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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

No, They Haven't Detected Life at Venus

 A scientific paper claims to have found an "apparent presence" of the gas phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus, but only in the barest trace amounts (20 parts per billion). Since phosphine is a gas that is mainly produced on our planet by living things, some are hailing this as evidence of life in the atmosphere of Venus. Some sources in the science press (always prone to hype and exaggerate doubtful or inconclusive research) are making this report sound like something epic. A Dr. Dena Grayson incorrectly states, "Scientists assert that something now alive is the only explanation for the chemical’s source." But the paper does not provide compelling evidence for life at Venus, and in the paper the scientists did not at all make such a claim. 

There are two alternate explanations here that do not require us to believe in life on Venus. 

(1) An error in interpretation could have occurred in spectral data that is hard-to-interpret because of overlapping signals from a variety of different gases in the atmosphere of Venus. 

(2) There could be a non-biological reason why phosphine appeared in the atmosphere of Venus. 

The first of these two possibilities is not very unlikely. For many decades scientists have used a device called a spectograph to detect elements in distant stars and planets. When light passes through a spectograph in something rather like light passing through a prism,  an output visual called a spectrogram is produced. In such a spectrogram there may be particular lines that are caused by the presence of particular elements in the astronomical target. In a simple case, such lines are easy to interpret. But in a case when there are many gases and elements in a distant target, the spectrogram can be complex and hard-to-interpret.  For example, here is a spectrogram obtained when the sun was the target:

Credit: NASA

When there are all those tiny little lines, the spectrogram can be very hard to interpret. We may assume that an equally complicated spectrogram was obtained using a target of Venus. In such cases there is a large possibility of misinterpreting the little lines. The authors claim to have detected phosphine after analyzing some complicated spectrogram, but they may have erred in their interpretation. Such an error is all too possible when you are merely claiming the existence of borderline traces such as 20 parts per billion.

The possibility of such an error seems real after you review a scientific case such as the BICEP2 affair. In that case a group of scientists declared they had discovered proof of primordial cosmic inflation in some hard-to-interpret readings from distant space. For weeks the science press crowed about this apparent triumph. But eventually scientists realized that the claim was not solid, and that what was observed could easily have been caused by mere dust.  One of the BICEP2 scientists wrote a book called "Losing the Nobel Prize" about the missteps and premature celebrations that occurred. 

We should also remember the case in which some NASA scientists in the 1990's declared that they had detected evidence of life from Mars.  Their claim was based on subjective interpretations of debatable anomalies in a meteorite. Other scientists did not agree with this doubtful interpretation, and the claim is now generally regarded as no solid evidence of life on Mars. We should always remember that a scientist eager for "discovery glory" may be biased towards interpretations that suggest he has discovered something important. 

The Venus paper authors refer to their "candidate discovery" of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, which does not sound like great confidence. Given their claimed detection of something existing in such marginal traces, we should not at all be surprised if some later paper by different scientists (analyzing the same data) claims that phosphine was not actually detected at Venus. 

Another possibility is that phosphine was actually detected in the atmosphere of Venus, but that it is phosphine that arose because of non-biological reasons.  Chemically phosphine (PH3) is a very simple compound. It consists merely of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms. So simple a compound could in theory be created by any number of non-biological processes.  Since we do not understand very well the geology of Venus,  we cannot exclude geological processes on Venus that might produce phosphine. 

A 2014 paper claimed to have detected phosphine (PH3) in the atmosphere of a distant star.  The paper states, "The detection of PH3 challenges chemical models, none of which offers a satisfactory formation scenario." Apparently phosphine can arise for non-biological reasons around a distant star, for reasons we don't understand.  It is therefore not very unlikely that it might arise at Venus for non-biological reasons, for reasons we don't understand.  Since it is almost infinitely easier for you to get by chance processes a simple molecule like phosphine than even the simplest living thing, a non-biological origin for phosphine at Venus would seem like a more plausible explanation. A 2006 paper also claimed to have detected phosphine in the atmosphere of a distant star.  The paper suggests this non-biological origin: "In the case of hydrides such as PH3, a likely formation process is the direct hydrogenation of the heavy atom taking place on grain surfaces."

Another scientific paper claims that we should expect to find phosphine in the atmospheres of large planets and "hotter objects":

"Disequilibrium abundances of phosphine (PH3) approximately representative of the total atmospheric phosphorus inventory are expected to be mixed upward into the observable atmospheres of giant planets and T dwarfs. In hotter objects, several P-bearing gases (e.g., P2, PH3, PH2, PH, HCP) become increasingly important at high temperatures."

The scientists who claim to have found phosphine at Venus claim that they have wracked their brains searching for a non-biological source of phosphine, without finding one. But we should not at all be persuaded by such a failure. Scientists in their position who have a motivation not to find a non-biological source of phosphine may not think of such a source. But give me a scientist motivated to find such a source, and he may think of 100 possible sources of phosphine.  We can expect to see future papers describing possible non-biological sources of phosphine in Venus, written by authors motivated to think of such sources (for the sake of publishing another paper). 

