Header 1

Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Sunday, May 19, 2024

Scoring Bunk and Baloney in Science Literature

Science literature is very heavily infested with bunk and baloney. But how can you detect the level of bunk and baloney and BS in a particular piece of science literature? I offer here an informal system in which each of particular sins earns the article or paper a single point. When the total of these points reaches a level higher than five or ten, you have a good sign that the article or paper is probably bunk or baloney. 

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Phrase "Scientists Know" That Does Not Correspond to Direct Observations

An extremely bad defect in scientific literature is to claim that scientists know something they do not actually know, because no one ever observed it. For example, we often hear these claims:

  • The claim that scientists know that most matter is dark matter.
  • The claim that scientists know that most of the universe consists of dark energy.
  • The claim that scientists know that chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor.
  • The claim that scientists know that the mind is a product of the brain.
  • The claim that scientist know that memories are stored in the brain. 

Scientists do not know any of these things, because they do not correspond to direct observations. For example, no one has ever directly observed dark matter or dark energy, and neither of these concepts has any place in the Standard Model of Physics. And no one has ever discovered school-learned knowledge or episodic memories by microscopically studying brain tissue. 

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Term "Building Blocks of Life"

Scientific literature is constantly misusing and abusing the phrase "building blocks of life." The very term is an improper one, because living things are internally dynamic to the highest degree, with a constant replacement of tiny parts (protein molecules and cells) occurring within an organism; so a comparison to a structure with static "building block" parts is inappropriate. If anyone refers to "building blocks of life," there are only two half-honest ways to use the term: (1) when referring to macroscopic life, the "building blocks of life" would be cells; (2) when referring to microscopic one-celled life, the "building blocks of life" would be organelles or their constituents (protein molecules). Since neither proteins nor organelles are simple units like brick building blocks but instead very complex structures requiring thousands of well-arranged atoms, it would never be more than half-honest to refer to such things as "building blocks of life." But routinely science literature will refer to some low-level chemicals such as amino acids or nucleotides as being "building blocks of life" when they are no such things (being at best mere component parts of the component parts of life).   A particularly egregious abuse of language occurs when science literature mentions some organic chemicals that are not necessary for life and are neither the building blocks of life nor the building blocks of the building blocks of life, and such literature refers to such chemicals as "building blocks of life." Such misstatements occur often in astrobiology literature and origin of life literature. 

building blocks of life deceit

Add 1 Point for Any Attempt to Pass Off Hi-Tech Scientist Manual Manipulations As Something Giving Us Hints About the Origin of Life

A very ridiculous phenomenon in scientific literature is when some press release describes some scientist fiddling that uses ridiculously unnatural glass lab equipment and very many purposeful experimenter interventions, and when this is passed off as something that tells us about what happened naturally when there was no such fancy equipment and no such purposeful goal-seeking experimenters. 

origin of life experiment
Can you see the fallacy?

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Term "Dark Matter"

Scientists speculate that most of the matter in the universe is some invisible form of matter not yet discovered. They call this "dark matter." But that is a misleading term which implies visible matter that is dark. The "dark matter" imagined by cosmologists is invisible.  A non-misleading term cosmologists should be using for such a possibility is "invisible matter." Why don't scientists use the honest term here? Because then we might get an idea of how much they are appealing to invisible causal realities, and realize how they are throwing stones from glass houses when they scold people for believing in events such as spirit manifestations caused by invisible realities. 

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Term "Dark Energy"

Scientists speculate that most of the energy in the universe is some invisible form of energy not yet discovered. They call this "dark energy." But that is a misleading term which implies visible energy that is dark. The "dark energy" imagined by cosmologists is invisible, and cosmologists should be calling it "invisible energy."

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Term "Earth-like Planet" in Reference to Some Known Planet Outside of Our Solar System

Many Earth-sized planets have been discovered, but no Earth-like planet has been discovered outside of our solar system. We should not be calling a planet "Earth-like" unless life was discovered, and life has not been discovered on any other planet. Scientists and science journalists very often describe a merely Earth-sized planet as an "Earth-like planet." Such language is very misleading. 

Add 1 Point for Any Language Describing the Human Mind as  Merely "Consciousness"

People who use the term "consciousness" to describe the human mind and its experiences are engaging in what can be called shrink-speaking or shadow speaking. Shadow speaking is when you speak of something in the most diminutive or reductive terms, to try to make that thing sound as if it is a mere shadow of itself.  The most diminutive term you could possibly use to describe a human mind and its experiences is to use the term "consciousness," for the same term can be used to refer to an insect, which is conscious of its surroundings. Human minds are gigantically multifaceted realities with a huge set of diverse capabilities, something vastly more than mere "consciousness." 

consciousness

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Term "Astrobiologist"

Until extraterrestrial life is discovered, the term "astrobiologist" must be classified as a misleading term, as it suggests or implies that extraterrestrial life has been discovered.  It would be less misleading if people referred to astrobiologists as "extraterrestrial life theorists," which would correctly signify the speculative nature of their studies. 

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Term "Body Plan"

The term "body plan" is a profoundly misleading term that biologists love to use, a term that opens the door to deceptions about DNA. In biology literature the term "body plan" has a very limited meaning, something vastly different from a complete plan for constructing an organism. According to a scientific paper "a body plan is a suite of characters shared by a group of phylogenetically related animals at some point during their development." The wikipedia.org article on "body plan" tells us this: "A body plan, Bauplan (German plural Baupläne), or ground plan is a set of morphological features common to many members of a phylum of animals." 

According to this definition, all chordates (including men, bears, dogs and fish) have the same body plan. So when biologists talk about "the human body plan" they
are merely referring to the common characteristics of all chordates, including men, bears, dogs and fish:  basically just the existence of a backbone and bilateral symmetry (having the same things on both sides of the body).  They are not referring to the structure of the 200 types of cells in the human body, or the structure of internal organs, and are not referring to the dynamic intricacies of human physiology. But anyone hearing the term "body plan" will think the term referred to a complete specification of a human body.  So, most misleadingly, biologists may say that this or that "determines the body plan," when all they mean is the beginning of a bilateral organism with a backbone, something a thousand times simpler than the final product of the internally dynamic and enormously organized human body.  This is as misleading as someone saying that he has built a starship, when he has merely built a boat in the shape of a star. 

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Term "Scientific Consensus" About Any Controversial Topic, or Any Claim That "Scientists Agree" About Such a Topic

The term "scientific consensus" is one of the most abused terms in the world of scientific academia. Some leading dictionaries define a consensus as an agreed opinion among a group of people. The first definition of "consensus" by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is "general agreement: unanimity." But scientists have very often referred to a "scientific consensus" on some particular topic when there was no good evidence that such a consensus existed, and quite a bit of evidence that no consensus actually exists.  

