Archives for posts with tag: Nature

No one considers a floating bit of dust in the air to be evil.

We may consider bits of vegetation and grains of sand blowing in our faces in a strong wind to be nuisance, perhaps even painful under some conditions, but certainly none of us would call it evil. The necessity of raising a hand to the wind and squinting to keep the tiny wind-hurled projectiles out of the eyes is simply part of the great outdoors on a windy day.

When a pebble is freed from its location by weathering, no one thinks of it.

When a bit of cliff debris falls, no one even notices, unless he happens to be standing near enough.

Likewise when a boulder, precariously perched, finally gives way, it is hardly worth our note, unless the protrusion had been widely remarked upon.

Still, no one would call it immoral, evil.

These are all simply natural. This is how our world works. Aging happens. Stresses build and relive. Disequilibria builds, and dissipates, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes dramatically, sometimes in self-organizing, emergent systems or phenomena that live, figuratively, and even literally.

None of this is evil.

Nature concentrates energy, and some systems use that energy in interesting, even creative ways.

Nature pours down radiant energy on the earth, and green plants use it to build. Herbivores and other creatures use that energy to build. Those, in turn, are used by other creatures in some way to build in another way.

Passive recipient, parasite, herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, et al. These are simply nature using resources to build. We may see destruction involved. We may see it as gruesome, bloody, distasteful, and worse, but it is all of a piece. All of it is simply nature. It is not inherently bad. It is not evil.

Why is it that some want to call certain spectacular workings of nature evil?

Earthquakes are not evil. Earthquakes are part of the natural processes described above.

If an earthquake happens to cause death and destruction, well, that is only the way of nature.

We consider it tragic, especially when many souls are lost, but it is not evil. It is not something someone, some agent, did. It was not intentioned, nor was it negligent. There was an imbalance, a buildup, and subsequent release.

Some ask why God didn’t stop the earthquake that killed millions, but no one asks why God didn’t stop that grain of sand from sticking in your eyebrow. There is no difference in the grand scheme. Both were simply nature redistributing matter and energy to alleviate imbalance.

The difference comes in agency.

We humans, we are free moral agents.

While there is nothing bad or evil about pain, suffering, and deprivation in themselves, it is bad, it is truly evil, when one person chooses to inflict pain and cause suffering and institute deprivation.

Coercion is evil.

I want to emphasize that. Coercion is evil.

 

An article in Nature seems to say that inconsequential mutations within our genes and proteins can be as significant as extinction in determining the evolutionary path we living creatures have taken since the beginning.

Michael J. Harms & Joseph W. Thornton published

Historical contingency and its biophysical basis in glucocorticoid receptor evolution

here http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v512/n7513/full/nature13410.html

They say their “findings demonstrate that GR evolution depended strongly on improbable, non-deterministic events, and this contingency arose from intrinsic biophysical properties of the protein.”

My friends with “design” leanings will assert that God directed these highly improbable events. It is interesting to contemplate, along with all the other improbable constraints that coalesced to bring us to where we are, but the fact remains, these events are natural, not supernatural. The fact remains, it is impossible to please God without faith; it is impossible to come to God without first belief that he is and that he is a rewarder of them who diligently seek him.

The article, being at Nature, is expensive, and I won’t be buying it, so I’ll quote the editor’s summary,

Can evolutionary biology become a predictive science? The answer to that question depends largely on whether it proves possible to develop a quantitative measure of the role of chance historical events in shaping evolutionary paths. With that objective in mind, Michael Harms and Joseph Thornton start from a database of thousands of variants of an ancestral form of the glucocorticoid receptor to look for mutations paving the way for the appearance of a larger-effect mutation creating a new ligand specificity, and they find none besides the historical permissive mutations. Their result shows that the evolution of this class of hormone receptors is critically dependent on rare non-deterministic events, constrained by protein biophysics. Evolutionary contingency is often seen in terms of chance external forces such as extinction by asteroid impact or climate change, but this work points to the internal organization of biological systems as a further powerful source of contingency.

Just an annoying aside: I don’t know why editors allow “non” to be needlessly hyphenated.

As to the use of “predictive” in the editor’s first sentence, I suppose he is indicating the use of predictive models based on our understanding of evolutionary biology and mutation in order direct evolutionary change in organisms in order to get new ones with specific characteristics and traits. I think he mainly means we have to understand a lot better before we really move beyond trial and error in these regards.

I’ll add that there is plenty of references on the Nature page to keep someone busy for a long time, and many libraries will have free [to use] access to many of the resources. So, you can check it all out expending only your time.

One last comment from my studies long ago, a researcher once found that E. coli could consistently beat extreme odds of starving [and surviving] by mutating to eat an alternative food in their culture dish. The story goes that the researcher forgot to add the nutrient to a set of culture dishes one night, and he was disappointed to see his failed experiment the next morning. However, a couple of the cultures had survived. He investigated and found they had mutated such that they could eat an organic component of the culture gel, something that was not supposed to be able to happen. Odds against it were several million to one. So, he tried again with the same results. Then he tried various directed experiments along those lines and kept finding that the E. coli could consistently be extremely long odds. One experiment necessitated a contingent mutation, as the authors of the article here cited discuss. That is, the E. coli had to mutate ineffectively before a useful mutation was possible–a two step mutation pair. The E. coli managed. That is, while starving they mutated in a way that didn’t help them eat, yet that mutation allowed them to make a mutation that did enable them to eat and survive.

I’ve never managed to find again the specific references when I’ve tried. Perhaps the information is readily available now, but it will still require the right search. Regardless, such research continues, and the almost limitless variations and abilities of life grow more astonishing as we understand it better.

 

Remember this, Mother Nature does not care. Like T-Rex in Jurassic park, he’s not evil, just hungry. Mother Nature simply obeys the laws of physics. Get in the way, and get zapped. She doesn’t care. Figure out how to apply enough energy to change what she’s doing, no worries. She doesn’t care. Mother Nature, just like the moon, is a harsh mistress. Being natural, by no means means being good.

Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

The natural world is heartless and cruel. Yet we humans equate ‘natural’ with ‘good’.

It turns out there’s an entire magazine aimed at sucking the joy out of parenthood. It’s called Green Child.

Apparently, we aren’t smart enough to teach kids to respect Mother Earth all on our own. We need a preachy periodical to show us the way. A periodical whose mission is to help us “raise a child the way nature intended.”

I find that statement astonishing. Allow me to explain.

Shortly after it appeared back in 1980, I read a book titled The Sceptical Feminist. It left an indelible imprint on my thinking.

For thousands of years, women were considered intellectually inferior to men. Our great-grandmothers were told that nature was responsible for this state of affairs, and that fighting for property or voting rights was therefore unnatural.

Shamefully, many feminists now employ similarly…

View original post 440 more words

%d bloggers like this: