Debating from 2015-2020 Darwin’s great grandson (Horace Barlow) about Francis Schaeffer’s 1968 critique of Darwinism! Part 6 (Darwin: “My judgment often fluctuates . . . In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. I think that generally, but not always, that an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.”

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TRIBUTES PAID TO PROFESSOR HORACE BARLOW

PUBLISHED DATE: July 07, 2020

Professor Horace Barlow (8 December 1921 – 5 July 2020) was a neuroscientist and Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge.

Professor Horace Barlow by Louise Riley-Smith, 2003

Horace Barlow was born into a scientific family: his mother was Nora Darwin, the granddaughter of Charles Darwin, who worked in the field of genetics with William Bateson at Cambridge and his paternal grandfather was physician to Queen Victoria’s household.

He studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and then completed medical training at Harvard Medical School and University College Hospital, London before returning to Cambridge to study neurophysiology under the tutelage of Lord Adrian. He was awarded an Sc.D in 1943.

His research investigated the visual system at the level of single neurons and their interactions in both humans and animals. His emphasis was on understanding the act of seeing through the underlying machinery of vision.

After holding various positions at Cambridge University he became Professor of Physiological Optics and Physiology at the University of California, Berkeley. He later returned to Cambridge, where he was Royal Society Research Professor of Physiology.

Professor Barlow was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1969 and was awarded the Society’s Royal Medal in 1993. In the same year (1993) he received the Australia Prize for research into the mechanisms of visual perception. His other awards include Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience (2009) and Ken Nakayama Prize from the Vision Sciences Society (2016).

Trinity Fellow, Professor Roger Keynes, of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, said:

Horace Barlow made seminal discoveries in brain physiology. After medical qualification he began research in the Cambridge Physiological Laboratory, recording electrical signals from single nerve cells in the frog’s eye. These showed that nerve cells are wired to detect essential features of the frog’s visual world, such as a small moving insect, and its direction. His approach paved the way for major advances in understanding how visual information in mammals is processed and stored in the brain. He also initiated psychophysical studies of human visual perception and wrote cogently on the brain in all its aspects, working in his departmental office and visiting Trinity well into his 90s.

Priyamvada Natarajan, Professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University, and a Trinity alumna, said:

Deeply sad to hear the news of his passing. I fondly remember many wonderful conversations with Horace Barlow during my time at Trinity as a junior research fellow in 1997-2003. We chatted about science – in particular, about optics, and how the various wavelengths of light revealed disparate aspects of the cosmos and about the achromatic bending of light (gravitational lensing) that I worked on and its analogy to geometric optics. He patiently answered many of my naive questions about neuroscience and we were both ardent fans of Ramon Cajal’s drawings of neurons. Horace was soft-spoken, utterly curious about the natural world, and remarkably insightful –  it was a privilege to know him.

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Francis Schaeffer

Below is a portion of my February 11, 2015 letter to Dr. Barlow followed by his response in his November 22, 2017 letter:

Darwin, C. R. to Fordyce, John, 7 May 1879

“What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one but myself. But, as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates . . . In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. I think that generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.”

Francis Schaeffer asserted:

What we find now is that he comes to the place in being agnostic, but as we read through this section on religion what we find is in reality his reason leads him against this position, which is interesting but his theory makes him accept the  position of agnosticism. You will notice as we go on, on the basis of his intellect he can’t stand the thought of his own position, of there not being an answer. Nevertheless, he is increasingly forced to this because it wouldn’t conform to his own theory, man being shoved against his own will because of presuppositions. I think what you have in Darwin is a magnificent example, although a sad one of what I lecture on in apologetics,  and that is if a man takes a set of nonchristian presuppositions he is forced eventually to be in a place of tension. The more consistent he is with his own nonchristian presuppositions the more he is away from the real world. When he is closer to the real world then he is more illogical to his own presuppositions. Darwin shows this in his own writings in his own lifetime. So the things in his human nature he is sorry to lose, but he loses them, at the same time he finds that couldn’t explain things on the basis of his reason.  Yet he was driven to certain conclusions which were away from what he himself felt were the real world on the basis of his own presuppositions. He was never satisfied. Just as I very often use Sartre and Camus to point out this dilemma of nonchristian presuppositions, in actuality these sections from Darwin are a perfect example of the same thing.

Darwin’s words:

From Charles Darwin, Autobiography (1876), in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin, vol. 1 (London: John Murray, 1888), pp. 307 to 313.

