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Date: Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 19:04

Like any other collective enterprise, science only is materialized if there is communication between the people that are busy themselves with it. Nevertheless, more than most of collective enterprises, science depends on criticism to advance. The scientific discovery key moment, as Popper pointed, is the error. An experiment that refutes a theory is much more informative and, therefore, decisive than one experiment that corroborates it.

In this context, it is important not only that scientists may criticize colleagues and superiors as well as that they have the freedom to challenge established canons. We may even conceive that science can produced in a scenario of ideas censorship, but it would probably walk in an hesitant way, worrying in not to displease the powerful ones. – Hélio Schwartsman in Ciência e liberdade [Science and freedom], Folha de São Paulo, Oct. 8, 2014.

Full text (Portuguese)

Folha de São Paulo is the largest Brazilian newspaper with more than 300,000 copies sold daily.

It’s unusual for a journalist to be taking this view. We are more accustomed to outdated media figures fussing that too many people don’t trust experts these days.

Our source advises that Schwartsman is not sympathetic to ID. We don’t care, as long as he isn’t supportive of Darwinism over evidence. If he were, his quarrel would not just be with ID anyway, these days. See, for example, Top sci mag Nature says urgent rethink sought on evolution theory but resisted because … it might make people think they support ID. Of course, that could just be an excuse.

See also: Conference on intelligent design coming up in Brazil (if it isn’t shut down) mid-November

Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista


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Date: Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 16:02

As so often is the case, one of Eric Anderson’s comments got me to thinking. Here it is:

in those extremely rare cases when we know what actually caused the differential survival, we can point to the actual cause without ever invoking a label of “natural selection” to help explain the process. And in those cases in which we don’t know what actually caused the differential survival, attaching a label of “natural selection” does not help us get any closer to an explanation. Indeed, more often than not it obscures.

I decided to test this. As Michael Behe discussed extensively in The Edge of Evolution, we know what causes Plasmodium to develop antibiotic resistance. Chloroquine resistance in Plasmodium is due to a fault in a transport protein that moves the poison into the organism’s vacuole.

OK. Let’s test Eric’s assertion.

Explanation 1: When a strain of Plasmodium develops antibiotic resistance due to a fault in a transport protein that moves the poison into the organism’s vacuole, that strain has comparatively higher reproductive success than strains that have not developed such resistance.

Explanation 2: Plasmodium strains that develop antibiotic resistance due to a fault in a transport protein that moves the poison into the organism’s vacuole are more fit, and that fitness is selected for by natural selection.

How is explanation 2 superior to explanation 1? If it is not superior, why is it necessary?


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Author: "Barry Arrington" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 15:44

We’ve all laughed at the naive “turtles all the way down” story. What follows is all Eric Anderson’s “randomness all the way down” story:

[WD writes:] I’m saying the non-random survival . . .

It is pretty much randomness all the way down. How did the particular particle interact with the copying mechanism to cause a mutation? How did that particular mutation end up interacting in the organism to produce an effect? What result did that have in that particular organism, as opposed to another? How did that particular mutation get spread in the population? What environmental factor happened to come along after the mutation that resulted in it making a difference? Which organism happened to be on a high rock when the flood came, or under protection when the hail fell, or hidden from sight when the predator arrived? And on and on. Everything that goes on within a lineage to get an organism to where it is today; everything that went on in the predator’s lineage to get them where they are today; all the vagaries and hazards of nature. It is essentially randomness all the way down.

Natural selection is not any kind of force. It is simply an after the fact label attached to the results of processes that are seldom understood, rarely identified, and that (as a practical matter) are essentially random. Natural selection doesn’t impart any “non-random” directionality to evolution. It is simply a label attached to the outcome, and attaching a label to the result of what is essentially a random process does not make the process non-random.

[WD writes:] “It’s not simply that survivors survive, but those individuals that are best adapted to their environment survive, and so over time lineages become better adapted.”

And how, pray tell, do we know that a particular organism was “best adapted to its environment”? Because it survived.

Look, if someone wants to use the two words “natural selection” as a shorthand way to avoid having to say: “Organisms are more likely to survive if they happen to be in a lineage that happens to have conferred a (generally unidentified) mutation that (in some typically unknown way) happened to provide a characteristic that happened to be helpful in the particular environment in which they happened to be living at the time, as compared to other organisms that were less lucky.” — If someone wants to use “natural selection” as ashorthand expression so that they don’t have to say all that, then fine.

The problem arises, as it does so frequently, when natural selection is put forward as an explanation for an organism’s survival. In that case it almost always falls back on survivability as the (often unspoken) definition. In that case it is a useless tautology. Worse, it gives people the false impression that some kind of “scientific” explanation has been proffered, when it is really just a confession of ignorance about the real underlying processes.

Think of it this way:

If we can identify, with particularity, what actually caused an organism to survive — the specific trait, particular molecular machines, identifiable proteins and DNA sequences, the particular environmental factors, predation, weather, flood, drought, and so on — if we can identify precisely what caused the “differential survival” in the population, then we can talk about the real, physical, concrete, underlying, specific cause just fine, thank you very much, without ever invoking the label of “natural selection”.

It is only when we don’t know what the actual forces and causes were at work that “natural selection” need be invoked. Unfortunately, in that case, it functions as little more than an observation that those that survived, survived.


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Author: "Barry Arrington" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 14:42

… it might make people think they support ID.

