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Unknown Unknowns

Physics professor Philipp von Jolly advised a young Max Planck not to go into physics, because “in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few holes.”

With the clarity of hindsight we might say, “what a maroon.”  Standing on the cusp of a century in which the world of physics would be turned on its head – led by the very man to whom he was speaking – von Jolly thought everything important had already been discovered.

Planck’s discoveries in quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theories of space and time were literally unimaginable to a man like von Jolly.  His “few holes” were the known unknowns of classical physics.  He had no idea that when Einstein and Planck dug down into the known unknowns, they would discovery unknown unknowns that would change the world forever.

I predict that as the twentieth century was to physics, so the twenty-first century will be to biology.  Just as today we are inclined to smirk at von Jolly’s naiveté, in the twenty-second century schoolchildren will smirk at the naïveté of people like Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins who believe the fundamental questions in biology have been settled and all that is left is to suss out the details.  If today we had even the faintest glimpse of the unknown unknowns of biology that will be discovered in the decades to come, we would gasp with astonishment.

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33 Responses to Unknown Unknowns

  1. Just as today we are inclined to smirk at von Jolly’s naiveté, in the twenty-second century schoolchildren will smirk at the naïveté of people like Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins who believe the fundamental questions in biology have been settled and all that is left is to suss out the details.

    Do you have a citation for where Coyne and/or Dawkins express such a belief?

  2. Neil,
    I think I understand the spirit of his comment. Dawkins, for example, ardently espouses Darwin’s theory as a fact etc… It’s easy to find him saying that online, but I’m pretty sure most here have heard him say that. Naivety will be exposed when discoveries are made that unambiguously – i.e. even to the most ardent Darwinist – undermine the sacred theory of Darwinian evolution. In reflection, those, such as Dawkins, that have paraded Darwin’s theory as a fact will appear quite naive. The errors made by Dawkins et.al. in that time will be in retrospect looked at as in the third phase of truth a’la Schopenhauer:

    Truth passes through three phases:
    First it is ridiculed.
    Second it is fiercely and violently opposed.
    Third, it becomes self-evident.
    - source

    IMO, if something is considered ‘self-evident’, having thought contrary to it’s conclusion would be essentially the same as naivety.

    But I don’t want to put words into Barry’s mouth. He might explain or cite what you request.

  3. JGuy #2,

    Personally, I do not consider myself a Darwinist, so neither Dawkins nor Coyne are my favorite expositors of evolution.

    Yes, both proclaim that evolution is true. But to say that it is true is not the same as to say that it is complete (“the fundamental questions in biology have been settled”). If they said something to that effect, I would like a reference so that I can read it for myself and perhaps find out why they would say such a thing.

  4. I second Neil’s motion.

    Barry, do you have quotes from Dawkins and Coyne to indicate that they “believe the fundamental questions in biology have been settled and all that is left is to suss out the details”?

  5. Isn’t it obvious that materialism has reached its limits? Materialists will dream up the most cockamamie explanations as to how mind is not prior to matter, but arises from it, without ever being able to even begin to approach finding evidence of such, since, as was obvious to Planck (and Einstein for that matter) the converse is, in fact, the case.

    Yet those same materialists will blithely research the mysteries of quantum mechanics and incorporate their findings in their actual world-view and work, without a murmur. They’ve always got the ‘promissory note’ as a back-stop.

    If only their outward clothing, (e.g. an eighteenth-century wig, breeches, etc) betrayed the archaic, anti-scientific nature of their own, personal world-view.

  6. Quotes:

    When Experts Collide: Jerry Coyne verses James Shapiro
    Posted on August 31, 2012
    Excerpt: “We know of no adaptations that absolutely could not have been molded by natural selection, and in many cases we can plausibly infer how selection did mold them. And mathematical models show that natural selection can produce complex features easily and quickly. The obvious conclusion: we can provisionally assume that natural selection is the cause of all adaptive evolution—though not of every feature of evolution, since genetic drift can also play a role.”
    Jerry Coyne
    http://santitafarella.wordpres.....s-shapiro/

    Ben Stein vs. Richard Dawkins Interview
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....age#t=161s

  7. 7
    Christian-apologetics.org

    “Evolution is fact Fact FACT”

    Michael Ruse I believe.

