The Beauty of God's Plan?

HT: Dangerous Intersection


Edward T. Babinski said...

Each species of cordyceps (check spelling) fungus is species specific. By design?

If we analyzed the genomes of each species of cordyceps fungus and compared them, the evolutionary tree of those fungal species would probably parallel the evolutionary tree of the genomes of each of the various species that the fungus devours and uses to reproduce.

This species-specific fungus probably evolved alongside each of its specific host species, as they reproduced and diverged over time, evolutionarily speaking. Including species as divergent as ants, crickets and moths.

Edward T. Babinski

Edward T. Babinski said...


The genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees is so small that it corresponds to that between sibling species (closely allied) species and is less than between two nonsibling species of the same genus. It is also apparent that the malarial parasites of man and those of every one of the apes evolved from a common ancestor. This is an important point, as it indicates that their hosts, man and apes, did likewise.

[J. Richard Greenwell (Secretary of the Arid Lands Natural Resources Committee, University of Arizona), “Tiptoeing Beyond Darwin,” Skeptical Inquirer, Spring 1980, p.42-54]


Interestingly, the similarity between the various lice that live on monkeys and those of man is so close that they can interchangeably feed on one or the other host without harm… Such interchange of hosts is not usually possible. A louse fed on a foreign host, in most cases, suffers a probably painful and fatal ingestion…The lice that infest each species of monkey in South and Central America, so far as known, fall into distinct species according to the hosts they infest, thus indicating to a certain degree an evolutionary descent for both the host and the parasites that evolved with them and upon them.

[Hans Zinsser, Rats, Lice and History]

lowendaction said...

I'm afraid I don't see how either the post, or these comments serve as empirical evidence for or against evolution vs creationism (or ID for that matter).

For me personally, it is another beautiful example of the complex and yet utterly perfect balance that IS nature.

I guess the next question is simply, if you are satisfied believing that this all came about by a cosmic fluke, versus some kind of design or purpose then all is well!

Spirula said...

utterly perfect balance that IS nature.

Hardly. 99% of all species that have existed are extinct. Not much balance there. The real "cosmic fluke" would be a "designer" who is that incompetent.

Parasites are a major factor in evolution of species (as this video helps demonstrate), and probably culpable in many extinctions as well (poorly adapted ones anyway, which requires some understanding of "well adapted" parasites).

Read Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex

HeIsSailing said...

That was about the coolest thing I have ever seen. These nature shows have gotten very sophisticated! We have come a long way since my childhood days watching ol' Marlin Perkins wrestle anacondas.

More to the point though, I have no idea how this debunks Christianity, or shows flaws in design (assuming there is a designer, which I highly doubt). If anything, it shows beautiful complexity of nature. As long as it does not happen to me.

exapologist said...

I imagine that one could argue that complexity, as such, is beautiful -- or at least, that the sort of complex process depicted in the clip is beautiful (in virtue of, what -- a "neat" or "clever" way to control populations?). However, prima facie, it's not the sort of process you would expect on the hypothesis of Christian theism -- in particular, a process in which one creature or species flourishes by means of the demise of another. A being who intentionally, willfully designs and implements such an economy -- is the conception of that sort of being one which naturally comports with a conception of a being who *is* love at their essence? The question seems to me to answer itself.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Before the Fall, there was no death, no such parasites.

Hence, God is punishing insects for Eve's transgression.

Not that insects are conscious.

lowendaction said...

ok, before our evil knight in shining blue armor gets pummeled here, just let me interject this retort.


first, I would love to see the data behind your 99% extinction claim. and second, who's to say that extinction of a species isn't an intergal part of this balance? Usually, where one part dies, another springs to life. This balance is self-evident. Name ONE living organism that lives outside of the food chain.

Then finally, I am again baffeled at this persistant mis-conception of love (as it applies to God). I think, if we spent less time listening to modern watered-down versions of a more palletable and socially relevant God, and instead studied the one source from where God has proclaimed Himself: the bible, we might learn that such realities as death, suffering, and things "not working out to our favor", all do not negate love, but are in harmony with it...check it out. And that means more than just pulling isolated versus to underscore an atheist/agnostic presupposition.

David M. said...

Not to mention that if "God is love" means that nothing dies, because a loving God wouldn't allow death, can you imagine what the world would look like?

I am a christian theist, and I've never been taught, or taught that God loves bugs so much that they can't get disease. Where do you get that theism wouldn't allow what is evidenced in the clip. I guess I'm a little confused.

Or, maybe you should talk to other Christian Theists.