Another reason for rejecting a biological explanation for the phosphine is the sheer implausibility of life arising at Venus. The surface of the planet is about 900 degrees F, about twice as hot as the temperature in an oven set on high. Such a temperature (hot enough to melt lead) would seem to rule out life ever forming on the surface of Venus, as would the atmospheric pressure on Venus: about 90 times greater than on Earth, a pressure so great that it quickly crushes spacecraft landing on Venus. Temperatures are much better in the clouds of Venus, but no one has ever given a credible scenario for how life could arise in an atmosphere like that of Venus.  The clouds of Venus are composed mainly of deadly sulfuric acid droplets (75% to 96%), and contain only trace amounts of water vapor (20 parts per million). It is hard to imagine life arising in so dry and caustic an environment. 

The Venus paper authors state the following about this possible discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus:

"Even if confirmed, we emphasize that the detection of PH3 is not robust evidence for life, only for anomalous and unexplained chemistry. There are substantial conceptual problems for the idea of life in Venus’s clouds—the environment is extremely dehydrating as well as hyperacidic."

Showing some commendable candor, one of the study authors, David Clements, is quoted here as saying, "It’s probably a 10% chance that it’s life.” But he's just picking a number out of a hat. Study the difficulty of life forming in water-scarce clouds of sulfuric acid, and you'll come up with an estimate more like 1 in 1000 or 1 in a million. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Uncanny Skills of the Trance Seers

In previous posts here and here I have discussed evidence that there can exist extremely powerful clairvoyance that may arise when someone is in a trance or put in a hypnotic state. Let us look at some additional evidence for such a thing. 

 On page 32 of the 1852 book Natural and Mesmeric Clairvoyance by James Esdaile we have an example of a skill that is reported by many other sources in the two posts I just mentioned: an ability to read while blindfolded. We read the following:

On the 20th November the reporter took a black silk handkerchief, placed between the folds two pieces of cotton wadding, and applied it in such a way that the cotton came directly over the eyes and completely filled the cavity on each side of the nose : various names were then written on cards, both of persons with whom she was acquainted, and of those who were unknown to her, which she read as soon as they were presented to her.”

On page 34 of the same book, we have an account by a man who suddenly got a mental vision regarding a stranger he had encountered. We read the following:

This man's former life was at that moment presented to my mind. I turned to him, and asked whether he would answer me candidly if I related to him some of the most secret passages of his life, I knowing as little of him personally as he did of me ? He promised, if I were correct in my information, to admit it frankly. I then related what my vision had shown me, and the whole company were made acquainted with the private history of the young merchant : his school-years, his youthful errors, and lastly, with a fault committed in reference to the strong box of his principal. I described to him the uninhabited room with whitened walls, where to the right of the brown door, on a table, stood a black money box, &c. A dead silence prevailed during the whole narration, which I alone occasionally interrupted by inquiring whether I spoke the truth. The startled young man confirmed every particular, and even, what I had scarcely expected, the last mentioned.”

On page 76 we read of a test done by a Dr. Chalmers of a lad in Calcutta said to be a clairvoyant. A bank note note was put between two candles in a bathroom. The boy was put into a hypnotic trance, which is referred to in the text as a "somnambulistic state."  Asked to describe the bathroom he could not see, the boy stated that he could see the two candles and some paper between them. When asked what type of paper it was, the boy correctly identified the value (25 rupees) and four numbers on the note. When the note was replaced with a 10-rupee note, the lad also noted that the note now said “10.” When a gold watch was placed on the note, the boy also reported seeing such a watch.

On pages 84-86 we read of a Lord Ducie who tested a young woman said to have clairvoyant powers. The following happened after the woman was put in a hypnotic trance by a surgeon:

"He (Lord Ducie) had before seen something of Mesmerism, and he sat by her, took her hand, and asked her if she felt able to travel. She replied : ' Yes ;' and he asked her if she had ever been in Gloucestershire, to which she answered that she had not, but should like very much to go there, as she had not been in the country for six years ; she was a girl of about seventeen years old. He told her that she should go with him, for he wanted her to see his farm. They travelled (mentally) by the railroad very comfortably together, and then (in imagination) got into a fly and proceeded to his house. He asked her what she saw ; and she replied : ' I see an iron gate and a curious old house.' He asked her : ' How do you get to it ?' She replied : ' By this gravel walk;' which was quite correct. He asked her how they went into it, and she replied : ' I see a porch, a curious old porch.'  It was probably known to many that his house, which was a curious old Elizabethan building, was entered by a porch as she had described. He asked her what she saw on the porch, and she replied, truly, that it was covered with flowers. He then said : ' Now we will turn in at our right hand ; what do you see in that room?' She answered with great accuracy : ' I see a bookcase and a picture on each side of it.' He told her to turn her back to the bookcase, and say what she saw on the other side ; and she said : ' I see something shining like that which soldiers wear.' She also described some old muskets and warlike implements which were hanging up in the hall ; and upon his asking her how they were fastened up (meaning by what means they were secured), she mistook his question, but replied :  'The muskets are fastened up in threes,' which was the case. He then asked of what substance the floors were built ; and she said : ' Of black and white squares ;' which was correct. He then took her to another apartment, and she very minutely described the ascent to it as being by four steps. He (Lord Ducie) told her to enter by the right door, and say what she saw there. She said : ' There is a painting on each side of the fire-place.' Upon his asking her if she saw anything particular in the fire-place, she replied : ' Yes, it is carved up to the ceiling ;' which was quite correct, for it was a curious old Elizabethan fireplace. There was at Tortworth Court a singular old chestnut-tree, and he told her that he wished her to see a favourite tree, and asked her to accompany him. He tried to deceive her by saying : ' Let us walk close up to it ;' but she replied : ' We cannot, for there are railings round it.' He said : ' Yes, wooden railings ;' to which she answered : ' No, they are of iron ;' which was the case. He asked : ' What tree is it ;' and she replied that she had been so little in the country that she could not tell ; but upon his asking her to describe the leaf, she said : ' It is a leaf as large as the geranium leaf, large, long, and jagged at the edges.' He (Lord Ducie) apprehended that no one could describe more accurately than that the leaf of the Spanish chestnut. He then told her he would take her to see his farm...She then went on and described everything on his farm with the same surprising accuracy ; and upon his subsequently inquiring, he found that she was only in error in one trifling matter, for which error any one who had ever travelled (mentally) with a clairvoyant could easily account, without conceiving any breach of the truth."

On pages 87-88 of the same book, we have an account of a man who began spontaneously to become clairvoyant after five or six weeks of hypnotic treatment (also called Mesmeric treatment).  On page 88 we read this: 

"I have put on a shooting-jacket, in which were eight or ten pockets ; I have put various articles into each pocket, of a description very unlikely to be mixed together ; and then, with all the pockets closed, and the jacket buttoned up to my throat, I would proceed to the dark room where Homer was, and, I standing a couple of yards before him, he would tell me truly the several articles in the several pockets, describing the situation of each pocket, and naming each article within it."

I have previously quoted many accounts describing clairvoyance under hypnotism involving Alexis Didier. There are many similar accounts involving his brother, Adolphe Didier. You can read some of them in Adolphe Didier's book Animal Magnetism and Somnambulism.  On page 209 Adolphe quotes a witness of his skills:

"I proceeded to mesmerise him... Lord ---- directly reached (quite at random) a book from a shelf, and, holding it behind him, asked, 'What book have I now in my hand ?' Adolphe Didier in a few seconds replied, ' Voyage en Suisse.' The inquirer immediately held up the book, that we might perceive that Didier had correctly read the gilt lettering on its back. Placing the book behind him again, and without opening it, he requested that Adolphe would read the first four lines on page 27. Adolphe immediately repeated several sentences in French. On opening the book and turning to page 27, we found that Adolphe had correctly read four lines from the twenty-seventh page of a closed book, held behind his querist, entirely out of all possible range of natural vision."

The witness then describes on page 211 a remarkable success by Adolphe Didier, in which he is able to tell lots of relevant information after being given only the name of a lady:

"As I happened, on perusing my note, to say that I must now 
go and mesmerise Adolphe Didier, the French clairvoyant, the lady remarked, 'I wish he could tell you about a ring which was stolen from me two years ago.' I rejoined that I would, if an opportunity occurred, ask him about it ; that I did not know anything of his method of perceiving, but that if she wrote her name on a piece of paper I would give it to him, and try if he could make out her wishes, or discover anything respecting the lost article. I now placed this piece of paper in his hand: He put it to his lips and on his forehead ; and, after a short interval of apparent reflection, he stated that it written by a lady, whom he described correctly ; and that she wanted to know about a lost ring. He then described the ring ; the apartment from which it was taken ; what articles were in the box where it had been previously deposited ; who had taken it, and where it was pawned ; adding, that it would not be recovered unless the pawnbroker would admit having received it, and declare where he had disposed of it. His description of the lady, of the apartment, of the box, and the various articles contained therein, one article being very curious and having therefore puzzled him much, were all perfectly correct : the person who he stated had taken it is deceased. There was some difficulty in ascertaining the pawnbroker indicated by him. The party who was presumed to be meant denied ever having taken in pledge any ring of so great a value, and thus verification of the latter part of his statement was not possible. This was not cerebral sympathy or thought-reading. The particulars were totally unknown to any one present, and the event to which they referred had taken place two years previously. It is somewhat curious and corroboratory, that on Alexis Didier being asked in Paris, and Ellen Dawson subsequently in London, also respecting the ring, they each described the same person as having stolen it. For these three clairvoyants each to have described the same person and circumstances without a possibility of any of them knowing what the others had said, is a fact somewhat too remarkable to be accounted for on the ground of extraordinary coincidence,' or 'fortunate guess-work.'  "

On page 240 Aldophe quotes a newspaper account regarding him, in which he is referred to as "the somnambulist" (a term which then meant someone showing activity while hypnotized):

