suck. Well, they're out of luck. Because that new trait for improved vision is only able to be passed on through inheritance so they're not getting it. It can only propagate downstream in the process.

To contrast, if we were examining the products of a common design process we not only could, but would expect to see such outcomes all the time. If while working it’s way along those branching design paths a designer came up at some point with that “D” trait and noticed… “hey, this works better than anything I’m using over on that “AF” development line” then of course any designer would utilize that knowledge in his other designs. For example: The human eye vs. the octopus eye. The eyes on an octopus are far superior in design to our eyes. Their optic nerves attach in a manner which does not produce a blind spot in their vision, that same attachment anchors their retinas, and because all the nerve connections come in through the rear of the eye they do not degrade visual acuity. In our eyes the optics nerve pokes through the back of the eye causing a blind spot which our brains must constantly imperfectly correct for, because our retinas are not anchored by the nerve attachments a sharp blow to the head can detach them, and because the nerve attachments are in the front they get in the way of incoming light screwing up our visual acuity. Any designer who knew how to build an octopus eye would know there was a better way to design an eye than that. The evidence indicates however that the octopus evolutionary path simply experienced optical development which was superior to anything that occurred in human ancestry after the two branched off from each other… and after that branching occurred there was no way in which to share the advances experienced on one line with the other. Not within an evolutionary framework.

Now, what do we see when we look at the pattern of biological diversity present today? Here’s an example using 30 major examples (animated gif, modified from the universal phylogenetic tree diagram in Doug Theobald’s “29 evidences for macroevolution”. Takes a little while to cycle through.)


Proving Evolution: Post 3 - Transitional Fossils

Having covered  in posts 1 and 2 why radiometric dating is considered reliable, how the geologic column appears, and how the cross correlation of radiometric dates, fossil composition, and layer depth in the column all converge on expectations it’s time to take a closer look at some of the transitional sequences in the fossil record. The Transitional Vertbrate Fossils FAQ at talk.origins does it very well so I’ll leave the listing to them:

Instead, here I’ll focus on just a few example transitions with some detailed discussion.

Reptiles to Mammals

The list provided at the link above for this particular transition is extensive, covering a sequence of 30 fossil species… the early quite reptilian, then reptilian but with some somewhat mammalian features… then reptilian with some more than somewhat mammalian features… then a solid mix of reptilian and mammalian features… then decidedly mammalian with reptilian features… then mammalian with some somewhat reptilian features, and finally mammalian with few if any reptilian features.

One particularly well illustrated example they proivide of what was occurring during this process is the development of the mammalian ear from reptile jaw structures… illustration here:

Starting at the far left side of the image we have the timescale of which periods each of the fossils are found from. As we move forward from the Carboniferous to the Jurassic we see the clear gradual change in the shape of the skeletal structure in each consecutive example. The left hand column of images if the view of the jaw from the inside. The right hand column is the view of the same jaw from the outside. The bone highlighted in yellow is the articular reptilian jaw bone, which eventually becomes the mammalian malleus (the “hammer” in the ear). The bone hignlighted in pink is the reptilian angular jaw bone, which eventually becomes the tympanic annulus in mammals. The bone highlighted in light blue is the reptilian quadrate jaw bone, which eventually becomes the mammalian incus (the “anvil” in the ear).

This particular sequence is also an excellent illustration of the gaping flaw in claims of “Irreducible Complexity”. Such arguments simply don’t understand how evolution progresses. Someone who held to the IC line of argument would look at something like the ear and say “Well, what good is an ear without the hammer? Huh? What good is half an ear? All those interconnecting bones would have to evolve all at the same time! That’s just silly... so the ear is Irreducibly Complex”. (And yes, people really do make that argument)