Some scientist advancing a new theory will start to say "more and more" scientists are accepting his theory. Once he starts to get a few people adopting his ideas, he may claim that "there is a growing trend" towards accepting his theory.  If some small fraction of scientists adopts his theory, he may claim this as a "growing consensus." Then if maybe half of scientists adopt his theory, he may claim this as a "consensus."  It is easy to see why such misleading statements occur. The more popular you make a theory sound, the more people will be likely to adopt it. 

I may note that claims of either a scientific consensus or anything remotely approaching a scientific consensus tend to be extremely unreliable.  The only way to reliably measure how many scientists believe in a theory is to do a secret ballot of scientists, in a well-designed poll offering a fair statement of belief alternatives, and including an answer of "I don't know" or "I'm not sure." Such secret ballots (of large numbers of scientists) never occur or almost never occur. 

Add 1 Point for Any Claim That Some Scientist Dogma Is "Not Controversial" Whenever There Are Any Respectable Scientists or Scholars Disagreeing With Such a Dogma

A variation of abuses of the word "scientific consensus" is to refer to some unproven dogma, and claim that is "not controversial." The term "controversial" is defined as "giving rise or likely to give rise to public disagreement." Anything on which there is public disagreement by serious people is a controversial topic.  It is incorrect to claim, for example,  that Darwinian evolution or man-made global warming or brain-stored memories are ideas that are "not controversial."  

Add 1 Point for Any Claim of Brain Regions "Lighting Up" or "Activating" During Particular Mental Activities

All regions in the brain are constantly active. When scientists do scans of brains, they typically find differences in activity of less than half of one percent (about 1 part in 200) between one region and another. But science writers often refer to such very slight differences in activity as cases of some particular brain region "lighting up"  or some particular brain region "activating." That is misleading, as it suggests a large difference in activity, when the actual difference in activity is only very tiny. 

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Word "Skull," When Used to Describe Bone Fragments

The word "skull" is a word with a very exact definition. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a skull as "the skeleton of the head of a vertebrate forming a bony or cartilaginous case that encloses and protects the brain and chief sense organs and supports the jaws."  Paleontologists and their press workers routinely misuse the word "skull," by using the term to refer to small bone fragments believed to be from a skull. Calling such fragments a skull is often as misleading as using the term "automobile" to refer to a bumper, a seat and a tire collected from a junk yard.

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Word "Genetically Determined" Whenever There Is Mere Evidence Something Is Genetically Influenced

Scientists and science writers very often claim that some outcome is "genetically determined" when there is merely evidence that the outcome is genetically influenced.  There is a huge difference between a first thing merely influencing or affecting a second thing (merely having some effect on it), and the first thing determining the second thing (being the main cause of that thing).  For example, the weather influences how a car looks, but the weather does not determine how a car looks (a car's look is determined by the manufacturing process used to create it).  We do not have any evidence that either human mental traits or the structure of the human body is genetically determined. Because genes merely specify low-level chemicals such as protein molecules, we have the strongest reason for thinking that human mental traits and the physical structure of humans cannot be determined by genes. All that we have is evidence for a much weaker claim: the claim that human mental traits and the physical structure of humans is influenced or affected by genes.

Add 1 Point for Any Claim That Scientists Follow Some Special Algorithm Called "the Scientific Method"

The myth that scientists follow some algorithm called "the scientific method" is one of the most long-standing myths of scientist culture. Statements of how this "scientific method" works vary widely but a typical description will include steps such as this:

  1. Formulate a hypothesis
  2. Design an experiment to test the hypothesis
  3. Communicate results whether the experiment supports the hypothesis
  4. If the experiment fails to support the hypothesis, formulate a new hypothesis.
Scientists do their work in a hundred different ways, and most do not follow such a method. Descriptions of the so-called "scientific method" make it look like scientists are ready to discard a hypothesis when it fails to be supported by an experiment.  The reality is that belief traditions arise in scientific communities, and scientists tend to very stubbornly cling to such belief traditions, regardless of observational or experimental results.  When scientists get a result that conflicts with their belief traditions (which may include some theory), scientists typically handle this in ways that do not involve abandoning the theory they are testing.  Such ways may include:
  • Creatively interpreting the negative result to make it look like something supporting the hypothesis being tested.
  • Slightly changing the hypothesis to slightly respond to whatever result was obtained.
  • Questioning the competence or the analysis of the scientists producing a result conflicting with the theory. 
  • Playing around with the data in some statistical way until the negative result can be claimed as a positive result in favor of the hypothesis (or a neutral result consistent with the hypothesis).
  • Dismissing the result conflicting with the hypothesis by special pleading, such as claiming that far-above-chance results in tests of psi or ESP were produced by subjects cheating, or claiming that there was experimenter error or equipment error.  
  • Simply filing away the results without trying to publish them, and retrying the experiment, perhaps with some modification that will make the experiment much more likely to produce a seemingly positive result. 

Add 1 Point for Any Claim That Humans Are "Hard-Wired" to Act in Some Particular Way, or That Humans Act in Some Way Because of "Neural Circuitry"

The term "hard wiring" is an old mechanical term meaning to be determined by a particular arrangement of wires. Before modern electronics and software programming, the behavior of certain mechanical devices such as switchboards were determined by arrangements of wires, particular arrangements being called types of "hard wiring." Although neuroscientists sometimes speak as if investigating arrangements of wire-like components in the brain might shed light on human behavior, no one has ever shown that any human behavior can be explained by some arrangement of such components in the brain. It is therefore very misleading to claim that humans are "hard-wired" to do any particular thing. 

The very term "neural circuit" is misleading. A circuit is an unbroken electrical path, typically a roughly circular path that starts and ends in the same place. Neural pathways are not circular or even rather circular, they do not start and end in the same place, and they have a huge number of breaks, the breaks of synaptic gaps. Therefore, sections of brain tissue should not be referred to as "neural circuits." As for the the idea that some behavior or mental state or mental trait can be explained by some arrangement of tissue in the brain, such an idea has no empirical support. 

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Word "Regulate" or "Control" or "Sculpt" or "Mold" or "Direct" When Used About Genes or Chemicals

Chemicals inside the body are mindless things, and it is misleading to refer to them using action words that suggest they are intelligent agents. The quote below in a biologist's essay suggests that there is a massive problem of biologists using verbs in an inappropriate way when describing genes:

In scientific, as well as popular descriptions today, genes 'act,' 'behave,' 'direct,' 'control,' 'design,' 'influence,' have 'effects,' are 'responsible for,' are 'selfish,' and so on, as if minds of their own with designs and intentions. But at the same time, a counter-narrative is building, not from the media but from inside science itself."

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Term "Natural Selection" or "Selection Pressure"

Selection is a term meaning a choice by a conscious agent. The so-called "natural selection" imagined by those who use such a term does not actually involve any selection or choice.  The "natural selection" imagined by biologists merely involves a survival-of-the-fittest effect, in which fitter organisms survive longer or reproduce more. The duplicity of using the term "natural selection" for some imagined effect that is not actually selection is a word trick that was started by Charles Darwin, who coined the term "natural selection."