David Jarrett

Spirula said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Spirula said...

first, I would love to see the data behind your 99% extinction claim.

Okey-dokey. (This estimate, based on palentological evidence and predictions of niche occupation, is fairly common knowledge even amoung high school biology students). Here are some links.

who's to say that extinction of a species isn't an intergal part of this balance?

Not me. But when creationists or theists get all "warm and fuzzy" about how the "perfect" balance in nature is an example of design or a creator, I feel compelled to point out that, for a given species, nature isn't going to be all that balanced. Eventually, they will go extinct. That is not "perfect" balance. And, in fact, the "imbalances" are a driving force in both speciation and extinction.

In addition, evolutionary theory predicts that when a vacancy is created in an ecological niche due to extinction, it will quickly be filled by another species with similar requirements/adaptations. This is borne out time and again by the fossil record, and in an indirect way is supported by the many cases of convergent evolution.

Anyway, the frequent extinctions of species and the subsequent replacements of those species, hardly argue in favor of some invisible-sky-fairy just showing off his newest set of cool transformers.

Usually, where one part dies, another springs to life. This balance is self-evident. Name ONE living organism that lives outside of the food chain.

First, I'd argue "balance" is in the eye of the beholder. 65MYA the world was NOT a very "balanced" place to live, as the dinosaurs found out.

And I'd never claim any organism lives "outside the food chain"(BTW, food web is more accurate, albeit more complicated to convey)...unless I can get dibs on the fungal spores that are claimed to occasionally escape into space.

lowendaction said...


Interesting read, thanks for the links.

Even if I were to fold that data into my belief system, it doesn't change my balance view.

You see, I'm thinking in wider terms than just our immediate time frame. The fact that one extinction is replaced by something new, completely supports my concept of balance. A void of any of these elements, without the perfect replacement, would cause everything to collapse.

As far as our temporary existance as humans on earth...I wouldn't even disagree with you. Christianity has never laid claim to eternity on this earth. It's always been viewed as a short-term situation for us (long before anyone ever "discovered" evolution BTW).

Also, just a note of etiquette. I am here for open and honest dialoge. There is no need for name calling or defaming someones belief system in this setting. Its just rude. I don't expect you to change your belief or convert or anything like that...but you don't hear me getting all Junior High in here do you? I'm here to learn and exchange.

thanks for your time.

Spirula said...

There is no need for name calling or defaming someones belief system in this setting.

Fair enough. I hope you can understand that I, as a zoologist and former biology teacher, take umberage to comments like

I would love to see the data behind your 99% extinction claim.

which smacks of sarcasm, and a hint that it was fabricated. Especially so when considering that this information is presented in any high school or college biology class that has any credibility in teaching evolution.

lowendaction said...

good times spirula, I can totally understand your reaction.

I guess for me, though I can freely accept micro-evolution, I have a real hard time grasping on to the concept of macro-evolution which can not sufficiently explain its origin.

Of course I understand that God/creation can just a easily be dismissed as a human fabrication...but then there's just that whole perfection of things...and for me one such thing is: music (which is really just emotional math, which is also perfect IMO). How am I to understand the birth of such amazing things? Again, this is far less a challenge and more a question to you. If you can help me unerstand how such things came to be by accident, then maybe i can begin to start adapting some of the other "claims". But until this is satisfied in my mind, they will always remain just that.

And finally, I must also add that, just because something is published in a school book, does not make it infalible. Again, no disrespect to you as an educator, but it's not like the american school system hasn't bamboozeled our youth before...


Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Since I am no longer a member here, I'm free to say that this -- and John's argument from carnivorousness -- has always struck me as an extremely weak one that I can only barely grasp. (I dislike it when 'my side' makes arguments this weak because it enables believers to dismiss more readily the much stronger arguments we have, and leaves us open to the claim that we accept a lower level of argument from our side than we demand of believers.)

I have no argument, of course, with Ed's use of the idea to demonstrate, yet again, the truth of evolution. It saddens me that this is so repeatedly necessary, as it would if we had to demonstrate the equally solid truth of heliocentrism five times a week, but it is that necessary.

But as for the rest, theologically the argument is nonsense, since all Abrahamic religions treat man in a separate category from animals and do not show any particular concern by their god for the fate of animals. (God may be aware of every sparrow's fall, but there's no arguement that he cares about them.)

And scientifically, evolution requires competition and death to progress, and there is no way of imagining a system that would not. (It would require a god to specially create every animal and every person -- which would make Calvinism look latitudinarian in comparison.)