    Guess it depends upon your definition of evolution.

  8. bornagain77,

    Do either of those links support Barry’s claim that Dawkins and Coyne “believe the fundamental questions in biology have been settled and all that is left is to suss out the details”?

    If they do, please supply us with the actual quotes themselves.

  9. sorry thaumaturge, I thought the quotes were spot on,, and really don’t care to waste time chasing down more quotes for you either,, Oh well,,, but let’s get this straight,, are you trying to say that Dawkins and Coyne DON’T believe that the fundamental questions in biology are all but settled (to Darwinian/Materialistic explanations) and all that’s left to do in biology is suss out the details???

    But if you claim that they don’t believe that there are ‘details’ to be worked out in biology, then all that is left for them to believe in is either ,,,

    a) they believe there are ZERO questions in biology left to be answered

    or

    b) there are massive questions in biology left to be answered in biology

    Either answer of which would not reflect better on Dawkins’ or Coyne’s preferred atheistic metaphysics compared to the belief Mr. Arrington has charitably attributed to them. ,,, So thaumaturge, which answer do you prefer them to give to the question?

  10. Heree’s another quote from Professor Coyne on macroevolution being nothing more than an extrapolation of microevolution:

    “Many who reject darwinism on religious grounds . . . argue that such small changes [as seen in selective breeding] cannot explain the evolution of new groups of plants and animals. This argument defies common sense. When, after a Christmas visit, we watch grandma leave on the train to Miami, we assume that the rest of her journey will be an extrapolation of that first quarter-mile. A creationist unwilling to extrapolate from micro- to macroevolution is as irrational as an observer who assumes that, after grandma’s train disappears around the bend, it is seized by divine forces and instantly transported to Florida.”

    — Jerry Coyne. 2001 (Aug 19). Nature 412:587.

    Bornagain77 quoted Coyne as saying that “we can provisionally assume that natural selection is the cause of all adaptive evolution — though not of every feature of evolution, since genetic drift can also play a role.”

    I think it’s fair to conclude that Coyne believes that the fundamental questions in biology have all been settled.

  11. vjtorley,

    I don’t see how you get from “macroevolution can be explained as extrapolated microevolution” to “the fundamental questions in biology have been settled and all that is left is to suss out the details.”

    The latter just does not follow from the former.

  12. bornagain77:

    sorry thaumaturge, I thought the quotes were spot on,, and really don’t care to waste time chasing down more quotes for you either,,

    That’s fine. Barry made the claim, so it’s his responsibility to provide the evidence.

    By the way, what’s with the double and triple commas?

  13. 13

    Thaumaturge, if all you are going to do is to continue to deny the undeniable – i.e., that people like Dawkins and Coyne insist that evolution is a fact! fact! fact! and only the details need to be filled in, you should move along. You bore me. But you might want to read the article I refer to in my last post, where you will find the following reported:

    Last fall . . . several of the world’s leading philosophers gathered with a group of cutting-edge scientists in the conference room of a charming inn in the Berkshires. . . .
    The biologist Richard Dawkins was there, author of The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene, and other bestselling books of popular science, and so was Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts and author of Consciousness Explained and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. So were the authors of Why Evolution is True, The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World, Everything Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, and The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions . . .
    They were unanimous in their solid certainty that materialism—as we’ll call it here, to limit the number of isms—is the all-purpose explanation for life as we know it.

  14. thaumaturge,
    What are the fundamental questions in biology (the study of life)? — Wouldn’t these two sets of questions be the most fundamental?:

    (1) All questions pertaining to the cause of life’s origin.
    (2) All questions pertaining to the cause of life’s diversity.

    Darwin’s model claims to explain (2).
    Darwinist naturalists, use the same model [with much luck] to account for (1) in chemical evolution.