“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting, I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species, and it is since that time that it has very gradually, with many fluctuations, become weaker. But then arises the doubt

Francis Schaeffer commented:

On the basis of his reason he has to say there must be an intelligent mind, someone analogous to man. You couldn’t describe the God of the Bible better. That is man is made in God’s image  and therefore, you know a great deal about God when you know something about man. What he is really saying here is that everything in my experience tells me it must be so, and my mind demands it is so. Not just these feelings he talked about earlier but his MIND demands it is so, but now how does he counter this? How does he escape this? Here is how he does it!!!

Darwin’s words:

—can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?

Francis Schaeffer commented:

So he says my mind can only come to one conclusion, and that is there is a mind behind it all. However, the doubt comes because his mind has come from the lowest form of earthworm, so how can I trust my mind. But this is a joker isn’t it?  Then how can you trust his mind to support such a theory as this? He proved too much. The fact that Darwin found it necessary to take such an escape shows the tremendous weight of Romans 1, that the only escape he can make is to say how can I trust my mind when I come from the lowest animal the earthworm? Obviously think of the grandeur of his concept, I don’t think it is true, but the grandeur of his concept, so what you find is that Darwin is presenting something here that is wrong I feel, but it is not nothing. It is a tremendously grand concept that he has put forward. So he is accepting the dictates of his mind to put forth a grand concept which he later can’t accept in this basic area with his reason, but he rejects what he could accept with his reason on this escape. It really doesn’t make sense. This is a tremendous demonstration of the weakness of his own position.

Darwin clings to agnosticism:

“I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us, and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”

Francis Schaeffer commented:

What a stupid reply and I didn’t say wicked. It just seems to me that here is 2 plus 2 equals 36 at this particular place.

 

Here is Dr. Barlow’s response in his November 22, 2017 letter:

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Saying you don’t believe in God is a very foolish thing to say as it doesn’t explain why so many people talk about it, there has got to be more to it than that; also I think one has to respect what some godly people say and some of the things they do; I wish one could make more sense of it but I don’t think the godly people have done a very good job;

This reminds me of a story that Adrian Rogers told about his interaction with an agnostic:

Here we must observe that many people don’t want to find the truth just like a thief doesn’t want to find a policeman. I now want to share a portion of the sermon WHO IS JESUS? by Adrian Rogers because this very point is made:

Here is how the story goes:

Years ago Adrian Rogers counseled with a NASA scientist and his severely depressed wife. The wife pointed to her husband and said, “My problem is him.” She went on to explain that her husband was a drinker, a liar, and an adulterer.

Dr. Rogers asked the man if he were a Christian. “No!” the man laughed. “I’m an atheist.” “Really?” Dr. Rogers replied. “That means you’re someone who knows that God does not exist.” “That’s right,” said the man. “Would it be fair to say that you don’t know all there is to know in the universe?” “Of course,” the man admitted. Dr. Rogers asked, “Would it be generous to say you know half of all there is to know?” “Yes!” Then Dr. Rogers inquired,“Wouldn’t it be possible that God’s existence might be in the half you don’t know?” The man acknowledged, “Okay, but I don’t think He exists.” Dr. Rogers replied, “Well then, you’re not an atheist; you’re an agnostic.You’re a doubter.” The man asserted, “Yes, and I’m a big one.” Then Dr. Rogers popped the question, “It doesn’t matter what size you are. I want to know what kind [of doubter] you are.” 

“What kinds are there?”

“There are honest doubters and dishonest doubters. An honest doubter is willing to search out the truth and live by the results; a dishonest doubter doesn’t want to know the truth. He can’t find God for the same reason a thief can’t find a policeman.”

“I want to know the truth.”

“Would you like to prove that God exists?”

“It can’t be done.”

“It can be done. You’ve just been in the wrong laboratory. Jesus said, ‘If any man’s will is to do His will, he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority’ (John 7:17). I suggest you read one chapter of the book of John each day, but before you do, pray something like this, ‘God, I don’t know if You’re there, I don’t know if the Bible is true, I don’t know if Jesus is Your Son. But if You show me that You are there, that the Bible is true, and that Jesus is Your Son, then I will follow You. My will is to do your will.”

The man agreed. About three weeks later he returned to Dr. Rogers’s office and invited Jesus Christ to be his Savior and Lord.

 

Another quote from Dr. Barlow’s November 22, 2017 letter:

 After acknowledging that Charles Darwin did lose his aesthetic tastes for art, poetry, and for fine scenery which he attributed to his study of evolution, Dr. Barlow came back and asserted, “Notice, however, that he clearly did not lose his sense of the value of truth, and of the importance of forever searching it out. “ 

 

Here is some evidence:

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Let me quote from my former pastor Adrian Rogers:

Skeptics seem to think that the Bible is full of scientific errors. However, before an individual can make that assertion, they had better make sure they know both science and Scripture. You see, I have heard unbelievers state that the Bible is not a book of science, but a book of religion, which is basically true. It is not written to teach us about science, but to teach us about God. But the God of salvation and the God of creation are the same. Science doesn’t take God by surprise. A close look at Scripture reveals that it is scientifically accurate.