Even if we could absorb nutrients directly from the soil, even if we were rock-eaters, the question of room would require death, and the finiteness of the earth would require some competition. (It would be an interesting computation to imagine how much of the earth would be left had all animals been rock-eaters and consumed and metabolized the earth itself.)

Sorry, but for this one I have to go along with lowe and David.

exapologist said...

It appears, though, that you guys are attacking an argument that no one is making.

The argument isn't that the love and goodness of the god of Christian theism are incompatible with pain, death, and creatures having all their desires fulfilled all the time. *Of course* they are. This point is that on the hypothesis of theism, it's surprising that a theistic god would intentionally set up a biological economy such that one individual or species can flourish only if it's at the expense of the flourishing of another individual or species. However, it's not surprising on the hypothesis that the originating cause of life is indifferent to its welfare. Therefore, this sort of data raises the probability of the latter vis a vis the former.

A good and loving being aims to further the flourishing -- in Aristotle's sense of eudaimonia -- of others. This is a completely seperate issue from temporary pain, prevention of the desire satisfaction, and even death. The problem is that if the Christian God exists, then he has set up the biological economy in such a way that the flourishing of one individual or species requires the direct detriment of another individual or species.

An ecological balance may or may not require the deathof sentient and quasi-sentient creatures in the actualworld, but that's not relevent to what sort ofecological system an omniscient, omnibenevolent being,whose only limits are the laws of logic andn (perhaps) the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, would actualize. For, prima facie, such a being isn't constrained or hamstrung by the natural laws of theactual world (prima facie, they're contingent -- he could've actualized a world with different laws).

*Of course* love doesn't entail that a lover
always seek to satisfy the wishes of the beloved, and prevent them from all pain. For love at least seeks *the good* of the beloved, and sometimes that's inconsistent with satisfying the beloved's wishes and shielding them from pain. But this is exactly the problem here. For intentionally creating a biological economy that *intrinsically* involves the flourishing of individuals and species *at the expense* of the flourishing of other individuals and species is at least prima facie in conflict with the loving aims of seeking
their good.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Lowe: You make the same mistake that so many creationists do when you talk about things happening by 'accident.' Certainly the initial occurence of a 'self-replicating molecule' the forerunner to life did happen by 'accident,' of couyrse there was a billion years of random collisions of molecules for that 'chance' to occur in.

But, do you play poker, draw poker? If you do, you know that you may or may not improve your hand with the draw, but you start with your selection of three cards. If you have 3 threes, you might get a four of a kind, or a full house, but you'll still have those three threes in your hand.

It is a crude analogy, and not exactly accurate -- since you can 'draw' a mutation that is harmful, in fact most are. But it gives the general idea. Again, realize the immense span of time, the vast number of generations for the process to work through.

Physical evolution is simply not controversial, but mental evolution is. My personal belief -- with some evidence to back it -- is that once man developed consciousness, and the ability to communicate symbolically and to communicate abstract ideas -- which made cooperation on other than immediate projects possible -- mental evolution proceeded much faster than pysical evolution could. (Partially this is because the unique human ability -- sometimes called time-binding -- to learn from another's experiences.)

JumpingFromConclusions said...

**Since I am no longer a member here, I'm free to say that this -- and John's argument from carnivorousness -- has always struck me as an extremely weak one that I can only barely grasp.**

I actually really like his argument from carnivorousness. I never thought of it until I heard it from him. I didn't see it until after I de-converted, so I don't know for sure if it would have had any effect on me as a believer. Believers can tend to be basically indifferent toward animals, since they don't have "souls," but it still seems odd that a loving God would create animals who can feel pain, are often carnivorous, yet serve no ultimate purpose. Since a loving and all-powerful God could create anything, I don't see any reason he would have created carnivourous, pain-feeling animals. As an infinite God, he would have infinite alternatives.

I agree, though, that it probably does not affect many believers, and it probably does make some people dismiss stronger atheist arguments. But I find the argument intriguing, nonetheless.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Lowendaction,

Name ONE living organism that lives outside of the food chain.

The Archaea use sulfide instead of sunlight to create food, a process analogous to photosynthesis called chemosynthesis.

Bacteria Use Radioactive Uranium To Convert Water Molecules To Useable Energy

I love it when you guys do that because as i see it, religious belief is based on lack of information, ignoring qualifiers that lead to a strong inference, and cognitive bias.

Spirula said...


I would address the "accident" term, but Jim has done a good job. Natural selection is NOT random, nor, I would argue, do species evolve by accident.

