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The PJ Tatler

by
Scott Ott

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June 26, 2014 - 1:50 pm
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I was dragging my knuckles across the landscape of the internet today — as evangelical Christians do when we’re foraging for information that reinforces our primitive, superstitious worldview — when I accidentally stumbled upon some science, first at NPR.org then at Phys.org. I should have known the latter had something to do with science, but at first it reminded me of gym class.

Anyway, it was awkward…me and science, face-to-face. Science looked at me inquisitively, and I gawked back at him, bovine-like, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed. But since I couldn’t figure out how to close that tabby thing on my browser, I decided to read the articles. (Yes, I can!)

The basic story is that scientists studied six different kinds of fish which have magical powers of electricity. Each species, they said, evolved independently of the others. (I don’t have time to explain evolution to you. Suffice it to say it’s a theory that Charles Darwinian and his Beagle invented so they could worship luck instead of God, and also be communists.)

To the great surprise of the scientists, they found the same mechanisms and the same genetic sequences in each of these creatures. Or to put it in terms even a scientist could understand…

A computationally intense comparative study of the sequences showed that electric organs in fish worldwide used the same genetic tools and cellular and developmental pathways to independently create the electric organ.

I hope I’m not insulting your intelligence by using such elementary language, but there may be some homeschoolers in our audience, and I want them to follow along.

So, among billions of genes in any given fish, each of these creatures used the same set of roughly 30 genes to do the electric boogaloo.

Of course, there’s a perfectly natural Darwinian explanation for how this works…

“If you remove the ability of the muscle cell to contract and change the distribution of proteins in the cell membrane, now all they do is push ions across a membrane to create a massive flow of positive charge,” explains Traeger.

The “in-series alignment” of the electrocytes and unique polarity of each cell allows for the “summation of voltages, much like batteries stacked in series in a flashlight,” says Sussman.

Yep, that’s “all they do.” And that can produce about 100 volts per linear-foot of fish, useful for stunning critters he wants to eat, or for navigating murky deeps better than any man-made submarine.

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Top Rated Comments   
OMG people.

Have you guys never read "Scrappleface?"

You're all responding to an Onion-like article as if it were believable.

Now just repeat after me "thank you sir, may I have another".
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
And as for the subject of the article itself...it's called "convergent evolution," the rise of similar traits in unrelated lineages. It's resulted in the occurrence of winged flight in birds, insects, and mammals at different periods in life's history. Where there is a need, Nature (via evolution) finds a way.

Honestly, the sooner conservatives reconcile themselves to the science, the sooner we can start claiming the high ground on scientific matters. Until then, we WILL continue looking like a bunch of knuckle-dragging Luddites.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
10^ 40,000

But, actually, that number is wrong. It's really zero, as Claude Shannon proved. (Which, in an odd sort of way, is an even bigger number than 10^40,000.)


Oh, what's that about? Sir Fred Hoyle (an atheist) spent a few years and many hours of Cray supercomputer time trying to calculate the probability of getting one living cell together by chance. That's the number he came up with. Lots of computer people and grad students and biologists and mathematicians and supercomputer number crunching. 10^40,000.

To put it in perspective, the number of ATOMS in the known UNIVERSE is about 10^80. (You can find a video on Youtube with Carl Sagan mentioning that number.)

Yeah.

But it was a complete waste of time. Claude Shannon of MIT, a pioneer in the (then) new discipline of Information Theory, proved by unassailable mathematics that their is NO possibility of getting information from random processes.

ZERO.

Can't happen.

Can't. As in, "create matter out of nothing" sort of can't.

That's what SETI is about, by the way. Information requires intelligence. If you detect information, you have detected intelligence.


So, pardon me while I drag my knuckles away for the evening....



16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (81)
All Comments   (81)
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Why does evolutionary theory need to "have value"? What if it's just a description of the way things are? Isn't it enough to know that we've accurately described the history of life on our planet?

But actually, the mechanisms of evolutionary change do give us insights into the ways in which organisms change and respond to environmental pressures. This is especially valuable to the work of my colleagues in public health who are working on ways to stay ahead of the constant changes in, say, influenza virus, or poliovirus, or antibiotic-resistant microbes of virtually every type. It also gives us insights into the degree to which we can expect organisms to be capable of responding to contemporary changes in environment. Will they be able to adapt quickly enough to, say, overfishing, or anthropogenic climate change (if it does occur), or the introduction of new diseases? This sort of information could be very valuable.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Atheists still gotta explain how, simply by random chance mind you, the Christians--specifically ones who were also Catholic priests*--were the ones who invented empirical science. Heh heh.

*This may explain the Protestant evangelical fear of science.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth shattering kaboom?"
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Isn't it wonderful how people with a minimal knowledge of genetics and mathematics can draw such interesting conclusions?
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Listening to the report on NPR myself I was taken by the conclusion of the story where they said only a very few animals had the capability of biologically generating electricity. I raised my eyebrows at the remark. Every animal with a brain and a nervous system biologically generates eletricity to contract muscle fibers in order to move, breathe, and have a working circulatory system. I think they mistook "generating electricity" for "creating massive simultaneous electrical discharge" which are two very different things. Just saying.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
A typical creationist says: # 'just look at the inside of a cell and have someone explain to you how that got here through random chance?'