Every now and then science may disagree with the Bible, but usually science just needs time to catch up. For example, in 1861 a French scientific academy printed a brochure offering 51 incontrovertible facts that proved the Bible in error. Today there is not a single reputable scientist who would support those supposed “facts,” because modern science has disproved them all!

The ancients believed the earth was held up by Atlas, or resting on pillars, or even seated on the backs of elephants. But today we know the earth is suspended in space, a fact the Word of God records in Job 26:7: “He . . . hangeth the earth upon nothing.” God revealed the facts of cosmology long before man had any idea of the truth.

For centuries man believed the earth was flat, but now we know the earth is a globe. The prophet Isaiah, writing 750 years before the birth of Christ, revealed that “God sitteth upon the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22). The word translated here as “circle” was more commonly translated “sphere.” In other words, Isaiah explained that the earth was a globe centuries before science discovered it.

When Ptolemy charted the heavens, he counted 1026 stars in the sky. But with the invention of the telescope man discovered millions and millions of stars, something that Jeremiah 33:22 revealed nearly three thousand years ago: “The host of heaven cannot be numbered.” How did these men of God know the truth of science long before the rest of the world discovered it? They were moved by the Holy Spirit to write the truth. God’s Word is not filled with errors. It is filled with facts, even scientific facts.

When the black plague was killing one quarter of Europe’s population in the fourteenth century, it was the church, not science, that helped overcome the dread disease. The leaders in the church noticed the instructions given by the Lord to Moses in Leviticus 13:46: “All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.” These early believers did not know microbiology or understand what germs were, but they could understand a clear teaching to quarantine someone who was sick. So they followed the Biblical dictum, quarantined those sick with the plague, and stopped it from spreading. The Bible had its science correct even before man discovered the truth! Don’t accept the charge that the Bible is filled with scientific errors. Modern science seems determined to explain God away, and refuses to acknowledge any evidence of the supernatural. But the science of Scripture is one reason to accept the Bible as God’s Word.

Debating from 2015-2020 Darwin’s great grandson (Horace Barlow) about Francis Schaeffer’s 1968 critique of Darwinism!

Image result for Emma Nora Barlow, Lady Barlow

The autobiography of Charles Darwin read by Francis Schaeffer in 1968 was not the same one originally released in 1892 because that one omitted the religious statements of Charles Darwin. 

pictured below with his eldest child William: 

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Notice this statement below from the Freedom from Religion Foundation: 

(Nora Barlow pictured below)

Charles Darwin wrote the Rev. J. Fordyce on July 7, 1879, that “an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.” Darwin penned his memoirs between the ages of 67 and 73, finishing the main text in 1876. These memoirs were published posthumously in 1887 by his family under the title Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, with his hardest-hitting views on religion excised. Only in 1958 did Darwin’s granddaughter Nora Barlow publish his Autobiography with original omissions restored  D. 1882.
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Charles Robert Darwin  (1809 – 1882) had 10 children and 7 of them survived to adulthood.

Sir Horace DarwinKBEFRS (13 May 1851 – 22 September 1928), the fifth son and ninth child of the British naturalist Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, the youngest of their seven children who survived to adulthood.

(Horace Darwin pictured below)

Horace Darwin.jpg

Emma Nora Barlow, Lady Barlow (née Darwin; 22 December 1885 – 29 May 1989) Nora, as she was known, was the daughter of the civil engineer Sir Horace Darwin and his wife The Hon. Lady Ida Darwin (née Farrer),

Horace Basil Barlow FRS (1921-) Barlow is the son of the civil servant Sir Alan Barlow and his wife Lady Nora (née Darwin). Barlow is the great-grandson of Charles Darwin

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Horace Darwin married Emma Cecilia “Ida” Farrer (1854–1946) pictured below.

Image result for Ida Darwin hoRACE

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Francis Schaeffer

Horace Barlow was the son of Nora Barlow. From February 11, 2015 to July 1, 2017, I wrote 7 letters to Dr. Horace Barlow because I wanted to discuss primarily the views of his grandfather Charles Darwin and Francis Schaeffer’s 1968 critique of Darwinism!

Image result for charles darwin

In December of 2017, I received a two page typed letter from Dr. Barlow reacting to several of the points made in the previous letters and emails. Over the next few weeks I will be posting the 32 letters I wrote to Dr. Barlow from February 11, 2015 to April 18, 2020 one per week every Tuesday and below is a list of those letters. Sadly Dr. Barlow passed away on July 5, 2020 at age 98. However, I want to summarize some the issues we discussed in the next few days. 

