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Letters to the Editor, January 2006

This a traditional letter column. You are encouraged to write a letter of comment on anything that you find worthy of comment. It will (may) be published in this column along with my reply. As editor I reserve the right to delete material; however I will not alter the undeleted material. E-mail to me that solely references the contents of this site will be assumed to be publishable mail. All other e-mail is assumed to be private. And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication. Oh yes, letters of appreciation for the scholarly resources provided by this site will be handled very discreetly. This page contains the correspondence for January 2006.

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From: Murray Goulden
Date: 1/4/2006
Subj: Piltdown man

I’m currently writing my PhD on a sociological study of scientific investigations of human origins (the final title will be snappier..). As part of my work, I’m interested in Piltdown’s treatment in scientific and media publications prior to its uncovering as a hoax. Your site is an excellent resource on post-1953 events, but I was wondering whether anyone had attempted to build a bibliography of coverage from 1912 onwards? Any help you could offer would be greatfully received. yours

I don’t have an immediate answer. I don’t know of a pre-1953 bibliography although Wiener’s book has some material, and there is a scattering of papers at the Clark University pagers. I am doing some checking and will see what I can come up with.
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From: D. James Royer
Date: 1/6/2006
Subj: Your Poetry

I came across your webpage, https://richardhartersworld.com/~cri/poetry/poetry1.html, and enjoyed your poetry very much, especially the commentary. Myself, I am a 27 year old graduate from Chapman University’s School of Music and when I’m not teaching 9th grade special education, I write choral music for my old high school choir and sometimes for my college choirs.

There are two particualr poems of yours that I would like to set to music, if you would be willing to grant me permission to use them. I do not have a publisher or anything; my music is enjoyed and spread casually by my alma matters and friends/church contacts involved with music. What do you think?

I write tonal music, by the way, somewhat impressionism/romantism by genre you could say. I’ve attached a sample from a John Donne poem and a MIDI recording to give you an idea (you’ll have to use your imagination a bit!).

I appreciate your time and consideration, and look forward to your response.

These are the two poems:

The old gray god is past his time.
The land he ruled has changed its clime.
His city’s streets are choked with grime,
And the dust blows.

The old priests chant is heard no more.
The temple gate is an unused door.
The old true faith is gone of yore,
And the dust blows.

The old gray god sits on his throne.
His wise old eyes were only stone.
Brooding still, he sits alone,
And the dust blows.

A moment.
That’s all I ask,
A moment.
To see your face,
To touch your hand,
For a moment.
How much happiness,
How much love
In a moment?
All that one can bear,
All that
In a moment.
By all means, you have my permission. I’m flattered.
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From: Anthony R. Lewis, PhD, FN
Date: 1/4/2006
Subj: Tech Coeds

Line 10 should read:

“This Tech Coed was Wise to the Tech and Harvard guys”

You left out the word “wise”.

Gracias. A correction will be made forthwith or at worst, fifthwith.
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From: Otraveller
Date: 1/3/2006
Subj: I have to ask you about The Cold Equation

I need to know if you know when will The Cold Equation play next?

I’m sorry, I have no idea. You might check google, although the links I saw didn’t mention a date.
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From: Ivana
Date: 12/28/2005
Subj: C.S. Lewis essay

I was searching around the net for info on C.S. Lewis, after reading reviews of the latest ‘narnia’ movie, when I found your essay on Lewis. Since a number of the reviews I’ve found focus on Lewis’ spiritual concerns, it also interested me which church he belonged to. In your essay on Lewis, I was interested to read that you thought:

“C.S. Lewis was a Anglican convert and it quite definitely shows in his writing. One way that it shows is in his dogmatic presumption that Catholic moral dogma is, ipso facto, absolutely true and correct.”
Since not one of the continental European catholic scholars I’ve asked seems to know much or anything about Lewis (his influence is greater in the English speaking world than anywhere else it seems), I searched again, hoping to find proof of his conversion to one church or another. It turns out that most sources claim he remained an Anglican until his death.

You can check the following FAQ:


Or this interesting book on literary converts to Christianity in the 20th century:

I wondered, did it just seem to you that he might have been a catholic, or did some other source cite this? I’d be really interested to learn….thanks!

Thank you for writing. The answer to your question lies in the footnotes, in particular, footnote 4. The simple fact is that when I wrote the original essay in 1973 I mistakenly thought that Lewis was a Catholic. When I put the essay up on the web I left the original essay as is and put the correction in the footnotes. Oddly enough I made him an Anglican in the main section and talked about him as though he were a Catholic. There is no good explanation for this.

I hadn’t thought about Lewis being relatively unknown in continental theological circles but it seems likely. Lewis was so very English.