When biologists use the term "selection pressure," they are simply using a variant of the term "natural selection." The term "selection pressure" is doubly-misleading, first because there is no actual selection involved in so-called selection pressure (selection being an act by a conscious agent), and second because there is no actual pressure involved.  

Add I Point for Any Use of the Term "Early Human" Referring to Any Organisms That Did Not Use Symbols or Language

The defining characteristic of humans is their use of symbols.  The term "early human" is very often misleadingly used in science literature, to refer to pre-human species which have never been proven to have used symbols. Such language is used to try to bolster claims that species arising before humans were ancestors of humans.  A person who lacks any good evidence that Species X existing before humans evolved into humans may simply take the shortcut of calling this Species X an "early human" species.  But if there is no good evidence that Species X used symbols, then it should not be called an "early human" species. 

Add I Point for Any Use of the Terms "Genetic Blueprint" or "Genetic Program" or "Genetic Recipe"

What I call the Great DNA Myth is the myth that inside DNA is some blueprint or recipe that specifies how to make a human body.  

There are various ways in which this false idea is stated, all equally false:

  • Someone may describe DNA or the genome as a blueprint for an organism.
  • Someone may describe DNA or the genome as a recipe for making an organism.
  • Someone may describe DNA or the genome as a program for building an organism.
  • Someone may claim that DNA or genomes specify the anatomy of an organism. 
  • Someone may claim that genotypes (the DNA in organisms) specify phenotypes (the observable characteristics of an organism).
  • Someone may claim that genotypes (the DNA in organisms) "map"  phenotypes (the observable characteristics of an organism) or "map to" phenotypes.
  • Someone may claim that DNA contains "all the instructions needed to make an organism."
  • Someone may claim that there is a "genetic architecture" for an organism's body or some fraction of that body. 
  • Using a little equation, someone may claim that a "genotype plus the environment equals the phenotype," a formulation as false  as the preceding statements, since we know of nothing in the environment that would cause phenotypes to arise from genotypes that do not specify such phenotypes. 

All of these versions are equally false, because DNA only contains low-level chemical information (such as which sequences of amino acids make up polypeptide chains that are the starting points of protein molecules), not high-level structural information Many biology authorities have confessed this reality, and at the post here you can read statements by more than twenty biology experts stating that DNA is not a blueprint or a program or a recipe for building an organism. 

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Phrase "Essential for" Whenever a Reference to Something That Might Exist Without the Item Claimed to Be "Essential For" That Thing

In the world of neuroscience we often have incorrect claims that this or that protein or this or that brain part is "essential for" some cognitive ability.  In some cases experiments have shown that the cognitive ability continues to exist even when the supposedly "essential" thing has been removed. 

Add 1 Point for Any Use of the Phrases "Breakthrough" or "Sheds New Light" or "Sheds Light" or Similar Phrases, Whenever the Writer Fails to Justify Such Claims (as Almost Always Happens)

Certain laudatory terms are stock phrases of press release writers trying to make unimportant science research sound very important. Almost always the writer using such phrases fails to justify the use of such phrases. It seems that these days scientists are doing pretty much nothing to correct inaccurate press release boasts about their research. 


With a wink and a nod...

Add 1 Point for Any Claim That Something Has Made Scientists More Hopeful About Achieving Some Grand Task

When writers cannot report that scientists have achieved some task, they often regard to weaker substitute claims, such as the claim that some research has made scientists "more hopeful" or "more optimistic" about achieving some grand goal, or that some research has put scientists "on the brink" or "on the edge" of achieving such a goal. Such claims are usually groundless. For example, for at least fifty years we have had completely groundless claims that this or that experiment has made scientists "more hopeful" about being able to explain the origin of life. 

Add 1 Point for Any References to Brains When Research Did Not Involve Brains

Some people have the erroneous idea that neuroscience research tends to be more reliable than psychology research. So they will write prose that uses terms such as "your brain" or "the human brain" or "our brains" when referring to purely psychology results that did not involve studying brains.  Such language is misleading. For example, if a test merely shows that people remember movies better when movies have violent deaths, there is no justification for a headline such as "Your Brain Remembers Movies Better If They Are Bloodier." 

Add 1 Point for Any Claim in a Scientific Article That There Are Parallel Universes or Any Quantum Mechanics Basis for Believing in Such a Thing

The speculation that there are parallel universes in which there are an infinite number of different copies of you (each slightly different) is Fake Physics not real physics or real science. 

Add 1 Point for Any Scientific Article That Starts Out as a Failure Confession and Then Becomes a "But Now There May Be a Solution" Claim

It seems that scientific literature almost never gives us candid statements of ignorance. It would be very good if we were to often see articles with titles such as "We Don't Actually Understand Human Origins" or "We Don't Know How Minds Arise" or "How Human Bodies Arise From a Tiny Zygote Is Still a Mystery." But we almost never see such articles. It is not rare, however, to see a type of article that starts out as a confession that all of the previous theories have failed, but which then turns into a kind of "but now a team of scientists think they have the solution" article. Almost always the new theory announced is not really any solution to the problem, and suffers from the same type of defects in previous attempts to solve the problem. 

Add 1 Point for Any Scientific Article That Starts Out Claiming Some General Insight About Mind or Memory, Revealing Near Its End That It Involved Only Some Mouse Experiment

News articles claiming some new finding or insight about minds or memory are typically written to give you the impression that something was found out about human minds or human memory. Very often you will find out near the end of the article that the supposed insight or claimed finding comes from some experiment that only involved mice. Because neuroscientists these days are notorious for engaging in Questionable Research Practices when doing experiments involving mice, practices such as using way-too-few study group sizes, any new research based on mere experiments with mice is 90% likely to be worthless. 

inadequate sample sizes in neuroscience

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Spookiest Years, Part 17: The Years 1885-1889

In previous posts in this intermittently appearing "Spookiest Years" series on this blog (herehereherehereherehereherehere, here, herehere,  hereherehere, here and hereI had looked at some very spooky events reported between 1848 and 1880. Let me pick up the thread and discuss some spooky events reported in the years 1885 to 1889.

In the year 1885 the periodical Golden Gate had in its August 1 edition on page 4 a report of the phenomenon of slate writing, the mysterious appearance of writing on clean slates. A writer describes a visit to the home of a young medium named Fred Evans.  We read this:

"Two slates were taken, and ...they were cleaned with a wet sponge and wiped dry, to show that they had not been prepared in any way. They were then placed together, with a number of bits of pencil between, and sealed with sealing wax at the edges, all under the supervision of a committee, of which the writer was one, and who placed a private mark upon each slate whereby he could not be deceived in the matter of their identification. The Committee then placed their hands upon the slates, along with those of Mr. Evans and Miss Hance. Soon the pencil tips were heard fluttering between the slates.. Mr. Evans then took the sealed slates and held them successively upon the shoulder of each person present. The writing could be heard almost instantly. Thus messages were written to every one present excepting two, including two messages to the writer, numbering fourteen messages in all, all written in different hands, and generally in facsimile of the writing of the persons they were supposed to represent. The messages were written in patchwork form all over the surface of the lower slate, some of them so small that they could be covered with a dime, and so finely written that they could scarcely be deciphered. Each message was a test of spirit identity to the person to whom it was written, and some of them were of  a very surprising character. At the conclusion of the writing the seals were found intact, and were broken by the writer, the messages appearing within as stated."