At Evolution News & Views, Casey Luskin discusses a recent acknowledgement in Nature:

If you think that intelligent design isn’t making an impact on evolutionary science, think again. The latest issue of Nature has a point-counterpoint on the question “Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?” Answering “Yes, urgently” are Kevin Laland (professor of behavioral and evolutionary biology at the University of St. Andrews), Tobias Uller, Marc Feldman, Kim Sterelny, Gerd B. Müller, Armin Moczek, Eva Jablonka, and John Odling-Smee — some of whom were members of the infamous “Altenberg 16.” In that context, they began to conceive of what they call the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (“EES”). That is essentially a new evolutionary synthesis that rejects some of the core tenets of neo-Darwinism (like the views that natural selection is the dominant force guiding evolution, or that there is a “tree of life”). Their article contains a stunningly forthright admission: some scientists avoid making criticisms of neo-Darwinian evolution lest they give the appearance of supporting ID

From the open access article:

The number of biologists calling for change in how evolution is conceptualized is growing rapidly. Strong support comes from allied disciplines, particularly developmental biology, but also genomics, epigenetics, ecology and social science1, 2. We contend that evolutionary biology needs revision if it is to benefit fully from these other disciplines. The data supporting our position gets stronger every day.

Yet the mere mention of the EES often evokes an emotional, even hostile, reaction among evolutionary biologists. Too often, vital discussions descend into acrimony, with accusations of muddle or misrepresentation. Perhaps haunted by the spectre of intelligent design, evolutionary biologists wish to show a united front to those hostile to science. Some might fear that they will receive less funding and recognition if outsiders — such as physiologists or developmental biologists — flood into their field.

However, another factor is more important: many conventional evolutionary biologists study the processes that we claim are neglected, but they comprehend them very differently (see ‘No, all is well’). This is no storm in an academic tearoom, it is a struggle for the very soul of the discipline. – Kevin Laland, Tobias Uller, Marc Feldman, Kim Sterelny, Gerd B. Müller, Armin Moczek, Eva Jablonka, and John Odling-Smee, “Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? Yes, urgently,” Nature, Vol. 514:161-164 (October 9, 2014)

If people won’t look for fear of what they might find, why are they in science anyway?  Make no mistake, that is what it comes down to.

It’s ironic that they worry,

Perhaps haunted by the spectre of intelligent design, evolutionary biologists wish to show a united front to those hostile to science. Some might fear that they will receive less funding and recognition if outsiders — such as physiologists or developmental biologists — flood into their field.

Excuse me, but if this is the state of your discipline, guys … why are we supporting you TODAY?

It’s nauseous when people who have failed to keep up with the times in science (which is evidently what happened here) posture that they are all that stands between science and barbarism.

I (O’Leary for News) don’t have to be as polite as Casey Luskin. So I suggest a four-step program:

Grow up.

Lighten up.

Smarten up.

Listen.

Especially if you want more/continued funding.

Follow UD News at Twitter!

Note: An earlier version of the story identified Paul Nelson as the author. It was Paul Nelson who first alerted News to the story. News regrets the error.


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Date: Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 14:39

Maybe it shouldn’t.

Here. And what a disgrace Weber thinks it is:

Where mistrust in experts is probably of most consequence, however, is climate change. Now, the numbers on this aren’t as tilted away from the experts as you might think, given the tenor of the political debate. In March, Gallup reported that 57 percent of Americans believe that pollution and other human activities are making the Earth warmer, versus 40 percent who blame natural causes.

That’s not as high as the 97 percent of climate scientists who subscribe to human-influenced climate change, but it’s pretty good considering that 89 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial and 155 years after Charles Darwin published On the Origins of Species, a plurality of Americans — 42 percent — believe that “God created humans in present form.” A 2009 report from Pew found that, once again, 97 percent of scientists agreed that “humans and other living things have evolved over time” (though 8 percent of them also agreed that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today”).

The numbers in these two examples show pretty stark partisan differences — on climate change, for example, 41 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Democrats sided with human-affected warming. But mistrust in experts, even scientific experts, isn’t just a conservative/Republican thing. Plenty of parents opting out of vaccinations (despite the overwhelming consensus of public health experts) and public school (taught by well-trained educators) are liberals, and liberal-tarian Portland, Oregon, keeps on voting down fluoridating its drinking water.

This typical product of “journalists, your moral and intellectual superiors” thinking shows no awareness of two key issues:

1. Many of the greatest human disasters in the last century were caused by experts. It was top experts, social elites, and intellectuals who said there was nothing to fear from Hitler. Just for example. Books have doubtless been written on the problem. BA77, are you there? ;)

2. Most experts have a vested interest in what they say. That does not make them dishonest. But it does mean that they are just as likely to suffer from confirmation bias as the public is, maybe more so. More is at stake for them.

Many people can sense that something is wrong even if they don’t know enough to articulate it. See, for example, the ridiculous situation in evolutionary biology, badly in need of reform but afraid to reform due to ID. So presumably they force stuff on students in school that they know is problematic, then wonder why people don’t trust them.

So David Barash can cheerfully front religious unbelief in his evolutionary biology class (“the Talk”) while reform in his discipline can’t happen because colleagues fear ID.

And Peter Weber actually thinks it’s a problem if vast numbers of people just mistrust the  lot of them?

No wonder Weber’s whole industry is tanking. It is much easier today than ever to find independent experts.

Bottom line: 1) Survivors don’t “trust” experts. They evaluate them. 2) Trust can’t be demanded; it must be earned.

Follow UD News at Twitter!