On the surface of it, if you don’t really understand how evolution operates, that article has a certain compelling appeal to common sense. People who haven’t been exposed to the full weight of the evidence for evolution and how it operates think that is a perfectly reasonable statement. It is however dead wrong, as we can clearly see. They look at a modern human ear, which is the product of millions of years of refinement to optimize it for operating with the structures available to it… and then just because after all that fine tuning if you suddenly come along and yank a gear out of the mechanism it stops working it couldn’t have developed gradually? Nonsense. Nobody with any knowledge of evolution would ever say that at some point in the past there was some animal with an ear that was completely missing a malleus… but otherwise was an ear exactly like a modern human with all the same bones in the same shape for no apparent reason whatsoever… just waiting around for a fluke mutation to pop that bone right in there out of nowhere. That is an absurd representation of evolutionary progression and does not remotely resemble what is encompassed by evolutionary theory. It is nothing but a flimsy strawman.

On to the next example:

Proving Evolution : Post 2 - The Geologic Column

When the geologic column was first being mapped out by geologists they could only establish relative dates of the position of formation of a given layer in the column based on the premise that 'layers buried further down' = 'older than newly formed surface layers'… with care being taken to ensure you weren’t analyzing something like an overthrust where one section of plate has pushed up on top of another one. Then came radiometric dating which allowed them not only to independently test that hypothesis but to assign specific age values to each of those layers… resulting in the modern understanding of the geologic column. For example, in Glenn Morton’s article on the geologic column at Talk.Origins (The Entire Geologic Column in North Dakota) one of the references used is a well dug in North Dakota to a depth of over 15 thousand feet. The following layers were encountered at the respective depths: (Fm = Formation, Lm = Limestone, Grp = Group)

Tertiary Ft. Union Fm ...............................100 feet
Cretaceous Greenhorn Fm .......................4910 feet
Cretaceous Mowry Fm............................ 5370 feet
Cretaceous Inyan Kara Fm.......................5790 feet
Jurassic Rierdon Fm................................6690 feet
Triassic Spearfish Fm..............................7325 feet
Permian Opeche Fm................................7740 feet
Pennsylvanian Amsden Fm.......................7990 feet
Pennsylvanian Tyler Fm...........................8245 feet
Mississippian Otter Fm.............................8440 feet
Mississippian Kibbey Lm...........................8780 feet
Mississippian Charles Fm..........................8945 feet
Mississippian Mission Canyon Fm................9775 feet
Mississippian Lodgepole Fm.....................10255 feet
Devonian Bakken Fm.............................11085 feet
Devonian Birdbear Fm............................11340 feet
Devonian Duperow Fm...........................11422 feet
Devonian Souris River Fm.......................11832 feet
Devonian Dawson Bay Fm.......................12089 feet
Devonian Prairie Fm...............................12180 feet
Devonian Winnipegosis Grp.....................12310 feet
Silurian Interlake Fm..............................12539 feet
Ordovician Stonewall Fm........................13250 feet
Ordovician Red River Dolomite.................13630 feet
Ordovician Winnipeg Grp........................14210 feet
Ordovician Black Island Fm.....................14355 feet
Cambrian Deadwood Fm.........................14445 feet
Precambrian.........................................14945 feet

The article also includes 25 other sites where the entire column has been observed.

The span of ages since associated with each of those eras since the advent of radiometric dating are:

Tertiary –------------------ 1.8 million -> 65 million years old
Cretaceous --------------– 65 million -> 145 million years old
Jurassic ----------------– 145 million -> 205 million years old
Triassic ----------------–205 million -> 250 million years old
Permian –---------------- 250 million -> 290 million years old
Pennsylvanian –---------- 290 million -> 325 million years old
Mississippian –------------ 325 million to 355 million years old
Devonian –--------------- 355 million -> 420 million years old
Silurian –----------------- 420 million -> 445 million years old
Ordovician –-------------- 445 million -> 490 million years old
Cambrian Deadwood Fm –- 490 million -> 545 million years old
Precambrian –------------------------ 545+ million years old

So, the further down we go, the older the dates we see. Exactly as predicted. But that isn’t the only indicator to consider, there is also the fossil composition of the geologic column. I’ll do a quick overview of which fossils are found in which layers for now... starting with what are dated as the oldest layers and progressing through to the youngest. Note that the precise locations of many of these "earliest known fossil" finds are constantly being adjusted to some degree as more and more fossil finds come in and the body of what is known is added to.... for example, not too many years ago the earliest known multicellular fossils were early Cambrian (540 million years old) but then someone found some in layers about 20 million years older than that and the date of the earliest known multicellular fossils got shifted back a few percent into the late Precambrian. This is to be expected... and will certainly continue to happen in the future.


