Friday, September 22, 2006

Mahndisa’s Thoughts

My last post “Science is Messy” generated some interesting responses. The most informative was a full blog post at Mahndisa’s Thoughts by my new blogger friend Mahndisa Rigmaiden. I have decided to continue this “dueling blogs” process and hope other interested bloggers might join in.

Although I only wanted to make a point about the unfair accusation by critics of Intelligent Design that ID is not really science due to its apparent lack of testability (ie the falsifiability criterion) -- I think the subject is much broader. It is related to such issues as the sociology of scientific research, the growing problem of fraud in science, the issue of scientific orthodoxy squelching alternative theories, the desirability of exposing school kids to the whole truth or not, and so on.

Mahndisa makes the valid point that “the falsification process involves increasing the accuracy of an existing theory via experiment.” She wrote a very interesting post about the new Italian experiments with atoms trapped in a region of space by laser light that undergo Bloch oscillations due to the combined forces of gravity and the laser fields. The experiment probes the strength of gravity at very small dimensions to an accuracy of one part in ten million. Any observed deviation from Newton’s gravity value could tell us something about string theory and the dimensionality of space.

I think this is great news and anxiously await the results.

Mahndisa also links to the very intense debate between Lenny Suskind (String Theory) and Lee Smolin (Loop Quantum Gravity) about the falsifiability criterion that my anonymous commenter discounts. It is a big deal in science.

Mahndisa also recognizes the “cult-like following” that string theory has in the academic world and that it “doesn't make sense considering that nothing has verified the theory yet.” Smolen complains that working on anything else in theoretical particle physics is dangerous to the (career) health of a young PhD. Orthodoxy in science is a bad thing since it can impede real progress as Smolen argues in The Trouble with Physics.

That reminds me of an experience I had soon after retiring in 2001. A friend asked me to look at a model of quasars that might account for some part of the observed redshift in light coming from them. He explained that after a number of years and intense lobbying by a few dissidents, the American Physical Society was finally allowing a session on alternative redshift theories to be held at their annual conference in Philadelphia. After all, these alternatives conflicted with the orthodox view of the expanding universe accounting for all the redshifts. I did the work, we presented the paper and it was published in the IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science. Note that the paper “Optical Redshifts Due to Correlations in Quasar Plasmas” was not published by a physics journal.

Another friend who is a tenured astronomer said that he would risk his telescope time if it was known that he was looking at anomalous redshifts.

Mahndisa states that “One cannot possibly prove that God exists or not and therefore ID is not falsifiable.” However, since ID is the scientific search for evidence of design in nature, then the falsifiability test deals with the evidence itself. If it is compelling (as I think it is for cells and many micro-melecular machines) then design is likely. If the evidence of design is not compelling (for example with finch beaks) then evolution is more likely. The process is valid science.

Mahndisa believes that genome mapping can provide evidence for evolution but she takes issue with the biological clock hypothesis. It is interesting that the master of the human genome, Francis Collins, came to believe in God through his work. (See his fine book The Language of God.)

I enthusiastically agree with Mahndisa’s conclusions:

“I STRONGLY believe in a Creator because the way I see it, all creations have a Creator.

When we get into cosmology and the Big Bang there are questions that science can never quite answer, such as the WHY of our existence.”

Therefore, I take ID as an axiom to my daily living and try to work out the HOW on a daily basis via studying physics.”

Thanks, Mahndisa.


Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

09 22 06

Thanks Bill I appreciate what you have brought up. I hadn't really researched falsibility criteria before, although had seen it regarding the Anthropic principle before. Hence I appreciate everything you are doing here and your willingness to explore other points of view:)

Warmest Regards for a great weekend!

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog. I understood none of it, but did appreciate going to Mahndisa's blog site.

WOW, what an impressive woman. Would like to see her and Condaleezza Rice get together and see what would come out of it.


1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"However, when we get down to it, I STRONGLY believe in a Creator because the way I see it, all creations have a Creator. When we get into cosmology and the Big Bang there are questions that science can never quite answer, such as the WHY of our existence."
This sums up, I think, the entire problem of scientists who want to find evidence for God via the scientific method. It is precisely their STRONG beliefs that cause them to look at one study looking at how molecular clocks are more variable than previously understood and take that to mean that the entire discipline of evolutionary biology is somehow fraudulent. This is nonsense. Just because you have STRONG beliefs that all creations have a creator shows that you have a bias. Cognitive biases such as these trick us into seeing patterns where there is none, or to make assumptions about nature that aren't necessarily true. And frankly, to such suggest that we will never answer questions about the Big Bang is a kind of "God of the gaps" mentality that no scientist of repute would ever resort to. Science always assumes natural explanation for phenomena, and to predict that we will never answer complex questions in the future smacks of a fatalism that only the "Left Behind" crowd would relate to.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mahndisa constantly refers to this paper by the eminent evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala. This is what he has to say about ID "It doesn't have scientific content. It isn't a hypothesis or a theory that we can test. Because all it says is that there is this intelligent designer that has the capacity to create complex things. And you immediately start to point out problems with that—there is no intelligent design in the world, it is incompetent design. Everything is quite incompetently done, to the point that if any corporation hired an engineer to design organisms, if the organisms were designed the way they are, that engineer would be fired." And on the theological implications of ID: "The implications theologically are blasphemy. And this is what I used to say timidly, and now I am saying it more explicitly….It is blasphemy because to the extent the intelligent designer is God, which is what they mean, they are saying that our God makes blunders, that God has directly created the dysfunctions, oddities, and cruelties of nature—the oddities of nature are so tremendous and so strange. If the living world has an intelligent designer, this designer has to have a very tortuous mind to have designed it this way. The designer would have to be a sadist. Who is going to create a parasite whose only function is to cause 2 or 3 million people to be blind every year in the tropics, not to speak of all the diseases and other parasites that attack us?