"A short repose being granted, a journalist who had no faith in clairvoyance, being put en rapportrequested the somnambulist to describe to him his apartment. 'Travel there mentally yourself,' said the somnambulist, 'and I shall follow you.' 'Well, I am doing so,' said the journalist. 'Your apartment,' observed then the somnambulist, 'is on the third floor. Yes, it is on the third floor, and I am now in your room. Everything in it appears in disorder. There is a table by the side of the window with many papers upon it ; but I can see nothing striking in your apartment ; in short, there is scarcely anything in it.' 'That is very true,' admitted the journalist ; 'but now I am thinking of something. Can you see what it is?' 'You are thinking of a portrait which hangs over the mantelpiece; it is a daguerrotype; it is even your own likeness.'  'Still very true,' again admitted the journalist. Another gentleman tried the same experiment, and the very objects he only thought of were named 
to him, which further proved the extraordinary lucidity of the somnambulist."

On page 270 Adolphe quotes this account from the Cardiff Journal, using the term "somnambulic state" to mean a hypnotized state:

"In order to satisfy the doubt of some gentlemen, it was arranged that a billiard match should be played by Adolphe when blindfolded, in the somnambulic state. This took place immediately after the public seance, on Monday evening ; when, his eyes having been bandaged with three handkerchiefs, under which were two large pieces of cotton-wool, and all possibility of seeing in the ordinary way quite done away with, Adolphe took the cue, and played his game as well as many could have done in their natural state with, open eves. He described the position and colour of the balls, and made his remarks on the strokes, showing that he was perfectly clairvoyant. As he expressed himself as being much fatigued, the game was brought to an [early conclusion ; most sceptics being convinced of the astounding fact, that in a peculiar state of the human brain, preception can and does take place without the use of the ordinary means of vision."

On page 289 Adolphe quotes another press account of one of his innumerable public exhibitions, one in which plaster was affixed over his eyes:

"These gentlemen no longer considered the balls of carded 
cotton as sufficient, for they literally closed up M. Didier's eyes with two real plasters, which they first took care to scrutinize. But all this could not hinder the somnambulist from playing with extraordinary celerity, and remarkable certainty, several games of cards, dominoes, and draughts, nor from reading at the instant whatever was presented to him."

On page 307 Adolphe quotes another of a great number of favorable press accounts of his public exhibitions:

"A gentleman handed to the clairvoyant a gold watch, requesting him to read what was written inside. M. Didier answered as quickly as the question was put to him, VenitiaThe watch was then opened and this word was, in fact, found inside." 

On page 127 of his 1869 book "Artificial Somnambulism, Hitherto Called Mesmerism, or Animal Magnetism" William Baker Fahnestock MD states that he "very much doubted" ESP under hypnosis, but was forced to believe in it because he "proved more than a thousand times" that it occurs. On page 132 he states this about hypnotized persons:

"It is astonishing with what facility some subjects follow, or read the minds even of strangers who may desire to take them to places where they have never been ; and when there with what accuracy they describe places, persons, or things existing or passing at the time."

On the same page we read this:

"Mr E was desired, at the request of a gentleman, to visit his home with him — which was distant about fifty miles — and when he had followed him by reading his mind, he described the peculiarities of the mill and the house attached to it, the number of rooms in the house, where entered, the furniture and relative position of the same, his wife, whom he described as being slim, tall, with very dark hair and dark complexion, dressed in a brown gown, having a child in her arms. Another child, of about four years old, was described as running about the room ; and an old gentleman, rather portly, bald, and dressed in drab clothes, was seated upon a settee. All this the gentleman declared was correct, and could not have been better described by the subject if he had been there in body at the time ; and, as the gentleman had never seen the subject before, nor the subject either him or any of the family, he was convinced, though skeptical before, that he must have just seen what he described. The description of the above residence and family was so minute, so clear, and so unhesitatingly done, that if it, or a like description, had been given to the most skeptical, it must have convinced him that there was something more in their powers than 'is dreamed of in the world's philosophy.' " 

In the following pages (133-135) the author gives equally impressive examples of clairvoyance under hypnotism. On page 219 Dr. Fahnestock states this about hypnotized clairvoyants: 

"Darkness, matter, and space, seem to offer no ob- 
struction to their view, and I have had them, times 
without number, correctly to describe and name arti- 
cles held in the closed hands of others, of which I had 
no knowledge whatever. In the same manner they have described pictures, etc., held behind them, and named persons outside of the house, although their presence was not expected, and they arrived after the subject had been in this  state for some hours. They have told the contents of closed boxes at a distance, which they never saw, and named the amount of money, and kind of coin in pocket-books and purses which were held in the hands of inveterate skeptics. They have found persons at a distant city, with whom they were acquainted, without ever having been there themselves, and told accurately — neither more nor less — what they had been doing at a certain time and place. They have described places and scenes at a distance, where they had never been, to the perfect satisfaction of hundreds of skeptics who, at different periods, requested them to go with them in thought." 