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Date: Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 12:21

In the How is ID Different thread, we can see a very significant exchange well worth headlining as it lays out what is at stake:

MF, 28:  . . . Why is my prior for a Christian God effectively zero? Because I see zero evidence for it. What is the probability of something existing for which there is no evidence? I would say that it is effectively zero given the infinite range of things that might exist but for which there is no evidence. By effectively zero I mean that rationally it should be discounted as a possibility and that it is lower than any number you can give – although it is conceivable so I am reluctant to say categorically it is zero . . . . Let’s put it more simply. If there is to be some reason for hypothesing an explanation for the origin of life then there has to be some reason for supposing that explanation exists other than it was capable creating life.

In context, this is a two-fer. For, in effect the demand is not to allow a material possibility of a designing intelligence (and especially, the God of Judaeo-Christian theism as a candidate) then allow empirical evidence and tested reliable signs of its activity such as Functionally Specific Complex Organisation and/or Information (FSCO/I) to speak as evidence:

csi_defn

Nope, you must have separate, independent evidence and “definitions” acceptable to arbitrarily high barriers set by patent selective hyperskepticism and rhetoric of obfuscation.

This raises obvious, serious questions of motives driving arguments and attitudes.

So, we see immediate responses:

UB, 29: . . . you simply accept zero evidence for design in nature.

It is not that coherent evidence is not there, and it is not that you are unaware of it.

You simply choose to deny it, and have stated so.

And Joe:

Joe, 30: It is very telling that [MF] is too afraid to post the prior probabilities for materialism and evolutionism. I say it is because there isn’t any evidence for any prior probabilities for such a nonsensical position

T2, also weighs in, with HeKS endorsing:

T2, 31: From a strictly agnostic point of view, why would you not consider that the classical empirically based cosmological arguments for causation would not provide an evidential basis for non-zero priors?

But, perhaps the most significant response comes from Paul Giem, giving a telling response in the language of Bayesian subjective probability estimation:

PG,  33: >> Thank you for your honesty. You are unwilling to put the Christian God’s prior at exactly zero, because that sounds (and is) dogmatic. But you need to make it a very tiny number in order to overcome the high improbability of life arising spontaneously. We can now see what drives your position. I won’t argue further.

To the rest,

Note what is happening. Mark called for a Bayesian analysis. That is appropriate. He noted that the priors are very important. He is right. For him, the priors are doing all the work. What he wanted to do is to say that with low enough priors, one can ignore the evidence against life arising spontaneously. He is right. What he didn’t want to come out and say, but has now, is that in order for the final evidence to come out his way (low posterior probability that any intelligence, including the Christian God, some other God or gods, or aliens, produced life), the priors have to be infinitesimal.

One can run the Bayesian analysis in reverse. If

P(H|E) = P(E|H)*P(H)/P(E),

(The final probability of the hypothesis given the evidence is equal to the probability of the evidence happening given the hypothesis, multiplied by the probability of the hypothesis happening before the evidence was looked at, divided by the probability of the evidence happening),

that means that

P(H) = P(H|E)*P(E)/P(E|H)

If we put some numbers to that, P(E), the probability that life exists in a given universe, assuming that God is reasonably likely to create life and that life is improbable in a godless universe, is just about equal to H if H >> (1-H), and thus

P(1-H|E) = approximately P(1-H)/PE|H)

That means that if the probability of life existing by spontaneous generation is 10^-300, an extremely liberal (large) number, then for the probability of God or aliens to be reasonably remote (say, 1%), and thus the probability for an atheist position being 99%, or effectively 1 – 10^-2, the prior for no intelligent design has to be 1 – 10^-302, and the prior probability of intelligent design has to be 10^-302. That sounds ridiculous, and certainly not a rational position, but that has the weakness that if we discover that the real probability of life arising by chance is 10^-600 instead, the probability of the chance hypothesis now goes down to 10^-298. That is why he didn’t want to say the prior probability; he didn’t want to explicitly recognize how close-minded one has to be to ignore the evidence surrounding the origin of life.

It’s much easier to go the Lewontin route. We simply “cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” But that sounds too much like science versus anti-religion.

Those of you who point out that there is the small matter of the origin of the universe, make the appropriate point that this assigning an infinitesimal prior probability to the existence of God is not really warranted given the facts. At that point the argument against God goes down in flames. The same is true for those of us who have experienced God’s action in our lives. But even without them the argument from the existence of life alone can only be countered by multiple universes where anything goes, denial of the improbability of life, appeal to unknown laws, or obfuscation. Mark has thankfully removed the fourth option.>>

Now of course, the inference to design of life (by some factor capable of such a design) on evidence of FSCO/I in life on earth is NOT an inference to God as designer. It pivots only on intelligence and design being reasonable possibilities. Where, whatever debates one may have about intelligence and its definition, we know that such is possible in the universe and that it is not confined to human beings, for many obvious and good reasons.

Where we may freely state on a base of trillions of cases in point, that every known instance of the origin of FSCO/I has come about by design, and that such design is a matter of easily observed fact.

Objectors to the inferred design of life on FSCO/I therefore

a: need to have convincing observed, empirical evidence to back up their implied claim that

b: blind chance (comparable to random molecular behaviour, Johnson thermal “noise” and tossing of dice etc) and/or

c: mechanical necessity (comparable to Newton’s famous F = m*a) are able

d: to account for NC machines such as the Ribosome in action . . .

prot_transln

e: i.e. molecular nanomachines using algorithmic, coded mRNA tapes and

f: tRNA position-arm with end effectors [with universal tool tips in the CCA coupler that is loaded by loading enzymes based on configuration of the tRNA, not by mechanical necessity of Chemistry], on

g: observed capability of blind chance and mechanical necessity to create FSCO/I.