Needless to say, the proponents do not intend that the religious implication is blasphemy. It's just simply that they don't know enough biology, or any biology, to realize that that is what the theory of intelligent design would imply. And that's why I think we have to point it out, and even more so for the nice, gentle people who believe and go to church and think the theory of intelligent design is wonderful because it's going to bring God to the school and therefore they will have better children. This is not going to produce better children because what we need is a better education, not a bad education, going back to the kind of teaching that was done centuries ago, before there was science."
I think that says it all folks.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

09 23 06

Hello again:
Thanks Anonymous commenter 1, what a compliment!

Once again the second anonymous commenter is putting words in my mouth and hasn't read a thing that I have written. First of all anonymous2, if you look at my post, you will see that me and Dr. Ayala are in agreement in that ID is not a valid theory because it does not meet the falsifiability criteria. I specifically said it was more of an axiom to my personal belief system, and there is nothing inherently unscientific about that.

Secondly, I completed a training programme in computational biology earlier this summer. I have a pretty good understanding of evolutionary theory and in no way shape or form did I imply that evolution wasn't validated. What I did say was that sequence comparisons seemed to make MORE sense in figuring how organisms are related, but that the molecular clock hypothesis was garbage. Why? The assumption of its constancy.

If you knew anything about scaling and the geometry of natural phenomena, you would understand that a linear approximation to something that is chaotic is a foolish proposition at best. Therefore, my citation of the Ayala papers is more than justified.

There are many scientists who believe in evolution, like Dr. Ayala who do NOT believe in the CONSTANCY OF THE MOLECULAR CLOCK.

Furthermore, just because Ayala doesn't believe in a Creator doesn't mean I agree with him. Once again, your shortsighted ignorance has blinded you to the FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS that I asked. If you honestly think that we will ever be able to figure out why we exist or even answer the questions posed by the Anthropic principle, then you are suffering from an arrogance that I cannot even imagine!

My belief in God is just that; a belief (which I admitted was NOT falsifiable). There is nothing inconsistent about saying that one has such a belief if one is a scientist. One of my professors was a world renowned theorist and when we asked him about the SYMMETRIES present in the universe and why P generated translations and L generated rotations, he simply said "The universe was designed that way."

If you knew anything about physics or cosmology you would know that we DO NOT know the extent of the universe, nor even how to characterize the universe on large scales because we are limited by the speed of light. Some theories suggest superselection sectors, where different parts of the universe have different topological characteristics and each sector is glued together combinatorially.

Lastly, it would be a good idea to increase your level of knowledge in reading comprehension before you cast such negative aspersions of what I believe and what type of success I will have as a scientist.

One can only wonder why some losers feel the need to harass others online, and do it under the guise of anonymity.

Bill your story is VERY interesting and I thank you for sharing it. I have been trying to figure out what career path I will take upon graduation because I have experience with the cross disciplinary stuff which is applied, but I love theory too. What an impasse!

2:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mahndisa, I gotta say, you're missing the point, and when you miss the point, you start rattling off all the super-sophisticated physics terms you know of to show just how smart you are. What you are doing is hoping that I will just back down, because you know a lot of physics terms. Um, no. And I am not putting words in your mouth, I actually quoting your words back to you. And so you got defensive and started talking about "superselection sectors" and "L generated rotations" in an attempt to intimidate and confuse. Come on, you're better than that. Just because the constancy of the molecular clock is in question does nothing to disprove the basic foundations of evolutionary biology, as you would suggest. You're suffering from confirmation bias, pure and simple. As for the Anthropic Principle, which I imagine you just learned (but are now an "expert" on), poses an interesing question...If the universe is fine-tuned for life, why is life such an extremely rare part of it? Yeah, that's what I thought, more "P generated translations". Sorry, but it is you who are making the aspersions, calling critics "losers" and bemoaning the fact that they simply aren't smart enough to understand what a genius you are. Sorry, you don't have me fooled.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

09 24 06

No anonymous you are the illiterate person who tries to show off how smart they are. I claim no expertise whatsoever and the only thing I discuss are things that I have learned and are learning. I have not questioned the validity of evolution plain and simple and to think otherwise, well like I said you are illiterate. Secondly there are no terms being bandied about that anyone with a knowledge of basic physics would not understand.

Because of your illiteracy, I will point you to the post once more because I clearly say that I have no issue with evolution AT ALL. It is simply the mc that I have problems with.

I don't know what your problem is but you obviously don't know how to read or process information. Because I am a student at this time, never once have I claimed expertise nor genius. Perhaps your own insecurities have allowed you to create this picture.

In terms of the Anthropic principle, I have not critisized it one way or the other. In fact the only thing I did was link to a discussion between two theoretical physics who debated the issue via a discussion of the falsifiability criteria.

Lastly, as I write this I can't help but think that I am wasting my time responding to a loser like yourself who must have nothing better to do than to try to piss people off. Yes in my book you are a loser. I won't be responding to anything esle you write.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Mattress said...

Anonymous, why is it blasphemy to believe that God created parasites? Or that God created a cruel universe? If your read Genesis, you will see that it is a curse because of disobediance to God. God cursed this world.

If that's blasphemy, then the bible is blasphemous.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Mattress, I didn't realize that God "cursed" the world, he only cursed Adam and Eve. That's news to me. God cursed this world. Hmmmm. Something to ponder. Thanks

11:41 AM  

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