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Franicis Schaeffer

If you wish to hear Francis Schaeffer’s 1968 talk on Darwin’s autobiography then you can access part 1 at this link and part 2 at this link.

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Horace Barlow pictured below:

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I found Dr. Barlow to be a true gentleman and he was very kind to take the time to answer the questions that I submitted to him. In the upcoming months I will take time once a week to pay tribute to his life and reveal our correspondence. In the first week I noted:

 Today I am posting my first letter to him in February of 2015 which discussed Charles Darwin lamenting his loss of aesthetic tastes which he blamed on Darwin’s own dedication to the study of evolution. In a later return letter, Dr. Barlow agreed that Darwin did in fact lose his aesthetic tastes at the end of his life.

In the second week I look at the views of Michael Polanyi and share the comments of Francis Schaeffer concerning Polanyi’s views.

In the third week, I look at the life of Brandon Burlsworth in the November 28, 2016 letter and the movie GREATER and the problem of evil which Charles Darwin definitely had a problem with once his daughter died.

On the 4th letter to Dr. Barlow looks at Darwin’s admission that he at times thinks that creation appears to look like the expression of a mind. Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words in 1968 sermon at this link.

My Fifth Letter concerning Charles Darwin’s views on MORAL MOTIONS Which was mailed on March 1, 2017. Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning moral motions in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

6th letter on May 1, 2017 in which Charles Darwin’s hopes are that someone would find in Pompeii an old manuscript by a distinguished Roman that would show that Christ existed! Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning the possible manuscript finds in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

7th letter on Darwin discussing DETERMINISM  dated 7-1-17 . Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning determinism in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

Thanks 8th letter responds to Dr. Barlow’s letter to me concerning the Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning chance in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

Thanks 9th letter in response to 11-22-17 letter I received from Professor Horace Barlow was mailed on 1-2-18 and included Charles Darwin’s comments on William Paley. Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning William Paley in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

10th letter in response to 11-22-17 letter I received from Professor Horace Barlow was mailed on 2-2-18 and includes Darwin’s comments asking for archaeological evidence for the Bible! Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning His desire to see archaeological evidence supporting the Bible’s accuracy  in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

11th letter I mailed on 3-2-18  in response to 11-22-17 letter from Barlow that asserted: It is also sometimes asked whether chance, even together with selection, can define a “MORAL CODE,” which the religiously inclined say is defined by their God. I think the answer is “Yes, it certainly can…” Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning A MORAL CODE in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

12th letter on March 26, 2018 breaks down song DUST IN THE WIND “All we do, crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see, Dust in the Wind, All we are is dust in the wind, Don’t hang on, Nothing lasts forever but the Earth and Sky, It slips away, And all your money won’t another minute buy.”

In 13th letter I respond to Barlow’s November 22, 2017 letter and assertion “He {Darwin} clearly did not lose his sense of the VALUE of TRUTH, and of the importance of FOREVER SEARCHING it out.”

In 14th letter to Dr. Barlow on 10-2-18, I assert: “Let me demonstrate how the Bible’s view of the origin of life fits better with the evidence we have from archaeology than that of gradual evolution.”In 15th letter in November 2, 2018 to Dr. Barlow I quote his relative Randal Keynes Who in the Richard Dawkins special “The Genius of Darwin” makes this point concerning Darwin, “he was, at different times, enormously confident in it,and at other times, he was utterly uncertain.”In 16th Letter on 12-2-18 to Dr. Barlow I respond to his letter that stated, If I am pressed to say whether I think belief in God helps people to make wise and beneficial decisions I am bound to say (and I fear this will cause you pain) “No, it is often very disastrous, leading to violence, death and vile behaviour…Muslim terrorists…violence within the Christian church itself”17th letter sent on January 2, 2019 shows the great advantage we have over Charles Darwin when examining the archaeological record concerning the accuracy of the Bible!In the 18th letter I respond to the comment by Charles Darwin: “My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive….The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness.” Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words on his loss of aesthetic tastes  in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.In 19th letter on 2-2-19  I discuss Steven Weinberg’s words,  But if language is to be of any use to us, we ought to try to preserve the meanings of words, and “God” historically has not meant the laws of nature. It has meant an interested personality.