That’s a tall order, and it simply has not been met nor on trends is it likely ever to be met.

Going beyond, PG is right to raise the challenge of cosmological fine tuning pointing to design of the observed cosmos by at root a skilled, powerful and highly intelligent designer; with a level of plausibility that easily must far exceed the sort of dismissively infinitesimal prior probabilities MF obviously has in mind.

Just to cite Sir Fred Hoyle, a lifelong agnostic (or even atheist) and Nobel equivalent prize holder, in a key talk at CalTech c. 1981:

The big problem in biology, as I see it, is  to understand the origin of the information carried by the explicit structures of biomolecules.  The issue isn’t so much the rather crude fact that a protein consists of a chain of amino acids linked together in a certain way, but that the explicit ordering of the amino acids endows the chain with remarkable properties, which other orderings wouldn’t give.  The case of the enzymes is  well known . . . If amino acids were linked at random, there would be a vast number of arrange-ments that would be useless in serving the pur-poses of a living cell.  When you consider that a typical enzyme has a chain of perhaps 200 links and that there are 20 possibilities for each link,it’s easy to see that the number of useless arrangements is enormous, more than the number of atoms in all  the galaxies visible in the largest telescopes. This is for one enzyme, and there are upwards of 2000 of them, mainly serving very different purposes.  So how did the situation get to where we find it to be? This is,  as I see it,  the biological problem – the information problem . . . .

I was constantly plagued by the thought that the number of ways in which even a single enzyme could be wrongly constructed was greater than the number of all the atoms in the universe.  So try  as I would, I couldn’t convince myself that even the whole universe would be sufficient to find life by random processes – by what are called the blind forces of nature . . . .  By far the simplest way to arrive at the correct sequences of amino acids in the enzymes would be by thought, not by random processes . . . .

Now imagine yourself as a superintellect working through possibilities in polymer chemistry. Would you not be astonished that polymers based on the carbon atom turned out in your calculations to have the remarkable properties of the enzymes and other biomolecules? Would you not be bowled over in surprise to find that a living cell was a feasible construct? Would you not say to yourself, in whatever language supercalculating intellects use: Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. Of course you would, and if you were a sensible superintellect you would conclude that the carbon atom is a fix.

Where, he also noted:

From 1953 onward, Willy Fowler and I have always been intrigued by the remarkable relation of the 7.65 MeV energy level in the nucleus of 12 C to the 7.12 MeV level in 16 O. If you wanted to produce carbon and oxygen in roughly equal quantities by stellar nucleosynthesis, these are the two levels you would have to fix, and your fixing would have to be just where these levels are actually found to be. Another put-up job? . . . I am inclined to think so. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has “monkeyed” with the physics as well as the chemistry and biology, and there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. [F. Hoyle, Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 20 (1982): 16.]

Such a cosmos-building designer is of course uncomfortably close to the God of theism for many materialists.

Almost worse, it is an inherent part of the theistic concept of God that he is a very serious candidate necessary being. Such a being, will either be impossible [similar to how a square circle is impossible] or will be “there” in any possible world.

So, unsurprisingly, what we seem to be seeing is an attempt to get the advantages of God being impossible (expressed in terms of Bayesian priors) without having to actually show impossibility; by way of declaring “no evidence” and deeming the relevant priors infinitesimal.

The focus of that dismissal on claimed “no evidence” is the God of Judaeo-Christian theism, so it is appropriate for me to point out a 101 video summary of the “no evidence” evidence:

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.]

. . . and to link a podcast on the current rhetorical gambit here, a wider summary of that evidence by way of a short video course, here; noting in passing that there is a live discussion here at UD on how Jerry Coyne has tried to join the chorus of New Atheists currently sophomorically announcing to the world that there is “no evidence” that Jesus is anything more than a myth. (Yes, this is attempted denial that there was a famous Carpenter and preacher from Nazareth in C1, bare existence, not debates on the further points made by Christians arguing that he is risen Lord and Saviour. [BTW, in former days, IIRC, there was a similar dismissal of the reality of Pontius Pilate, blown out of water by archaeological discoveries at the turn of the 1960's. In short, this line of dismissive argument is a badly-worn retread.])

It seems that the sophomoric announcement that there is “no evidence” in order to dismiss inconvenient evidence, is now a stock in trade of selectively hyperskeptical New Atheists and their fellow travellers.

That, patently, goes to attitudes and motives, not just issues of warrant on facts and logic.

Let us set aside such obvious fallacies, and seriously engage the actual matters on their real merits. END


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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 21:27

Over at The New Atlantis Stephen L. Talbott has a great discussion of the vacuity of the idea of “fitness” as used in Darwinian theory. As we all know, Darwinian theory “predicts” that the “fittest” organisms will survive and leave more offspring. And what makes an organism “fit” under the theory? Why, the fact that it survived and left offspring. There is an obvious circularity here:

This is the long-running and much-debated claim that natural selection, as an explanation of the evolutionary origin of species, is tautological — it cannot be falsified because it attempts no real explanation. It tells us: the kinds of organisms that survive and reproduce are the kinds of organisms that survive and reproduce.

Darwinists counter the tautology charge by attempting to demonstrate that there are independent criteria (so-called “engineering criteria”) that explain reproductive success. For example, if a wolf runs faster, it will be more fit, and therefore the trait that gives the wolf the extra speed (longer legs perhaps) explains its fitness, not merely the fact that it did survive and reproduce.