The editor of the Golden Gate (James J. Owen) would eventually write a book on the mysterious slate writing observed in the presence of Fred Evans, a book that can be read online using the link here. On a page of that book we have an example produced in one of the sessions with Evans, where we see something matching the description above:

paranormal slate writing

On page 16 of he book Owen says he had "had hundreds of experimental seances with this psychic [Fred Evans]." On the same page he recalls " one instance where some twelve hundred words were finely written over the surfaces of two large slates in what seemed to us an incredibly short space of time."  On the same page Owen states this, "We have often, in his presence, sent out our thoughts to the spirit we would like to communicate with, and straightway the message would appear under our hands, and frequently in writing identical with that of the mortal whose spirit we had evoked."

In the next two pages Owen claims that Fred Evans was in touch with two spirits, one named John Gray, and another an artist spirit named Stanley St. Clair. On page 18 Owen states this:

"The frequent writing in colors that appears upon the slates, and that apparently without the use of colored crayons, is a most mysterious phase of this phenomenon. We have obtained as many as thirty-three shades of colors on a single slate. This color writing, we are aware, is not peculiar to Mr. Evans' guides alone, but we have never known a psychographist through whom the colors came in such great variety and profusion."

On the same page Owen states this:

"We called at the residence of Mr. Evans on Tuesday evening, December 27, 1892, when, under the usual crucial conditions, a personal message was written to the author, signed by eleven of his friends in spirit life, and all in different shades of color — some of them most delicate and exquisite. There were in all twelve shades of color upon the slate. The writing was produced under our own hands, no mortal hand touching the slate except those of the writer and his wife. The names and message are all of a personal character, but its chief merit to investigators is in the variety of colors, and the fact that they are written over a cross first placed upon the slate with a common slate pencil, to show that there was no false bottom to, or chemical preparation of, the slate, as jugglers or skeptics are disposed to assert."

On page 25 of the book we have this statement (signed by three witnesses) of seemingly paranormal events occurring in 1885:

"We, the undersigned committee, chosen by the audience at a public exhibition of independent slate-writing, given by Mr. Fred Evans at Washington Hall, on Sunday, June 21, 1885, testify that the slates used were washed and sealed in our presence and to our satisfaction, and during the time the slates were in use they were not removed from our sight. We distinctly heard the fragments of pencil between the slates writing, whilst holding them in our hands. When the writing was finished, which was denoted by three raps on the slates, Mr. R. B. Hall was selected by the audience to break the seals on the slates. When separated, one of them was completely covered with writing in patchwork form, embracing thirty communications, all in different handwriting. Each member of the Committee received messages signed by relatives or departed friends; the remainder of the messages was recognized by different persons in the audience. The exhibition was given in daylight before an audience of about 400 persons, and under conditions which excluded all chance of trickery or fraud.

Dr. Thos. C. Kellev, 946 Mission St.

Mrs. F. C. Lane, 3010 Folsom St.

William Kelly, 202 Second St."

On pages 28-29 of the book, we get an account telling us Fred Evans did very well in public tests of the slate writing phenomenon, tests held in San Jose, California before a large audience that included writers from newspapers. We are told that the San Jose News wrote up an account on March 14, 1887, and that the San Jose Times wrote up an account on March 15, 1887.  I cannot find the editions for these dates, but would like to do so.

But on the front page of the May 8, 1886 edition of Golden Gate, we do have an account of a meeting with Fred Evans occurring on April 2, 1886. We are told the following:

"There were present at this seance fourteen persons in all, besides the medium and his wife. Six of those present were entire strangers to the medium, who also had no previous knowledge as to the proposed attendance of any members of the circle, with the exception of the writer and two others. There were no ballots written, and care was taken that the names of the strangers present should not be made known to the medium. Therefore no introductions were had; nevertheless, all present, except two, received messages upon the slate, some receiving two and three. The names given of the spirit friends of the persons unknown to the medium, is a most convincing test of spirit power.

The manner of the writing was as follows: A committee of two was appointed to see that the slates were properly cleaned and sealed. This was done first by thoroughly rubbing the slates with a damp cloth, and then, after placing a few minute bits of pencil between them, they were sealed together with sealing-wax at the edges. The committee then tied a cord around the slates and hung them to the gas jet in the center of the room. In a few moments the rapid moving of the pencil tips was distinctly heard, and in about four minutes light rapping announced that the writing was completed. The committee then removed the cord and seals, when the inner surface of one of the slates was found written over, as seen above."

The paper has the image below, which it says is a facsimile of what was found on a slate. The image is reproduced on page 50 of the Owens book. We are told Evans never touched the slate. 

paranormal slate writing
Owen states that on September 25, 1886 he observed a blank slate that seemed to mysteriously receive writing in more than nine different languages. We read this:

" He [Evans] then handed the slate to us, and we (Mrs. Owen and the writer) were both fully satisfied that there was no writing upon the slate. From that moment the slate never left our hands, nor was it for an instant out of our sight. A small bit of slate pencil was placed upon the table, and we placed the slate over it, with our four hands resting thereon. Mr. Evans, sitting upon the opposite side of the table, touched the outer edge of the slate frame for a few moments, and then removed his hands entirely. In about five minutes loud raps signalled that the writing was finished. We raised the slate and found the under side covered as seen in the engraving."

We are told that the result was the slate shown below.

paranormal writing in multiple languages
On page 45 we are given this translation of the writings:

"German — I have found an easy way for making known to science the proof of the return of the dead to this earth, and I shall soon give it to the world. Professor Zollner.

Italian— I am glad to be able to write you a few lines to aid in proving the truth of a future life. Count Rozzia.

French — Monsieur Gray. — I have acquitted myself of your commission. M. Fremont.

Greek — I come to say this — seek for better things — think well of all. Socrates.

Spanish — My Dear Friend, Sr. Don Orven: — Rich or wise as a man may be, don't let him be proud. It is from a King, Agesilaus, we have that grand maxim, 'that one is not great only as far as he is just.'  Don Juan Alviso.

Norwegian— I am here. — Herr Holle.

Chinese — I write a few words for you. — Lu Yeun.

Japanese — How do you do? — Oyama Centura.

Hebrew — [This is a name of a book, describing the killing of animals according to the Jewish rites.]"

We are told on page 48 that the young Evans knew none of these languages. 

