Thursday, January 05, 2006

Failing to solve the origin of life..by our grandchildren.

I thought these quotes over at post-darwinist were more honest and realistic than usual from Origin of Life researchers.

7 Comments:

Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

I was thinking about this and I wonder if there is a deadline...ie if we haven't solved the problem in 20years...30years??? Is there a point at which we say maybe our idea of reality needs looking at.

11:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think there is a piece of paper anywhere that says "You will find out the details of an incredibly complicated process that took place billions of years ago within ten years".

It is a very, very difficult question, and it's not really its fault that it kicked off in the 1950s when science was seen as a magic wand. It isn't: sometimes it's a very long, very hard slog. Try asking AI researchers how it's going if you want to see a comparable issue in engineering. Thing is, there's a lot of good work being done in both areas even if nobody sane will give you a timescale by which the Big Question is resolved.

Doesn't mean it's bad science.

R

12:19 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

My point was...what happens if there actually is no possible naturalistic solution to the question...is there ever a point where a scientist will ask whether he should consider other answers?

9:21 am  
Blogger Jeffahn said...

"My point was...what happens if there actually is no possible naturalistic solution to the question...is there ever a point where a scientist will ask whether he should consider other answers?"

Everything we know about science indicates a natural solution being found. The only "answers" that matter to science are the ones that can be tested, falsified and are predictive.

Scientific breakthroughs were made last year and I'm sure people were wondering about some of them 100 years ago. Should they have given up on investigating them because they could not envisage them being solved?

10:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would indicate that such a state had been reached, though?

To some extent, this has happened many times before. Quantum mechanics happened as a result of observations that just did not fit in the linear, Newtonian view of the world at the time. Heroic efforts were made, but in the end the observations forced a major change in worldview.

Are you suggesting that there'll be some observations that not only force a change in worldview but also in the scientific method? Would testing hypotheses have to go out of the window?

R

12:25 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous "R",
You said
"Are you suggesting that there'll be some observations that not only force a change in worldview but also in the scientific method?"

It depends on what definition we have of the scientific method. Given that we know that man is a real intelligent cause I think we are shutting down real possibilities by arbitrary definitional fiat if we define science to exclude other extra-terrestrial intelligences perhaps having abilities greater than own own.

You said,
"Would testing hypotheses have to go out of the window?"

I can't think of science without the testing of ideas.

Then dealing with your first question last....
"What would indicate that such a state had been reached, though?"

That is really what I am interested in with this post...how do we know?
Serious stalemate is one indicator but probably not a sufficient one. Could it be a sense that the sort of explanations that we are working on are wrong in kind. It would be an interesting study to look at the dead ends in science and how people came to realise that they were dead ends.

This is what ID is asking.. I am not against OOL research but I wonder if here and with evo-devo whether random genetic change plus natural selection are too narrow a pool of causes to explain what we see.

8:44 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think there is any fiat that extraterrestrial intelligences must be excluded. Can you point to such a fiat?

Science as a whole doesn't go in for papal pronouncements. There are plenty of 'laws' - conservation of energy, Pauli's exclusion principle, the speed of light as velocity limit - which are treated as solid bases for theories, but none is beyond disproof. They all fit into the framework which seems to explain what we observe, but they can all be trumped by observation. Observation is the sine qua non.

Furthermore, there are plenty of observations which don't fit into the current models - and scientists aren't in general shy of saying as much. Look at the anomalies in the velocities of the Pioneer space probes - those are at odds with some of the ideas about gravitational dynamics that we think we understand very well. There is a chance, which no scientist would deny, that these observations could be the first indication of a fundamental reform.

ID has yet to make any such observations. Its best argument is that it 'feels' right - the argument that complexity comes from intelligence - and while intuition is a very powerful scientific motivator, it can also be enormously misleading. While ID proponents admit that natural selection is a good explanation for things that we can observe in the short term, they say that it is in some way inadequate for larger differentiation - but there are no observations to back that up.

Against that idea, there is a lot of evidence (paleontology, genetics, morphology) that there has been a history of continual modification wherever we look. There are plenty of things that would be too hard for evolutionary thought to explain were they to be observed - the famous mammal in the Cambrian fossil record, or a feature of a current creature that has no plausible antecedants - but they've never been observed. Instead ID has Dembski's maths and Behe's complexity arguments, which are not amenable to any observational checks.

When observation is undeniable and inexplicable by current theory, then theory changes. No change in theory is too outlandish to be excluded - but the evidence better be good. I don't see any arbitary limits on this.

R

12:22 am  

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