Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

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Science and Spirituality – Conflict and Cultural Change

October 6, 2017

Two statements:

Statement 1 — Behind that hill is a stream with good water that you can drink.

Statement 2 — The moon travels across the sky because it is being drawn by a giant, divine horse.

Each of these statements asserts a fact; but each seems to belong to a different category. With Statement 1, its truth or falsehood is most important. It could be a matter of life or death, and any continuing relationship between the giver and the receiver of the information will be strongly affected by its accuracy.

Statement 2, while clearly also a fact claim, has a completely different feel to it. No great existential consequences imminently depend on it. Belief or disbelief is not really the point. It just feels qualitatively different, and sits comfortably in a different category.

This was the status quo for the vast majority of human history: statements like our two exemplars comfortably occupied two distinct categories, governed by two distinct sets of rules and customs…. Until Galileo, Kepler and Newton suddenly figured out that actually, no, the moon moves according the laws of inertia and gravity. And with that, Statement 2 was very suddenly and unceremoniously pulled from its mythological category into that blunt “true/false” category also occupied by Statement 1.

And there it sits: harmless enough, but irrevocably exposed as a falsehood.

It is easy to overlook just how new this shift is.

Earlier in human history, a member of a tribe whose cosmology had Statement 2 embedded in it might encounter another tribe that believed a different version — maybe that the moon is being hunted and eaten by a large divine bird. The two groups might fight about it; or merely find it curious, and move on.

But one thing they would never have done, is resolve it. They lacked the scientific means.

Now, suddenly, there it is, resolved. A new reality. This is the kind of thing that can happen to beliefs like Statement 2 these days. There’s no point in being angry with Newton about it. He didn’t intend to stop people anyone believing in divine horses. It just happened as a side effect of the progress of science.

Science and Cultural Change

So how to deal with a fact claim like Statement 2 that is embedded in a widely held or much loved set of ideas? Culturally speaking, we still have figured a satisfying or widely accepted approach to it.

There is a fear that allowing Statement 2 to be torn from its previous context and exposed to the harsh light of scientific inquiry, will lead to everything in that culture being treated in this manner. People are, (understandably, I think), wary of opening the door to science. Often they don’t quite understand what just happened, or what it was about Statement 2 that made it vulnerable to such a fate. What else is suddenly going to get sucked into that other category? Ethics? Cultural identity? Family values? Everything?

In a society that is at least partially scientifically literate, this makes for a tricky dynamic in public discourse. People don’t like it that scientists suddenly seem to know more about certain aspects of their beliefs or cultural identity than they know themselves. An uncomfortable hierarchy in the relationship results, where scientists happily try to share their findings, while their less informed audience experiences it as a personal affront.

Add to this the fact that spiritual and religious teachers often build their authority squarely on claiming the literal truth of their ‘Statement 2-like’ ideas. This sets them on collision course with science (though in previous centuries they had no way of knowing this), and has the knock on effect of making it appear as if scientists are trying to usurp their power, and set themselves up in their place.

Strategies Used for Opposing Science

Not only spiritual and religious movements, but also spiritually oriented academics and public figures feel uncomfortable with the perceived threat of science (or as they often term it, ‘scientism’) gaining power in areas of society and culture. Rather than learning science and engaging with scientists, they often revert to a number of avoidance strategies. The following is a brief survey of these.

Political Suppression

The most obvious tactic, perhaps, is to try to suppress the new knowledge. The Church tried this with Galileo, by refusing to look through his telescope, banning his book, and locking him up. But they couldn’t stop other people looking through a telescope, and had to watch as science progressed elsewhere in Europe but no longer Italy. The Islamic world has been suffering the same fate for five centuries.

Wall of denial

A somewhat softer strategy, especially where suppression is not possible, is to build a wall of denial so high that the science disappears behind it. Creationism attempts this, by producing and distributing masses of fake biology text books. New Age esoteric spirituality has achieved exactly this in relation to quantum physics, by flooding their own market with so much Chopra-esque quantum fables that one could read a thousand or more such books without ever encountering any genuine physics. Same with spiritual ‘epigenetics’.

Scientists really have no other option than to just blast away at these walls. Engagement is simply not possible with insincere interlocutors. But this can make scientists seem far more bullish than they actually are, and effectively invite opponents of science to proclaim that scientists are “just as dogmatic as fundamentalists.”

‘Scientific dogmatism’

This leads to another avoidance strategy: claiming that science is governed by dogma, and that spurious ideas have been elevated to the status of truth. The scientific establishment, so it is claimed, is suppressing new technologies and cancer cures, and excludes successful spiritual ideas from the journals and text books.

This accusation, though staggeringly popular, can be immediately dismissed. One example for how scientists treat potentially ‘heretical’ ideas will suffice: neutrino incident. A small group of scientists thought they had found particles that travel faster than the speed of light, thereby overturning a vast swathe of physics. The findings weren’t suppressed, but treated seriously, if skeptically, and dominated headlines worldwide for a week or so, until it emerged that a faulty cable was the cause.

Many narratives

Instead of building a wall, is to shift the boundary of that mythological category (where Statement 2 initially resided), so that it now includes science.

This is probably the most popular and most effective evasion tactic. Post modernism is one way that academics do this. Science becomes but one ‘narrative’ among many. So while scientists might insist that there is no moon-pulling horse, others are free to judge that narrative according to other standards: Newton was a privileged white male who didn’t like horses. And surely all this will be wiped away with the next paradigm shift.

…And what is “truth” anyway? ….And boy is there a lot of philosophical mileage in that gambit! Scientists usually walk straight into it too, with talk of “provisional truths”. They are perfectly right to say that, but once you let someone climb that tree, there’s no getting them down again.

The ‘Sliding Scale of Certainty’

When spiritual folk and academics pull this trick with “truth” and “paradigms” etc., they are missing something vitally important about science. We can avoid the philosophical difficulties of works like “truth” and “fact” and refer instead to a “sliding scale of certainty”.

Certain   —   probable   —   likely  —   possible   —   speculative

Down the dark end of the scale are things that are so certain that it would be a waste of time to test them again. There’s no dogmatic law against retesting them. Rather, they have been tested and re-confirmed so often that we can use them as a basis for new research.

Pseudo-science can be instantly recognized by the misapplication or more often complete absence of this scale.