On page 4 of the June 4 1887 edition of Golden Gate, we have an account of a session with Fred Evans that occurred only several days earlier, on May 27, 1887. We are told, "The most remarkable seance for independent slate-writing we ever witnessed occurred on Friday morning, May 27th, in presence of the eminent scientist. Dr. Alfred Russell Wallace, his brother, Mr. John Wallace, of Stockton, Dr. David Wooster, one of our leading physicians and a member of the Academy of Sciences, and the writer— four persons in all besides the medium, Mr. Fred Evans." We are told, "The slates were all thoroughly cleaned and examined by the brothers, and were, from, first to last, directly under their hands and sight." We are told, "All being done in the light and above board, with the slates in the hands of the investigator, there is not the slightest suggestion or possibility of deception." We have a quote from Alfred Russel Wallace saying, "I have never on any occasion witnessed phenomena of so wonderful a character appear with such rapidity and in a manner so entirely free from suspicion," and a quote from his brother saying, "I agree with the above remarks of my brother." 

Pages 61-92 of Owen's book deals with a tour Fred Evans took (accompanied by Owen) throughout cities and towns of southern California in the spring of 1887. We read quite a few newspaper quotes by reporters who sound impressed after attending public exhibitions in which mysterious slate writing was witnessed in the presence of Evans, sometimes before an audience of hundreds.  We are given this example of the mysterious output, which we are told was produced under test conditions under the direction of a committee. The figure depicted is Benjamin Rush, a figure in early American history. A person looking at the Wikipedia.org article on Benjamin Rush will see that the portrait and the signature are close to those shown in that article. 

paranormal portrait

Later in the book we have an extensive account of Fred Evan's journey to Australia, where he underwent extensive testing before committees and audiences in places like Melbourne. On page 180 this impressive-sounding testimony is quoted:

"Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, May 8, 1889.

We, the undersigned, do hereby testify that we and each of us have investigated the phenomenon of independent slate-writing, occurring through the mediumship of Mr. Fred Evans, of San Francisco, Cal., U. S. A., and have obtained writing on the inner surfaces of slates that we and each of us have furnished ourselves, and which were not for a moment permitted to leave our sight.

The messages appearing thereon were always signed by the names of our departed relatives and friends, and information given that we are sure the medium could not have had any previous knowledge of whatever.

Whilst many of us are not Spiritualists, yet we and each of us agree that the messages appearing between our slates were placed there by some invisible intelligent power, independent of the medium.

SIGNATURES.

John Williams, Grain Dealer, Stock Street, Coburg, Victoria.

Edwin Gill, Justice of Peace, Balaclava, Victoria.

James T. Praagst, Government Land Office, E. Melbourne, Victoria.

R. Stewart, Esq., Bourke Street, Melbourne, Victoria.

Charles C. Bell, Esq., 4 Gordon Terrace, Mary Street, St. Kilda, Victoria.

John Carson, Esq., Kew, Victoria.

W. B. Rodier, Justice of Peace, ' Rougemont,' St. James' Park, Hawthorn.

John Henshaw, Manufacturer, Council Street, Clifton Hill, Victoria.

Thomas Martin, Manufacturer, 122 Rokeby Street, Collingwood, Victoria.

Richard Bond, Builder, Carpenter Street, Middle Brighton, Victoria.

Wm. Overton, Esq.

John Melville, Accountant, 24 Shiel Street, N. Melbourne, Victoria.

William Jackson, Builder, Armadale, Victoria.

E. Sharpe, Illawarra Road, Hawthorn, Victoria.

Daniel Clay, 33 Michael Street, N. Fitzroy, Victoria.

M. Bond, Middle Brighton, Victoria.

William Brown, 47 Napier Street, E. Melbourne, Victoria.

E. L. Melville, Shell Street, North Melbourne, Victoria.

E. Overton, Melbourne, Victoria."

On page 182 we have an equally enthusiastic testimony by an equally long list of named witnesses living around Sydney, Australia. The witnesses state, "We are satisfied that the manifestations of spirit or direct writing witnessed by us through your mediumship were beyond the possibility of fraud or deception."

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Healthy, Semi-Healthy and Unhealthy Ways Scientists Can Respond to Evidence and Arguments Against Their Theories

Scientists love to create and defend theories that they claim are solutions to grand mysteries of nature. For a certain type of creative scientist, it is a very enjoyable activity to create a new theory that can be proclaimed as some grand solution to a long-standing mystery of nature. Other scientists (often much less creative scientists) love to play the role of defending some popular theory against challenges. How do such scientists respond to people presenting evidence and arguments against their beloved theories? There are healthy types of responses, semi-healthy types of responses, and  unhealthy types of responses. 

Healthy Response #1: The Simple Sparse Auxiliary Hypothesis

An auxiliary hypothesis is something added to a theory to handle some objection. When an auxiliary hypothesis is simple and rather sparse, then adding it to a theory need not damage the theory's credibility.  For example, suppose you have the theory that UFOs are spaceships from another planet. Then suppose someone objects that most reported UFOs are not all that big, but that to accomplish interstellar travel would require a spaceship that is very big. You can respond to this objection by introducing a fairly sparse auxiliary hypothesis. You simply maintain that when UFOs are seen, they are usually smaller exploratory craft which come from a much larger unseen "mother ship" large enough to travel across interstellar space.  That's a fairly sparse auxiliary hypothesis that seems rather plausible. Humans themselves have experience in building landing craft that are moved around by larger units designed purely for traveling through space. For example, the rover vehicles that NASA lands on Mars are carried to Mars by much larger craft.  The rockets on a rover vehicle are purely for landing on Mars, and don't take the rover vehicle to Mars. 

Unhealthy Response #1: The Extravagant or Overweight Auxiliary Hypothesis, Introduced for Purely "Ad Hoc" Reasons

An unhealthy response by a scientist can occur if he tries to defend his theory by introducing some hypothesis that can be called extravagant or overweight. For example, when astrophysicists were confronted with observations suggesting that the existing theory of gravitation did not correctly predict the rotation speed of stars around the centers of galaxies, astrophysicists created the theory of dark matter, which postulated that the average galaxy is surrounded by a halo of invisible matter heavier than all the matter in such a galaxy. This was a purely "ad hoc" auxiliary hypothesis. The Standard Model of Physics gave no warrant for believing in such invisible dark matter. The dark matter hypothesis meant having to resort to a claim that most of the matter in the universe is invisible, an extravagant claim.  A similar situation occurred when astrophysicists responded to a claimed discovery that the universe's expansion was accelerating. Astrophysicists then introduced the "ad hoc" hypothesis of dark energy, that almost all of the mass-energy in the universe is some invisible type of mass-energy called dark energy. The Standard Model of Physics gave no warrant for believing in such invisible dark energy. For a discussion of how dark matter and dark energy claims seem to be examples of unhealthy scientific activity, you can read the paper here. Nowadays the worst example of an extravagant "ad hoc" auxiliary hypothesis is the claim of the multiverse, that there are an infinite or near-infinite number of universes.  Such a hypothesis was introduced solely for the "ad hoc" reason of trying to explain away evidence that our universe has very precise fine-tuning of a type that no random universe would ever have.  The claim of a multiverse actually does nothing to explain away such evidence, for reasons discussed here and here

scientist speculation

Unhealthy Response #2: Dismiss the Evidence or Case Against the Theory by Claiming That It Is the Reigning Theory

This occurs when a scientist responds to some evidence or case against his theory by appealing to its popularity. Often this unhealthy response occurs in combination with unwarranted or unsubstantiated claims about the popularity of the theory. Scientists are notorious about abusing the word "consensus" in referring to theories. Consensus is a word with multiple meanings, and may be defined as either a unanimous agreement in which everyone holds the same opinion, or merely something believed by a majority. Claims of a consensus of scientific opinion in support of a theory are usually poorly founded and often inaccurate. The only way to reliably measure the opinion of scientists is to do well-designed secret ballot polls including "I don't know" options, and such polls are almost never done.  A scientist claiming a consensus in favor of his theory will typically not even have convincing evidence that most scientists believe in his theory. 

Unhealthy Response #3: Dismiss the Evidence or Case Against the Theory by Claiming That There Is No Substitute Explanation

This occurs when a scientist responds to some evidence or case against his theory by claiming or implying or insinuating that we must keep believing in the theory because there is no other explanation for what the theory tries to explain.  This usually involves the fallacious assumption that scientists cannot go from saying "I understand this phenomenon by means of a theory popular among scientists" to saying "scientists once thought they understood this matter, but now it is clear they do not." There is no reason why such a transition cannot occur, and when such transitions do occur, it is a sign that science is acting in a healthy way.  Often the "there's no alternative" claim is untrue, and the situation is that there is an alternative, but one that scientists would prefer not to believe. For example, it may be claimed that there's no alternative to believing that humans evolved through an accumulation of random mutations. There certainly are alternatives, such as believing that man originated with the help of purposeful activity by a superhuman power. 

Semi-Healthy Response #1: Make a "Not Very Worried" Response to the Evidence or Case Against the Theory 

This occurs when a scientist confesses that there is some force or truth in the evidence or case against the theory, and then tries to minimize the problem by describing this conflict as a mere "potential problem" for the theory, or perhaps a "cloud on the horizon" for the theory, or a "possible worry for the theory." 

Semi-Healthy Response #2: Make a "We're Working on a Fix" Response to the Evidence or Case Against the Theory 

This occurs when a scientist confesses that there is some force or truth in the evidence or case against the theory, and then tries to minimize the problem by claiming that work is underway to fix the problem. 

Semi-Healthy Response #3: Vaguely Claim That the Evidence Against the Theory Is Exciting  

This occurs when a scientist tries to "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" by confessing that there is some force or truth in the evidence or case against the theory, but claims that this is "exciting" because it hints at interesting depths of nature that scientists will one day day be able to figure out. 

cosmology defect
 

Healthy Response #2: Confess That the Evidence or Case Against the Theory Is Strong, and That the Theory Is Deeply Deficient  

One healthy form of concession is to admit that there is some force or truth in the evidence or case against the theory, and to concede that the theory has severe problems and may not be correct. 

Healthy Response #3: Confess That the Evidence or Case Against the Theory Is Strong, and the Theory Is Probably Wrong  

Another healthy form of concession is to admit that there is some force or truth in the evidence or case against the theory, and to concede that the theory has severe problems and probably is not correct. 

Healthy Response #4: Confess That the Evidence or Case Against the Theory Is Strong, and Create a New Theory to Replace It

Although this response often results in the creation of new theories that are just as bad as the old discredited theory, this type of response is basically healthy. 

Healthy Response #5: Confess That the Evidence or Case Against the Theory Is Strong, and Strip Down the Theory to Make It Less Pretentious

Another healthy response to evidence against a theory is to restate the theory so that it claims to explain much less than originally claimed. Scientists very rarely practice this healthy response. A good example was when Alfred Russel Wallace published his essay "The Limits of Natural Selection as Applied to Man."  Wallace was the co-founder of the theory of evolution, which he originally seemed to regard as a general explanation for the origin of species such as man. But around 1869 Wallace was being exposed to massive evidence for paranormal events that could not be explained by such a theory. Wallace responded with his essay "The Limits of Natural Selection as Applied to Man," making it clear that the theory of natural selection was not an explanation for any of the higher mental faculties of man. He in effect said, "Evolution explains much less than many previously said it did."  His wise response has been senselessly ignored by biologists, who continue to make groundless extravagant claims that natural selection explains almost all biology origins. 

Unhealthy Response #4: Simply Ignore the Evidence or Case Against the Theory

We see this response massively from neuroscientists who have the theory that the human mind is merely the result of the brain. There is a gigantic mountain of evidence for human mental abilities that cannot be explained by brain activity. Such evidence has been published for literally centuries.  Some examples can be found here, here and here.  To give one of very many examples I could list, the published evidence is overwhelming that in the nineteenth century Alexis Didier displayed powers of clairvoyance utterly beyond any possible neural explanation. Below is a quote from Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-founder of the theory of evolution, on page 245 of the December 22, 1876 edition of The Spiritualist:

" Dr. Edwin Lee, a well-known physician, in his book on  Animal Magnetism, has given, from personal observation, a minute account of the clairvoyance, of Alexis [Didier] at Brighton, which occupies twenty-five pages. Among a great variety of most remarkable tests, he frequently read passages in books brought at random a number of pages in advance of the page opened, but at the level of a line indicated. Numbers of these tests are recorded, the words read always being found at the level indicated, but not always at the exact number of pages in advance asked for. The evidence for this, as well as for many other forms of clairvoyance, is overwhelming, and the tests applied of the most varied and stringent character."

How do neuroscientists respond to all the evidence for ESP and clairvoyance? They simply ignore it. They show zero signs of having seriously studied such evidence. The few that mention such evidence will typically resort to the next item on my list. 

Unhealthy Response #5: Make Unfair or "Ad Hominem" Attacks Against Those Presenting the Evidence or Case Against the Theory, Perhaps Resorting to Stereotyping, Gaslighting or Character Assassination 

This type of "blame, shame and defame" response occurs massively. Scientists have long engaged in "ad hominem" attacks against those criticizing their theories or those who helped to produce evidence against their theories.  This often involves unfair stereotyping in which careful scholars and witnesses are dismissed as kooks or mentally disturbed. Then there are various rhetorical tactics in which attempts are made to associate critics of a theory with some other people who may hold some belief unacceptable to scientists.  