On page 221 and the next page we have specific examples of such clairvoyance. A female was asked what a Mr. K was doing in the next room, the door to which was closed.  She answered, "He is standing in the center of the room, and is holding a chair above his head."  When the room was inspected, Mr. K was found doing  exactly that.  The experiment was repeated, and the person correctly stated that the unseen Mr. K was holding a pillow upon his head.  The experiment was repeated again, and the female correctly stated that Mr. K was lying down on the floor. We read the following about experiments with a Mr. S.:

"On another occasion the same subject was requested by several other skeptics to tell what Mr. S. was doing in the next room. Answer. — 'He is standing up, and is holding the piano-stool upon his right shoulder.' Her answer was correct ; and in like manner she told that he was holding a note book upon his head; and again that he had thrown a shawl about his shoulders, and had placed a bonnet on his head. The same precautions were taken by the gentlemen to prevent deception that had been used on a former occasion. The door was guarded closely, and opened by themselves, and the positions which Mr. S. assumed were not premeditated by him, but assumed upon the instant after the door had been closed. Deception was therefore out of the question."

In the next twenty pages the author then describes numerous other similar cases of clairvoyance under hypnotism

In his book on hypnotism Teste states the following on page 75, using the term "magnetizer" for a hypnotist and "somnambulist" for the hypnotized: 

"Vision through the closed eyelids and through opaque bodies is not only a real fact, but a very frequent fact. There is no magnetiser who has not observed it twenty times, and I know at the present day in Paris alone a very great number of somnambulists who might furnish proofs of it."

There then follows in Teste's book many pages documenting such an ability in a Madame Hortense.  In his book Animal Magnetism and Magnetic Lucid Somnambulism by Edwin Lee, we read the following on page 105 about a patient who would fall into hypnotic trances: "The patient would frequently announce the arrival of unexpected  visitors, and describe their attire, and the objects which they held in their hands, while they were yet only approaching the house, and even perhaps a mile away from it."  On page 110 of the same work we read the following (in which a hypnotized person is called a somnambulist): "Thus, a somnambulist, after accurately describing a distant friend of the questioner, can sometimes state what that friend is occupied about at the time, or, having described a distant residence by means of thought-reading, will also describe the persons there, in the drawing-room, or in some other part of the house or grounds, and state what they are doing ; and these statements are found by subsequent inquiry to be true." The book gives innumerable accounts backing up such claims. 

On page 124 we read the following, referring to cotton wadding:

"His eyes being padded over with wadding, and bandaged by any one of the audience, the exhibitor gropes his way down from the platform to distribute to any persons who choose to take them, tablets, and chalk or pencil, wherewith to write on them whatever they please—as a series of names of celebrated artists, authors, &c., the towns through which they would pass on making an imaginary journey, dates referring to historical events, &c. He then tells the holder of each of the tablets what he has written and what it refers to.... A gentleman sitting not far from me had written down the names of a dozen literary and artistical celebrities, which, like the other trials, were correctly told."

On pages 130-131 we read the following (using the word "somnambulist" for someone hypnotized, and "magnetizer" for a hypnotist):

"Dr. Macario, adverting to this part of the subject, 
observes : ' Of all the faculties of somnambulists, 
the transmission of the thoughts of the magnetiser is 
that which the least shakes our belief, and which 
consequently reckons the greatest number of believers. 
I have witnessed this phenomenon in company with 
several physicians of repute. This is what we saw : 
On the magnetiser simply willing it, a male somnambulist
began to sing an air of an opera, or a romance which is mentally indicated to him by the magnetiser; and he ceased singing in the midst of a phrase or of a word, as soon as the magnetiser mentally ordered him to be silent. We took all imaginable precautions against being made the dupes of trickery. The somnambulist had a thick bandage over his eyes, which completely intercepted the transmission of luminous rays, and the magnetiser was placed at the distance of several yards behind him, no material means of communication existing between them. It was one or the other of 
us who intimated to the magnetiser, by means of a 
sign agreed upon beforehand, when to cause the somnambulist to sing, and when to stop.' ” 

In this post and previous posts here and here I have discussed very abundant evidence (attested to by a very large number of witnesses) that there can exist extremely powerful clairvoyance and ESP that may arise when someone is put in a hypnotic state. The failure of living researchers to investigage this very promising lead is deplorable. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What Would It Take to Confirm Gradualism?

There are three aspects of Darwinism: (1) common descent, the idea that all life is descended from a common ancestor ; (2) gradualism, the idea that species gradually change over eons into very different species with very different physical structures; (3) the idea that biological innovations occur because of a combination of natural selection and random mutations. None of these claims has been proven.

We have no proof of the doctrine of common descent. The fact that all life uses the same genetic code is not at all proof that all life descended from the same ancestor. If some divine creator or series of extraterrestrial expeditions to Earth had decided to populate our planet with organisms, such a force might well have chosen to introduce organisms with a common genetic code, so that a harmonious ecosystem could develop, without organisms getting poisoned because they fed on some other organism with a different genetic code.

We also have no proof for the doctrine of gradualism. Humans have never observed any species change gradually from one biological form to a very different biological form with a very different structure. We do not have proof that any species gradually changed into some very different species before human civilization started. If you think that things such as fossils of anthropoid organisms are proof of such a thing, you may read this post for a discussion of why they are not.