--In the oldest dated layers of rock in the Precambrian there has never been a fossil found. Of anything. Ever.

--As we move to newer layers in the Precambrian we start finding fossils of single celled organisms at about the 3.5 billion year mark. They appear to be prokaryotes. We find fossils of nothing else.

--In still newer layers we begin finding fossils of what seem to be eukaryotic single celled organisms. (Prokaryotes have cell structures that lack mitochondria and nuclei, eukaryotes incorporate mitochondria and nuclei).

--In the late Precambrian layers leading up to the Cambrian, we begin finding fossils of small, simple, multicellular organisms (for example: the Ediacaran fauna) and also fossils of what appear to be simple chloroplasts.


Proving Evolution: Post 1 - Dating Methods

First, a note on the title of the series of posts. Science does NOT "prove" things. Anything. Ever. (No, really... not anything). "Proof" is for math and alcohol. What we are really talking about here is "evidentially supported to the greatest extent manageable". But if you say that then people who don't understand science just declare "Aha! But you didn't PROVE it!" ...as if that was relevant. So, we end up with titles like this. Any science purists out ther who are outraged at the inexact terminology, my abject apologies.

Now, getting down to things. This is a series of posts I wrote up a long, long time ago while banging my head against the brick wall that is "people on the internet who believe in Creationism". I think it does a pretty decent job of covering a LOT of information while maintaining a balance between being not so technical the average non-scientific type can't understand it if they take a real shot at it... but technical enough that it remains accurate and not distorted by horrendous over-simplification.  I'll be throwing them up here over he next week or so.

Dating Methods

Carbon (C14) Dating:

C14 dating is used to date the remains of organic, air breathing organisms up to approximately 50,000 years old. While living these organisms breathe the atmosphere, which contains trace amounts of the radioactive isotope Carbon 14 that is constantly being produced in the upper atmosphere through neutron bombardment. So long as they are alive the C14 content of their bodies will remain in equilibrium with the C14 content of the atmosphere. When they die respiration ceases, along with the intake of any new quantities of C14. Over time the C14 decays with a half-life of 5568 years into N14. By measuring how much C14 remains un-decayed the time elapsed since the death of the organism can be determined.

A common misperception of C14 dating is that it relies on the assumption that atmospheric C14 levels remained constant in the past so that we can know how much C14 an organism started off with. While this was an assumption made when the technique was first developed about half a century ago it has not been the case for several decades. Historical atmospheric C14 concentrations have been charted and calibrated using both dendochronology and lake varves which incorporate organic sediment in their annual deposition layers. One particularly good example of this is Lake Suigetsu in Japan where cores have been drilled to a depth of 45,000 annual layers. Because of the layering process we have an independent count of exactly how old every layer is… and because the layers incorporate organic material (the remains of a surface algae which dies off every year and sinks to the bottom of the lake) each layer can be C14 dated as well, and using these two data points the atmospheric C14 content can be charted all the way back for the entire time span encompassed by the varve core. This data (cross-checked against multiple other sites and methods) then allows us to apply C14 dating to other sites already knowing how fluctuations in atmospheric C14 concentrations in the past will effect the results… and allowing us to calibrate out error that would otherwise be introduced due to those past fluctuations.



Well, I got started with the content creation then kind of slacked off for a while. To try and kick start things again I've hunted down some previous writings of mine from various discussion forums and will be putting them up here.

This one is on a subject that just recently came up again in another conversation I was having... which caused me to remember this post. I wrote this about two and a half years ago... my views on the subject are unchanged since then.

This is a topic I've wanted to address in greater detail for some time now. Let's start with a few examples of what "faith" is, as there are many different kinds.