In regards to the comment about "infallible" textbooks, the only biology teachers I had who argued for an infallible book were my creationist biology teachers in high school and college. And that book, of course, was the Bible.

It was their lame attempts to force the scientific data into their "infallible" creation myths, and making dishonest claims about evolution (one of which is the micro/macroevolution disconnect) that started me on my deconverson experience.

If there is any "baboozaling" regarding evolutionary theory in public education, it is the distortions and politicking by the creation/ID crowd, coupled with the intimidation of teachers (in some states) which makes them avoid the topic of evolution, and thus avoid the harassment of school boards and parents.

I see no evidence of ntellectual integrity and rigorous science in the creation/ID camp.

Brown said...

Well, the God of the Bible is also a God of wrath. The Bible clearly teaches that animal death is good and that it comes from God in Psalms 104.

lowendaction said...

prup & spirula,

My "accident" reference was directed at the origin of the evolutionary process.

Still, no one has answered my specific question about music/math. Are you saying that these things always existeded and we then discovered them? Or were there early prototypes that didn't yet containt zero, or minor keys? I understand how a living organism can evolve/shape/adapt to its ever changing surroundings, but what about the former? Did someone invent music/math? Or was it not discovered? If it was in fact discovered, then where did it come from?

The simple biblical explanation regarding God and the presence animals is this:

He created them for our pleasure and our nurishment, as well as to be intrigal components of our ecosystem. Not an arguement...just a statement.

lowendaction said...


P.S. the text book thing was not specific to evolution vs creationism. American school books have been littered (though I understand that improvements have been made;) with inaccurate portrayals of historical figures/events. And that's just one example.

However, I do not wish to further belabor this point. I was raised in the Euorpean school system, as well as the American, and therefore have draw my own conclusions.


lowendaction said...


I must beg for your continued patience, but after having read both articles, I was unable to find any mention of these facinating speicies being exempt from being contributing members of our ecosystem. Thus validating my point that ALL things living are bound by the amazing balance that IS nature. And yes, life and death are also key components of this system.

thank you said...

Greetings from Robert Bumbalough in Mesquite Texas. Please forgive my interjection into the thread. I've enjoyed reading the comments, and I wish everybody to be well and happy. I submit the following for the reader's elucidation.
"Why Evolution Isn't Chance"

Natural selection is more than capable of producing the appearance of complexity and illusion of design displayed in nature. The proponents of I.D. conveniently neglect to address the issue of where and how the designer (presumably the god, YHWH) comes from and was itself designed. Such a being is at least as complex as that with which it is credited and thus needs to be explained. Secondly, design in nature presumably happens via supernatural means. But there has never at any time or place in human history been a valid scientific confirmation of a supernatural occurrence. So the rational view seems to be that the supernatural is very improbable or naturally impossible. And so a burden of proofs rests squarely upon the I.D. folks to show from where and how a designer came about and to demonstrate that the supernatural has actually happened.

Best and Good; Thanks for reading my humble scribbling.

lowendaction said...


I wish that everything could be so blissfully black and white, as I'm sure you assume most, if not all, Christians feel in their views.

Unfortunately, this Christian can not simply roll over and grasp that faith for this. For as much as you would like to claim to be "hard scientific facts" there are a multitude of unknown yet to satisfy undeniable truth. So it is for the Christian. Any "believer" who tells you otherwise has never really bothered to study the bible. It is filled with far more unanswered mysteries than most would like to admit.

I must take off for now, so I will leave you with this.

Either you have faith in a Godless world that has formed and shaped us without any supernatural intervention, leaving us with a few short years to "live it up" and then it's lights out forever, or your faith compells you to reach for a "power" that is beyond our own...


Lee Randolph said...

Hi lowendaction,

I must beg for your continued patience,
No need for that,

but after having read both articles, I was unable to find any mention of these facinating speicies being exempt from being contributing members of our ecosystem.
For example, in the first sentence of the second link it says "a self-sustaining community of bacteria that live in rocks 2.8 kilometers below Earth's surface."

Thus validating my point that ALL things living are bound by the amazing balance that IS nature. And yes, life and death are also key components of this system.

they are not in the food chain. You said to name one that is not in the food chain to support your assertion about 'balance' in nature. I named two. You seem to have moved your "Goal post" to a different part of the field.
Nice dodge, Neo!
Which validates my point about ignoring qualifiers that leads to a strong inference.

the only balance in the world is in peoples perceptions. Each of us decides (in our own view) what it is that offsets the other. Some comparisons are more compelling than others for empirical reasons, but you wouldn't be interested in any of that empirical nonsense would you?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi lowendaction,
pardon me eavesdropping on your conversation with kbrown, but when you said this
Any "believer" who tells you otherwise has never really bothered to study the bible. It is filled with far more unanswered mysteries than most would like to admit.