Unhealthy Response #6: Dismiss the Evidence or Case Against the Theory, on the Grounds That It Did Not Appear in a Peer-Reviewed Paper

When scientists use this response they sound like some Catholic priest saying "I can't accept your criticisms of Catholicism because they were not published in the Catholic Quarterly." The idea that evidence and reasoning can be ignored because it did not appear in a peer-reviewed paper is one of the most unhealthy and nonsensical responses a scientist can make to criticisms of his theory. Once a theory becomes very popular within some academic community, the theory may become a cherished orthodoxy within some little belief community of scientists; and peer reviewers may then deny publication to papers challenging the theory that is "all the rage" in their little tribe. Under such conditions we would not expect reasoning challenging the thinking of experts of a particular type to be approved by peer reviewers who are experts of that type.  Moreover, it is folly to be thinking that sound reasoning and sound evidence only shows up in peer-reviewed papers.  In fact, in quite a few scientific specialties, peer reviewers allow an abundance of very poor studies and groundless speculative papers to be published.  Nothing could be more fallacious than to insinuate that something is good quality because it is peer-reviewed, or that something is not good quality because it is not peer-reviewed.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Professor Priestly Versus Professor Precise

Across the world religions take very many extremely diverse forms, only some of which involve a belief in God. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined a religion as " a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."  Under this type of anthropological definition, some of the systems of beliefs that are not usually thought of as a religion may reasonably be considered religions. 

Scientific academia acts today largely as a kind of stealth religion, pretty much as a kind of church-in-all-but-name. The table below gives some reasons why scientific academia is like Roman Catholicism.


Scientific Academia

Roman Catholic Church

Physical Bases

University buildings, high schools, natural history museums

Churches, monasteries, convents, seminaries, Catholic schools

Old Revered Texts

Books of Charles Darwin

The Bible and works of the Church Fathers (Augustine, Aquinas, etc.)

Sacred Dogmas

Accidental origin of life, accidental origin of species by “natural selection,” brains as the source of minds, brains as storage places of memories

The Trinity, the resurrection of Jesus, the divine inspiration of the Bible, papal infallibility, dogmas about Mary, mother of Jesus

Lower Prestige Workers

High school biology teachers, experimental subjects, paid lab workers

Nuns, deacons

Middle Prestige Workers

PhD candidates, college instructors, assistant professors

Priests

High Prestige Workers

Professors

Bishops

Highest Prestige Persons

National Academy of Science members, Nobel Prize winners

Cardinals, the Pope

Arcane Speech

Jargon-filled scientific papers

Jargon-filled theology papers, Holy Mass language

Indoctrin-ation Meetings

Biology classes, psychology classes

Sunday sermons, Sunday school

Financial Base

Countless billions in old university endowments, tuition, government funding, with $800 billion in US university endowments alone

Billions in old endowments, church property,  Sunday donations, tithes

Rituals


PhD dissertations, experiments (often poorly designed and implemented), science conferences, rituals of science paper writing, countless legend and dogma recitations

Sunday Mass, baptisms, weddings, First Communion, funerals

Speculations

Abundant

Abundant

Persecution or Libeling of Heretics

Frequent (currently non-physical, including gaslighting, slander, libel, accusatory insinuations,  stereotyping and discrimination)

Frequent in the past

Censorship

Massive “soft” censorshipand repression of undesired observations such as witnessing of paranormal phenomena and successful ESP experiments

Once very frequent, such as Legion of Decency

Speech Taboos

Very many (including fair discussion of the paranormal or evidence for design in nature)

Very many

Miracle Stories

Accidental origin of life, and accidental origin of billions of types of protein molecules in the animal kingdom, most having thousands of well-arranged atoms, requiring many miracles of accidental organization, like hundreds of falling logs forming into extensive log cabin hotels or a row of fifty tall sand castles forming from random wind and waves

Miracle stories involving Jesus, Catholic saints and the Virgin Mary (Fatima, Lourdes, etc.)

Officials in Fancy Robes?

Yes (professors during graduation ceremonies)

Yes

Despised Deviants

Witnesses of the paranormal, Darwinism critics, teleology theorists, those having spiritual experiences

In previous years, Protestants and gays

Chanting?

Very much, such as “blind evolution explains it all” chant and “it's all just brain activity” chant

Very much, such as Hail Mary prayers and the chants of monks

Art Forms

Materialist science fiction

Sculpture, painting, sacred music, sacred architecture

Saints

Many science figures whose work is described reverently

Many canonized saints

Catechisms

Very biased college textbooks and very biased Wikipedia articles

Official catechisms teaching Catholic dogma

Legends

Many “just so” legends such as the legend of trans-Atlantic rafting monkeys, and many achievement legends such as the legend Darwin explained biological origins

Many legends about saints and their miracles or legends about miraculous healings or the Virgin Mary

Helper Workers

Unquestioning conformist science journalists

Laymen volunteers

Iconography

Sparse iconography including endlessly repeated side-profile “Evolution of man” diagram with four or five figures facing right

Vast iconography

science is like a religion

The dogmatism of professors strongly resembles the dogmatism of priests.

The behavior of scientist professors has very much in common with the behavior of priests and ministers.

scientific priesthood

Many types of science professors (such as cosmologists, evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists) act like members of some priesthood-in-all-but-name. 

academia dogmatism

Let us imagine one of these professors, and refer to him as Professor Priestly, to help clarify that the professor is acting like a priest in the Roman Catholic religion. We can contrast the statements of such a professor with the statements of a more careful-speaking professor we can call Professor Precise.  Professor Priestly tends to always speak in a way that promulgates the belief traditions of the belief community he belongs to. Professor Precise has no interest in conforming to such traditions, but is interested very much in not going beyond what is proven by the facts, and also interested in paying attention to every relevant observation that has been made.  Below is how the professors might speak differently on a variety of topics. 

The Origin of the Universe

Professor Priestly:  "Scientists have a successful detailed theory of the origin of the universe. Within the tiniest fraction of a second, the universe began expanding at a super-fast exponential rate. It was what we call primordial cosmic inflation. After only the tiniest fraction of a second of primordial cosmic inflation, the universe kind of switched gears, and suddenly started expanding at the normal linear rate of expansion we observe now."

Professor Precise:  "Scientists have reasons to believe that the universe suddenly began about 13 billion years ago in an event called the Big Bang, and that the instant after such an origin the universe was incredibly hot and incredibly dense. We don't understand what caused this, and we don't understand any exact details of what went on.  The claim that there occurred primordial cosmic inflation (a brief instant of exponential expansion) is a speculation that has never been verified. We can't ever verify it, because we will never be able to look back to the beginning of time or even the first 100,000 years of the universe, because of the early density being so great all telescopic observations of the first 100,000 years are forever blocked. Although there are some weighty reasons for thinking something like the Big Bang occurred, the Big Bang theory is not actually yet a successful scientific theory. The Big Bang theory predicts a universe with equal amounts of matter and antimatter, and that's not what we live in." 