The difficulty for non-scientists is that encountering science inevitably means slogging through a lot of stuff from that ‘dark end’ of the scale. By definition, that is what text books consist of (or should do). Science teaching is often too didactic, with little opportunity for students to encounter real problems or be challenged with open-ended tasks that require critical and creative thinking.

Add to this a serious problem with schooling in general. The condition of “not knowing” — a condition absolutely crucial to understanding and appreciating science — is nearly always experienced  in school as a failure. The words “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” are a shameful admission of failure. And far too often a failure involving humiliation before classmates. Where in school do people experience the feeling of not knowing as inspiring instead of threatening?

One of the big selling points (and arguably a genuinely valuable aspect) of New Age spirituality has been to free people from an overbearing “inner critic”, internalized in part from bad schooling. And clearly, when a spiritual teacher attacks science as soulless and authoritarian, their followers can’t recall anything from their science education that would contradict this.

It is only possible, however, to engage meaningfully with science if you are comfortable with this condition of “not knowing”. No one can understand science unless they first clear some ground for it. This almost inevitably involves letting go of some egotism, and letting go of attachments to certain ideas. All statements with the character of Statement 2 in this post, should have red warning lights flashing around them, as they are vulnerable to disproof. Learning to recognize these kinds of statements in advance, is not only a first step in clearing some ground for science; it is also an interesting way to clear out spiritual detritus and protect oneself from spiritual fraud.

Posted by Yakaru

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘The Biology of Belief’ – annotated with facts: Part 1 (The Central Dogma)

August 25, 2017

I have often written about the work of biologist Bruce Lipton here, often with harsh criticism, and always with much to say about the errors in his thinking. His verbal expression is extremely chaotic and his statements veer between the illogical and the incoherent. But I spend the time because he claims to have a cure for cancer. As commenters here who suffer from cancer have attested, friends and therapists have recommended Lipton’s books to them.

His fans inform me that his writings are more coherent than his talks, so here I will be looking closely at his extremely popular book, The Biology of Belief. Maybe I have been unfair to focus on his ideas as they are presented in his lectures and interviews….

I am not a biologist, but I am university educated and can read. This is — and should be — more than enough to be able to go some way towards critically evaluating a science book written for a popular audience. Moreover, Lipton has indeed been largely ignored by qualified biologists, even those of a skeptical bent. It seems they find so much to criticize that they don’t know where to start, so they don’t.

This series of blogposts is for people who have read the book and are wondering about its veracity. The book occupies that odd space between spirituality and science where one is torn between drawing personal metaphorical meanings from an idea, and accepting the exalted status of “scientific fact”. I am also doing this for those who are (like me) interested in the way spiritual claims about the physical world can be fairly approached and evaluated. I will be looking not only at how he presents biological concepts, but also at how he builds his case.

Before starting, however, I already know we need to briefly clear up an odd confusion about genetics that, apparently, many biologists — including well qualified ones, and including Lipton — often make.

It concerns what in the 1950s was playfully (or foolishly) termed the “Central Dogma” of genetics.

As biochemist Larry Moran (author of a major biochemistry textbook), points out, there are in fact two different versions of this Central Dogma. One is right, and the other wrong. Unfortunately, it is the wrong one that still gets into most of the textbooks, where it is learned by many biologists. It is only a minor error, and remains insignificant, unless someone has an iconoclastic bent and is a little incautious in their critical thinking and fact checking.

Luckily it is relatively simple and can be followed for our purposes simply by noting the two diagrams.

So, here is the wrong version of this Central Dogma, (proposed by James Watson), which usually gets reproduced in the textbooks:

The wrong version of the Central Dogma

The diagram refers to the process by which a piece of DNA (a gene) being copied (transcribed) as a short piece of RNA, which then migrates from the nucleus of the cell to the cell body, where it seeks out the chemical components to construct (translate into) a protein. (Many proteins make an enzyme. Many enzymes construct larger organic structures.)

This version holds that genetic “information” flows in a simple one way street from DNA to protein.

And here is the second version, (by Francis Crick), which is the correct one:

The correct version of the Central Dogma

This shows a flow of information as a two-way street between DNA and RNA, as well as two one way streets to the protein.

What has changed, is that this model allows for complex interactions between DNA and RNA. What has not changed is that there is still no two-way street leading back from a protein to either DNA or RNA.

Moran explains that the simple one way street (wrong) version:

is clearly untrue, as the discovery of reverse transcriptase demonstrated only a few years after his book was published. Furthermore, there are now dozens of examples of information flow pathways that are more complex than the simple scheme shown in Watson’s 1965 book. (Not to mention the fact that many information flow pathways terminate with functional RNA’s and never produce protein.

Again, it is this version — the wrong one — which gets into most of the text books!

As Moran points out, it has:

become the favorite whipping boy of any scientist who lays claim to a revolutionary discovery, even though a tiny bit of research would uncover the real meaning of the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.

It’s not just because it’s called a “Dogma” that some see it as a challenge, but also because of another reason, which will become clearer as we go along. (It has to do with evolution. In other words, the environment does not alter DNA. Thus, acquired characteristics, like big muscles or rotting teeth, are not passed on genetically to offspring. Heritable variability only enters a gene pool through the chance mutations that routinely occur during DNA replication in reproductive cells in the testes or ovaries.)

As mentioned, Lipton adds himself to the list of biologists who should have noticed this discrepancy that has crept into the textbooks.

Let us begin our journey through this book.

The Biology of Belief

By Dr. Bruce H. Lipton

Acknowledgements

Lipton, after acknowledging a debt to both Lamarck and Einstein, tells the story of why he left academic biology.

My life-changing moment occurred while I was reviewing research on the mechanisms by which cells control their physiology and behavior. Suddenly I realized that a cell’s life is controlled by the physical and energetic environment and not by its genes.

This is our first whiff of Lipton’s challenge to the Central Dogma. As we will see, he has unfortunately not merely chosen the wrong version of it, he has also misinterpreted it.

Genes are simply molecular blueprints used in the construction of cells, tissues and organs. The environment serves as a “contractor” who reads and engages those genetic blueprints…

So far so good, though a bit vague. Genes are indeed switched on an off in part according the chemicals present in a cell. Each cell, of course, has a copy complete genome — a copy of the entire “blueprint” — recorded in DNA in its nucleus. (Except red blood cells which don’t have a nucleus.) But the only genes that are switched on, are the ones needed to do the job of that particular type of cell. A liver cell has a different task to a brian cell, and will switch different genes on and off accordingly.

and is ultimately responsible for the character of a cell’s life….