We also have no proof at all for the claim that any complex visible biological innovation has ever appeared because of random mutations, natural selection, or any combination of these two things. In fact, humans have never even observed the appearance of any complex new biological innovation that was visible to the naked eye. I do not count something such as industrial melanism as such a thing, because such a darkening of moths is not a new complex innovation, and because it has not been proven that there did not previously exist some dark moths before such a change in the gene pool occurred.

Much as some might like to get proof for the claims of Darwinism by examining the past, such a thing is not currently possible.  Given two old fossils from different geological eras, there is no way of knowing whether they show one organism descended from another.  The half-life of DNA is only 521 years, which means that we do not have anything like complete DNA corresponding to most old fossils. When a very old fossil is found, scientists usually have no more than a tiny fraction of the DNA of the organism that had such bones.  

So Darwinism is very much an unproven thing, something that seems more like a belief system than something established by observations. But could there be any observations that might change this situation, and allow us to say that Darwinism was well confirmed? I can imagine a type of experiment that could bolster the empirical credentials of Darwinism. It is an experiment that would be incredibly expensive, and which would need to be carried out for very many generations.

Let us imagine the construction of a special laboratory that would be much bigger than a single building in a university. The laboratory might be as big as a modern zoo. Inside this laboratory-zoo there would live some particular mammal species. That species might be dogs, lions, bears or some other large mammal. A variety of different habitats might be constructed for the animal species to live in. These habitats might be separated, so that there would be a variety of study groups, each living in a different habitat.

The experiment would simply be to monitor the species over very many generations, to find out whether there was any example of visible innovative evolution. The different habitats might have different characteristics designed to increase the likelihood of dramatic evolutionary innovations.

For example, if the species being tested was dogs, we might have habitats such as the following:

  1. One habitat resembling Hawaii, and with little radiation.
  2. One habitat resembling northern Canada, and with little radiation.
  3. One habitat resembling the Amazon forest, and with little radiation.
  4. One habitat resembling a desert, and with little radiation.
  5. One habitat resembling the Great Plains of the United States, and with little radiation.
  6. One habitat resembling a European forest, and with little radiation.
  7. One habitat resembling Hawaii, and with lots of radiation.
  8. One habitat resembling northern Canada, and with lots of radiation.
  9. One habitat resembling the Amazon forest, and with lots of radiation.
  10. One habitat resembling a desert, and with lots of radiation.
  11. One habitat resembling the Great Plains of the United States, and with lots of radiation.
  12. One habitat resembling a European forest, and with lots of radiation.

The idea would be to observe the species in these different habitats, and see whether any complex biological innovations occurred because of random mutations and natural selection. The habitats with higher levels of radiation might have an increased number of random mutations.  By having different habitats you could test the Darwinian idea that organisms gradually change their structure to adapt to their habitats. 

But it would not be sufficient to merely observe whether any new visible innovations appeared in the biology of this species. You also would have to determine whether such a thing was caused by favorable random mutations that had been promoted by natural selection.

It would therefore be necessary to track changes in the gene pool of the organisms as time progressed. Scientists could do this by taking periodic blood samples. It is easy to imagine a scheme that would work. One scheme would be to simply have a system whereby animals were periodically checked for a collar. If the collar was not found, the animal would be captured, collared, and a blood sample would be taken. By making periodic checks for animals that were not collared, and gaining DNA samples from such animals, the scientists would have up-to-date information on the current gene pool of the animal study groups in each of the different habitats.

It would also be necessary to keep track of the number of offspring of each of the mammals under scrutiny.  This would be to test the Darwinian idea that novel improvements spread in a population because they improve the survival rate or reproduction rate of particular organisms.  We can imagine a great number of video cameras in our very large laboratory-zoo that might track the reproduction rate of particular mammals, perhaps using numbers printed on their collars. But an easier technique might be to deduce reproduction rates of particular organisms by analyzing blood samples. If you have blood samples of all of the animal population, then it might be possible to figure out who the parents were, using the same type of techniques used to establish human paternity through blood tests.  Either way,  keeping track of the number of offspring of each of the mammals under scrutiny would probably be quite a headache and hassle. 

As long as no new visible biological innovation appeared in any of the animal study groups, the experiment would be considered a failure. But if a new visible biological innovation appeared in one of the animal study groups, it would then be necessary to study how the gene pool of that animal study group had changed. This could theoretically be done by a computer program that would crunch massive amounts of genome data accumulated from all the periodic blood samples. The computer program might be able to pinpoint exactly the DNA mutations that had led to some biological innovation, and how such DNA mutations had spread in the population. So, for example, we might imagine that one particular mutation might occur in some particular year, and that it had taken 200 generations to spread throughout the study group population; and that some other mutation had occurred in some other year, and that it had taken 400 generations to spread throughout the study group population; and so on and so forth until a complete account was made of how the complex biological innovation had appeared.