1. "Faith" as a description of confidence in extremely reliable data. For example, I have faith the sun will rise tomorrow morning. The reason I have faith in this is because I have massive amounts of data available to me that inform me that this will occur barring an incredibly unlikely occurrence... like the sun exploding overnight or the space fairies halting the Earth's rotation. The sun has risen all 11,000+ days of my life to date, right on schedule, and I have no reason to suspect that pattern will be disrupted in the next 14 hours or so.

2. "Faith" as a description of well earned trust. For example, you can have faith that a good friend or close acquaintance will deal honestly and fairly with you. This is based on your experience of and familiarity with this person and their personality and behavior. Your judgment of their character. Really, you are expressing confidence in your own ability to evaluate the trustworthiness of another person when you encounter and interact with them.

3. "Faith" as an expresssion of loyalty and commitment. Usually to an individual or ideal which you have good reason to hold as worthy of support, as in 'keeping the faith'. You have evaluated and judged this person or principle and have come to the conclusion that it is worthy of your loyalty and efforts to advance it, and faithfully stand by it.

4. "Faith" as a description of an insistence on believing in something without regard for or even in direct opposition to any related information or evidence. For example, to cite some extreme cases, you can have faith that there is a spaceship carrying Jesus riding along and hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet and if you commit suicide while it passes your soul will float up to zoom around with Jesus in outer space. Or, you can have faith that food and water are unnecessary for your survival, and humans can survive by being photosynthetic or something. People clinging to this type of faith can usually be identified by statements such as "It doesn't matter what you say you can't change my mind, I hold my position through faith and my faith is unshakable!"


"Agnostic"... The Most Abused Word In The English Language

Well, probably. I don't have hard data or anything but if it's not number one it has to be in the top five.

If I were to tell you, the reader, that I was an agnostic I would put good money down that you would think I had just told you I was something that was somehow...somewhere... between an atheist and a theist. Because that is how everyone uses the word, despite the fact that that is ridiculous and nonsensical.

Here is how the words "atheist", "agnostic" and "theist" actually properly relate to each other:

Do you believe it is possible to KNOW if a diety exists?
Do you BELIEVE a diety exists?YES12
Now, depending on your answers to those two questions you are going to fall in one of those four boxes. And this is what you are as a result:

1: You are a theist.
2: You are a theist AND an agnostic.
3: You are an atheist.
4. You are an atheist AND an agnostic.

There... simple, right? And yet nobody gets this correct. It's incredibly annoying.


A Quick Note on Health Insurance and Free Markets

Having lived through the recent unpleasantness that was the public debate over health care reform in the US there are a lot of observations I could, and probably will, make. Number one on the list, and the focus of this post, is the bizarre level of blind faith a very large number people in the US place in the idea that just turning any economic problem over to "the market" will automatically fix it.

Before getting into why this idea is spectacularly wrong when it comes to things like health insurance, let me get something out of the way first.

1. No, I'm not a communist.

2. No, really, I'm not a communist.

3. I LIKE capitalism. It works really well for lots of things. If I got to build my very own custom-designed society from scratch and I had to figure out what system to put in place to keep its people supplied with basic commodities like food and clothing and transportation and books and televisions and little yellow rubber duckies for the bath, I'm going with the market. It's GREAT at that kind of thing.

Unfortunately, instead of treating it like the useful tool that it is and putting it to use doing things it's designed to do and then hanging it up on the wall when you're finished, there is this large segment of the US population (I'll call them... Republicans) that has decided to practically deify it and declare it's the right tool for ALL jobs economy related. And this is where we run into trouble. Because a free market *sucks* at handling insurance. Any insurance at all really... but especially something like health insurance. To illustrate why this is let's take a look at a very simple example of how market forces act on two different businesses.

The Creationist Mindset

This will be a quick one, just felt the need to comment on something.

After making my "people don't understand probability" post I was scanning the intertubes looking for relevant examples and found someone had written a letter to the editor all about how evolution was so unlikely, therefore we should be teaching creationism in schools.