Odd statement. The “environment”, whatever he means by that, is not responsible for whether or not a cell is a liver or a brain cell. That’s already been decided during embryological development. The genetic switches are also in the DNA, and are activated by environmental triggers at the correct moment, as part of a cascade of events. I don’t know what he is referring to with “the environment is ultimately responsible for the character of a cell’s life.”

He continues:

….It is a single cell’s “awareness” of the environment, not its genes, that sets into motion the mechanisms of life.

What? Now it’s suddenly not the environment, but the cell’s “awareness” of the environment. And what does he mean with the “mechanisms of life”? Is he referring to genes being switched on, as in the previous sentence, or the activities of whole cells or the functioning of organs, or the movements of animals?

And what is the cell’s “”awareness”? It’s clearly a metaphor for something — hence the inverted commas. I can only assume he is using a needlessly complicated metaphor for the relatively simple mechanism of the receptors on the cell membrane.

I was acutely aware that every human being is made up of approximately fifty trillion single cells.

Well it’s more like 37.2 trillion, but who’s counting.

I knew that if single cells are controlled by their awareness of the environment…

Stop!!!

…..We need to get clear. Are cells controlled by their environment, or by their “awareness” of their environment?

And why has the cell’s “awareness” suddenly lost its metaphorical inverted commas and evolved into a key biological fact that determines cell functioning?

There is a lot of leap-frogging going on here, (And why is he even talking about this all this in the Acknowledgements section?) He has a lot of bridges to build here.

Just like a single cell, the character of our lives is determined not by our genes but by our responses to the environmental signals that propel life.

The sentence may look simple, but there is a lot of leap-frogging from analogy to fact. We will have to get used to following these jumps.

We have an analogy: Just like a single cell, the character of our lives — this likens a human being’s life to the life of a cell.

And an assertion: the character of our lives is determined not by our genes

And another assertion: but by our responses to the environmental signals.

In short, he asserts that cells are somehow not determined by their genes, and neither are humans.

On the one hand my new understanding of the nature of life was a jolt.

He still has not said what his new understanding of life is. No geneticist says that genes “determine life”.

For close to two decades I had been programming biology’s Central Dogma— the belief that life is controlled by genes— into the minds of medical students.

Hmmm, maybe we were wasting time with all that explaining about the Central Dogma. Not even the wrong version of it says that “life is controlled by genes.” All it says is that genes build proteins, and that they are switched on and off by various triggers from elsewhere.

On the other hand, on an intuitive level my new understanding was not a complete surprise. I had always had niggling doubts about genetic determinism.

Genetic determinism is not — I repeat NOT — the Central Dogma.

Genetic determinism was popular among some in the early part of the 20th Century and was associated with eugenics. It was not only morally objectionable (to put it mildly) but also scientifically invalid.

(Um… Why was Lipton teaching it to medical students?)

….Though it took a sojourn outside of traditional academia for me to fully realize it, my research offers incontrovertible proof that biology’s most cherished tenets regarding genetic determinism are fundamentally flawed.

Lipton has leapfrogged out of the pond and his happily hopping over the hill, and we are not even out of the Acknowledgements yet. I am starting to wonder if this is such a good idea.

Part 2 is here.

Posted by Yakaru

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A.N. Wilson’s Stupid Creationist History of Charles Darwin

August 6, 2017

Well known writer of serious biographies, A.N. Wilson, claims to have spent spent 5 years studying Darwin’s life. His summary of his resulting book suggests that he has taken 5 years to make the same unbelievably stupid and ignorant mistakes that the average Creationist needs only 5 minutes to make.

Unfortunately, the imminent devastating reviews by biologists will probably be overshadowed by breathless and triumphal accolades from clueless left wing academics, right wing religious fanatics, and left wing hack journalists.

I haven’t read his book, but here’s my take on his own atrocious summary of it in the UK’s Evening Standard. I’m no biologist, but neither is Wilson. I haven’t spent 5 years studying Darwin’s work, but have read a couple of his books, a string of popular and some fairly specialized books on evolution, and Janet Browne’s wonderful two volume biography of Darwin.

The headline:

A.N. Wilson: It’s time Charles Darwin was exposed for the fraud he was

Ah, finally — after 160 years, someone is going to break the silence and criticize Darwin. No one ever thought of doing that before.

And the subheading:

Two of his theories about evolution are wrong — and one resulting ‘science’ inspired the Nazis

And he’s already off and running:

…I found both pride and prejudice in bucketloads among the ardent Darwinians, who would like us to believe that if you do not worship Darwin, you are some kind of nutter. He has become an object of veneration comparable to the old heroes of the Soviet Union, such as Lenin and Stalin, whose statues came tumbling down all over Eastern Europe 20 and more years ago…

Wilson carries on venting like this — like some kind of nutter — for another two long paragraphs. I will ignore them, beyond noting that equating Darwin with Lenin and Stalin is both ridiculous, and a sure sign that biology is about to be treated as an ideology and not a science — and therefore to be countered by rhetoric and not facts.

Darwinism is not science as Mendelian genetics are.

Bingo. Stupid Bingo. And of course he is completely and utterly and stupidly and embarrassingly wrong. The field of evolutionary biology is demonstrably a science. It makes testable predictions whose accuracy can be determined to a degree of certainty. As a science, unlike rhetoric or creationism, it progresses, according to an objective standard. Rather than link to a stack of text books, I will link to one page from a stack of text books, John Endler’s classic study of natural- and sexual selection in the wild. (See Footnote 1.)

It is a theory whose truth is NOT universally acknowledged.

Here he is right. Only about 99% of biologists accept it. Of those who don’t, none have come up with any better explanation. Those who have claimed to have done, (like Stephen Meyer in his Signature in the Cell) have produced no new discoveries and contributed nothing beyond the assertion that their idea must be valid.

Intelligent Design Creationists have correctly identified exactly the kind of evidence that would be devastating to evolutionary biology if it were ever to be found. This is the idea of irreducible complexity — a characteristic that must have appeared fully developed, as any earlier stages would not have been viable.

