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Monday, 3 October 2011

Umba on Evolution

Umba writes (& I comment below):

Sorry for the delay.

Let's make a theoretical experiment: we take 2 strains of bacteria, A and B, from 2 very different environments: for example hot thermal waters and gut flora. While cultivating them, we start to change the environmental parameters of each group (temperature, PH, dissolved salts etc.) till they end up living in the same environment. During this process, at each environmental change, we will actually "select" a little group that can stand the change. At the end of this first phase, we will start poisoning them with chemicals; in other words, we will keep them under a selective stress. Eventually, we will end up with two groups of bacteria that look like exactly the same. However, looking at their DNA we will be still able to say "A comes from the hot waters and B comes from the gut flora". Now, if we put a mammal in the place of A and a marsupial in the place of B and then we put both of them under the same stress/opportunity conditions (the same ecological niche) for several millions of years, we will eventually get a wolf and a marsupial wolf. So, from my point of view, there is nothing too much exciting about having animals that belong to different evolutionary lines and look the same.

You say: "My point is that the resistant bacteria are not members of a new species – no new genetic information has been created. It was all there in the original population." And "Similarly in the geneticists' laboratory: they bombard fruit flies with radiation and get one of three outcomes – normal fruit flies, mutant fruit flies or dead fruit flies. What they don't get is a new species of fruit fly."

But: 1) new information is created on a continuous basis because we are all bombed with radioactivity coming from everywhere, and 2) "getting a new species" it is not difficult at all!! Have a look here: under "artificial speciation".


Two groups of bacteria that look exactly the same – until we look really closely.

Human beings have selectively bred plants and animals for centuries. There is always a limit, though. No cat breeder has ever produced a chicken.

You say that new information is created on a continuous basis because we are all bombed with radioactivity. This is question begging on a huge scale, my friend. Forgive me!

Below is David Berlinski writing in the style of Jorge Luis Borges. I don't expect you to like it as much as I do.

On the Derivation of Ulysses from Don Quixote

I IMAGINE THIS story being told to me by Jorge Luis Borges one evening in a Buenos Aires cafe.

His voice dry and infinitely ironic, the aging, nearly blind literary master observes that "the Ulysses," mistakenly attributed to the Irishman James Joyce, is in fact derived from "the Quixote."

I raise my eyebrows.

Borges pauses to sip discreetly at the bitter coffee our waiter has placed in front of him, guiding his hands to the saucer.

"The details of the remarkable series of events in question may be found at the University of Leiden," he says. "They were conveyed to me by the Freemason Alejandro Ferri in Montevideo."

Borges wipes his thin lips with a linen handkerchief that he has withdrawn from his breast pocket.

"As you know," he continues, "the original handwritten text of the Quixote was given to an order of French Cistercians in the autumn of 1576."

I hold up my hand to signify to our waiter that no further service is needed.

"Curiously enough, for none of the brothers could read Spanish, the Order was charged by the Papal Nuncio, Hoyo dos Monterrey (a man of great refinement and implacable will), with the responsibility for copying the Quixote, the printing press having then gained no currency in the wilderness of what is now known as the department of Auvergne. Unable to speak or read Spanish, a language they not unreasonably detested, the brothers copied the Quixote over and over again, re-creating the text but, of course, compromising it as well, and so inadvertently discovering the true nature of authorship. Thus they created Fernando Lor's Los Hombres d'Estado in 1585 by means of a singular series of copying errors, and then in 1654 Juan Luis Samorza's remarkable epistolary novel Por Favor by the same means, and then in 1685, the errors having accumulated sufficiently to change Spanish into French, Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, their copying continuous and indefatigable, the work handed down from generation to generation as a sacred but secret trust, so that in time the brothers of the monastery, known only to members of the Bourbon house and, rumor has it, the Englishman and psychic Conan Doyle, copied into creation Stendhal's The Red and the Black and Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and then as a result of a particularly significant series of errors, in which French changed into Russian, Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Anna Karenina. Late in the last decade of the 19th century there suddenly emerged, in English, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, and then the brothers, their numbers reduced by an infectious disease of mysterious origin, finally copied the Ulysses into creation in 1902, the manuscript lying neglected for almost thirteen years and then mysteriously making its way to Paris in 1915, just months before the British attack on the Somme, a circumstance whose significance remains to be determined."