Since I assume I know you better than kbrown does, I felt compelled to point out that you have fallen back on your old standby which is to set yourself apart from your peers as if to say that they are misguided and you are not. You are justified in this position since it necessarily occurs as a result of reconciling christian dogma in your processes of reasoning, otherwise known as self-justification.

Pile said...

There's a new wiki dedicated to the freethought movment.. please help contribute if you can:

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Lowendaction,
I'll field your music/math question.

music (which is really just emotional math, which is also perfect IMO). How am I to understand the birth of such amazing things? Again, this is far less a challenge and more a question to you. If you can help me understand how such things came to be by accident....Did someone invent music/math? Or was it not discovered? If it was in fact discovered, then where did it come from?

I am no expert, but am going off of what I know from being a science fan.
Music is a phenomena of perception, math is a phenomena of abstract logic. Both depend on relationships between their components.

Music is cultural. Music in different cultures have different tones or notes. The distance between the frequencies is different for every scale. In western music there is a chromatic, diatonic and pentatonic as well as derivatives of each such as in Jazz. Music from the American Indians for example have its own structure rhythm, tones, etc. Music from one culture is not likely to be appreciated in another culture by someone not familiar with the relationships between the tones. Therefore, music is a human creation, and not objectively perfect as would be expected from a god for instance. In music research, it is theorized the music resulted from language, or language resulted from music. In any case, it is believed that sound was used for communication, and as communication became more complex so did the sounds and patterns and complexity. As usual, as humans do, technology was adapted for enjoyment and music was born.
Birds, whales, dolphins and insects use sound patterns for communication. With a little imagination we can hear "Whale Song" and "Bird Song".
Any beauty in it is definitely in the ear of the beholder. To tone deaf people, it is unintelligible.

Math is a relationship between the 'distance' between objects. For example, the symbol 1 abstractly represents one object and the symbol 4 abstractly represents four objects. Logically, we can see that if we subtract two and call it 'subtraction' we have two left. We then see that it works all the time and make it a principle. The same goes for division, multiplication etc. There is nothing supernatural or mystical about it at all. Any beauty in it is definitely in the eye of the beholder. To people with limited cognitive resources, it is unintelligible.

Hope this helps.

Spirula said...

Birds, whales, dolphins and insects use sound patterns for communication.


It is also interesting to note that in some of these species (e.g. Killer whales), are there dialects of language, but separate cultures as well.

David Attenbourgh narrates a Discovery (I think) piece on Killer whales populations located in different parts of the world, and it examines the behavioral and communication differences between these groups. The upshot is that Killer whales do, in fact, have "cultures".

Just one more example of how our anthrocentric views, emphasizing our "specialness", have biased our approach to the natural world.

lowendaction said...


Though I sincerely appreciate your insights and definitions of what music/math is, and how it is precieved around the world and in our animal kingdom, I'm afraid it did not answer my question.

The riddle I am trying to crack is: Where did it come from? I used music/math, because I am a musician, and because music, regardless of its expression or cultural influence, is still nothing more than a sonic utterance of math. So, where did math come from? Nature is, by and large, irregular. There are no straight lines or perfect circles. There are no reoccurring equal distances (I'm assuming all of this, but I'm pretty sure about it...). Math by contrast is perfect. It's very purpose, is to bring regularity where it does not exist, or is not defined.

So my point is, how can something that is un-natural "evolve" from the natural? Thus my question, did man invent this, or was simply always there, or where there premutations of it that weren't quite perfect prior to this version? You see my dilemma? If there was a random beginning to all this, and then a gradual adaptation from that, where does math fit in?

To tie that back in with music, where does enjoyment fit in that process? If our journey has been one of adaptation and survival, what possible benifit do such emotions have? I'm not saying I don't appreciate them. They just don't seem very usefule to a lineage of species who's soul reason for existing is to survive?

hmmmm, it's to early for this crap, my head hurts.


Spirula said...


So, where did math come from?

My take: logic. Where does logic fit in to human behavior? Originally strategies of predation and then adopted out into tool use, communication and other predictive uses (agriculture). I would argue "irregularities" in nature are actually unfamiliarities. Humans are quite adept, as are many other animals, at learning the peculiarities of their environments and it's predictability. (e.g. even the pacific tiger sharks "know" when certain cormorants are fledging on specific islands).