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From: Henry Norman
Date: 12/15/2005
Subj: Mutation Rates

Dear Mr. Harter,

Thanks for your prompt response! As I’ve had some unpleasant situations in the past, exchanging messages with some stranger, I did some googling and quickly realized that you are a VIP (valid internet person!). I have read quite a lot of the stuff on your website–you have authored some rather interesting essays! I also found that you are my senior be a few years (I was born 1944), and that you appear to have a very balanced view of evolution. Our backgrounds are eerie similar (but I have no marines background: instead, I served in the Swedish Navy, as SEAL/UDT (back in the early sixties)).

I never quite thought of myself as a valid internet person. It’s taken me quite a few years but I’m a VIP now. Come to think on it I was on the internet before some of my readers were born. Now that is a scary thought.

One of the benefits of the modern internet is that one meets (electronically of course) people from all parts of the world with all sorts of backgrounds.

Well, by “card carrying” atheist I simply mean to underscore that I do not believe in a benevolent personal creator God (as pictured by the Judeo/Christian tradition). The truth is that I am probably more of an agnostic–in the true sense of the word.
Okay. I just raised a flag because there are many creationists and fundamentalists who pretend to be no such thing.
Your answer to my query actually confused me more… First off, until someone gives me more real information and a scientifically sound argument about the so called “junk” DNA, I refuse to accept it: this is to me just another aspect of the incredible hubris so many scientists has expressed over the years (similar to Teller’s words just after Bravo was detonated in the fifties: “Physics is a dead subject, we now know all there is to know, with a few loose ends remaining to tidy up”). We don’t understand what this DNA stuff does, and since we’re so gosh darn clever, if we don’t understand it, it’s got to be just junk–yeah, right!
My apologies, but I’m skeptical about that supposed quote from Teller. It doesn’t show up on Google and it sounds like a pseudo quotation.

Would it be fair to say that you don’t know much about the structure of genomes but you are certain that scientists are just making it all up? Probably not, but you are skirting near the edge of that precipice.

But if one should accept “junk” as being just that, it becomes even more difficult to understand how the genome alone can possibly gestate a human body, including brain, eyes, and built-in knowledge. I have a hard time understanding how this can be done using 3.15Gb worth of data (counting each base pair as one bit of information, which I think is too generous), never mind pulling this trick off with just under 95Mb… To paraphrase Stephen Hawking, “When I hear geneticists mentioning ‘junk’ DNA, I want to reach for my gun…”
Actually one base pair is two bits of information so the effective genome is closer to 190 Mbits or a little over 20 Mbytes. This is a quite shocking number, particularly to people who are used to Microsoft bloat.
The problem that I have with the genome is that it is, essentially, information: DNA appears to be a highly sophisticated code. There are, to my understanding anyway, simply too much stuff that has to be encoded, including substantial amounts of “inherited knowledge” (our capacity for language, all the autonomic functions, to just mention a few), and 3.15Gb worth of code is simply way too small a code to possibly be responsible for such an immensely complex organ as the human brain. (I have been programming computers, especially operating systems code, since 1968, so I do understand some of the problems involved.)
The fundamental point where you go wrong (a natural error for those of us working with computers) is to think of the genome as a program specifying the structure of the phenotype. It is not. Nor is it like a recipe, another fallacious analogy. The best analogy I’ve come up with is that it is a library of shop descriptions. The vast bulk of information specifying the development of the phenotype is in the phenotype itself, in the processes going on in the differentiated cells.
Please, don’t get me wrong: I am not a “creationist,” these people are simply nuts (especially the “young Earth” crowd). And my impression may be wrong, but I get a distinct feeling (when reading some of your essays) that you are leaning towards intelligent design of some form. Incidentally, so am I, and I do not think that it is fair to — as some die-hard Darwinists do — to equate ID with creationism. But that’s a different argument.
Oh, I would say that it is quite fair. In principle ID is not the same thing as creationism. However the ID advocates, e.g., Behe, Dembski, and the Discovery Institute are fairly upfront about their motives and objectives.
I have the same problem (not being capable of embracing it, that is) with “big bang” cosmology, and for similar reasons: I can’t see how a measly 15,000,000,000 years is anywhere near enough time for a human brain to be produced by the Universe, by mindless random chance alone. Not enough, by far!
I dunno, fifteen billion years is a very long time. It literally is an uncomprehensible span of time. Be that as it may, the evidence is fairly clear cut that the universe started out with a “big bang” about thirteen billion years ago (plus or minus a few billion).
My conclusion, given what appears to be “current scientific knowledge”: I can’t see how Life could have popped up and progressed virtually straight to humans, in a mere 3,600,000,000 years. Some other mechanism, somehow, must be involved. Not “divine interference,” that’s got to be bunkum. But, as the Universe is obviously capable of producing intelligent brains (we are here!), is it not correct to infer that, somehow, some kind of intelligence has to be involved?
The trouble here is that your “can’t see” is just an unfounded argument from incredulity. One could just as well ask, “Why did it take so long, why was it so slow?”
Mutations, sure. But how? Somehow, more base pairs has been added to the genome over the eons, all of them due to random chance mutations in the germ line cells. How in heaven’s name (pardon the expression!) could this have happened?
I believe I already answered that question. There are a number of mechanisms that increase the size of the genome. There is duplication which can be duplication of sections of chromosomes, entire chromosomes, or even entire genomes. There are certain sequences that are sometimes transcribed into more than one copy during DNA replication. There is viral insertion. There are transposons.

