What is a “Law of Nature” – a Question for Neo-Darwinians

What is Nature?

(Neo)-Darwinists always talk about the ‘laws of nature.’ No question is too difficult to answer, because the answer is always the same…

Q: How did oxygen precipitate from a barren, heat-scorched earth and bind with nitrogen and hydrogen to somehow magically combine to make the first, and second, and two-hundred-fiftieth amino acid?

A: “Natural processes.”

Q: How did hardened, arrayed, differentiated, multilayered calcium outcroppings (teeth) emerge in soft tissue?

A: “Natural selection.”

Q: How did the human brain evolve, millennia ahead of the need for all that we do – but entirely prepared for it: Newton’s Calculus, computer programming, electric engineering, and Fashion Week?

A: “Natural laws and processes.”

Natural laws. The laws of nature. There it is, and there you have it. Now, where can I find these laws? Are they written down somewhere? In City Hall, perhaps? No?

Well then, tell me: What are ‘laws of nature?’ Who enforces them? No one?

What good is a law if it is not energetically enforced and maintained? (No good at all). So, who does the enforcing? Right, I know: “Nature.”

Ah. Back to square one.

Okay. Well, tell me, at least, what are the ‘laws?’ Is gravity a law of nature? Gravity has not been a constant. The dinosaur bones which paleontologists dig are far too large to exist in a lithe and limber darting, pouncing, sprinting, pounding and…flying animal!


Too heavy to fly. [click, click]


Too heavy to run. Too heavy to walk:


– ‘Do you think I’m fat?’

Apparently, gravity is not a law, but a changeable habit…

Where do the laws of nature apply? Only on earth? Or everywhere in the universe? Is the speed of light a ‘law of nature?’ Astrophysicists have suggested that the speed of light has been altered substantially over time.

- wah huh?

Are the ‘laws’ really only habits?

And so, back to square one: What is nature? Are there any limits to what “nature” will allow the Darwinian rationale in terms of describing the universe? If there are no limits to how Darwinians will use this deus-ex-machina, then isn’t “nature” another word for “infinitely powerful, prescient, all-knowing, guiding force?”

You Neo-Darwinians can let me know. I’ll be interested to learn the difference between an all-pervasive, organizing, creative, teleological force, and that more ‘correct’ concept of ‘nature’ that you use so often, and so easily.

Liam

7 Comments

  1. Liam,

    as far as the first question goes, the sun is the source of all atoms heavier than hydrogen. It gets most of the energy we receive as sunlight by fusing hydrogen nuclei together to make helium. But other reactions can happen. In fact, energy can be harnessed by nuclear fusion in a star like the sun all the way up to iron.

    Now, after some time, the atoms made in the sun are projected out due to excess angular momentum and electromagnetic interactions. When these atoms get to the outer reaches of the sun, they are in the many forms of their ions, either being positively or negatively charged depending on the particular atom. Some of this ions interact via electromagnetic laws and some other will even bind, forming molecules.

    Most of these atoms, however, end up in a disc that extends in a plane around the sun. This is called an accretion disc. The heavier elements are closer in. The lighter elements are farther out. That’s why rocky planets are closer to the sun.

    You can try this experiment for yourself. Take a variety of different sizes bread crumbs and place them in the center of a pan of water. Make sure they are all soaked. Then spin the pan. The larger, more massive breadcrumbs will remain closer to the center of the pan, while smaller ones will move farther away. The same thing happens in space.

    Based on the physics of the accretion disc, one can predict how far from the sun atoms of particular sizes will congregate. The earth happens to sit at the point where lots of the oxygen made by the young sun would end up. Since nitrogen is one atomic unit smaller than oxygen, there is a lot of nitrogen here as well.

    The early earth, unlike the earth of today, had a much smaller magnetic field. This idea is fairly new and probably still controversial, but I think we can rely on it nonetheless. Because the magnetic field was much smaller, a smaller amount of high frequency light, charged particles and electromagnetic anomalies were deflected away from the surface of the young earth.

    When atoms come in contact with high energy charged particles and electromagnetic fields (light especially), electrons are excited to higher energy states or blown off completely. The atoms subsequently become much more reactive. That means they are much more likely to form bonds. So, with the higher density of high energy charged particles and light incident on the early earth, it is imaginable that there would have been a higher density of oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen in their excited states or in the form of free radicals floating around looking to make molecules with each other. Since amino acids are relatively simple molecules, it’s not out of this world to believe that they could have formed via this mechanism.

    As for the speed of light argument, it is important to note specifically what these scientists are saying. They are wonder if the 15th or 16th significant digit, which we cannot measure at this point, of the speed of light has changed over time. That’s a change of one millionth of one billionth of its speed. In fact, there was a large gamma burst measured last fall from a stellar explosion more than 7 billion light years away. That means that the star exploded more than 7 billion years ago and it’s taken that long for the light to get to earth. If there was a moment to notice a change in the speed of light, this was it.

    Do you know what the researchers found? Over the immense expanse of space and time that these photons traveled, there was no discernible change in their speed. All of the different gamma rays arrived at essentially the same time, even though they each may have seen slightly different defects in spacetime itself.

