Human Technology is Garbage Compared to Biology

The main printed circuit board from a Hewlett-Packard HP9000 Model 715 UNIX Workstation. (click for credit)

Look at the picture above. It is the motherboard (the main printed circuit board) from a computer. How do you think it came to be? It could have been formed by an earthquake at a spare electronics warehouse. After all, it’s at least possible that in the midst of the warehouse shaking and being destroyed, lots of spare electronic parts started crashing into each other and, as a result, just happened to produce what you see above. Of course, I hope that no one is silly enough to believe such a story. It is obvious that the motherboard is the result of careful design and craftsmanship.

An example of the computer I used in the late 1980s. (click for credit)
As someone who started programming computers with punch cards, used DOE grant money to buy a 40-Megabyte hard disc for $1,200 in 1989, and stored his unimaginably vast (800 Megabytes) thesis experiment data on sixteen separate 10.5-inch magnetic tape reels, I have witnessed a lot of progress in the area of computers. I marvel at how technology can produce a hand-held device that is more powerful than the VAX-11/750 (pictured on the left, without the keyboard and monitor) that I used to analyze my thesis experiment. Nevertheless, with all of the amazing progress that human engineering has produced, it doesn’t come close to what we see in the natural world.

Consider, for example, this article’s comparison of a personal computer to a mouse brain:

A personal computer simulates a mouse-scale cortex model (2.5×106 neurons) 9000 times slower than a real mouse brain operates, while using 40,000 times more power (400 W versus 10 mW). [reference marks omitted for clarity]

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Cells Have Digital-to-Analog Converters

A schematic representation of the digital-to-analog conversion process.
(click to see credit for unedited image)

Suppose you want to listen to some music. You pull out your iPod or your phone, put the earbuds in your ears, and you start to enjoy your favorite tunes. You probably don’t think about the process that makes this possible: digital-to-analog conversion. Computers and devices based on them store all of their information digitally. On your iPod or phone, the music is stored as a string of 1’s and O’s. The 1’s represent electricity being on, and the 0’s represent electricity being off. So as your iPod or phone “plays” the music, it comes out digitally: as pulses of electricity, either on or off.

If you tried to listen to those pulses, they would make no sense to you, because your ears aren’t designed to hear things digitally. Instead, they are designed to hear sounds in a continuous flow. We call this analog. So while your iPod or phone stores music digitally, it must convert that music into a continuous, analog signal so that you can understand it. It does this with an electrical circuit called a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Here is a picture of a simple one (click it for credit):

Obviously, the digital-to-analog converter in your phone or iPod is much more sophisticated. It produces a higher-quality analog signal, but probably more importantly, it is packed into a tiny space. That’s what really makes it sophisticated. It can do a complex job while taking up very little room.

It turns out that cells have essentially the same thing, but it is significantly more sophisticated than what you find in an iPod or phone.

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The Surprising Reason that Some Cave Fish are Blind

The Mexican blind cave fish (click for credit)

The Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) can be found living in fresh water above or below ground. The ones living in water above ground are “normal,” but the ones living in water below ground (where light is scarce or nonexistent) are blind. As you can see from the picture above, they don’t even have noticeable eyes. Why? The standard view has always been that seeing things takes a lot of energy, so if you can’t see anything because it is always dark, it doesn’t do any good to waste energy on a visual system. However, if you can see things, it is worth the energy, because a visual system allows you to more easily find food, avoid predators, find a mate, etc.

So, if you are a Mexican tetra living in the waters on the surface of the earth and disabling mutations occur in the genes of your visual system, your fellow Mexican tetras will out-compete you, and you will probably die without passing on those mutations to the next generation. However, if you are a Mexican tetra living in the dark and get the same disabling mutation, it will not affect your ability to survive and pass that mutation on to the next generation. As a result, mutations in the visual systems of underground Mexican tetras accumulated over time, leading to blind cave fish.

A couple of years ago, a study confirmed the first part of this story. By comparing the blind version of the species to the version that can see, they showed that the energy “cost” of having a visual system was 5%-15% of the fish’s total metabolism, depending on the size of the fish. As a result, it makes sense that fish who do not use their visual system (like cave fish) would be better off not having one. However, the second part of the story (mutations building up to disable the system) seems to have been falsified, at least for this particular species.

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Another Evolutionary Idea Falisified

In 1930, Dr. Ronald Fisher (statistician and geneticist) wrote a book entitled, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. In that book, he produced a mathematical proof of what he called the “Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection.” Partly due to his difficult writing style and partly due to a feud in the literature with American geneticist Dr. Sewall Wright, his theorem was misunderstood for quite some time. In 1972, however, physical chemist Dr. George R. Price explained it in a detailed way and showed that it was mathematically correct.

What is the importance of the Theorem and what does it say? This quote from Essential Readings in Evolutionary Biology (by Francisco J. Ayala, John C. Avise, 2014) answers both of those questions:

…Fisher’s formulation of the “fundamental theorem of natural selection,” which would play a preeminent role in the future development of evolutionary genetics: “The rate of increase in fitness of any organism at any time is equal to its genetic variation in fitness at that time.” (p. 73)

In other words, natural selection will cause an organism to increase in fitness as long as its population has variation in the genes associated with fitness. The more variation in those genes, the faster the organism will increase in fitness. As Drs. Ayala and Avise indicate, this theorem became very important in shaping the field of evolutionary genetics.