However, the appeal to engineering criteria in the abstract does not by itself get us very far. As philosopher Ronald Brady reminded us when discussing this dispute in an essay entitled “Dogma and Doubt,” what matters for judging a proposed scientific explanation is not only the specification of non-tautological criteria for testing it, but also our ability to apply the test meaningfully. If we have no practical way to sum up and assess the fitness or adaptive value of the traits of an organism apart from measurements of survival rates (evolutionary success), then on what basis can we use the idea of survival of the fittest (natural selection) to explain evolutionary success — as opposed to using it merely as a blank check for freely inventing explanations of the sort commonly derided as “just-so stories.”

Here is the key sentence:

If we have no practical way to sum up and assess the fitness or adaptive value of the traits of an organism apart from measurements of survival rates . . .

What are you talking about Barry. Isn’t it obvious that a trait like the longer legs that help our wolf run faster will necessarily be beneficial in terms of fitness? Actually, no, it is not obvious. Ask any engineer and he will tell you there are always tradeoffs associated with engineering decisions. You want a faster car? Make it lighter. Is it a “better” car? Well, if by “better” you mean “faster,” of course it is. But if by “better” you mean “safer” maybe not, because a lighter car might not be as structurally sound as a heavier car. The same is true for engineering traits in animals. Talbott quotes two of the most famous Darwinists in history:

George Gaylord Simpson opined that ‘the fallibility of personal judgment as to the adaptive value of particular characters, most especially when these occur in animals quite unlike any now living, is notorious.” And in 1975, the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote that no biologist ‘can judge reliably which ‘characters’ are useful, neutral, or harmful in a given species.’

Talbott continues:

One evident reason for this pessimism is that we cannot isolate traits — or the mutations producing them — as if they were independent causal elements. Organism-environment relations present us with so much complexity, so many possible parameters to track, that, apart from obviously disabling cases, there is no way to pronounce on the significance of a mutation for an organism, let alone for a population or for the future of the species.

None other than the famous Richard Lewontin (he of the “divine foot in the door” quotation) has illustrated the point:

A zebra having longer leg bones that enable it to run faster than other zebras will leave more offspring only if escape from predators is really the problem to be solved, if a slightly greater speed will really decrease the chance of being taken and if longer leg bones do not interfere with some other limiting physiological process. Lions may prey chiefly on old or injured zebras likely in any case to die soon, and it is not even clear that it is speed that limits the ability of lions to catch zebras. Greater speed may cost the zebra something in feeding efficiency, and if food rather than predation is limiting, a net selective disadvantage might result from solving the wrong problem. Finally, a longer bone might break more easily, or require greater developmental resources and metabolic energy to produce and maintain, or change the efficiency of the contraction of the attached muscles.

In summary, because all engineering decisions involve tradeoffs, there is no way to tell whether a particular engineering trait, in isolation, caused an organism to be more fit. And this drives us back to where we started. The only way to measure “fitness” is by reproductive success, which is obviously tautological if “fitness” is defined as “reproductively successful.”


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Author: "Barry Arrington" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 18:46

We recently saw how evolutionists are elaborating on what they view as an evolutionary arms race within our genome. Rival elements battle it out as transposable elements invade and repressors seek to shut them down. The transposable elements are “continually evolving to escape repression,” while the repressors adjust and find new ways to defeat the transposable elements. It is “a never-ending race”according to one evolutionist. The backstory here is the on-going historical feud between those who view nature as perfect and those who view nature as evil. In the eighteenth century, for instance, the English natural theologians presented a decidedly optimistic, rosy version of the world, to which Hume responded that “A perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures,” and that nature is so arranged so as “to embitter the life of every living being.” So who is right? The answer, of course, is that both are right. Nature is both wonderful and dangerous at the same time. As usual the heresy is not in recognizing these obvious truths, but in emphasizing and dwelling on one side of the spectrum, to the exclusion of the other. Creation and Scripture—general revelation and special revelation—are studies in contrast. Science requires recognizing both sides of the contrast, and keeping them both in view together. Show me a cult, either religious or scientific, and I’ll show you people who are fixated on one end of a spectrum. The result is a lopsided theory that makes no sense.  Read more


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Author: "Cornelius Hunter" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 17:04

Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1953, aphorism 109

My recent exchanges with Jeffrey Shallit illustrate this aphorism. Our disagreement is not over the substance of the matter. Instead, our disagreement hinges on Shallit’s abuse of language to make a trivial point. Shallit and I disagreed over whether an excerpt from Hamlet’s soliloquy could be considered “random” in any meaningful sense of that word. In the course of that exchange Shallit said this:

Barry, and all ID advocates, need to understand one basic point. It’s one that Wesley Elsberry and I have been harping about for years. Here it is: the opposite of ‘random’ is not ‘designed’.

The problem with Shallit’s assertion is that neither he nor Wesley Elsberry get to decide what “random” means. In linguistic theory words acquire meaning in a language by convention among the speakers of that language, not by diktat, and as I will demonstrate below, in the English language “random” does in fact mean the opposite of “design.”

In order to determine whether “random” is the opposite of “design” we must first establish what those two words mean. Wikipedia defines “random” as follows:

Randomness means lack of pattern or predictability in events. Randomness suggests a non-order or non-coherence in a sequence of symbols or steps, such that there is no intelligible pattern or combination.