No such case has ever been found, and dozens of purported cases have been shown to be erroneous. (See Footnote 2)

But when genetics got going there was also a revival, especially in Britain, of what came to be known as neo-Darwinism, a synthesis of old Darwinian ideas with the new genetics. Why look to Darwin, who made so many mistakes, rather than to Mendel?

Now this is just stupid.”Especially in Britain”? One of the central figures, Ernst Mayr, was a German who worked mostly in New Guinea, where evolution seemed to work just as effectively as at Oxford. And what on earth is Wilson talking about when he claims that the neo-Darwinian synthesis rejected Mendel? It was a “synthesis”, (note the definition), both of Darwinian ideas and population genetics (based on Medelian genetics).

Genetics had advanced greatly since the rediscovery of Mendel’s work around 1900, and it was found that genetic mutation (unknown to Mendel) was the cause of the heritable variability that Darwin had correctly intuited from masses of evidence. I have no idea why Wilson thinks the modern synthesis — the link of Darwinian natural selection with population genetics — is not based on genetics.

Ah, here we get it:

There was a simple answer to that. Neo-Darwinism was part scientific and in part a religion, or anti-religion.

This is not stupid. It is flaming idiocy of the kind that does not deserve to published. Shame on Wilson’s pig ignorant editor, proof reader, publisher, and all of his friends, his family and children above the age of twelve, for not rescuing this stupid man from making a stupid idiot of himself in public.

Its most famous exponent alive, Richard Dawkins, said that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist. You could say that the apparently impersonal processes of genetics did the same. But the neo-Darwinians could hardly, without absurdity, make Mendel their hero since he was a Roman Catholic monk. So Darwin became the figurehead for a system of thought that (childishly) thought there was one catch-all explanation for How Things Are in nature.

You fucking stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid idiot, A.N. Wilson.

You flaming fucking idiot.

Go to the library and take out a biology text book right now, A. Stupid. N. Stupid. Wilson, and open it up. Now flip through the pages until you find Mendel and a bunch of fucking goddam motherfucking peas on a grid. Why do you think they are there?

Correct. They are there because that is normal, accepted biology, and Richard Dawkins did not order people to stop talking about Mendel. He likes Mendel. They all like Mendel, and they couldn’t care less if he was a monk or a Mormon or a freaking Martian.

It is you, Mr Wilson who is obsessed with personalities, not scientists. It’s only creationists like you who obsess about Darwin. “Darwinism” only looks like an ideology if you don’t know what it is, where it came from, or how it works. It only looks like an ideology if you have managed to remain pig ignorant of scientific progress.

Wilson continues:

The great fact of evolution was an idea that had been current for at least 50 years before Darwin began his work. His own grandfather pioneered it in England, but on the continent, Goethe, Cuvier, Lamarck and many others realised that life forms evolve through myriad mutations.

Wrong. There were speculations that used the term, but all lacked Darwin’s unique combination of natural selection acting on inherited variation.

Darwin wanted to be the Man Who Invented Evolution…

What? Where is your evidence for this stupid assertion?

And even if there was evidence (which there isn’t), so what if he did want to be that? Lots of great scientists were assholes, but it doesn’t mean their science can’t be built upon for further progress.

And all the evidence points to Darwin being a remarkably compassionate man. He was famously prepared to cede priority to Wallace for his life’s work. He opposed slavery. (There’s an entire book about that!) In his private dealings, he was probably one of the most decent scientists in history.

Wilson continues–

Darwin wanted to be the Man Who Invented Evolution, so he tried to airbrush all the predecessors out of the story. He even pretended that Erasmus Darwin, his grandfather, had had almost no influence on him.

He happily studied, was deeply influenced by, and referenced them all. He carefully catalogued items from thousands of correspondents. He even acknowledged Aristotle as a predecessor, even though he was quite mistaken to have done so.

He then brought two new ideas to the evolutionary debate, both of which are false.

As noted earlier, the two ideas that distinguish Darwin from his predecessors were (a) that inherited variation within a population is (b) acted upon by natural selection.

I assume Wilson is referring to these.

One is that evolution only proceeds little by little, that nature never makes leaps. The two most distinguished American palaeontologists of modern times, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, both demonstrated 30 years ago that this is not true. Palaeontology has come up with almost no missing links of the kind Darwinians believe in. The absence of such transitional forms is, Gould once said, the “trade secret of palaeontology”. Instead, the study of fossils and bones shows a series of jumps and leaps.

Sigh. Gould’s work was (like the work of every other evolutionary biologist), a confirmation of the central tenets of Darwin’s work. Given that Wilson thinks evolutionary biology is not a science, I have no idea why he suddenly thinks it *is* a science when Gould does it.

Hard-core Darwinians try to dispute this, and there are in fact some “missing links” — the Thrinaxodon, which is a mammal-like reptile, and the Panderichthys, a sort of fish-amphibian. But if the Darwinian theory of natural selection were true, fossils would by now have revealed hundreds of thousands of such examples. Species adapt themselves to their environment, but there are very few transmutations.

Even at this late point in Wilson’s atrocious summary of his obviously atrocious book, this is stunning. He thinks Gould’s ideas are not part of Darwinian evolutionary theory. This is just flat wrong. It’s like saying Newton wasn’t a mathematician because he invented calculus. Furthermore, the term “missing link” only means something to creationists. Depending on one’s frame of reference, every single species that ever existed, and did not go extinct, is a transitional species.

And all this has absolutely nothing to do with Darwin’s ideas in history. So why is Wilson babbling about this? He doesn’t say it, but the person who Gould was squabbling with over this ultimately minor quibble in biology, was Richard The Beast 666 Dawkins. So of course Wilson picks a side in an argument he doesn’t understand, and doesn’t even know is utterly irrelevant to his own baseless claims.

Darwin’s second big idea was that Nature is always ruthless

Wrong. He noticed that nature is at times horrible and at times sweet and cutesy.

Look at his extraordinary and still relevant book, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. Darwin argues, for example, that animals, including humans, signal submission/non-threatening behavior by exaggerating the opposite of what a species’ aggressive stance would be. He studied all kinds of behaviors, from the aggressive to the peaceful and subtle, in relation to how they may have evolved.

that the strong push out the weak, that compassion and compromise are for cissies whom Nature throws to the wall.