I signed up to comment and... disagreed. In some moderate level of detail.

The response was for the letter writer to declare that I was an imposter. That "Grant" was not my real name. And to imply that I was there serving some shadowy agenda.

I am still unclear on who I was supposed to be if not myself... why this person I was supposed to be would disguise themselves as "Grant" (Does my name carry some kind of attached prestige which would lend weight to my arguments I'm not aware of)... what cause was supposed to have "sent" me... and why they would care to do such a thing. So I asked, employing levels of sarcasm that were perhaps excessive but really, really obvious.

The response was for the person in question to declare that I had admitted that I was not posting under my real identity (because I had asked why I, Richard Dawkins... or perhaps the ghost of Steven J Gould, would care to disguise myself as this "Grant" person) and they began basking in an apparent sense of validation that they were right about their conspiracy theory.

Now, my point here is that I could just dismiss this as an isolated incident of a crazy person on the Internet, except that this is the kind of mindset one needs to have in order to deny evolution in the first place. The belief that the entire world's scientific community is somehow engaged in some vast plot to make you believe evolution happened, for mysterious unexplained reasons. Which is... well... crazy.

For anyone interested, the exchange in question can be found here: (click me!) and the conspiracy theorist in question is the letter writer, Lance.


Popular Media Sucks At Science

If you wanted to look for a root cause of why the general public seems to often have serious issues with scientific literacy and understanding the true state of current scientific understanding of the world around us, look no further than the title of this post.

Now, I'm not criticising journalists for not being scientists. That's not their job, and I have no desire for it to be their job. What I would like, very much, is if they put a little more effort into making sure their readers kept this fact in mind whenever they wrote stories about science. Case in point...

Recently, in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B, there appeared a report on a study that had been conducted. The title of this report was "DNA Double Helices Recognize Mutual Sequence Homology in a Protein Free Environment"

It's highly technical, it's very complicated, and very very few people who are not geneticists are ever going to actaully read it or fully understand it if they tried. We're not going to make the attempt here, but I am going to produce a block of text from the conclusion of the report for anyone interested in seeing what it looks like, and for purposes of comparison to what we'll look at next:


People Don't Understand Probability

For my first substantive post here I'm going to take a look at an issue that's bugged me for some time. Reading a recent article written by Ervin Laszlo that once again demonstrated the problem is actually what finally pushed me to go ahead and start blogging.

The argument he presents is one a lot of people throw around without really understanding what they're saying. It can be basically summed up as "This thing happened... it was amazingly unlikely this thing happened by chance... therefore something must have caused/created/designed it." In order to illustrate why that article is completely wrong I usually find it's easier to deal with a different example of highly improbable outcomes occurring.

The odds of winning the Powerball lottery purchasing a single ticket are roughly 1 in 195 million. Let's say last week Joe Lucky bought one ticket and won the jackpot. The odds of him doing this by chance were, as stated, 195 million to 1. That's ridiculously unlikely. Do we therefore conclude the lottery was somehow designed to make him win since it was so unlikely that he would win by chance?

No, we don't. Most people understand that we don't. What most people do not fully understand is the reason we don't.

Kickoff post.

I've been mulling over whether I should create a blog or not for years now, and I've finally decided to jump in and see what happens. Before I start doing my part to fill the internet with the opinions of people who sometimes kind of know what they're talking about a few details about myself.

I'm 32 years old, male, married, and a systems engineer at a semiconductor equipment manufacturer in Silicon Valley.

I'm an atheist, socially liberal, economically conservative. For anyone putting that in the perspective of American politics no, economically conservative does NOT mean I economically agree with Republicans... who wouldn't know economic conservatism if they were clubbed over the head with it. I'm not planning on restricting my posting on this blog to any one particular theme, but you can probably expect me to do a lot of spouting off about religion and politics. One of my personal pet subjects of discussion is evolutionary theory so expect to see that subject coming up relatively often.

That about covers the basics, I'll let my impending rambling and ranting fill in the details.