Thus, a random string of text is one in which there is no intelligible order, coherence, or pattern.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “design” as follows:

1. to prepare the preliminary sketch or the plans for (a work to be executed), especially to plan the form and structure of;
2. to plan and fashion artistically or skillfully;
3. to intend for a definite purpose;

Any string of text that results from “design” will definitely have an intelligible order or pattern.

Therefore, Shallit is wrong. “Random” is in fact the opposite of “designed.”

Shallit insists, however, that Hamlet is in fact “random” as that term is used in algorithmic information theory. For what he means by this, Wikipedia again:

Algorithmic information theory studies, among other topics, what constitutes a random sequence. The central idea is that a string of bits is random if and only if it is shorter than any computer program that can produce that string (Kolmogorov randomness)—this means that random strings are those that cannot be compressed.

In his first post Shallit ran both a string of keyboard banging gibberish and Hamlet through a computer program,

If we want to test this [i.e. randomness] in a quantitative sense, we can use a lossless compression scheme such as gzip, an implementation of Lempel-Ziv. A truly random file will not be significantly compressible, with very very high probability. So a good test of randomness is simply to attempt to compress the file and see if it is roughly the same size as the original. The larger the produced file, the more random the original string was.

Here are the results. String #1 is of length 502, using the ‘wc’ program. (This also counts characters like the carriage returns separating the lines.) String #2 is of length 545.

Using gzip on Darwin OS on my Mac, I get the following results: string #1 compresses to a file of size 308 and string #2 compresses to a file of size 367. String #2′s compressed version is bigger and therefore more random than string #1: exactly the opposite of what Arrington implied!

What is going on here? Despite the facetious title of my third post Shallit is not barking mad. Nor is he stupid. Why on earth would an obviously intelligent person write a sentence like “[Hamlet’s] compressed version is bigger and therefore more random than [gibberish]”?

Please see the Wittgenstein quotation above. The simple and obvious fact of the matter is that the string from Hamlet does not conform to the English word “random” to even the slightest degree. The string was carefully designed. Therefore, it has zero randomness. Hence, it cannot be “more random” than any string of text that displays any randomness whatsoever. Certainly it cannot be “more random” than a string of gibberish. But in his eagerness to discredit my analysis, Shallit lost sight of that fact. In short, he lost the battle against the bewitchment of his intelligence by means of language.

Sure, the compressed version of Hamlet is bigger than the compressed version of gibberish. And if one insists on defining relative randomness in terms of relative compressibility Hamlet is “more random.” Here’s the problem with that approach. It is glaringly obvious that Hamlet is not in any degree “random” whatsoever as that word is used by English speakers. Therefore, by its very nature it is not subject to a relative randomness analysis except to the extent one observes that it is totally non-random and any string that is even partially random is therefore more random. So what did Shallit accomplish when he insisted that under his esoteric definition of “random” Hamlet is “more random” than gibberish? He made a trivial mathematical point, and in the process made himself look foolish.

My advice to Shallit. Next time you are fighting Wittgenstein’s battle against the bewitchment of your intelligence by means of language, fight harder.


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Author: "Barry Arrington" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 16:45

A new study is revealing yet more evidence that the so-called “junk” DNA is much more complex than evolutionists had predicted. As one report explains:  Read more


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Author: "Cornelius Hunter" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 14:28

A friend sent me an interesting series of tweets from last month, which raise a number of questions, at least for me. I’ll just present them, then ask the questions:

 

Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg)

9/24/14, 12:04 AM

 

How is it that I have @DeepakChopra and @pzmyers sniping at me simultaneously? Either I’m doing something right, or this is hell.

PZ Myers (@pzmyers)

9/24/14, 12:07 AM

 

.@SamHarrisOrg In my case, because you took a few potshots at me, & made a few dishonest sneers. Or are you that self-unaware?

Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg)

9/24/14, 12:22 AM

 

@pzmyers Potshots? I haven’t engaged you in years. But there you were in my Twitter feed. Now I will ignore you again. Enjoy it.

There is a bit of backstory here:

Jordan Grey (Jack) (@two_smokes)

9/22/14, 6:40 PM

 

@SamHarrisOrg @GretaChristina @mboorstein Did you not recently criticize P. Z. Meyers for what his readers to say about you?

Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg)

9/22/14, 9:33 PM

 

@two_smokes He moderates his comments (i.e. decides to publish them) and does nothing to correct obvious lies. Not comparable.

PZ Myers (@pzmyers)

9/23/14, 1:32 PM

 

@SamHarrisOrg Not true. You could comment on my site — and it would appear without any action on my part. What was that about obvious lies?

PZ Myers (@pzmyers)

9/23/14, 1:33 PM

 

It’s really weird to see a complaint that I moderate my site, but don’t moderate it to suit @SamHarrisOrg.

Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg)

9/23/14, 10:34 PM

 

@pzmyers My complaint is pretty simple: You publish defamatory lies about my work. Inviting me to comment on your blog is no remedy.

 

The new atheist movement seems to be breaking up into a series of private fights, in this case Myers vs. Harris, but then there is Shermer vs. Myers, Myers vs Dawkins, and on top of that, everybody vs. Dawkins and Brian Leiter. Oh yes, and the increasingly frequent charges of misogyny/putting down women.

Some might defend the matter saying that intellectuals are notorious for fighting among themselves in the grand world of history-making ideas. Fair enough, but these fights do not seem to be intellectual squabbles so much as accusations against the characters of others.