Wrong again, you ignoramus. You spent 5 years on this and didn’t come across any of Darwin’s work on the role of social cooperation in evolution? In fact There’s a wonderful book on how altruism can evolve: let me direct you to The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

Darwin borrowed the phrase “survival of the fittest” from the now forgotten and much discredited philosopher Herbert Spencer.

Darwin did indeed say he approved of the term as an alternative to “natural selection”, but as wikipedia notes, he used it to mean “better designed for an immediate, local environment”. — In other words, not objectively fitter”, as the stupid and ignorant Wilson is about to proclaim.

And just how “ruthless” and aggressive does Wilson think the barnacles and vegetable molds upon which Darwin based his studies were?

He invented a consolation myth for the selfish class to which he belonged, to persuade them that their neglect of the poor, and the colossal gulf between them and the poor, was the way Nature intended things.

Evidence for these assertions about Darwin’s character and motives? Competent biographers avoid speculating about such things. Wilson should know that. I don’t need to speculate that Darwin wasn’t like that. I can simply point to his trenchant opposition to slavery.

He thought his class would outbreed the “savages” (ie the brown peoples of the globe) and the feckless, drunken Irish. Stubbornly, the unfittest survived. Brown, Jewish and Irish people had more babies than the Darwin class. The Darwinians then had to devise the hateful pseudo-science of eugenics, which was a scheme to prevent the poor from breeding.

Darwin used the terminology of his day, both when opposing slavery for “savages” and when speculating that “savages” would become “civilized” if they were raised in a society such as Darwin’s own.

We all know where that led, and the uses to which the National Socialists put Darwin’s dangerous ideas.

No, Mr Wilson, we don’t “all know”. And especially you don’t know. There was a thing called Social Darwinism, and it’s a fairly complex topic. But despite containing the name “Darwin”, social Darwinism was no more Darwinian than it was social.

As noted earlier, Darwin measured “fitness” purely in the context of specific local habitat, not according to some invented ideal standard as the Nazis did.

Secondly, Social Darwinism is the polar opposite of Darwinian evolution. Eugenics tried to use artificial selection (the kind of selective breeding that farmers use), not the kind of natural selection that occurs in nature. This should be obvious to someone who has spent 5 years studying Darwin’s ideas.

Furthermore, eugenics is in fact based on Wilson’s beloved Mendelian genetics — which Wilson claims the evil Nazi evolutionary biologists have rejected.

Same old targets — Darwin (check). Dawkins (check). Nazis (check). Really, why can’t miserable deranged hacks like Wilson come up with a few new targets for their ignorant bile?

In case you still want to buy it, I should say that Wilson’s book is unironically titled Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker. It costs £25.

Footnotes:

1 Briefly, Endler found colorful fish in one pond in a forest, and dull colored ones in another. He found they were same species, and postulated that there was a predator in the dull colored ones’ pond, meaning less noticeable fish are more likely to survive; and that predators were absent from the other pond, meaning that color meant a reproductive advantage, being more noticeable to mates. He took specimens and switched them in the lab — put colored fish in a pond where the predator had some access, and the dull fish in a predator free pond. After numerous generations, the dull population had become colorful, and the colorful one dull. This illustrates the action of genetic mutation leading to variation; which is then acted upon by natural selection (here, predation and sexual selection)

2 For example, in the Dover case (involving the argument that Creationism is a science and should be taught in schools), the extraordinarily complex cascade of chemical reactions involved in blood clotting was asserted as a case of irreducible complexity. In testimony, biologist Ken Miller describes of how each step of the cascade can be found in isolation in nature. So while we don’t know the exact process by which it evolved in humans or other mammals, we do know that the steps are not irreducibly complex.

More to be added — see comments section, where I have posted some reviews by proper biologists.

Posted by Yakaru

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From a Theologian in 1909: Stop Deceiving Children About Science

March 18, 2016

I recently found an old book in a second-hand bookshop here in Berlin, entitled Darwin: His Meaning for Our Worldview and Values. It’s a small collection of essays by scientists and academics, and was published in 1909 — 50 years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and 49 years after it appeared in translation in Germany. The essay that struck me most was written by a theologian called Friedrich Naumann. (Biographical details at the end of this post.)

Warenhaus A. Weiss, Schöneberg, 1907. Das Haus steht noch und ist ein lohnendes Objekt um die Verschandelung von Bauwerken zu studieren.

Schöneberg, Berlin, 1907 (source)

Naumann begins by noting that although religious people don’t usually accept evolution, they do concede that Darwin was a decent fellow who was sincerely seeking the truth. This is already a stark contrast to today where the religious frequently hold Darwin more or less to have been inspired by the devil, and evolution to be “lies straight from the pit of hell”.

Naumann then makes an interesting and rarely made point: that Darwin’s ideas were in fact no more “anti-Christian” than a great many other ideas which had already been proposed for quite some time, albeit without any complaint about them from the church. Religious leaders, he says, failed to discuss these new ideas and discoveries amongst themselves, and withheld them from parishioners.

He continues:

Through the writings of Darwin and Haeckel, what was until then the preserve of scientists erupted into public awareness. For many, “Darwinism” came as a completely unexpected “anti-religious” revelation… Those of us who experienced the years 1860 to 1890 in the company of pious Christians, remember how powerful the waves were. Even today the waters have not been stilled.

From his tone, I suspect Naumann would be quite surprised if he knew that the shock waves would still be felt in many countries more than 100 years later.

Next, he makes an important and I think undeniable point — undeniable even from a Christian perspective:

Darwinism would have come as less of a shock to the pious if they had already been speaking more openly with each other about scientific discoveries and the implications for religion. This rarely happened. Although some religious thinkers like Schleiermacher familiarized themselves with current scientific learning and “adjusted” their Christianity accordingly, those who preached in the church or taught in the schools deliberately and timidly avoided presenting these new ideas and discussing their implications.

Deliberately and timidly avoided teaching such ideas in the churches and schools. Exactly.

There follows another noteworthy passage.

Look, we’ve long known that the Bible does not place the sun at the center of the solar system; that it presents heaven as being located above the earth… Similarly, the Creation and the Great Flood were known even before Darwin to have been derived from earlier oriental myths, and cannot be taken as historical events. Had the faithful already been clearly and unreservedly informed of these facts, then Darwinism would not have arrived like a hailstorm on the field of religion.