Nothing like this project has ever been done. Such a project would require very many thousands of years before it had any chance of success. We know that complex biological innovations require the appearance of multiple new proteins. A typical protein in a mammal is specified by a gene consisting of about 25,000 base pairs. But a single random mutation would add or change only one of these base pairs. So how long would this experiment have to be run before there was even, say, 1 chance in 1000 that random mutations would produce the proteins for a new biological innovation? If you answer “pretty much forever,” you're in the right ballpark.

Suppose that after many thousands or millions of years of running such an experiment, a new complex visible biological innovation somehow appeared in the population of mammals under study. Would this be proof that complex visible biological innovations can appear by Darwinian explanations? Not really, because we have been told many times by scientists that something doesn't really count if it was observed only once, and that science is about replicated observations and replicated experiments. So if you got a good result after running such an experiment for 500,000 years, it would then be necessary to spend another 500,000 years or more trying to replicate the positive result.

There are two reasons for believing that this long-term evolution experiment would never succeed. The first is the enormous unlikelihood that random mutations would every produce the proteins necessary for a new biological innovation.  A typical protein consists of hundreds of amino acids that have to be arranged in just the right way to achieve a particular functional effect. The chance of such a thing occurring by chance is roughly comparable to the chance of a typing monkey producing an intelligent page of prose specifying how to accomplish some particular objective. 

The second reason for believing that this long-term evolution experiment would never succeed is that even if there were to appear the proteins necessary for the new visible biological innovation, such proteins would not be sufficient to explain the new biological innovation. I can give an example. Let us suppose that dogs placed in a desert-like environment for many thousands of years were to evolve some long tube-like appendage capable of sucking small amounts of water from underground. We could not explain that by simply imagining the addition of some proteins to the genome of the organism. There would have to be a complex change in the body plan of the organism.

Is that body plan specified in DNA? No, it isn't. The claim that DNA is a blueprint for an organism is a myth spread largely to prop up Darwinist claims. The truth is that DNA specifies only low-level chemical information such as the amino acids that make up a protein. For example, nowhere in DNA does it specify that humans have one head, two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, and ten fingers. DNA does not specify an overall body plan, does not specify the arrangement of parts in an organ system, does not specify the shape of an organ or its arrangement of parts, and does not even specify the shape of a cell or the arrangement of parts in a cell. Where the body plan of an organism comes from is a great unsolved biological mystery. As an article in The Scientist told us a few days ago, "Genomes are not a blueprint for anatomy."

Since DNA does not specify the phenotype or body plan of an organism, and does not specify the arrangement of parts in any organ or appendage, we cannot plausibly imagine how a change in DNA caused by a random mutation could produce some new visible biological innovation. This is another reason for thinking that the long-term experiment I have imagined would never succeed.

Regardless of whether it would have a chance of succeeding or not, the fact is that an experiment like the one imagined (using mammals) has never been done. Slightly similar experiments (but less complex) have been done with fruit flies, which have the advantage of having very short lifetimes. The experiments never produced any useful visible biological innovations in fruit flies. 

Suppose an experiment like the one imagined were run, and suppose that very many thousands or millions of years later a single visible biological innovation appeared. Would that prove that Darwinism was the correct explanation for all for the complex functional innovations we see in the biological world? It would not. It would merely prove that one visible innovation could be produced in such a way, not that most biological innovations had been produced in such a way. Similarly, you might build some big machine that picks up logs from the ground, and then drops them from a height of 10 meters, repeating such a cycle over and over, and stopping only when the fallen logs accidentally form into something like a log cabin. If you ran such a machine for 50 years and finally got the fallen logs to form into something like a log cabin, this would not at all prove that most log cabins are formed from accidentally falling logs.

But there is one glimmer of hope for those hoping that Darwinism may become something well-confirmed. There is a potential technological device that might allow scientists to gather evidence that might confirm claims such as gradualism.  There is a potential invention that might allow scientists to take as many complete samples of DNA as they might like, from organisms living in any number of different times in the past.  There is a potential device that might allow biologists to make a complete photographic record documenting exactly how the organisms on planet Earth have changed over the eons.  This yet-to-be-invented device is what is commonly known as a time travel machine. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

“Easy Life” Fantasy Reaches Its Zenith of Silliness

Every realistic and candid consideration of the requirements for life should lead you to be impressed by the stratospheric difficulty of even the simplest living thing arising accidentally. The fundamental units of all living things are cells, and even the simplest cell consists of more than 180 types of proteins. Most of those proteins consists of hundreds of amino acids arranged in just the right way to achieve a particular function. A scientific paper tells us, “The median length of the proteins annotated among Eukaryotes (361 amino acids) is much higher than in Bacteria (267 amino acids) and this in turn is higher than in Archaea (247 amino acids).” An article in Nature is entitled “Smallest genome clocks in at 182 genes.” This smallest genome has 159,662 “letters” or base pairs that have to be just right. This is about the information complexity of a 400-page book or a 400-page carefully-coded computer program, and each of those 182 genes are about as unlikely to appear by chance as two well-written pages in an instruction textbook or two pages of well-functioning computer source code.