While Fisher’s fundamental theorem is still quite correct, it is limited. In particular, it doesn’t take the effect of mutations into account. However, there is a corollary attached to the theorem: Since mutations should increase the genetic variation in a population, mutations should lead to a faster rate of fitness increase. While that corollary was important in shaping Neo-Darwinism, a recent paper published in the Journal of Mathematical Biology has shown that it is false when even mildly realistic conditions are considered.

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Here’s Another College That Gets It

Six years ago, I wrote an article about Anderson University, where I am an adjunct professor. While the university clings strongly to the essentials of the Christian faith, it does not force its faculty to conform to one interpretation of Scripture. As a result, students are exposed to many different views that exist within Christendom.

In addition, rather than just trying to proselytize for their own view, the faculty are committed to making sure students understand the different ways Christians interpret the world through the lens of Scripture. This is best exemplified by an example. One of the science professors is an old-earth creationist, but he regularly invites me into his classes either to give a young-earth view of the science the students are learning or to engage in a friendly debate with him on the issue of the earth’s age. I especially like the latter, since students see that two people can engage in serious disagreements and still be good friends.

Just before Christmas, someone I respect and admire sent me an article that I wanted to share with my readers. It gives you another example of a Christian College (in this case, a seminary and Bible College) that gets it. To fully appreciate the article, however, you need to know the history behind it.

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More Evidence That Bill Nye Has No Idea What He Is Talking About

Bill Nye, the Anti-Science Guy (click for credit)
Bill Nye calls himself “The Science Guy,” but most of his actions are decidedly anti-science. In 2012, he made a video saying that we should censor a scientific idea because it goes against the scientific consensus. He also narrated a faked experiment, demonstrating his ignorance of the physics related to global warming. He published a book about evolution that was riddled with scientific errors. He tried to discuss human reproduction and once again, ended up showing his ignorance. He also contends that the discipline which gave us science is essentially useless. The fact that he is one of today’s spokepersons for science is a frightening indication of this generation’s scientific illiteracy.

As I was preparing to blog about a completely different subject today, I realized that over the past few days, I have come across two more examples that indicate Bill Nye really has no idea what he is talking about, so I decided to put off the topic I was going to discuss and write about those examples instead. One of them relates to the first anti-science action I mentioned above. Nye made a video telling parents to stop thinking for themselves and encouraging their children to think for themselves. Instead, he told them to simply parrot what the High Priests of Science say when it comes to the origin of life and its diversity. Obviously, that is about as anti-science as one can get. Along the way, he made an incredibly ignorant statement about the debate regarding origins:

Denial of evolution is unique to the United States.

As I pointed out previously, that is utter nonsense. There are creationist movements in many, many countries, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, and the Netherlands. Just a few days ago, however, I blogged about a specific example that comes from Germany. In 2015 Dr. Günter Bechly, a German paleontologist who was the curator of the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History, publicly announced that he thinks Intelligent Design is the best explanation for the origin and diversity of life. The Inquisition was mobilized, and he is no longer the curator of the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History. He is now a Senior Fellow at an Intelligent Design Think Tank, and he spoke at an Intelligent Design conference that was held at Cambridge University.

If denial of evolution were unique to the United States (as the anti-science guy says) Dr. Bechly would not have been “converted” from materialist NeoDarwinism to Intelligent Design, and there would not have been an Intelligent Design conference at one of England’s most famous universities.

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Sometimes, It’s the “Deniers” Who Are Right!

Nobel Laureate Dr. Daniel Shechtman
(click for credit)
Nearly six years ago, I wrote about Dr. Daniel Shechtman. He had recently won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, and I wanted to highlight him because had the term been popular in his day, he would have been called a chemistry denier. His own research demonstrated the existence of quasicrystals, despite the fact that the science of the day said (quite conclusively) that they couldn’t possibly exist. He faced a lot of opposition from his fellow scientists, even though all he was doing was following the data.

Although the term “denier” wasn’t fashionable at the time, two-time Nobel Laureate Dr. Linus Pauling famously said:

There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.

Despite the fact that the head of his own research group asked him to leave because of “bringing disgrace” to the team, Dr. Shechtman persevered, and he was eventually vindicated. Even though science conclusively said that quasicrystals don’t exist, Dr. Schechtman showed that they did.

I recently learned from one of my chemistry colleagues that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences wrote an article about Dr. Schechtman’s story. It is called Crystals of Golden Proportion, and if you have any interest in chemistry, you might find it worth the read. I certainly did.

The article discusses the ridicule Dr. Schechtman received from his fellow scientists, and then it makes this statement:

Dan Shechtman’s story is by no means unique. Over and over again in the history of science, researchers have been forced to do battle with established “truths”, which in hindsight have proven to be no more than mere assumptions…Keeping an open mind and daring to question established knowledge may in fact be a scientist’s most important character trait.