In the 20th letter on 3-2-19 I respond to Charles Darwin’s comment, “At the present day the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from the deep [#1] inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons...Formerly I was led by feelings such as those…to the firm conviction of the existence of God, and of the immortality of the soul. In my Journal I wrote that [#2] whilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, ‘it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind.’ I well remember my conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. [#3] But now the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions and feelings to rise in my mind. It may be truly said that I am like a man who has become colour-blind.” Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning his former belief in God in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

In the 21st letter on May 15, 2019 to Dr Barlow I discuss the writings of Francis Schaeffer who passed away the 35 years earlier on May 15, 1985. Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words at length in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

In the 22nd letter I respond to Charles Darwin’s words, “I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe…will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.” Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words about hell  in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link

In 23rd postcard sent on 7-2-19 I asked Dr Barlow if he was a humanist. Sir Julian Huxley, founder of the American Humanist Association noted, “I use the word ‘humanist’ to mean someone who believes that man is just as much a natural phenomenon as an animal or plant; that his body, mind and soul were not supernaturally created but are products of evolution, and that he is not under the control or guidance of any supernatural being.”

In my 24th letter on 8-2-19 I quote Jerry  Bergman who noted Jean Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) is regarded as one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. A founding father of the modern American scientific establishment, Agassiz was also a lifelong opponent of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Agassiz “ruled in professorial majesty at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.”

In my 25th letter on 9-2-19 I respond to Charles Darwin’s assertion,  “This argument would be a valid one if all men of ALL RACES had the SAME INWARD CONVICTION of the existence of one God; but we know that this is very far from being the case.” Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning MORAL MOTIONS in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

In my 26th letter on 10-2-19 I quoted Bertrand Russell’s daughter’s statement, “I believe myself that his whole life was a search for God…. Indeed, he had first taken up philosophy in hope of finding proof of the evidence of the existence of God … Somewhere at the back of my father’s mind, at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul  there was an empty space that had once been filled by God, and he never found anything else to put in it”

In my 27th letter on 11-2-19 I disproved Richard Dawkins’ assertion, “Genesis says Abraham owned camels, but archaeological evidence shows that the camel was not domesticated until many centuries after Abraham.” Furthermore, I gave more evidence indicating the Bible is historically accurate.

In my 28th letter on 12-2-19 I respond to Charles Darwin’s statement, “I am glad you were at the Messiah, it is the one thing that I should like to hear again, but I dare say I should find my soul too dried up to appreciate it as in old days; and then I should feel very flat, for it is a horrid bore to feel as I constantly do, that I am a withered leaf for every subject except Science. It sometimes makes me hate Science.” Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning MORAL MOTIONS in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link. 

In my 29th letter on 12-25-19 I responded to Charles Darwin’s statement, “I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds…gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dullthat it nauseated me…. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive… The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness…” Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning his loss of aesthetic tastes in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

In my 30th letter on 2-2-20 I quote Dustin Shramek who asserted, “Without God the universe is the result of a cosmic accident, a chance explosion. There is no reason for which it exist. As for man, he is a freak of nature–a blind product of matter plus time plus chance. Man is just a lump of slime that evolved into rationality. There is no more purpose in life for the human race than for a species of insect; for both are the result of the blind interaction of chance and necessity.”

In my 31st letter on 3-18-20 I quote Francis Schaeffer who noted, “Darwin is saying that he gave up the New Testament because it was connected to the Old Testament. He gave up the Old Testament because it conflicted with his own theory. Did he have a real answer himself and the answer is no. At the end of his life we see that he is dehumanized by his position and on the other side we see that he never comes to the place of intellectual satisfaction for himself that his answers were sufficient.” Francis Schaeffer discusses Darwin’s own words concerning his loss of his Christian faith in Schaeffer’s 1968 sermon at this link.

In my 32nd letter on 4-18-20 quoted H.J. Blackham on where humanism leads On humanist assumptions, life leads to nothing, and every pretense that it does not is a deceit. If there is a bridge over a gorge which spans only half the distance and ends in mid-air, and if the bridge is crowded with human beings pressing on, one after the other they fall into the abyss. The bridge leads nowhere, and those who are pressing forward to cross it are going nowhere….It does not matter where they think they are going, what preparations for the journey they may have made, how much they may be enjoying it all. The objection merely points out objectively that such a situation is a model of futility

TRIBUTE TO HORACE BARLOW:

Paul Linton @LintonVision
Nice (and very informative) obituary of Horace Barlow. Only minor quibble is that it slightly downplays the extent to which the psychophysics of 3D vision (Julesz, 1960) inspired the neuroscience (Barlow et al. 1967; Nikara et al. 1968):