But there has been for a long time a group of people totally oblivious to such biological realities, a group that we may call the “easy life” thinkers. Contrary to everything we know about the complexity of life, these “easy life” thinkers have maintained that it is real easy for life to accidentally appear, so easy that it will happen whenever there is an opportunity. Such thinkers have long been guilty of all kinds of silliness and sophistry. One of their tricks is to cite (as evidence that life can easily arrive from chemicals) experiments that have never produced a living thing from chemicals, and have never even produced a protein from chemicals. A close examination of such experiments (such as here and here) will show that they failed miserably to realistically simulate conditions on the early Earth.

The world of the “easy life” theorist is a world of fantasy, not realism. Recently such silliness seemed to have reached a zenith. A scientific paper tried to persuade us that life might have arisen inside the interiors of stars. It would be hard to think of a sillier idea. The paper had the title, “Can Self-Replicating Species Flourish in the Interior of a Star?”

Life is a state involving enormously organized complexity. The temperature at the surface of a star like the sun is about 6000 degrees F (about 3700 degrees C). Anyone familiar with the kinetic theory of matter (one of the best established facts of science) knows that heat is actually just the degree of motion of particles. The hotter that something is, the faster its particles are moving about. At a temperature such as 6000 F, particles move about so fast that they cannot exist in any solid or organized form, but can only exist as a hot gas in which particles are moving about at a furious pace. Life could not possibly exist as such a hot gas. There could be none of the chemical bonds upon which life depends. Nor could there exist any of the liquid water on which life depends, 6000 F being a temperature very many times greater than the boiling point of water.

The paper authors try to back up their fantasy by appealing to speculative physics entities for which there is no evidence, some of a thousand and one imaginary things dreamed up by theoretical physicists, who these days seem more imaginative than J. K. Rowling or Stephen King. The first such entity is something called cosmic strings. The second and third such entities are something called magnetic monopoles and semipoles. Like somebody imagining with speculative abandon a Bigfoot monster riding on a unicorn, the authors imagine such cosmic strings, magnetic monopoles and semipoles (all imaginary things) forming into some kind of necklace. But such a necklace wouldn't be something like DNA, which has the shape of a spiral staircase, not a necklace. There is no reason to think that some necklace-like structure could be a basis for life. The shortfall is shown in Figure 1 of the paper (reproduced below), in which we see a fantasy "semipole necklace" on the left, and a DNA molecule on the right.  There is no reason for thinking that these fantasy "semipole necklaces" would have a winding appearance as in the diagram below, and in another paper they are depicted as straight lines. 

In the paper I just mentioned, we see these imaginary "semipole necklaces" looking like a few strands of spaghetti scattered around inside various places of a 10-gallon pot of water, and the resulting visual looks nothing like the concentrated organization of matter found within living things, where DNA is just one component tightly packed alongside many other components,  with the same tight component packing one sees in the engine of a car. 

The fantasy nature of cosmic strings is suggested by the wikipedia.org article on the topic, where we learn that there are no observations supporting such an idea:

"Note that most of these proposals depend, however, on the appropriate cosmological fundamentals (strings, branes, etc.), and no convincing experimental verification of these has been confirmed to date. Cosmic strings nevertheless provide a window into string theory. If cosmic strings are observed which is a real possibility for a wide range of cosmological string models this would provide the first experimental evidence of a string theory model underlying the structure of spacetime."

The wikikpedia.org article on magnetic monopoles makes clear at its beginning that such a particle is merely a "hypothetical" particle. 

In a press release one of the paper authors is quoted as making this very incorrect statement: “Information stored in the RNA (or DNA) encodes the mechanism of self-replication.” This is not at all true. RNA and DNA specify merely low-level chemical information (for example, DNA specifies which amino acids make up particular proteins). Neither DNA nor RNA encode anything like a high-level mechanism of self-replication for human beings. We do not at all understand how a speck-sized human egg is able to progress to become a large organism such as a human baby.  Nowhere in such an egg (or in its DNA or RNA molecules) is there even a specification of any of the 200 types of cells used by a human, nor is there anything like a specification of the full human body plan or any of the organ systems used by a human.  Scientists don't even understand how a single cell is able to reproduce, and the answer to this question is not found in DNA or RNA. "DNA cannot be seen as the 'blueprint' for life," says Antony Jose, associate professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland.  He says, "It is at best an overlapping and potentially scrambled list of ingredients that is used differently by different cells at different times."  Sergio Pistoi (a science writer with a PhD in molecular biology) tells us, "DNA is not a blueprint," and tells us, "We do not inherit specific instructions on how to build a cell or an organ."

We currently live in an age of Fantasy Biology, in which many an unproven and unbelievable assertion and many a dubious boast is put forth because they have an appeal to the ideological inclinations of certain members of an erring professorial belief community. A paper such as the “Can Self-Replicating Species Flourish in the Interior of a Star?” paper shows just how far this tendency towards Fantasy Biology has gone. To the people who keep spinning these fantasies (while ignoring the most pertinent facts of biology) we should speak two loud words of advice: get real.