Now, the best-known defenders of Darwinian evolution today are the new atheists. True, there is the U.S. Darwin in the schools lobby, but we haven’t heard much from them since Eugenie Scott retired and they decided to divide their energies by getting into climate change advocacy as well.

There is BioLogos , but they are mainly aimed at getting Christian evangelicals to accept evolution, which in the context means Darwinism. (The evangelicals will mostly just stop going to church first, because average Christians are not as stupid as some theologians think.)

And there are assorted regional and national groups. But there has not been any group as widely known for advocacy of Darwinian evolution in a variety of forums and disciplines as the new atheists.

Now my question: Will these explosions in the Twitterverse and on blogs impact the intellectual status of Darwinian evolution? Readers? – O’Leary for News

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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 06:44

A report by Adam Withnall in The Independent (7 October 2014) titled, Life after death? Largest-ever study provides evidence that ‘out of body’ and ‘near-death’ experiences may actually be real makes for fascinating reading. Writes Withnall:

There is scientific evidence to suggest that life can continue after death, according to the largest ever medical study carried out on the subject.

A team based in the UK has spent the last four years seeking out cardiac arrest patients to analyse their experiences, and found that almost 40 per cent of survivors described having some form of “awareness” at a time when they were declared clinically dead.

Experts currently believe that the brain shuts down within 20 to 30 seconds of the heart stopping beating – and that it is not possible to be aware of anything at all once that has happened.

But scientists in the new study heard said they heard compelling evidence that patients experienced real events for up to three minutes after this had happened ? and could recall them accurately once they had been resuscitated.

Dr Sam Parnia, an assistant professor at the State University of New York and a former research fellow at the University of Southampton who led the research, said that he previously that patients who described near-death experiences were only relating hallucinatory events.

One man, however, gave a “very credible” account of what was going on while doctors and nurses tried to bring him back to life – and says that he felt he was observing his resuscitation from the corner of the room.

Direct evidence of perception in the absence of a functioning brain

“So, how good is this evidence?” skeptics may ask. Pretty convincing, actually:

Speaking to The Telegraph about the evidence provided by a 57-year-old social worker [in] Southampton, Dr Parnia said: “We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating.

“But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes.

“The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for.

“He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened.”

Nor was this the only experience of its kind. Dr Parnia studied over 2,000 patients from 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria. His findings have been published in the journal Resuscitation.

Of those who survived, 46 per cent (nearly half) had mental recollections of some sort. Two per cent had explicit recall of “seeing” and “hearing” events while out of their bodies.

In fact, there is abundant evidence for the accuracy of reports by patients undergoing near-death experiences, according to an article by Dr. Bruce Greyson, titled, Cosmological Implications of Near-Death Experiences (Journal of Cosmology, 2011, Vol. 14, pp. 4684-4696).

In a recent review of 93 published reports of potentially verifiable out-of-body perceptions during NDEs, Holden (2009) found that 43% had been corroborated to the investigator by an independent informant, an additional 43% had been reported by the
experiencer to have been corroborated by an independent informant who was no longer available to be interviewed by the investigator, and only 14% relied solely on the experiencer’s report. Of these out-of-body perceptions, 92% were completely accurate, 6% contained some error, and only 1% was completely erroneous. Even among those
cases corroborated to the investigator by an independent informant, 88% were completely accurate, 10% contained some error, and 3% were completely erroneous. The cumulative weight of these cases is inconsistent with the conception that purported out-of-body perceptions are nothing more than hallucinations…

There is one particular kind of vision of the deceased that calls into question even more directly their dismissal as subjective hallucinations: cases in which the dying person apparently sees, and often expresses surprise at seeing, a person whom he or she thought was living, who had in fact recently died. Reports of such cases were published in the 19th century (Cobbe, 1882; Gurney and Myers, 1889; Johnson, 1899; Sidgwick, 1885) and have continued to be reported in recent years (Greyson, 2010b; Osis and Haraldsson, 1977; Sartori, 2008; van Lommel, 2004). In one recent case, a 9-year-old boy, upon awakening from a 36-hour coma, told his parents he had been with his deceased grandfather, aunt and uncle, and also with his 19-year-old sister, who was, as far as his family knew, alive and well at college, 500 miles away. Later that day, his parents received news from the college that their daughter had died in an automobile accident early that morning (Greyson, 2010b).

The case described above is described in Greyson, B. 2010. Seeing deceased persons not known to have died: “Peak in Darien” experiences. Anthropology and Humanism 35, 159-171.

A letter by Bruce Greyson, Janice Miner Holden and Pim van Lommel, titled, ‘There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences’ revisited: comment on Mobbs and Watt (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 16, Issue 9, 445, 06 August 2012) rebuts the oft-cited skeptical myth that research by Mobbs and Watt, in a study conducted in 2011, has completely debunked the claim that NDEs are paranormal:

In a recent article in this journal entitled ‘There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences’, Dean Mobbs and Caroline Watt [1] concluded that ‘[t]aken together, the scientific evidence suggests that all aspects of the near-death experience have a neurophysiological or psychological basis’ (p. 449). We suggest that Mobbs and Watt explained ‘all aspects’ of near-death experiences (NDEs) by ignoring aspects they could not explain and by overlooking a substantial body of empirical research on NDEs. In a subsequent radio interview, Watt acknowledged that they had avoided looking at any evidence for veridical out-of-body perception, resulting in their being unable to evaluate whether or not there was empirical evidence of anything paranormal about NDEs (http://bit.ly/MITeGP). But if Mobbs and Watt did not consider the evidence for possible paranormal features, then their claim that there is nothing paranormal about NDEs is not evidence-based…

In suggesting that there may be some evidence of paranormal features in NDEs, we are not suggesting that those features are supernatural or beyond scientific investigation. They may be paranormal in the sense of being difficult to explain in terms of the currently prevailing reductionistic framework. But we believe that they are entirely lawful and natural phenomena that can and should be studied by scientific methods, rather than dismissed without investigation.