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Horace Barlow.View Large ImageDownload Hi-res imageHorace Barlow was one of the truly great neuroscientists of his time, in the Cambridge tradition of quantitative neurophysiology and psychophysics. His fundamental theoretical and empirical contributions to our understanding of brain function have inspired and influenced generations of neurophysiologists, psychologists and computational neuroscientists and are certain to endure for generations to come.Horace Basil Barlow, FRS, was born in 1921 in Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire, son of Sir Alan Barlow and Lady Nora Barlow (née Darwin). He was educated at Winchester College and studied medicine during the war years, first at Cambridge and then at Harvard Medical School, which awarded him an MD in 1946. He completed medical training at University College Hospital, London, before commencing research in neurophysiology with E.D. Adrian at the Cambridge Physiology Laboratory. After various positions at Cambridge University, he became Professor of Physiological Optics and Physiology at UC Berkeley. In 1974, he returned to Trinity College and the Cambridge Physiology Department to take the Royal Society Research Chair of Physiology, where he continued to make important contributions to neuroscience well after his formal retirement. Horace was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1969 and won their Royal Medal in 1993. He was awarded the Australia Prize in the latter year and several others, including the Ferrier Medal in 1980 and the Ken Nakayama Prize from the Vision Sciences Society in 2016.Many interesting and charismatic people impacted on the young Horace. The first — and arguably most important — was his mother, granddaughter of Charles Darwin. She held no formal degree but worked as a biologist and later, as Darwin’s biographer, founded scholarly research into his life and achievements. Her example, together with his abilities and preference for maths over the humanities, veered Horace towards science. His contemporaries at Winchester College, Christopher Longuet-Higgins, Freeman Dyson and James Lighthill, all of whom became prominent scientists, played an influential role. During his university years there was no shortage of creative minds: his supervisor, the eminent Lord Adrian, and his tutor William Rushton, as well as Pat Merton and Tommy Gold. These latter three were part of the Ratio Club, a London-based club of about 20 carefully selected young neurobiologists, neurologists, psychologists, engineers, mathematicians and physicists, who periodically met in Queen’s Square to discuss cybernetics, information theory and brain function (see group photo). Cybernetics and information theory were central planks in Horace’s conceptual framework throughout his lifetime.Horace started his scientific career early, publishing three papers before he completed his MD: one (in Nature) with Rushton during his Cambridge undergraduate days and two with fellow students at Harvard. His next project, assigned to him by Adrian, was to investigate the proposal of Marshall and Talbot that small scanning eye-movements serve a fundamental role in vision. Horace devised a novel method for measuring eye position precisely (photographing a small spot of mercury placed on the cornea) and found that, between rapid gaze shifts, the eyes were essentially still. He concluded that the fixations rather than scanning eye-movements were fundamental to vision, dismissed Marshall and Talbot’s idea and moved on. However, the importance of the dynamics of perception, including ‘temporal interpolation’ of moving stimuli, remained central to his thinking, emerging clearly in his Ferrier lecture in 1980.Adrian’s supervision style was quite liberal, in the Cambridge tradition, described by Horace as “incisive, but economical, guidance”. Thus, Horace was free to pursue his own scientific curiosities, such as how neurons integrate information. He observed that Sherrington’s classic preparations used artificial stimuli, electric shocks applied to spinal roots, whereas applying light to the retina allows for behaviourally relevant natural stimuli. He developed a preparation for recording spikes from single ganglion cells in frog retina — no mean feat at the time — to study the most basic element of integration, signal summation. Inspired by Rushton, Horace took a quantitative approach and, by measuring thresholds as a function of stimulus area, discovered that integration was not uniform over the receptive field but that there were clear inhibitory surrounds forming separate ‘on’ and ‘off’ regions. More surprisingly, one type of ganglion cell could be a feature detector whose spike discharge anticipates the future position of a fly.This study initiated 30 years of ground-breaking collaborative work on retinal ganglion cells. Horace joined Stephen Kuffler, who had independently described the inhibitory surround in cat retina. Together with Fitzgerald, they discovered that ganglion cells adapt their receptive fields to cover the full range of light levels, switching from cones to rods at low light levels and losing the inhibitory surround. In 1963, Horace and Richard Hill discovered motion-sensitive cells in rabbit retina. Working with the most exacting of retinal physiologists, Bill Levick, Horace revealed further hidden complexities in retinal processing: a motion-sensitive ganglion cell is driven by an array of subunits. Then, in classic experiments, they established the first physiologically informed model of the underlying mechanism: the Barlow and Levick model of elementary motion detection.In 1964, Horace accepted a professorship at the Berkeley School of Optometry, where he continued his neurophysiological experiments, investigating integration by neurons in primary visual cortex (V1). One particularly influential study was conducted