'random chance' implies infinite temperature. Life does not exist at infinite temperature.

At finite temperature, say 300K, from a given state, the next state is not a random choice from all possible states but a random choice from a very small subset. This subset is not random and is a function of system current state and temperature. As temperature decreases, said subset becomes smaller.

One needs to read the work of Ilya Prigogine.

Back in the days of Dr Prigogine, the creationists took the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics as the basis that Life cannot be formed without a God. Entropy can only increase! A living organism implies entropy decrease thus God must exist!

But the Creationists misunderstand the 2nd law (and it is still happening today by reading the comments here). Thermodynamics deals with system and surroundings. Universe=system+surroundings.

The 2nd law of thermo relates to entropy of the universe which can only increase with time. Decreasing entropy of the system MUST entail an increase of Entropy (the increase being equal or greater in magnitude than the decrease) of the surroundings.

A living organism (decreased entropy) must produce waste (increased entropy). The work of Prigogine forced the biologists and molecular biologists to expand their studies and many discoveries in physiology happened.

Dr Prigogine was awarded the Nobel Prize.

There is a connection between information theory, ergodic theory, and entropy and I am seeing here some gross misinterpretation of info theory.

What I am witnessing is the arrogance of computer modelers (does climate science ring a bell?) and of the creationists, both groups suffering from impatience, laziness, and exhaustion.

Studies of biogenesis need to take at least a century or so of continuous experiments and such experiments have not started yet.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think it's much more simple than this. The simplified version of the 2nd Law states that, in a closed system, the degree of randomness or disorder (Entropy) will increase over time. Creationists used to trot this out regularly as a "proof" against evolution, but there's just one problem: Planet Earth is not a closed system, having constantly received energy input from the Sun and from Earth's own internal heat sources (a molten core, and decay of radioactive isotopes).

I don't see this argument much any more because it's so easily refuted.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Those of you that just can't seem to grasp the concept of "satire", take heart; it takes a modicum of intelligent to be able to understand it. It's not for everyone. That being said, those of you that DIDN'T grasp it really need to keep your knuckle-dragging mouths shut. You're simply demonstrating your double digit IQ......
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Satire: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

This was more like an April Fool's article. Even with my double digit IQ I know that April comes before June.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have no idea how electric fish got that way. Maybe they evolved. Maybe Jesus magicked them into existence. I don't know. And neither do you.

I think the problem people have with evolution is, they don't get the numbers. Pace Mark V, I don't think most of us have any idea how long a billion years is. Or even a million. We can't grasp how many individual organisms have lived and died during that time. We can't imagine how many individual acts of reproduction have occurred since the beginning of life (according to science), nor how many idividual, inheritable genetic mutations have arisen.

I don't do math. But I try to imagine. Spiders. According to scientists, true spiders "arose" about 300 million years ago. Say one spider has 100 offspring. Say a quarter of those survive - 25. Say one of those has a mutation that makes it slightly more likely to reproduce and pass the mutation on to its own offspring. If the same process happens once a year, that's 300 million spiders since the beginning - 300 million mutations. Three hundred million chances for the original spider's descendants to change color, get bigger or smaller, grow spikes or hair, develop a new kind of silk, etc., etc.

And that's just ONE spider. What if we start with a reproducing population of 1 million? What's 300 million times 1 million? Are we talking 300 trillion individual acts of reproduction, 300 trillion mutations, 300 trillion opportunities for a species to change into something it wasn't?

Do you have any idea how much, how many, a trillion is? Or 300 trillion? Does "trillion" even mean anything to you? It doesn't mean anything to me. Exponential notation makes it even worse. It's an abstraction. My brain shuts down.

I'm sure that number is on the high side. Organisms are more likely to get eaten than reproduce. But you get the idea.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Monster, 10^40,000 is 10^39,910 bigger than a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, billion, billion

For undirected evolution to be true, you'd have to account for the successful DNA changes that had to have occurred simultaneously to account for the differences between spiders and sharks and ferns, keeping in mind that many of these organism, according to the theory, changed in response to each other.

And the development of this biodiversity did not occur over billions of years but over about 80 million during the Cambrian Period.

I think it's safe to say it didn't happen.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
80 million years (or 300 million) may seem like a long time for a coffee break but one of the problems with the consensus description of the theory of evolution is that there hasn't been enough time for it to produce the life we see today. Thus, it is reasonable to suggest that there is a principle of selection at work besides natural selection. For a while, sex selection was thought to be it but that too doesn't add enough selective oomph to account for all life as we know it.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow - we can certainly tell that this author hasn't had very many encounters with science.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is a joke, right?
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
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