    Dawkins regarding (1):

    “The universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple — just physics and chemistry, just the scattered dust of the cosmic explosion that gave birth to time and space. The fact that it did not — the fact that life evolved literally out of nothing — is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice. And even that is not the end of the matter. Not only did evolution happen: it eventually led to beings capable of comprehending the process by which they comprehend it.” – source

    “It’s an astonishing stroke of luck that we are here.” That was Dawkins’ evolutionary message at a recent speech to a packed auditorium at the Christchurch, New Zealand. “Every animal owes its existence to an astonishing list of contingencies that might not have happened. With so much chance and luck it might be thought that evolution itself is a process of pure chance, but nothing could be further from the truth.”source
    ———

    So, when Dawkins et.al. assure you that evolution is a fact. And account for (1) and (2) as above, I think one can fairly safely say that they make the implicit claim that the fundamental questions, at least the most fundamental sets numerated above, are resolved.

  15. p.s. As for the details how life originated, Dawkins does admit he doesn’t know, but argues that “science” is working on it.

  16. thaumaturge you ask

    By the way, what’s with the double and triple commas?

    Well, according to the reductive materialism which undergirds neo-Darwinian thought, it must just be some ‘random’ quirk of the molecules in my brain that makes me prefer double and triple commas when I want to introduce a moments pause for reflection instead of it representing a subtle nuance that ‘I’ find pleasing and have freely chosen to use,,,

    The Heretic -Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him? – March 25, 2013
    Excerpt: Neo-Darwinism insists that every phenomenon, every species, every trait of every species, is the consequence of random chance, as natural selection requires. And yet, Nagel says, “certain things are so remarkable that they have to be explained as non-accidental if we are to pretend to a real understanding of the world.” (The italics are mine.)
    Among these remarkable, nonaccidental things are many of the features of the manifest image. Consciousness itself, for example: You can’t explain consciousness in evolutionary terms, Nagel says, without undermining the explanation itself. Evolution easily accounts for rudimentary kinds of awareness. Hundreds of thousands of years ago on the African savannah, where the earliest humans evolved the unique characteristics of our species, the ability to sense danger or to read signals from a potential mate would clearly help an organism survive.
    So far, so good. But the human brain can do much more than this. It can perform calculus, hypothesize metaphysics, compose music—even develop a theory of evolution. None of these higher capacities has any evident survival value, certainly not hundreds of thousands of years ago when the chief aim of mental life was to avoid getting eaten. Could our brain have developed and sustained such nonadaptive abilities by the trial and error of natural selection, as neo-Darwinism insists? It’s possible, but the odds, Nagel says, are “vanishingly small.” If Nagel is right, the materialist is in a pickle. The conscious brain that is able to come up with neo-Darwinism as a universal explanation simultaneously makes neo-Darwinism, as a universal explanation, exceedingly unlikely.,,,
    ,,,Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived. As colleagues and friends, husbands and mothers, wives and fathers, sons and daughters, materialists never put their money where their mouth is. Nobody thinks his daughter is just molecules in motion and nothing but; nobody thinks the Holocaust was evil, but only in a relative, provisional sense. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.
    http://www.weeklystandard.com/.....tml?page=3

    Music and verse:

    MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS | I AM NOT A ROBOT
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_oMD6-6q5Y

    Luke 9:60
    Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

  17. OT: New molecular animation upload from XVIVO:

    Unlocking the Mysteries of Extracellular RNA Communication – video – (XVIVO Animation)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHqNS4M-_IY

    This animation from the group is a bit older, but the ‘message’ behind the animation never changes,,

    One Body – video – (XVIVO Animation)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDMLq6eqEM4

  18. OT: Michaela’s Amazing NEAR death experience – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....age#t=629s

  19. F/N: It’s the little things you don’t even know you don’t know that will get ya, every time. KF

  20. OT: The is a recent and well done short video on neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s NDE:

    Good Morning America – Doctor Details ‘Proof’ of Afterlife Following Near-Death Experience – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....&NR=1

  21. How did randomness beget purposefulness? I mean, granted that randomness could beget anything other than randomness.

  22. As quantum mechanics has demonstrated, the origin of purposefulness (the will) is key to any understanding of the origin of everything of a material nature, together with our understanding, itself, both being bound up with the third faculty of the human soul’s triumvirate, namely, the faculty of memory.

  23. Referring to my #22:

    ‘… I mean, granted that randomness could beget anything other than randomness.’