So, in a sense, mathematical "perfections" are just derivatives of logic. Some would argue the no true perfection exists, except in an abstraction. For example, a "perfectly" drawn circle's edge would reveal irregularities if examined under sufficient magnification.

Like Lee, I consider ideas like "balance" and "perfection" to be concepts that exist in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.

To tie that back in with music, where does enjoyment fit in that process? If our journey has been one of adaptation and survival, what possible benifit do such emotions have?

Well, like so many cultural rituals, its orgins probably lie in social bonding. And, as social primates, these bonding rituals reassure the members and identify the "us". So it is comforting. Reassuring. Bonding. All of which decrease the tension and increase the cooperation of the group. Hence...enjoyment.

Watch "Going Tribal" episodes and notice when music (or really, any other cultural expressions) are used in the lives of the people. Interesting stuff.

Oh, and don't forget the pervasiveness of play behavior in the animal world.

Just a few opinions.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Let me start with your music and math question as well. Lee did a good job from one perspective, but let me give you mine.

First, it is true that music is mathematical in nature, that whatever tone scale you use, it is possible to express the relationship between the notes mathematically, etc.

But music existed and developed for tens of thousands of years, maybe hundreds of thousands before this was realized, and even now I would guess that the majority of practising musicians and composers are either unaware of this, or, if they are aware of it, do not use this in their creation of music.

As for the origins of both, I can think of few human activities that need a 'supernatural intervention' less than these two. Neither one, I'd argue, have a 'single origin.' Few human activities do -- and one mistake of 'social scientists' is trying to find THE origin for specific activities. But both seem so obviously to come from human observation and 'trial and error.'

To take just two of the 'threads' that lead to music. First, if you've ever been around babies or children, you'd notice that one thing they like to do is to bang things and make noise. And lots of adults do as well. (I plead guilty, y'r honor.)

Is it hard to imagine that, over time, people noticed that certain types of banging, plucking, and blowing through things made more pleasuable sounds than other; to imagine them trying out different types to see what was most pleasant, and deliberately putting them together -- especially once they noticed that when one person was banging and one person was plucking or tootling, the sounds worked well together.

As well, languages and speech seems naturally to develop rhythms, and many languages use different tones to qualify or change meanings. (Really? Really!) And, particularly for 'ceremonial occasions' people learned to use rhythms and tones for effects on the hearers, whether human or 'divine.' But people don't like leaving things in category. If they could use rhythms to affect -- they thought -- their gods, why not use them to affect their followers, or the girl they hoped to impress?

Then add in the observation of and imitation of nature. Animals make sounds. People can imitate those sounds, maybe for a purpose -- like fooling the animal into a trap -- maybe just 'for fun,' a pleasant trick around a campfire. The wind makes sounds as it blows through things. But we breathe out air, maybe we can blow through things and make sounds too.

And many other things may have played parts -- again, human activities always have complex origins. But it was only after music had exited for many years that people discovered that they could use mathematical ratios to anaqlyze it. (But you can compare it to algebra and geometry, separate disciplines for centuries before Descartes discovered that the two could be combined.)

And mathematics is similar. Counting is a natural activity, and one that becomes necessary fast in human activity. ("Three pieces of meat, four children = one hungry child." "Three rocks, four predators = run like hell.")

People probably started counting using their fingers and toes, using the activity for necessity. And I would guess the first computations were strictly 'concrete.' (Three rocks plus four rocks equals seven rocks. Four nuts, three people equals one left-over nut. Etc.)

But eventually some genius -- and I use the word deliberately and literally -- made a discovery. That three anythings and four anythings made seven anythings. That any group of three things shared the 'abstract property' of 'threeness.' That you could use a particular mark to stand, not for 'three somethings' but just 'three.'

I've stated elsewhere that the single greatest step in human mental evolution was when man discovered that symbols (written or sounds) could be used, not just for concrete things, but for abstract concepts. (This seems to be the most important uniqueness of humans -- as far as we know. Other animals have language, but not 'symbolism.')

Now, from this distance, there is no way of knowing if humans already had this ability and simply used it on the abstract concepts of numbers, or if it was the discovery of the abstractness of numbers that inspired humans to extend the concept of 'the symbolization of abstract qualities' to other areas. But either way, that is why I called the discoverer of 'numbers' a genius.

Now certainly you can postulate a 'supernatural intervention' giving man both mathematics and music. You can even follow the Greeks and postulate different supernatural beings each of whom gave man a different 'gift,' as Artemis taught them to hunt, and Prometheus stole fire and gave it to them.