I sit there, amazed at what Borges has recounted. "Is it your understanding, then," I ask, "that every novel in the West was created in this way?"

"Of course," replies Borges imperturbably. Then he adds: "Although every novel is derived directly from another novel, there is really only one novel, the Quixote."

Geoff on GW

Geoff writes (& I comment below):

There are two issues here:

1. Is the world heating up?

2. If so what is causing it?

It is a fact that there is a higher concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere than there was 30 years ago. Currently the content is 391ppm by volume. 30 years ago it was about 338ppm. 50 years ago it was 315ppm. These facts are by observation and not from computer models and so I am sure you will have no argument with them.

CO2 is an important constituent of the atmosphere as it absorbs and emits IR radiation. This is designed (by whom we may argue about!) to stabilise the earth's temperature. However as the concentration increases, the balance of stabilization is thrown and it starts to act as a blanket, thus causing the world to heat up. i.e. the IR emitted from the earth is reflected by the C02. As in any feedback control system, which clearly this is, there are hysteresis (a delayed response by an object to changes in the forces acting on it, especially magnetic forces) gaps and this is probably why it might be possible to observe, at times, the temperature going up before the C02 concentration increases.

You can probably prove the above by a simple experiment at home if you could assemble a greenhouse, a bottle of C02 and a thermometer! 

What causes the C02 concentration to increase is not so clear cut but there is no doubt that we are pumping more C02 into the atmosphere than we did by way of vehicles, ships, aircraft and industrialization in general.


I think there are more than two issues.

Is the world heating up?

The temperature of the globe fluctuates. It has risen somewhat since the end of the Little Ice Age – and good thing too, from my perspective.

What is causing it?

There are a number of candidates. One is solar activity, over which we can never hope to have any control.

Should we be worried – so worried that we should spend trillions on dismantling the world's economy?

The warming that has occurred is not catastrophic and seems to have stopped in the last decade or so.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Umberto – Such a Good Man!

I am thinking about your comment – thanks. The problem about blogging is that to see your words of wisdom my "followers" would have to go back days or weeks. They are not so numerous or so enthusiastic.

I will devote a whole post to your very interesting comment.


GB: Well I suppose a starting point for Sam would be: believing in God. Does he? Sam?

CB: That's one for you, Sam. It's the default position. No one has shown that it is unreasonable.

Elisa (On the medicalisation of grief): Formidably successful marketing campaigns are in place to sell sickness, particularly mental sickness. It is all about condition branding, redefine an existing condition, increase its importance or create a new one for an unmet market.. and give it a spectacular name: social anxiety disorder, seasonal affective disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder... Redefine all expressions of human emotion as psychiatric problems and then you will ensure that there is always a market for your new drugs.

Geoff: You're a young cynic but right.

CB: I agree with you both. But what about when government takes a position?

GB (On Weaponology): Well the defence industry is good for the economy. Most of the advances in electronics and many other areas of technology have been driven by defence needs.

For example, it is unlikely that Watson Watt would have persevered with the development of radar had it not been funded by the Air Ministry in view of the impending threat from Hitler. Thus, landing at Heathrow would now be a dodgy experience.

The impetus to develop the jet engine was a direct result of needing faster aircraft to combat the Luftwaffe.

We wouldn't have Satnavs if it were not for the US needing accurate positioning systems for their missiles. And this GPS technology is used for civil aircraft navigation as well as in the aircraft TCAS (Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System) which guards against mid-air collisions.

I could go on but won't!

CB: You are absolutely right that this is how things have happened! Does this make war a good thing? Given company A with faster transatlantic crossings with jet engines and company B with slower, who will prevail – war or no war? As for RADAR, it doesn't take a Nazi threat to make consumers really enthusiastic about landing on the tarmac at Heathrow – as opposed to 10 metres below.