with former student Colin Blakemore (in Berkeley on a Harkness Fellowship) and the enthusiastic and charismatic young Australian Jack Pettigrew. Following leads from Jack’s undergraduate work in Sydney, they demonstrated that cells in cat primary visual cortex were selective to binocular disparity, the signals that support binocular depth perception. This was important and unexpected, as stereoscopic depth was thought to be a high-level perceptual property emerging late in processing. However, the results meshed well with Béla Julesz’s demonstrations in the early 1960s of ‘random-dot stereograms’, showing that depth can emerge from point-by-point disparities in otherwise random patterns. The discovery reinforced Horace’s conviction that single sensory neurons coded meaningful information.His work on retinal and cortical neurons brought home to Horace the fundamental realisation that physiological experiments could answer questions of psychological interest. Much of the sensory apparatus for complex behavioural patterns (like detecting and catching flies) may lie in the retina rather than ‘mysterious centres’ too difficult to study by physiological means. Furthermore, the lateral inhibition mechanism that he discovered in frog retina had been postulated by Ernst Mach and others to account for perceptual phenomena, such as simultaneous contrast and Mach Bands. This line of thought culminated in ‘A neural doctrine for perceptual psychology’, published in the fledgling journal Perception in 1972. The provocative formulation of ‘dogmas’ stimulated much important debate, theorising and experimental work, and the central idea of that paper, that perception corresponds to the activity of specific cells, has been hugely influential to physiologists and psychologists alike. Indeed, Horace’s doctrine is still relevant, as it goes far beyond ‘lock and key’ feature detectors. His doctrine incorporates the concepts of statistical inference, efficiency and redundancy that he formulated earlier in his career and suggests the far-reaching idea that he subsequently pursued: single neurons use synaptic plasticity to capture the redundancy that is knowledge.Horace started thinking about signals, noise and perceptual judgements when as an undergraduate he presented a new paper to a discussion group. The landmark study of Hecht, Shlaer and Pirenne demonstrated that the absolute threshold of human vision is limited by noise: quantal fluctuations whose effects can be determined psychophysically by testing the predictions of statistical models. Horace also discussed the problem of signal and noise in the Ratio Club (it was one of their chosen topics), especially with his Cambridge colleague Tommy Gold (later Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University). After his experiments on frog retina, Horace revisited Hecht et al. with a penetrating statistical analysis of published data. He found that the number of quantal events required to reach threshold is elevated by the presence of background noise that he attributed to the thermal activation of visual pigment molecules. This novel conclusion was confirmed a quarter of a century later by recording from rods. His theoretical findings prompted Horace to consider that “thresholds are efficient statistical judgements of constant fallibility”, and he quickly confirmed this more general principle with new psychophysical experiments.Figure thumbnail gr2The young Horace Barlow (bottom right) in May 1952, together with members and guests of the Ratio Club, outside Peterhouse College, Cambridge: Back row (partly obscured): H. Shipton, J. Bates, W.E. Hick, J. Pringle, D. Sholl, J. Westcott and D. Mackay. Middle row: G. Brindley, T. McLardy. W.R. Ashby, T. Gold and A. Uttley. Front row: A. Turing, G. Sutton, W. Rushton, G. Dawson and H. Barlow.View Large ImageDownload Hi-res imageHorace’s scientific approach, to try to understand the principles guiding brain function, was uncommon among physiologists. His 1961 paper on ‘Possible principles underlying the transmission of sensory messages’ (in Sensory Communication, W.D. Keidel, U.O. Keidel, M.E. Wigand and W.A. Rosenblith, eds) opens with, “a wing would be a most mystifying structure if one did not know that birds flew”. Horace argued that we need first to understand the goals of the system to avoid being buried in a mass of irrelevant neurophysiological and neuroanatomical details while missing crucial observations. He reasoned that, because neurons have limited representational capacity, they should economise on impulses by forming efficient representations. According to information theory, this can be achieved by eliminating redundancy using lateral inhibition and adaptation, and because both are observed in retina this must be a goal of early sensory processing. Two decades later, Barlow’s efficient coding hypothesis was validated. This prompted a new round of theory, measurements and experiments, which explained the function of mechanisms in the earlier stages of vision, olfaction and audition. Efficiency and ‘the economy of impulses’ continue to guide our understanding of neural codes at all levels.Horace’s approach was intrinsically interdisciplinary, a popular buzzword in modern grant writing but less usual in his day. He looked for guiding principles of brain function without undue concern whether his supporting data came from psychophysics or physiology, humans or animals, vertebrates or invertebrates. He was always trying — and usually succeeding — to merge detailed observations into the big picture of brain function, following the example of his famous great-grandfather. He was very much a ‘hands-on’ scientist, in the Cambridge mould: he never led a large research group nor took on many graduate students. That was not his style. He led by example, and his example was highly influential. There are very few sensory neuroscientists who would claim