A hailstorm on the field of religion. And how telling it is that even science teachers today avoid teaching evolution for fear of upsetting the faithful (or losing their job). It is even customary for academics to place trigger warnings and apologies prior to any mention of human origins. 

Yet in 1909 it was already clear that such pussyfooting ultimately serves no one. Those who reject science, merely find that they have to push back harder and harder in their denial as science progresses — and become proportionately stupider and stupider. Naumann would have been stunned to discover that climate change is rejected by political leaders in the US because they and the voters believe that God promised Noah that there would be no more floods. I can understand why people are shocked by the idea that we are a species of ape, but…. getting upset about Noah’s Ark being a myth????

Our theologian continues, to make a rather rhetorical argument that Jesus would have embraced Darwinism, because he was the quintessential reformer. I am in no position to comment on that (and neither was he of course, but it’s his religion not mine, so I will let it pass). The Bible, he points out is itself a historical record of reform and changes in religious thought. And he makes another excellent point when he says that by failing to teach the facts of science:

we allow people to develop false hopes. This sets them up for disappointment and confusion if they ever discover the truth.

These days, theologians are reluctant to write as boldly as this. Even the most science-friendly theologians keep one hand cautiously on the hand brake whilst discussing anything to do with science. But Naumann clearly believes that if God created the earth and its creatures, then the study of nature is a path to God. Modern theologians are far more nervous about that “if” being in there.

Religions of course, always face a dilemma, not only with science but with facts in general. Even St Augustine noticed it’s hard to proselytize when some doctrines are clearly false or hilariously stupid. He saw no option but to “interpret” the craziest parts of the Bible allegorically. But once that decision has been taken, it’s hard to stop reality swamping in and ruining dogmas that useful or even essential to the whole faith. Once Noah’s Ark is accepted as a myth (as Naumann conceded in 1909, and as Ken Ham doesn’t concede in 2016), then why not also concede that the “Virgin” Mary was a mistranslation that even the early Christians were informed about by the Jews? Don’t expect a coherent answer from any theologian. There’s too much riding on it. Naumann himself could have, or maybe should have known about this, but he says nothing about it. Is it too close to the bone? Did he know it and simply blend it out? 

I see no way to rescue believers from this collision of their faith with reality. But I also see no alternative to Naumann’s positive attitude to science.

——–

For the record, Friedrich Naumann (1860 – 1919) was a somewhat recognized theologian, priest, and author, who was involved in politics, (for the most part on the progressive side). A foundation named in honor of Naumann is connected to the mainstream but distinctly right-wing Freie Democratische Partei (FDP) in Germany. This Foundation, ironically, promotes climate-change denial. Unfortunately, he advocated a mild form of eugenics — a position that was opposed on ethical grounds by other writers in that book. Naumann was, however an outspoken activist for women’s rights, and other worthy causes. 

Posted by Yakaru

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Spiritual Believers Don’t Understand Science – Part 6: Knowledge v Speculation

November 23, 2014

Scientists have two tendencies that confuse and infuriate believers in modern esoteric spirituality.

One is their apparently unshakable certainty about some matters.

The other is their tendency to suddenly declare I don’t know or We don’t know when challenged on some question.

The first horrifies believers because it looks like fanatical dogmatism. The only other people in history to appear so certain of their rightness were the inquisitors. The second looks like a pathetic back-down, making their initial show of certainty appear all the more laughable.

Scientist: Evolution is a fact. Humans evolved from earlier hominids.

Believer: Oh? Well how did life start?

Scientist: We don’t know exactly.

Believer: HA! Science doesn’t know everything. Well I do know how it started. You see, you are infinite consciousness that is embodied in the space-time continuum through a process of quantum entanglement and non-local events…

The spiritual believer thinks that the scientist’s hubris has been exposed by their dogged questioning. It’s even quite fashionable for academics to join in with this misunderstanding. They are, however, unaware that science involves some methodological steps that spiritual people are loath to even contemplate — namely, scientists clearly distinguish between established knowledge and speculation. 

But they don’t do this in a black and white manner. Rather they differentiate gradations on a kind of sliding scale of certainty.

fadeFact — quite certain —  probable  — quite likely —  possible — unknown

Good science places each fact, piece of data, and idea somewhere along this scale, ranging from strong certainty to unknown validity. Certainty is represented here as dark, implying the weight added by repeated verification. Nevertheless, the lighter, more speculative end is where the most interesting and important scientific work occurs. 

Scientific knowledge is not there for scientists to passively sit on while smugly dismissing people’s spiritual beliefs. Rather, it forms both the theoretical foundation and the conceptual tools for scientific research. It is the platform from which scientific advancement arises. It consists not merely of facts but also theoretical ideas that have been confirmed and verified so many times that it would simply be a waste of time to re-test them. There is no need, for example, to re-test the chemical composition of water, or whether it might perhaps flow uphill. One can simply get on with planning the irrigation program.

The Problem

Spiritual teachers really do not like that dark end of the scale at all. They don’t like the boundaries it sets. They don’t like the way that those who are ignorant of its contents can be excluded from scientific discourse. They don’t like it when scientists mention facts that conflict with spiritual teachings. All their teachings — all of them — belong way up in the light, speculative end of the scale. And that factual knowledge stuff down the dark end sets considerable limits and prerequisites for speculation. They don’t like it at all. It hurts their ego and is bad for business.

But they do like the instant credibility that science is granted, and they want a bit of it for themselves. So they imitate scientific language and method. They make up their own rigged but official looking studies, designed “to prove” their pet theories. They plunder the language of science with the same kind of rapacity with which they plunder Hindu philosophy and indigenous cultures, for fancy sounding words and exotic concepts to distort and filter through their marketing department.

Spiritual teachers are ignorant both of the content as well as the sheer quantity of knowledge is down the dark end of the scale. They don’t realize how often their own teachings replicate well establish scientific knowledge of phenomena that have long been explained, and processes that have long been mastered. When challenged, portray their superfluous or spurious ideas as legitimate speculation (“we’re just saying keep an open mind, give the new paradigm a chance”). But thanks to their ignorance (or blinkered ideology) their work does not build on any factual basis and is therefore rendered utterly useless.

Louise Hay, for example, behaves as if our knowledge of human physiology is still in the state it was during the time of Christ. She drags her readers down into believing that what goes on under the skin is a vast inexplicable and unexplored mystery, where the demons and angels of negative and positive thoughts prowl. In fact science today is well equipped to check all of her unsupported assertions. Don’t expect to hear this from her though.