But I see no reason to do this. I'm a humanist, and believe it was well within human capacity to take these steps unaided -- even though they might have been the greatest 'steps for mankind' ever taken.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I wrote my answer to you before I saw this morning's addition, or spirula's response. I want to thank you, seriously. Asking good questions is one of the most valuable of human traits, and boy were these some of the best that have ever been asked here. And I think the various answers you have gotten from different perspectives don't, in the slightest, contradict each other but complement each other.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

A serious and honest question. Of course other animals have languages, and, in fact, I think we underestinate the complexity of them because we are so used to thinking of 'language' as implying the 'manipulation of sound waves.' My time with my cats has demonstrated that their language uses many different types of sensory input, not just sound. They use sight (posture, position) and particularly controlled scent in ways so alien to us that we tend not to think of these as languages, but they are.

But my question is whether it has ever been shown that other animals have symbolism, the ability to express not just the concrete but the abstract, not just the immediate 'here and now' or even 'over there' but to actually make plans for future events that are merely possible or conditional?

If so, then we aren't as unique as I like to think, but it still seems likely that we have developed this particular capacity far more than any other animal.

lowendaction said...


So if I am to understand your "logic" answer, then it is the devolpement of our brains that allowed us to "discover" this, right?

I guess I just wish that I could see closer links to our brian capacity in our animal counterparts. I know about the smart dolphins and whatnots, but why isn't there a not-quite-so-harry walking ape with a heavy animal accent walking around? If we did evolve from the ape, why are there still apes? Shouldn't we have elimitated the weaker species in our climb to the top? You would think that if we are the result of a gradual process of evolution, that there would also be relatively and visible equally spaced steps down that ladder, and yet all we are able to find are these huge gaps...

I've been doing a little reading regarding some of our current dating methods. It seems, that most of these "tools" are less than reliable past the five to six digit year mark. Though logic and reason make up a great deal of sense where the evidence falls short, one is still left with a question of faith. How much faith do I put in that whith which I am presented?

Since I do have a mind that can consider the abstract and ponder the meaning of life and beyond, isn't it reasonable-nay logical-that maybe there is more than just this tangible existance that science is desperatly trying to catch up to? Would it really be that bad? Is our instinct for survival, our need to be at the top of the food chain, so great, that to allow the possibility of a higher being would threaten our sense of security?

so many questions...

Spirula said...

But my question is whether it has ever been shown that other animals have symbolism

I don't know if these following links really answer that question, but here you go

I mean, Koko did name her pet kitten.

And then there is this controversial bird

So, if animals can be taught to communicate in a "language" not their own, is that a demonstration of their ability to recognize symbolisms? I don' know. Noam Chomsky doesn't think it is lanquage, but I'm no linquist either so I haven't any idea.

I think the big mistake is using ourselves as benchmarks. For a dolphin, as an example, sound may evoke concepts and 3 dimensional images and abstractions. It's hard to assess something that foreign to our experience, just like I have no idea what the electrosensory sensations of sharks is like. Is it a "buzz"? I doubt we'll ever know.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I see nothing wrong in using ourselves as benchmarks -- because we know about ourselves. If we are not as unique as I think, so what, then we have other ways of thinking we can eventually communicate with. (And we are almost certainly not alone in the Universe, or the smartest creatures in it. Again, so what?)

We're still marvelous 'creatures,' and we shouldn't underestimate that, or what we have achieved, and how rapidly we are continuing to achieve.

Lowe: I'll discuss evolution with you later -- I'm sure someone else will point out some of the mistaken assumptions you make about how it works.

Stargazer said...

I have only comparatively recently begun to do much study in the specifics with regard to evolution, so if I misspeak, please correct me. RE: lowendaction's question re: why are there still apes, etc.--according to some of my reading, as well as some things I picked up in the Ken Miller lecture (mentioned in some earlier posts), it appears that there is a problem of understanding the evolutionary process by those who argue against it. Part of this misunderstanding comes from seeing the process as linear--one organism 'progressing' into the next, which then becomes another in a line of progressively complex and 'evolved' organisms. I remember seeing such an idea pictured in an early science book, and unfortunately, that is an image that has stuck in the minds of many.

Miller (and others) state that evolution, rather than being a linear process, would be better described as a tree, or even a bush, with variations branching out in different directions. So while the apes, chimps, humans, etc., share at base a common ancestor, they have evolved in separate branches as separate species. Miller explains some interesting recent connections that have been made at:

For the full length version of his lecture, go to:

lowendaction said...