not to have been influenced by Horace’s work, one way or the other.Horace never stopped trying to understand the brain. During his own Festschrift in 1987 he gave the most interesting and original talk of the workshop. Following his major theme of how the brain maximises efficiency, he advanced a novel explanation for ‘adaptation’ (the fact that cells reduce firing rate after repeated excitation), suggesting that it is a complex phenomenon serving to ‘decorrelate’ sensory input, reducing inherent redundancy to take full advantage of the limited dynamic range of neurons. This changed the way many people thought about adaptation and again led to new lines of research.The ideas of redundancy and correlated activity of sensory pathways also underlie his highly influential paper on ‘Unsupervised learning’ (Neural Comput. (1989) 1, 295–311). This paper was one of the first to draw attention to the importance of unsupervised learning as opposed to supervised or reinforced learning. Unsupervised learning is about how a nervous system (or indeed artificial intelligence) recognises ‘statistical regularities’, or patterns in its inputs, and is of fundamental importance for understanding the cortex. Horace connected old ideas, such as Tolman’s ‘cognitive maps’ and Craik’s ‘working models’, with modern concepts of entropy, concluding that redundancy in sensory signals provides the knowledge incorporated in those maps. Such knowledge enables unexpected discrepancies to be immediately identified and dealt with. Horace’s information theory-based approach underlies many modern approaches to unsupervised learning in neural networks and Bayesian learning.In the 30-odd years after his formal ‘retirement’, Horace continued to make highly original and creative contributions to the field. He published 56 articles during this period, many as the single author. His interests were very varied, including information redundancy, predictive coding, Bayesian inference, unsupervised learning, development and many others, but all were motivated by the common themes of information theory and neural efficiency. A recent example of his creative thinking was his talk at the symposium on ‘Turing Enduring: Information Processing by Brains and Machines’ (Rockefeller University, December 2012), published in the journal Visual Neuroscience. There, Horace challenged the traditional (and still prevalent) wisdom that orientation-tuned simple and complex cells in primary visual cortex act as ‘edge-detectors’. Looking for more general guiding principles of brain function, he claimed that “the prime role of V1 is to search for regularity or redundancy in the input”, leading to the hypothesis that simple cells perform cross-correlations between the retinal input and internal templates, while complex cells calculate auto-correlations in the retinal input. Characteristically, he did not leave this as a simple hypothesis but provided solid quantitative psychophysical data in favour of his theory.Horace was renowned for his intelligence and quick-wittedness. Neuroscientists presented their research to the Cambridge ‘Craik Club’ with some trepidation. But this was unwarranted, for besides being smart Horace was kind, especially to young researchers. He quickly understood the message of the talk and gave many useful suggestions, absolutely on point, and never intended to humiliate. But his clever quips could also be fun. At a dinner that he gave for a bunch of graduate students, he invited his friend Francis Crick, who held forth on several topics throughout the evening. At one stage, Francis brought up his lineage, lamenting that he could trace it back only to Elizabethan times. With a disarming smile, Horace instantly retorted, “oh yes Francis, and which Elizabeth is that?”Most of Horace’s ideas have survived the test of time, stimulating and motivating generations of neuroscientists and leading to a cascade of advancements far too extensive to summarise here. But if we are to apply his cherished information theory, we know that there is more information in the rare and unexpected event: so did he get anything wrong? Probably not seriously. One idea that clearly evolved over time was his intuition about information redundancy in the image. Initially, he emphasised the role of reducing redundancy for efficient neural coding and economy of neuron numbers as well as impulses, but later he realised the importance of redundancy in identifying structure and statistical regularities in the environment, as sensory redundancy is the main source of knowledge. But this was not a mistake, merely a change of emphasis. If we go right back to the beginning, to his experiments that led him to dismiss the importance of eye drift, perhaps we might say that his assessment was premature, as recent work is showing how the small eye-movements serve an important functional role, conditioning the spatio-temporal frequency spectrum of the image. But while he did not exactly predict this, his intuitions about the importance of temporal dynamics and interpolations, prominent in his Ferrier lecture, were not too far off the mark.The last scientific gathering with Horace was for his 95th birthday, in December 2016. This was a fun occasion for his scientific family, some 100-odd people whose professional lives had been touched by Horace and who had passed the legacy down to their students and students’ students. The celebrations were followed by a workshop, which Horace concluded with a first-rate scientific talk, highlighting the role of information processing in the brain and urging us to consider the importance of information and entropy. His scientific curiosity never escaped him.Horace leaves his wife Miranda, 7 children and 13 grandchildren. His extended scientific family will miss him dearly.Article InfoPublication HistoryPublished online: July 31, 2020

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