The important thing about many of these mechanisms is that they make more copies of valid genes, i.e., stretches of DNA that code for useful biochemicals.

And with Stephen J. Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium,” it looks to me as if things get a lot worse: long periods of evolutionary stasis, followed by intense bursts of change/growth, what could possibly be driving that? Sudden bursts of major and beneficial mutations, “saltating” the genome to a higher level, I just don’t see it. My numbers look so much different when I present them as in the following graphs:
Well, no, there aren’t “intense bursts of major and beneficial mutations.” Major mutations, mutations that impact the potential for extensive change, are quite rare. The question of consequence about “punctuated equilibrium” is “why stasis”? Evolution can move quite fast given the chance. Eldredge argues that stasis is an ecological phenomenon, that ecologies naturally enter steady states with the consequence that individual species have to in effect toe the line. I am a tad skeptical about this, but he claims to have supporting evidence.

Your graph is mostly fudge. By picking points approximately 50 million years apart you give the illusion of linear progress. However (a) the choice of events is somewhat arbitrary, and (b) the dates chosen aren’t particularly accurate.

Do you have any thought on what might be going on?

Am I correct in my conclusion that you also may be leaning towards some other Life mechanism being involved, than the “scientific” view that Life is a completely random process, void of all meaning, being mindlessly driven by natural selection upon a set of genes that are assembled by chance alone?

Not really, although there are matters of definition to consider. I am inclined to the view that there are structural determinants that are not yet well understood that dictate the shape of the evolution of life.
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From: Larry Wright
Date: 12/13/2005
Subj: Get it right!

Hi, Richard!
In answer to your question, first, I did not receive this as part of a larger document, but as part of an email sent by someone who seemed to take it seriously. It was obvious that the math was wrong, so I chose to corrrect it. The only thing worse than ignorance is being certain that something is true when it isn’t.

Secondly, there is a lot of pure propaganda going on in this country right now, put out by the administration and other powerful vested interests. Was this part of it? I couldn’t know the source, and since it appears to either disparage Washington, D.C., ( the seat of the national government, which by the way has a large Black population and NO representation in the national government: their license plates read, “Taxation Without Representation.”) or make it appear that Iraq isn’t the chaotic death-trap that is now is.

I’ll grant you this: I’m probably a little short on humor where these issues are concerned. I did notice that the suggestion to pull out of Washington seemed a little inconsistent with the implications of the statistics, and I’d be delighted to see W and company ‘pull out’ of Washington! But I happen to believe that the currrent regime has done more to endanger the American people as a whole than any since the South began the Civil War. I believe that the President & Vice President deserve to be impeached, and their cabinet replaced, not to mention the vast number of unqualified cronies that have been placed in unelected government posts for the express purpose of debilitating the stated aims of those positions. Add to that the broad attack on the very civil rights that separate this country from most others, and you can see how some of us have rather strained senses of humor.

I do thank you for writing. There is much in what you say; what that may be I shall leave for posterity to determine.
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From: Christine Hainsworth
Date: 12/19/2005
Subj: Piltdown man and conan doyle cryptograph

Hi. just wanted to write to say that that I think the cryptograph in The Lost World is fairly clear. It says, I think, ” my name monkey “.

It`s just so like one of those puzzles so popular back in children`s books in the fifties where you could only read the words when they were held up at eye level at 90 degrees ie the marks are just letters which have been distorted by elongation:
“we have come across a primitive practical joker”.

You are probably right. However I don’t have a copy of the The Lost World at hand so I can’t immediately confirm your reading.
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From: David M Fisher
Date: 12/17/2005
Subj: M.A.R.I.N.E.

I’m an army puke, did my twenty (actually 20-9-12) and retired in 83. Was reading your pages about the Corp, and while I have no delusions of grandeur, I thought you might be interested in the meaning of the acronym in the title. If you already know….well, then. If not drop me an e-mail and I’ll let you know.

By all means, illuminate my mind.

… continued on next rock …

Muscles Are Required Intelligence Not Essential

Cute, cute, cute, but probably not to be found on the official Marine Corps web site.
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From: Patrick A
Date: 12/22/2005
Subj: Question

I have a debate going with my friend. heres the question: Are shoes clothing? Any help is appreciated.

Now that is a good question. I have no authoritative answer, but it seems to me that clothing is made of cloth whereas shoes usually aren’t. Beyond that, one is clothed and shod, implying that clothing and shoes are separate categories. However I will pose the question to my readers. Perhaps one of them has a definitive answer.
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From: Jack Atkins
Date: 12/24/2005
Subj: adtmn

total bullshit

It has been a pleasure to hear from you; however you needn’t tell me the details of your life and thought.
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This page was last updated January 4, 2006.
It was moved January 9, 2008

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