    … since it has been established with mathematical certainty that there is not the remotest chance (however random…) that randomness could produce even the smallest protein, given the relatively minuscule life-span of the universe.

  24. 25
    Granville Sewell

    Well written, Barry. Indeed the most fundamental question in biology is unanswered:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....52821.html

  25. BA77 @ 17

    I take it you’re a relative punctuationist? :P

  26. I-gor: “Commas? What commas?”

  27. thaumaturge, to help rectify comma illiteracy, perhaps this will help,,,

    For the teens,,

    Commas Now (Gangnam Style Parody)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4JAUCrz-Fc

    For those from the big hair 70′s,,

    Comma Rock!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdz10rTM2dU

    and for the wee tots,,

    A Comma Song – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R-hZEdAws8

  28. There are no fundamental questions in biology.

  29. In his latest book, Dawkin’s writes:

    Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eye witnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth..

    Later in the book he writes:

    It’s an exhilarating prospect: a massive database of DNA sequences, cheaply and easily obtained from all corners of the animal and plant kingdoms. Detailed DNA comparisons will fill in all the gaps in our knowledge about the actual evolutionary relatedness of every species to every other: we shall know, with complete certainty, the entire family tree of all living creatures.

    We are well aware of the equivocation that can occur with the term “evolution”. In Dawkin’s view it means materialistic darwinism.

    A few “gaps” to fill. Not much room in Dawkins mind for a major paradigm shift in this area.

  30. 31

    I agree with this post for sure!
    It does require insight to not be influenced by a present way of thought.
    Yet physics did not correct newton but only made Newton a special case.
    lIkewise natural selection can be a special case, minor, in a biological system that is very open to adaptation by other mechanisms.
    People’s body differences being the clue.

    however the theory of evolution will not survive with its mutation ideas.
    So if it will not survive why is it now seen as a scientific theory?
    Evolutionists and ID are missing the point here that a biological scientific theory either has scientific biological evidence, worthy to justify a theory, or it does not!
    Which is it?
    ID folks here seem to this YEC to just switch evidence around but not dismiss their is evidence!

  31. 32
    Aspire to Solomon

    I’ve always thought that sexual attraction is one of the most potent arguments for Intelligent Design (pun intended), and I don’t know why it isn’t explored more in the ID world. Have you ever read the evolutionary psychology explanations for it all? It’s pure comedy gold, if you want to see darwinism taken to it’s hilariously illogical conclusions, get yourself some popcorn and try reading something like Sperm Wars. Conveniently, it’s recognition of fixed sexual roles not subject to social conditioning has got lefties and feminazis everywhere running in full panic mode, so I have to give them credit for that.

    Here is an argument I thought would be useful against DarTards that uses darwinism against itself to prove ID on this matter. Feel free to critique it, or offer what you consider to be improvements:

    If we assume the following:

    1. evolutionary fitness varies considerably across the human population.
    2. all people posses the biological grounded, innate preference to maximize their evolutionary fitness by all means available.
    3. human fitness traits are universally recognized, and universally desirable
    4. humans have a mechanism distinguishing fit and nonfit traits

    *Note; none of these ideas are currently disputed in the EvoPsy world, and traits 3 and 4 are so overwhelmingly obvious and scientifically supported you would have to be downright ignorant to deny it regardless of your commitment to ID or darwinism or whatever*

    …then people cannot evolve, because we have acknowledged that not only do people’s preferences not evolve (because both lesser and more evolved people have the same, fixed, biologically grounded conception of fitness), but because we know that all people seek to maximize their evolutionary fitness by all means available, and since we know that not all people have reached this standard, we know that anything keeping people from attaining this standard must be caused by something OUTSIDE THEMSELVES (such as environmental or epigenetic changes), because if it was caused by something inside themselves, people would not have been seeking to maximize their evolutionary fitness by all means available (hence why most people don’t have three arms, why people aren’t attracted to people with three arms, but some people nonetheless have three arms).

  32. Neil @3:

    If they said something to that effect, I would like a reference so that I can read it for myself and perhaps find out why they would say such a thing.

    Because they are not interested in an objective assessment of the evidence. Rather a propagandistic cheerleading for naturalism.

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