I have said the same things many times. Unfortunately, this obvious truth is lost on most people, including most scientists. If a scientist dares to question established truth, he or she is immediately labeled a “denier.” If you point out the uncertainty in our understanding of global climate, you are a “climate change denier.” If you question the “accepted” age of the earth, or flagellate-to-philosopher evolution, you are a “science denier.” As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences admits, however, the “deniers” are right in many cases, and established scientific “truths” are sometimes just incorrect assumptions.

Science would be better served if more people (including more scientists) understood this.

Knowing Science Doesn’t Mean Following the Scientific Consensus

The study being discussed indicates that people with a strong knowledge of science don’t necessarily follow the scientific consensus. (click for credit)

Some people get distressed over the fact that there are those of us who don’t blindly follow whatever is advertised as the “scientific consensus.” The distress becomes so great that such people often have to come up with some kind of explanation for this non-sheep-like behavior. For example, in response to a 2014 poll that indicated Americans are skeptical about human-caused global warming, evolution, and the Big Bang, Nobel Laureate Dr. Randy Schekman said:

Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts.

I read and hear this idea a lot. If you don’t automatically accept what the High Priests of Science say, you obviously don’t know or don’t understand science. While such an idea might be comforting to those who don’t wish to think for themselves when it comes to scientific issues, it doesn’t have any basis in reality. Indeed, some of the most intelligent, well-educated people I know do not believe in evolution (in the flagellate-to-philosopher sense), do not think the earth is billions of years old, and do not think that humans are causing significant global warming.

Of course, the people I know don’t necessarily make up a representative sample of the population as a whole. As a result, I was very interested to read a study that was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The authors of the study analyzed the 2006 and 2010 results of the General Social Survey, which attempts to determine the views of the American people on a wide variety of issues. At the same time, it tries to get a general sense of each individual’s level of education on those issues. The results of their study seemed very surprising to the authors, but they weren’t at all surprising to me.

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Thoughts and Pictures from the Eclipse

The International Space station (the structure in the center of the image) photobombs the 2017 eclipse. (NASA image)

I remember the 1994 eclipse. I was on the faculty at Ball State University, teaching chemistry and physics. I told all my students about the eclipse, and when it came time to view it, I joined a few of the university’s staff watching the eclipse with welder’s goggles, pinhole viewers, and even natural pinhole viewers made by the foliage of the trees. As we watched, a few people joined in. Most of them had no idea that the eclipse was happening until they saw us looking at it.

Well, the 2017 eclipse was very different! Because of social media, a lot more people knew about and planned for the eclipse, so my Facebook feed was filled with awesome photos of people watching the eclipse, the eclipse itself, and the effects that the eclipse had on the surroundings. While I agree that social media has a lot of negative effects on our culture, it also has some positive effects, and the eclipse highlighted one of those. Social media has made it much easier to “get the word out” on a variety of issues, including science-related events that people can experience.

I thought I would share some of my photos of the eclipse as well as some better ones, providing “color commentary” as I go. Before I do that, however, I would like to just make a comment about how some people, like Eric Metaxas, view an eclipse as evidence for God’s existence. The argument goes something like this: the sun is 400 times larger than the moon, but it is also 389 times farther from the earth. As a result, they each take up roughly (not exactly) the same amount of space in the night sky. Without this pleasant “coincidence,” a total solar eclipse could not happen. Of course, it is no coincidence. It is another piece of evidence for the fact that our solar system is designed.

While I think that nature explodes with evidence of design, I am not sure this is really one of those evidences. Sure, it represents an interesting example of “balance” between natural variables, and it certainly makes for an awesome sight. But honestly, it’s only four parameters (two distances from earth and two sizes). It’s not all that improbable for four different parameters to be balanced as a result of mere chance. In addition, those parameters are somewhat constrained, because we need a large moon for healthy oceans that can support life and a reasonably small, “gentle” star for our energy source. So while I think that the moon and the sun both provide strong evidence for the idea that our solar system is designed, I don’t think the fact that they can produce a total solar eclipse does.

Now let’s see some pictures!

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When People Don’t Believe in God, They Will Believe Anything!

Some people actually think it is possible that we are living in a computer simulation.
(click for credit)

Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist who was largely responsible for bringing Mother Teresa to the world’s attention, once said:

One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we’ve developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.
(Malcolm Muggeridge and Christopher Ralling, Muggeridge Through the Microphone, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1967, p. 44)

I couldn’t help but think of that quote when a student asked me to read Scientific American’s article entitled, “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?

Apparently, that question was the topic of a debate held at the American Museum of Natural History back in 2016. The debate was moderated by serial spreader of falsehoods Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is responsible for one historian asking if it’s okay to lie about history, as long as the lies support a good cause.

According to the article, Dr. Tyson made the evidence-free speculation that there is a 50/50 chance we are, indeed, living in a computer simulation. Why? Because as Muggeridge suggested 50 years ago, when you give up belief in God, you must believe in all sorts of wild ideas in order to make sense of the universe around you.

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