Lovely Stephen Again!

Tonight was the second part of Stephen Fry's series on language. In my view it was very much better than the first. Improbably, I switched off before it was over – almost too much to think about.

Ollie phoned me as I was having lunch in a Korean restaurant and I told him that I had been too kind to SF. I hadn't. The man is a genius. The opening section, on accents, was brilliant. What an actor! He is a very good interviewer too.

I am certain that he and I have not more than 20% in common on PEST (Politics/Economics/Science/Theology). Live long, Stephen. I normally use "may his sins be forgiven" only for fellow Catholics, not tonight.

New Modem!

I have been having major problems with my internet connection. Wonderful Lesley suggested that I contact Virgin Media. I did, belatedly. They sent an engineer today (Sunday) – no cost to me. He gave me a modem/router combined.

So, I am posting again.

Many thanks to Geoff, Elisa and Umberto for your comments! I shall try to address them in a new post.

Next will be a follow-up to my recent Stephen Fry post.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Why Should Sam be a Catholic?

The short answer is: Catholics are happier than non-Catholics. He is my son. I want him to be happy. What choices does he have?

He could be a Baptist. Baptists are happier than Materialists. Baptists and Catholics have differences. I'm a Catholic but you are never going to find me attacking Baptists. We say the same Creed. A cigarette-paper between me and most Baptists.

Catholics are, for the most part, secure in their world view – and I don't mean complacent. Yes, there is an element of Faith; but Faith is not, as Dawkins alleges, prized for being blind, for flying in the face of Reason. This, in spite of centuries of Catholic thinkers whose commitment to Reason is rock-solid. He is impertinent to tell us what we believe. It is not unreasonable to have Faith in God, any more than it is unreasonable to believe that there are moral absolutes. We cannot see God; but nor has anyone ever seen a moral absolute.

[Gerard Casey, may his sins be forgiven, has published a short piece on the web: Faith in Search of Understanding. It's great.]

The debate goes on, with clever people on either side. But the Faith-Heads, as Dawkins contemptuously calls us, have the better arguments. He famously refuses to debate William Lane Craig – perhaps because he has seen the video of Peter Atkins' mauling by Craig.

I suppose that Marxists are secure in their world view. But they really don't have any arguments left. The predictions of Marxism have demonstrably failed. Their social/political/economic experiments have failed catastrophically. The death-toll is vast. If ever a system of belief could be called blind, Marxism is egregiously the blindest.

Marxists are Historicists. They believe that the organisation of society should be in conformity with what Marx declared was the direction of History. Catholics believe that by trying to live in conformity with God's will they glorify God and serve their fellow men. It is centuries since any Catholics have attempted to use force to impose "God's will" on other people – and, in so far as it has happened in the past – it was deplorable. But people who believe in and understand Original Sin and who are enjoined by their Faith to emulate Christ (however feebly) are bound to produce a better society than those who are baptised by History.

Muslims (sometimes) say that there should be no compulsion in religion – Amen.

Sam should be a Catholic because it makes sense; it makes you happier; it makes you a better person. And the more people who are striving to live by Catholic teaching, the better the world will be.

Why isn't everyone a Catholic? In only a tiny minority of cases are non-Catholics people who have earnestly examined the issues and found themselves intellectually compelled to reject Catholicism. Far more common are those who, because of their upbringing and education in a secular society, just kinda assume that Christianity has had its day and is unsuited to today's more "rational" world. The most resounding success of Materialism is the wide-spread, but baseless, myth that some time in the last hundred-years-or-so there was a mighty battle between Christianity and Science – and that Science won. Clever of the Dialectical Materialists to have pulled that one off during the century when so much of their energy was invested in killing millions-upon-millions of people! You might have thought that the gulags and the killing-fields and the famines and the immiseration of whole societies would have dented their credibility just a bit.

In so far as National Socialism and International Socialism have done Nazi "Science" and Marxist-Leninist "Science", they have produced 100 Scientists against Einstein and the sick joke that was Lysenko.

Dominus vobiscum.