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Origins the Series

by Noah Dillon

July 23, 2014

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Donate My brother Abe sends me a lot of cool videos and articles about science: recent research, new inventions, educational materials, or the work of grad students who are sharing presentations of their findings on YouTube. This week he sent me this great video series, describing current theories for how life first appeared on Earth and how complex features like genetic code, sex, and intelligence evolved. It also provides some excellent rebuttals to common misconceptions and counterarguments:

Noah: This week we looked at “Origins the Series” from the YouTube channel cdk007. It's a multi-part series that explains current theories regarding the origin and development of life on Earth. Why did you choose this series? What makes it one of your favorites?

Abe: It’s a very impressive tour de force on the topic of abiogenesis and evolution. I found this series years ago, and I keep coming back view it. cdk007 seems to have an amazing breadth of knowledge and the rare talent to convey that knowledge clearly and concisely.

Noah: This harkens back to last week’s discussion about using simple animation to great educational effect. Some of cdk007’s work reminds me of the famous evolution animation in the original Cosmos. But, cdk007 also leverages other great visualizations like the “Inner Life of the Cell,” a series which I also happen to know you’re quite fond of. In an animation like “The Inner Life of the Cell,” you can get a sense of scale because everything is accurate down to the molecule and when the camera is close to a DNA strand, everything is wiggling around, but as it zooms out, things look smoother. Subtle details can add a sense of intuition to otherwise complex subjects. There's been a lot of advancement of this kind of thing in the past decade, and the work is always astounding.

Abe: Of course! Those animations are spectacular!

Noah: But high quality CGI isn't always necessary. Obviously, MinutePhysics and cdk007 can do great work with simple sketches.

Abe: I’m a heavily visual-spatial learner, so seeing these processes in motion is a wonderful way for me to understand them intuitively. What I really think makes this series shine, however, is how the narrator incorporates the findings of some incredible scientific research to back up his claims. At one point, he describes how the gene codon table is now known to be sub-optimal, at another point he brings up a fascinating experiment in which scientists effectively scrambled the gene that encodes a virus’s protein coat, then observed the virus evolve a completely new protein coat gene over about 20 generations. It’s incredible. I feel like that experiment alone is enough to ruin pretty much every argument against the theory of evolution.

Noah: He also includes some amazing work from Professor Jonathan Frink which blew my mind!

Abe: I KNOW! What a visionary!

[hearty laughter]

Noah: OK, on a more serious note: you mentioned countering arguments against the theory of evolution, which seems to be one of the main goals of Origins the Series and much of cdk007’s other work. Do you think he's successful in that regard?

Abe: I found it very convincing. I find the debate between science and creationism (or intelligent design, or whatever the latest branding is) incredibly frustrating. You can put forth mountains of evidence in support of evolution and carefully dismantle every counter argument, and still get nowhere.

Noah: It usually feels like playing whack-a-mole. You refute one counter argument, and they just pop up with some other poorly constructed “gotcha” argument that has been debunked to death.

Abe: Exactly. What’s even more frustrating is when I see a documentary like Jesus Camp show parents who explicitly teach their children to reject science. It makes me very upset. cdk007 obviously puts an enormous amount of effort into his videos, but if you ever have the misfortune of reading the comments section (always inadvisable on YouTube but especially so for cdk007’s videos) you would see that it’s wasted on many, many people.

Noah: It’s interesting that cdk007 maintains a fairly respectful discourse despite the number of people flagrantly telling him he is in league with the devil. The nastiest he gets is with comments like, "Way to be current," speaking to creationist claims that attack outdated experiments from the 18th and 19th centuries, or his Justnowism video, which is a critique of the Omphalos argument.

Abe: He has way more patience than I do. Whenever I try to engage in such a debate I usually come to the conclusion that it’s hopeless, become frustrated and end up calling my opponent an idiot. Obviously, that’s not very constructive. The whole argument can be extremely tiresome though; sometimes I don’t feel like playing “whack-a-mole” (“refute-a-creationist”?). Reference materials like The Talk Origins Index can be great, but it can be really tiring to go through and dispute one nonsense claim after another. What’s cool about “Origins the Series” is that you can ignore all the banter about refuting intelligent design and still get an enormous amount of value out of the series.

Noah: It looks like this series was never actually finished. The index lists installments about the origin of multicellular life, morality, information, etc. that were never produced. Nothing has been added to it since 2009. What gives?

Abe: I don’t know what happened. He seems to have all but abandoned his YouTube channel. He’s active on Twitter. Maybe he just got tired of creationists flooding his inbox after not watching his videos…

Noah: It's really kind of a bummer that he wasn't able to complete it. cdk007: if you're out there, you gotta complete the cycle!


Abe: Encore!

Noah: Author! Encore!

by Noah Dillon

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