Science has of course advanced spectacularly during the last few centuries. But the only advances in spirituality have been improvements in marketing and packaging. Spiritual teachers want scientific status, but they don’t want the trouble that honest inquiry, fact checking and criticism bring. All I can do is suggest to their fans that they underline the speculations in the literature that their favorite teacher produces, and then go back and run another line through it if the teacher presented it as fact. If anything is left over, insert the necessary qualifying terms — “perhaps”, “maybe”, “hypothetically”, etc — into the factual statements of their favorite teachers, and see how it sounds.

Previous posts in this series (I’ve altered the title a little since it started) can be found here.

Posted by Yakaru

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10 Things New Agers Don’t Understand About Science: Part 5 — Paradigm Shift

January 4, 2014

The previous post in this series looked at the way disproof drives scientific inquiry forward. It noted that disproof will be welcomed by anyone who is sincerely trying to solve a problem or understand how something works. Better known as falsifiability, this idea was a great contribution to the understanding of how science works, and is an essential element of scientific methodology. 

But it also carries some problems. It seems to imply that science progresses in a linear fashion, with all progress involving minor adjustments to a universally accepted model, never endangering anyone’s career or reputation with any radical changes. This in turn makes it all too easy to ignore research and ideas that do not fit the accepted parameters. And this fits rather too snugly with the idea that science is restricted to privileged white men from the politically dominant culture. These lucky folks control research funding and get to decide where the “cutting edge” is…. All of which means the system is wide open for all kinds of shenanigans.

Paradigms & Paradigm Shifts

In contrast to this, is the idea of paradigms, which recognizes that progress can at certain times be discontinuous with the past. An existing model can be completely overturned, not so much by new data or new evidence, but by a new vision.

Thomas Kuhn, the originator of this idea, used the example of the Copernican Revolution. changing from a geocentric model of the solar system to a heliocentric one. Here an entire cosmology was completely overturned by a fairly simple idea. A radically different model of the solar system fitted the data better than the dominant model.

Kuhn clearly recognized that a paradigm is more than just a conceptual model. It’s an entire world-view. It exists in a political context, a social context, and ultimately, in the context of human psychology. It is therefore subject to the same conditions as all other ideas — customs, norms, political restrictions, habits of thought, etc. 

This must be taken into account when evaluating scientific ideas: is a new idea lacking in evidence, or is it merely unwanted by certain highly regarded professors, priests, etc., because it conflicts with their prejudices or interests? And above all, is it being disregarded simply because we are not used to seeing the world in this manner? This is an important contribution to science. It opens broader perspectives for inquiry and research.

The down side of this is that silly people can use it to reject those parts of scientific knowledge that conflict with their pet theories. They say that the dominant paradigm will one day be usurped, so it doesn’t matter if science says their ideas are implausible and their products won’t work. The coming dominant paradigm will, they somehow “know”, confirm all their theories. 

They are unerringly selective in rejecting only those aspects of the “dominant scientific paradigm” that render their ideas implausible. The bits of science that they like –computers, air travel, luxury items, sanitation, etc. — they blithely take for granted. The bits they don’t like are exclusively singled out for vociferous and indignant rejection.

ps3

Paradigm shifts — almost as popular as quantum leaps

Well steady on there, folks. You can’t isolate certain bits of a paradigm for exclusion without affecting all the other bits. It fits together as a system. DUH. That’s the whole friggin’ point of a paradigm!!!

My favorite example of this is the enormously popular idea that the law of attraction is true, “just like the law of gravity.” Wrong. If the law of attraction were real, it would disprove the law of the gravity. Stupid example, you people.

Also, if you argue that the dominant paradigm can be disregarded purely because it will eventually be overthrown anyway, then why don’t we save time and turf out your paradigm as well for the same reason.

Sorry guys, but……..

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would be supported by existing evidence, not flatly contradicted by it.

If you really had a “new paradigm” you wouldn’t be saying that the evidence is “emerging” or “will soon be found”, or even more pathetically, hasn’t been found “yet”. Instead, you’d have bucket loads of evidence from the existing dominant paradigm and would just be interpreting it in a smarter way. And by the way, if you haven’t got any evidence, just admit it for heaven’s sake. And never say “What scientists are beginning to see is….”  unless you want to immediately identify yourself as a quack or a fool.

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would not come with a built-in free pass exempting you from presenting evidence. Rather, it would tell you where new evidence is likely to be found. In fact it would help you make falsifiable claims about it.

If you really had a “new paradigm” you would have understood the old one well enough to accurately point out anomalies in it which no one had noticed before. You would also have a better (and probably simpler) explanation for these anomalies — not merely vague speculations and hand-waving about the supposed weaknesses of what you have just arrogantly declared to be the “old paradigm”.

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would probably be sweet and simple. It would not be “cut from whole cloth” without need of improvement. It would not “overturn” vast swathes of the most blatantly incontrovertible, non-controversial and utterly and totally obvious, solid and well grounded natural laws. And it would not attempt to replace them with layer upon layer of complicated speculations about supposed new natural laws to explain the supposed anomalies. It would not come already complete with special skills or gadgets to control these supposed new natural laws, all of which you just happen to have recently published a book about.

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would be unlikely to be identical with religious dogma from previous ages which has already been overturned by several other paradigm shifts and mountains of evidence. Most especially it would not be based on 17th Century mechanistic dogma derived from Descartes. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Good, so you’re not about to claim you’ve discovered how mind controls matter, are you.)

If you really had a “new paradigm” you would recognize the power structures and conflicts of interest within your own subculture and you would oppose them. You would not see them as an opportunity for cross-promotion with other community members without regard for standards or ethics. 

And finally, if you really had a “new paradigm” it would not be exactly the same as all the other new paradigms since about 1970, all of which are justified by the same mis-reading of quantum physics thanks to Fritjof Capra, and all of which come with an exploitive business plan and a highly manipulative marketing strategy attached.

Posted by Yakaru

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10 Things New Agers Don’t Understand About Science: Part 4 — Disproof

August 6, 2013

Esther Hicks once said, “There is not a shred of evidence that the Law of Attraction doesn’t work.” And she’s right. In fact the Law of Attraction cannot be disproven.