That is very helpful. Thank you.

I do think that there was some linear thinking going in my primitive theist upbringing (making fun of myself, not tyring to by cynical!). But I'm still not sure if that satisfies the infamous "missing link" gap. Again, maybe there have been amazing breakthroughs and discoveries that the holy conspiracy has been shielding me from. In either event, I am wide open for any data or evidence anyone would like to send my way.

thank you

lowendaction said...

I would like to share a little something from my side of table.

This is my abstract attempt at explaining our relationship to God, in specific the communication (or lack thereof).

So this is pretty much my favorite show ever. But my point is a quite serious one.

Let's assume that God is Helen Keller (please don't go to deep with that one...) and we (those who are attempting to communicate with God) are Stewie.

Our eyes are closed which limits our senses. So we use what is left, and make an attempt at getting His/her attention. No immediate response. Since our eyes are closed, it would be a logical assumption that God is in fact not there. However, as we can see through that clip, she is there, and she is alive.

So we come to the communications barrier. As it turned out, Helen Keller (the real one) had a great deal to offer her surroundings and the world, eventhough she was unable to do so using conventioanal communication methods. This leaves us with the challenge of finding out what His form of communication is, which might very well be different, or uncommon for us.

I know this has very little to do with evidence and all that. But for me, being a very visual person, this really struck home in attempting to show this conundrum that I (and many others who are wishing to communicate with God) find myself in. I see this not as a weakness of His, but as a challenge to us, to seek Him out whilst breaking out of our comfort zones and exploring the deapths of our commitment to what "really" matters to us.


Lee Randolph said...

Hi Lowendaction,
the analogy would work if god wasn't supposed to be all powerful and supposed to want to have a relationship with us. These two premises are weakened by the facts regarding gods "communication (or lack thereof)" as you put it.

As I see it, here is an analogy for the christian argument about gods communication with us.

Lets say that I have an appointment with you and I miss it and I don't communicate that to you. You ask me what happened and I say that I was waiting for you. You ask why I didn't call and I say that I wrote you a message but you didn't come to get it and I would have told you if you would have asked. You say that I didn't try hard enough to communicate and I say that you didn't try hard enough to communicate with me.

supposedly god is all powerful, and he has a date with us, but he is not communicating as well I expect an all powerful being could and I hear christians telling me that I am not listening carefully enough or that I am not trying hard enough.

If god punishes unbelievers with hell, and he is all powerful and all knowing, and he is supposed to love us, then it is incumbent on him to convince me of his existence if he plans on torturing me forever if I don't. He has an obligation that he is not fulfilling.

This is off topic so I'll give up the last word on 'gods communication'.

Joseph said...

who's to say that extinction of a species isn't an intergal part of this balance?

In other words, God is unfalsifiable by definition.

zilch said...

Lowend- you ask why there are still apes if people evolved from them. I ask you this: since most Americans are descended from Europeans, why are there still Europeans? This may seem flippant, but the answer to the two questions is the same: there's no necessary connection between the survival of a parent stock and the survival of its decendants. What works well and survives does so no matter where it comes from: there are no labels of "higher" or "lower" that affect success in nature.

About music and math: being a musician and an instrument maker, I have to put in my two cents' worth here. It is true that there are different scales in different cultures, and that preferences for these different scales are culturally evolved, but it is also true that they grow out of a mathematical basis which is not arbitrary.

In general, there is a cross-cultural recognition of intervals (the mathematical ratios between two frequencies) that are simpler (built of small integers) as being more consonant. The simplest ratio is 1/1, the unison or the same note. The next simplest is 2/1, the octave: notes an octave apart are even called by the same name in Western music, as though they were identical. The next ratio is 3/2, the fifth. 4/3 is the fourth, 5/4 the major third, 6/5 the minor third, and so on. All musical cultures in the world I know of use 1/1 and 2/1 ratios when more than one person is performing together- for instance, when men and women sing together, they sing in octaves the world round. Almost all cultures use 3/2 and 4/3 ratios, and most cultures have thirds as well. So the structure of scales, while subject to a great deal of individual variation, has mathematics at its basis.

This is ignoring lots of complicating factors, to be sure. For instance, the currently prevalent equal temperament tempers ("tampers", makes somewhat impure) all intervals except unisons and octaves,in order to cobble together a scale of twelve notes in which all chords in all keys are equally in tune (or equally out of tune). You can only get perfect tuning by altering the notes as you go. One might or might not see that as a metaphor for the necessary imperfection of moral decisions.