    More on that here.

    I think that ‘laws’ of nature can get confused for habits, but I think that the physics that happens on earth is the same physics that happens everywhere. There is no privileged position from which to watch the unfoldings around us. All viewpoints will see the same thing, after properly transforming into their reference frame.

    So I can understand your frustration with some expects of science, but I think that you’ve run into the wrong people to explain all of this to you. Some of it I don’t understand. Check that, almost all of it I don’t understand. But this lack of understanding does not preclude there being a reason for why something happens that can be explained by science at some point.

    I mean, just because people believed the sun went around the earth does not mean that it did go around the earth, right?

    Cheers.

  2. Mr. McGrew,

    I appreciate your dutiful and often-detailed answer. I’m going to read and consider all parts of it over the next few days.

    That said, I’m not sure you actually answered any of the questions I asked – you provided some current beliefs describing some of the events, but those are often beliefs, and far more contentious in the corresponding literature than you’re letting on:

    ie – that the solar system, or any solar system, is created out of a gravity-only ‘accretion disk.’ Correct me if I that’s not what you’re saying. This was Immanual Kant’s idealization in the 18th Century – that the solar system bundled itself together out of a clumpy dusty mass, through the force of nothing but Newton’s gravity.

    Is it true? It’s been falsified enough in observation.

    As to the speed of light – you cited the NYTimes citing Einstein – you have put us on bad footing, as I don’t believe that the NYTimes reports much of anything true, (though I will read the page thoroughly), but more importantly, that Einstein’s mapping of an idea of space-time in a gravity-only universe were simply wrong. I think he knew he was wrong, too, based on statements he made toward the end of his life. He was honorable that way.

    You also wrote:

    “it is imaginable that there would have been a higher density of oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen in their excited states or in the form of free radicals floating around looking to make molecules with each other. Since amino acids are relatively simple molecules, it’s not out of this world to believe that they could have formed via this mechanism.”

    Question: What mechanism?

    Whose mechanism? Why should there be a mechanism?

    This goes to my question – the primary: What is nature? What is a law of nature? Who provides the officers who uphold the law? Can a photon be punished for dawdling? Who provides the court which tries and punishes the law-breakers?

    It’s not a law, unless it’s enforced. Who or what is doing the enforcing? If you say, “nature,” then you’re attributing to this all-powerful-all-in-one diety-non-deity both the source of, and the mechanism producing – all material – and affecting all change in all material.

    That’s a holy thing to say to anybody.

    Indeed, how is it that anyone who knows anything about cell biology can say that amino acids are ‘relatively simple molecules?’ Just because a few of them organize (oh, ‘self-organize’) in the presence of magic elements and lightning means they’re ‘simple?’

    Are proteins, which are made of amino acids, also “relatively simple?” Is DNA, whose digital code is more elegantly complex and wildly versatile than any computer language yet devised by humankind, also “relatively simple?”

    You’ve got to get from there to here, and if you’re telling me a story that goes “It was all very simple, there was an accretion disk, it manifested as a sun and rocky and gaseous planets; the sun gives off heavy and light elements; those elements quite simply bonded to form life.”

    Then, my friend, you’re telling me a story. A nice story. But one that is absolutely untestable. It is also teleological [goal- or end- or purpose-seeking]. It is, in fact, reverse-teleology. You know where were are, so in your story telling, you make it quite apparent that it’s “quite simple” that we ended up here – because we did!

    “You see, how simple!”

    But it ain’t simple. It’s beyond a level of complexity, from the assumptions you’re making (or seem to be, forgive me if I’m in error) about a gravity-only universe, which ‘accretes’ stars and planets out of dust through the immensely weak force of gravity… to the microcosmos of molecules, which are so wonderfully engineered, it seems, to be able to, as you say, find relationships with each other and form into an endless array of material, both crystalline, and, lo-and-behold, animate.

    I pause in some horror when, in the midst of an immensely technical, highly improbable explanation of universal ‘accident’ or happenstance, I’m repeatedly told how “simple” it all is.

    I do thank you, nevertheless for your comment. I will, as I said, read it more thoroughly, to look at each part of the process you outlined. I hope you will not be overly offended by my lack of belief in pretty explanations. I will read all you sent, however.

    Bests,

    Liam

    PS –

    You wrote:

    “The early earth, unlike the earth of today, had a much smaller magnetic field. This idea is fairly new and probably still controversial, but I think we can rely on it nonetheless.”

    I wonder if you can talk more about that? Do you think space is a void, or that it contains an ether?

  3. PS –

    Mr. McGrew,

    I didn’t get this into my note. You wrote:

    “You can try this experiment for yourself. Take a variety of different sizes bread crumbs and place them in the center of a pan of water. Make sure they are all soaked. Then spin the pan. The larger, more massive breadcrumbs will remain closer to the center of the pan, while smaller ones will move farther away. The same thing happens in space.”

    What will happen in space? The heavier planets will end up near the sun? Where is Jupiter? Saturn? Uranus?

    Where is Mercury? Is Mercury heavier than Jupiter?

