Saturday, February 11, 2006

two vaguely relevant talks on Darwin Day

Well, Darwin's birthday is tomorrow, but because that's a Sunday it was celebrated here on campus yesterday. There was a panel discussion about ID and evolution. The panel consisted of two education professors and a law professor. Bet that was awesome...shah...right. My first official Darwin Day celebration was in 2002 I think, at the source of Darwin Day celebrations, the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Massimo Pigliucci hosted it and Eliot Sober gave a talk on design arguments. It was pretty good.

Well, I missed the panel yesterday because our department had some talks at the same time. And they were pretty relevant to Darwin.

The first was Paul Griffiths. He talked about the Baldwin effect and genetic assimilation. It was pretty cool. He showed how according to Waddington, the Baldwin effect wasn't anything special, it was just an example of genetic assimilation in a sense. It's just how evolution goes. Anyway, this is relevant to Darwin because it was a really anti-Darwinian account of evolution in the sense that evolution isn't bean bag genetics and black bozed development. Billy Dembski would probably love it.

The second talk was by a job candidate Chris Smeenk. He gave a talk on early universe cosmology and fine tuning. The fine tuning thing is something ID folks pick on to. The fine tuning problem goes something like this: according to some of our current scientific theories, in order for our observations today to make sense, about the uniformity of the background radiation, the proportion of elements, etc., there had to have been a very specific set of initial conditions at the big bang. So the odds of getting our current universe are very very slim.

But Smeenk problematized this. He raised objections about probability (it's hard to make sense of probability in a system with only one event [the big bang] and that the probability of the initial condiditions being any one number AT ALL is actually zero), and problems stemming from the applicability of the theories we use to understand the universe now like relativity and quantum field theory seem to be inadequate to deal with the early universe and the fine tuning problem might be an artifact of these theories. I might have this wrong, but I think that's the gist of it.

Cool stuff.


Void of Content said...

OK, so I read this book once, called "The Life of the Cosmos", by some PSU physics prof. that made this (admittedly far fetched) argument in response to the claim that if cosmological constants are perturbed even slightly, life becomes EXTREMELY unlikely:

The universe is a star building machine. Some stars eventually become black holes, into which matter is absorbed, and a new universe is formed. Each time such a new universe is formed, the cosmological constants of the old universe are perturbed via some unknown (or probability bases) method. Thus, a universe which has "good" cosmological constants is likesly to beget more stars, which in turn is likely to beget more universes with "good" cosmological constants. So, the reason that our cosmological constants are as they are is really due to an "evolution" of the cosmological constants.

As it so happens, the cosmological constants that give a greater probability to occurence of life are the same as those that give a greater probability to existence of life, so life is simply an afterthought in the star building machine of a universe.

I recall that the author claimed that his theories were testable and verifiable, but I can't recall how he proposed to do this.

(Actually, this was Ian's book that he left in Williamsburg, and I read it during the months when I was carrying a constantly crying Brooke around.)


Void of Content said...

Also, R Kelley - (Kelly?) I found your dog zapper charger, but I need your address to send it. (Do you read this?)