The Origin of Life

Professor Priestly: "To get life started, you just need to have the right type of building blocks. The building blocks of life are carbon molecules.  We know that there are carbon molecules all over the universe. So the building blocks of life are common in outer space. Because the early Earth was often hit by comets that are rich in such building blocks, the early Earth must have had kind of a primordial soup rich in the building blocks of life. All that was needed was sufficient time. Given a billion years or so, the most improbable things will happen. So it's not too surprising that life naturally arose on the early Earth." 

Professor Precise: "The term 'building block' implies something real simple, like a brick. Contrary to the nonsense you so often hear, the simplest living thing (a self-reproducing cell) is not built from simple components that can be called building blocks. A cell is made from very complex components called organelles; and such components are made from very complex components called protein complexes; and protein complexes are made from very complex components called proteins. Most types of proteins require thousands of well-arranged atoms, equivalent to hundreds of well-arranged amino acids that have an average of about 20 atoms each.  There is no warrant for believing that anything like a 'primordial soup' rich in amino acids ever existed in the early Earth. Amino acids have been found in space, but only in the rarest amounts such as 1 part in a billion.  The much cited Miller-Urey experiment involved some very special glass apparatus unlike anything that would have existed in the early Earth, so it does not support the idea that amino acids would have been common." 

"Building blocks can be arranged in any order, but it's totally different  for the amino acids that make up proteins, which must be arranged in a very special way to get functional protein molecules, just as letters must be arranged in a very special way for you to get a functional understandable paragraph. For life to get started, you need at least 100 types of protein molecules, each a very complex invention requiring thousands of well-arranged atoms.  The probability of such a molecule accidently arising is about the same as that of a useful, grammatical and correctly spelled paragraph of text arising from an ink splash.  It isn't true that given a billion years any improbability will happen. Given something sufficiently improbable (such as a new type of functional protein molecule arising by chance or an ink splash producing a well-written functional paragraph), such a thing will never occur even given a billion years for it to occur and a billion trillion planets. Consequently we lack any current understanding of how life could have naturally arisen from non-life. All attempts at creating life (or even a single one of its major components) from non-life in experiments realistically simulating the early Earth have been dismal failures. Therefore the concept of abiogenesis is not currently a scientific concept in any real sense." 

building blocks of life

The Origin of Species

Professor Priestly: "The problem of the origin of species was a 'tough nut to crack,' but scientists finally succeeded in the nineteenth century when Charles Darwin wrote his monumental work The Origin of Species. Darwin realized that living things are always being born with different types of natural variations, some of which improve their survival value, and some of which decrease their survival value. Darwin also realized that nature tends to preserve and proliferate those variations that increase survival value, and discard variations that decrease survival value.  Darwin realized that these two facts can be combined to make the idea of natural selection. We know that all of the great stuff in living things arose from this natural selection. At various times over the eons, nature selected new adaptions such as eyes, ears, wings, hearts and feet.  And that's basically how we got all of the different types of species."

 Professor Precise: "The idea of evolution by natural selection was created at about the same time by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Within a decade Wallace started explicitly denying that the theory was capable of explaining the human mind. Later in life Wallace also abandoned the idea of a natural origin of species, and argued that supernatural agency was required, clearly stating such an in idea in his book 'The World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose.'  The term 'natural selection' is a misnomer, as Darwin confessed. Selection refers to an act of choice, but Darwin did not believe that any such act was involved when so-called natural selection occurred."

"In Darwin's time there was a very large reason for doubting that his theory could explain biological innovations. It was well-known in his time that the more impressive biological innovations require a coordinated special arrangement of many parts, with half-implementations being almost always useless. So Darwin lacked any credible explanation for why the initial stages of a complex biological innovation would occur. In Darwin's time this was called the problem of 'incipient stages,' and Darwin never credibly answered it.  In the century after Darwin this 'incipient stages' problem became almost infinitely more severe. Biologists learned that living things are built from many thousands of types of complex inventions called protein molecules, most requiring a very special arrangement of thousands of atoms. Since protein molecules are in general very sensitive molecules that are not functional when half-completed, the problem of incipient stages seems vastly worse than it did in Darwin's time.  We are left with no credible Darwinian explanation for the vast majority of types of biological innovations in the human body and in the animal kingdom." 

Human Development and Morphogenesis

Professor Priestly: "How does a speck-sized zygote progress to become the very high state of organization that is the human body? Long story short: it's because of your DNA. DNA has a blueprint for making the human body.  The cells read that blueprint, telling them what to do, and a human body thereby arises."

Professor Precise: "We have long been taught various ideas about DNA: that DNA is a blueprint for making a human body or that DNA is some program for making a human body. Such ideas are myths. Human DNA has been thoroughly analyzed by the huge project called  the Human Genome Project, completed about 2003. The genomes of thousands of species have been cataloged. No one ever found a blueprint for making an organism in DNA or its genes. DNA does not tell how to make a human body, any human organ or even any of the roughly 200 types of cells in the human body. DNA does not even specify how to make any of the organelles that are the components of cells. DNA only specifies low-level chemical information such as which amino acids make up particular proteins.  It's just as false to claim that DNA is a recipe for making the human body, and such an analogy is very misleading, because the human body is vastly organized, unlike the unorganized things made from recipes. So how does something as organized as the human body ever arise from a speck-sized zygote? That's something scientists are light-years away from understanding."  

The Human Mind

Professor Priestly: "The human mind is just a product of the brain. Your mind is something that kind of rises up from the bubbling electrical activity of the brain, kind of like how the scent of soup rises up from the soup cooking in a pot.  The brain is basically a big computer. Just as a computer produces outputs after it receives inputs, the brain produces outputs such as thought and subjective experiences after it gets the inputs of sensory information. And when you learn something, that's just synapse strengthening. "  

Professor Precise: "The human mind and human mental experiences are a reality of oceanic depth and the most gigantic diversity, not something simple like the scent of a soup. We lack any understanding of how a brain could give rise to the human mind and all its enormously diverse capabilities and experiences. The brain is nothing like a computer, and does not have any of the things that computers have that allow them to compute. Computers compute by means of an operating system, application software and a CPU for sequentially processing instructions. Nothing like such things exist in the brain. As for subjective experience, nothing like it is produced by a computer, so you can't explain it by claiming it is an output of a brain that computes like a computer. Humans can learn new facts instantly, and we can't explain that by synapse strengthening, which is a sluggish physical process taking many minutes at least. Synapses are made of proteins which have an average lifetime of a few weeks or less, so it would seem impossible to explain human memories that can last for 50 years by imagining mere synapse strengthening.  And how can humans instantly recall some information about a person as soon as you mention his name? We know how computers can instantly retrieve information: by using systems that involve addressing, sorting and indexes.  But the brain has no addressing, no sorting and no indexes. So how could a brain ever instantly recall anything?  We know of no brain mechanism for writing or reading learned information. So how could someone ever instantly learn or instantly remember anything by using a brain?"