    These questions have baffled astronomers – the disorder of the planets, vis-a-vis ‘accretion disk models.’ Isn’t that so?

    Worlds Apart
    Nature, 17 April 2003
    Our knowledge of planets outside our Solar System has been transformed in the past few years. But these new-found worlds don’t look much like our planetary neighbours, and no one is quite sure why.

    View the article: PDF (80 KB)

    back to you,

    Liam

  4. Liam,

    what I find most interesting about your response is that it does not find direct fault with what I have written other than that it is not ‘believable’ to you. It’s too ‘simple’.

    There were several questions in your post that you asked for which I have no answer. I don’t think anyone has an answer to such questions. I happened to answer the simpler questions for which I know I have a stronger understanding and experience with how evidence could gathered and used to support an argument.

    I see no reason to believe that some substantial more complicated process led to what we see around us and, more importantly, it would disagree with the sizable amounts of knowledge we do have from observations I drew upon to put forth what I have written. I mean, Occam’s Razor is useful for a reason.

    I think you are seeking something that science will undoubtedly fail to provide you. Because of this fact, you feel that science is some kind of failure while you are typing to me probably hundreds of miles away. It’s almost ironic.

    I’m not overly offended by what you have written, but if your stance is that whatever current theories of science I bring will be ‘too simple’ then I must bid you farewell.

    Take care,

    FM

  5. Mr. McGrew,

    You wrote: “what I find most interesting about your response is that it does not find direct fault with what I have written other than that it is not ‘believable’ to you. It’s too ’simple’.”

    Comment: No, I disputed several key, specific points, which you aren’t responding to.

    You wrote: “There were several questions in your post that you asked for which I have no answer.”

    Comment: That I appreciate knowing. That is honest. I’m not sure why you didn’t start there, though I appreciate you saying it. I think that’s a level of honesty that is missing from science, or most public science, in any case.

    You wrote: “I don’t think anyone has an answer to such questions.”

    Comment: That’s a philosophical statement. The problem is, current science is in the way of exploration of many of these questions. It won’t budge. It’s arrogant, and like you are doing, it runs from a challenge. Unlike you, though, it doesn’t admit when it doesn’t have answers. It acts as a religion. Again, I appreciate that you’re pausing to state that there are answers you don’t have – that’s the beginning, in my opinion, of understanding. I’m right there myself, asking questions. But I don’t think it’s enough to say “I don’t think anyone has answers to such questions.” That’s also not science. It’s not curious.

  6. Mr. McGrew,

    I read the NYTimes piece. It is typically populist and trite, but that’s par for the course.

    Here are some notes:

    — “I take it as a confirmation that Einstein is still right,” Peter F. Michelson of Stanford, principal investigator for Fermi’s Large Area Telescope and one of 206 authors of a paper published online Wednesday in the journal Nature, said in an interview.”

    A paper with 206 authors is not a paper, it is a consensus opinion seeking ‘peer’ confirmation. It might as well be an Encyclical from the Pope, with that kind of baggage.

    — “There is no evidence so far that the energy or wavelength of light affects its speed through space. That is important because of what it could say about the structure of space-time.”

    “No evidence,” they say, and then contradict themselves:

    — “Some theorists have suggested that space on very small scales has a granular structure that would speed some light waves faster than others — in short, that relativity could break down on the smallest scales.”

    Well, maybe. And again:

    — “Dr. Michelson and others emphasize that while the new Fermi results do not yet eliminate the prospect, further observations with more gamma-ray bursts could eventually verify or refute the hypothesis.”

    “Could eventually verify or refute.” Yes, indeed. They surely have it solved.

    And the importance is?

    –“That would have a major effect on physicists’ efforts to unify the Einsteinian gravity that governs outer space with the weird quantum laws that govern the inner space of the atom.”

    The importance is that Physics is a ruined mess of theories, with no weather vane and no compass needle pointing anywhere, because physics and astronomy have been broken, temporarily, but for some time, by simulation theories – pure math, against all observation.

    They’re living in Plato’s perfectible universe of the mind. Plato eschewed observation, because it could not be trusted, and valued only the product of the mind – thought – imagination.

    Einstein’s theory of ‘space-time,’ of gravity ‘bending’ empty space, look to critics to be just such products of imagination. I’m inclined to agree with them, based on evidence of Plasma and Electromagnetism as forming and governing energies in the universe, and through all living material.

    Cheers,

    Liam

  7. I read the bread crumbs theory that a 5 year old could do, because it is simple, and matched it up with the location of the planets to come to the same conclusion as Liam that it is not so simple.

    If it was proven, it would work all the time. But as the New York Times article clearly states, they only have theories. Yes, they have some answers for some limited inquiries, but they don’t have all the answers. And I think that because they try and come off– scientists that is– as having the answers, or being oh-so-close to having the answers, that they do a disservice to us, and themselves, when they try and make it sound as though they really and truly have the answers.

    We think it is this way, but it might be that way. The suggestion is that it can only be one of these two, that they are already pretty much right, therefore they are right, so lets move on without actually proving anything!

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