But this is not a strength; it’s a weakness. And it’s why spiritual ideas and systems never advance or improve in any way beyond better marketing. 

It’s also why spiritual believers are so miffed and confused by criticism, and don’t know how to respond to it.

Scientific advancement is in fact driven by disproof. Disproof is the dark (but less complicated) brother of proof. It’s hard (and by some standards impossible) to completely prove something. But disproof can be much clearer. And once it has happened, an idea can be dropped and need not cause any further distractions. The more clearly an idea or theory is stated, the easier it is to disprove.

This post considers how world views or belief systems get constructed, and what they need in order to be useful on a practical level.

An Ancient Theory of gravity: Natural Place and Natural Motion

Aristotle, two and a half thousand years ago, wrote one of the first decent explanations for why things fall. It is in their very nature, he said, for them to move toward their “natural place”, which is at the center of the of the earth. In other words, if you let go of a stone you are holding, something within it — in its very nature — will drive it straight downwards.

ptolemaic

In the Aristotelian system, the earth is at the center of the universe. And the center of the universe is the Natural Place for all heavy things. The earth itself is the spherical coagulation of the all the heavy elements in the universe.

Here we meet the ancient Greek concept of the four elements: Earth, Water, Air, Fire. The elements Earth and Water are heavy and their natural motion is straight down. Air and Fire, the lighter elements, have a natural motion which impels them straight up. A tree will grow because it has enough Air and Fire mixed in with the heavy elements to enable a motion upwards, but when it decays, its elements will decay and move towards their natural place.

Aristotle saw “motion” not only in terms of changes of place. He also identified qualitative and quantitative changes as forms of “motion”. The growth (increase in size) of a tree or an animal he saw as “quantitative motion”. Even more strangely, he saw the ripening of an apple or the psychological maturing of a child as it grows, as “qualitative motion”.

In other words, it is in the nature of an apple to turn red, just as it is in the nature of a stone to fall to the ground !!!

A force within the apple makes it ripen. A force within the stone moves it towards its Natural Place.

… 

Disproof

A brilliant experiment carried out by Henry Cavendish in 1798 ultimately disproved this notion in the most direct and convincing manner.

Essentially, Cavendish placed two small lead weights of equal mass on each end of a wooden beam, and suspended the beam, perfectly balanced, on a wire. He then carefully maneuvered two larger lead weights into closer proximity with the two smaller weights, and saw the beam swing, as the smaller weights were attracted to the larger ones. He had canceled out the earth’s gravitational pull, and could then see and even exactly measure the gravitational force of the weights as he moved them. These measurements confirmed Newton’s formula for universal gravity.

u6l3d2

Graphic from The Physics Classroom website

The Value of Disproof

Aristotle was trying to discover and state universal laws of nature in an unequivocal manner. Had he been right, Cavendish’s experiment would have supported him. (That is, the smaller weights would not have moved.)

It would be easy (at least superficially) to think up ways of rescuing Aristotle’s system from this disproof. In fact one pope argued that as God is omnipotent, He could be responsible for causing all change in the universe in an infinitely varying number of ways and therefore be undetectable to science. Nice try, but it would have stopped scientific advancement in its tracks in 400 years ago had anyone taken it seriously.

Scientific advancement is based on the disproof and discarding of ideas. Each step forward is necessarily accompanied by a multitude of missteps and the minute refinement of ideas that partly work. Esoteric systems on the other hand (think of astrology, for example) are usually cut from one piece of cloth and will unravel when one tugs on the first loose thread. 

Adding on special rules, exceptions or obfuscations to evade disproof can give the appearance of strength. But if nothing can disprove it, nothing can support it either. Anyone believing a system of beliefs which evades all possibility of disproof should start recognizing this as a sign of weakness and learn to suspect a trap.

Concluding Thoughts: Aristotle’s Death

Aristotle died persecuted and isolated in self-imposed exile from Athens. After becoming increasingly entangled in political complications, he was accused of teaching that prayer and animal sacrifice don’t work. Certainly there is no place for such things in his system, but how ironic it is, that although the refutation of Aristotle’s cosmology is today calmly accepted, we are still arguing about prayer and various forms sacrifice and magic.

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Notes & References

* Esther Hicks claims to channel some kind of disembodied corporate entity that goes by the name Abraham. She was initially involved in making The Secret, but left after some kind of squabble. She tried to copyright the idea of the Law of Attraction, but failed For more information about this scam, see the Post-Abe blog,

* The term falsifiability is a more correct term than disproof, but I didn’t use it. My apologies to Karl Popper.

* Anyone who thinks it is a little harsh to compare esoteric ideas like the LoA to the greatest ideas in natural science obviously hasn’t seen The Secret or read any statements by proponents themselves. The LoA is regularly compared to the law of gravity in terms of effects and certainty. It is regularly claimed that Isaac Newton and even Albert Einstein “knew” of and believed in it. When challenged in this, believers usually say “Prove they didn’t.” Rhonda Byrne’s book The Power (which I’ve reviewed here) claimed that the Law of Attraction is an established part of modern physics. In fact, the system she proposed was vastly more simplistic and far less plausible than the system Empedocles dreamt up in 450 BC! Unlike Byrne, Empedocles managed to notice that there were forces of repulsion as well as attraction. I doubt there has ever in human history been a theory as stupid and hubristic as the one Ms Byrne invented.

* The pope who made the claim about God causing events in an infinite number of ways was Pope Urban VIII. He agreed to allow Galilleo to publish his book about the heliocentric system in the condition that Galilleo include a fair hearing in it for this idea. Galilleo put it on the last page, in a dialogue where it was expressed by a character called Simplicius. I guess you know the rest!

* Newton in fact also claimed gravity was the activity of god, Newton was of course a devout Christian (in fact quite a fanatic and even a heretic by the standards of his time) and an alchemist. It appears he was deeply disturbed by the incipient atheism in the mechanistic clockwork systems of the universe that were current. It has been speculated that he drew on alchemical ideas when formulating his theory of gravity. Certainly the “action at a distance” implied by gravity is completely at odds with early mechanistic models.

* A fascinating and beautifully made documentary about Aristotle’s biological studies, called Aristotle’s Lagoon is at this link.

Anyone with any kind of background in science will have noticed that I don’t have a background in science. I’ve checked everything as well as I can, but any corrections or improvements are welcome.

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Posted by Yakaru