I have long argued that a prior commitment to materialism is fatal to the enterprise of doing science properly. Materialism closes the mind, by convincing would-be researchers that the big questions have all been answered, and that we “know” where we came from. At last, a few courageous people are doing some research which is “out of the box” – and getting some unexpected answers. Who knows where it will lead?

What do readers think?


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Author: "vjtorley" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 04:49

In our cells there are mobile genes and there are complex genetic regulatory systems, and sometimes these two come together. Mobile genes with complex genetic regulatory systems is a challenge for evolution to explain for in a relatively short amount of time evolution must have developed these amazing regulatory systems. But just has Hume explained that “A perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures,” and that nature is so arranged so as “to embitter the life of every living being”; and Malthus explained that populations struggle for limited resources; and Spencer characterized life as the survival of the fittest, so too today’s evolutionists describe these unlikely findings as the result of an on-going war, this time within our genome (please watch the 30 second video above before reading the abstract below):  Read more


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Author: "Cornelius Hunter" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 01:07

A friend writes to say,

The Christian Scientific Society, founded by pro-ID physicist David Snoke, is having its first Southern California area conference on November 7-8.

Reasons to Believe has been kind enough to host the meeting at its new facilities in Covina, CA (818 S. Oak Park. Rd., Covina, California 91724).

Speakers include Fuz Rana, Caroline Crocker, Casey Luskin and David Snoke.

More info Here.

Registration


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Author: "News" Tags: "Intelligent Design, News"
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Date: Tuesday, 07 Oct 2014 17:00

Stuck with another deadline today, so news posting will be light till tonight.

Meanwhile, remember Brian Leiter?

Apparently, U Chicago prof Brian Leiter is author of numerous screeds, of which this is an example in our field of interest: “pathological liars from the Discovery [sic] Institute, the public relations arm of the “Intelligent Design” scam; on the other, Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois, and John Derbyshire, a pontificator at the National Review (who at least knows enough to know that “Intelligent Design” is bogus), who are championing a different intellectual muddle:”

The whole planet is dumb except Leiter?

Well, he has finally got his colleagues’ attention. We have it on good authority that a well-known British philosophy department has started to complain about a guy with good degrees who sounds like a fishwife on market day.

First, a question: What is it about being an atheist and Darwin defender that tends to bring this out in people? C.S. Lewis noted the problem yay years ago (1951): “What inclines me now to think that you may be right in regarding it as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives is not so much your arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders. ”

Now, by way of explaining the above, a favour to ask: A friend has sent me a vid of Brian Leiter and another legal scholar, David Skeel, on Why Tolerate Religion? Could someone with more free time than I have just now watch it and offer some impressions?

The title is the name of Leiter’s book on the subject:

This provocative book addresses one of the most enduring puzzles in political philosophy and constitutional theory–why is religion singled out for preferential treatment in both law and public discourse? Why, for example, can a religious soup kitchen get an exemption from zoning laws in order to expand its facilities to better serve the needy, while a secular soup kitchen with the same goal cannot? Why is a Sikh boy permitted to wear his ceremonial dagger to school while any other boy could be expelled for packing a knife? Why are religious obligations that conflict with the law accorded special toleration while other obligations of conscience are not?

Well, we don’t need to tolerate religion; we could always go back to the Wars of Religion instead. It was that kind of thing, no doubt, t hat got religion to the top of the In tray.

Back at the News desk soon. – O’Leary for News

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Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose


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Author: "News" Tags: "Culture, Darwinism, Laws, News"
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Date: Monday, 06 Oct 2014 22:39

Addressed in William Dembski’s new book, Being as Communion:

… the informational realist perspective , espoused by information theorist William Dembski in his new book Being as Communion (Ashgate, 2014), unpacks another, bolder idea, the Law of Conservation of Information (CoI). This law states that natural causes can transmit complex specified information, but they can never originate it. If the idea is correct, it means that the current purely natural (material) theory of evolution is not even possible.

Here is a brief statement: Raising the probability of success of a search does nothing to make attaining the target easier, and may in fact make it more difficult, once the informational costs involved in raising the probability of success are taken into account. (Being, 168).

If this sound counterintuitive, consider: suppose you have absolutely no information about how to find the hidden prize in a treasure hunt. You could start a search for a correct method of search (essentially, a search for a search). But in the absence of hints or cheating, that will turn out to be as much trouble as just doing an organized blind search.

Of course, a kindly person might come along and say, “As it happens, I know where the prize is. You are now just slightly warm . . . warmer . . . getting hot . . . HOT!!” So you get the prize, but you did it by making use of an intelligent source of information. On a blind search, you would still be looking. For that matter, if you had depended on a false source of information, whose intention was to mislead you, you would be much worse off, because you would be systematically steered away from the prize. Intelligence can either inform or mislead. …

And its ramifications for Darwinism

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Author: "News" Tags: "Informatics, Intelligent Design, News"
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Date: Monday, 06 Oct 2014 19:16

We’ve sometimes written about Marilynne Robinson:

Tom Bethell, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (Regnery Publishing), wrote to introduce us to the “other side” of Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Marilynne Robinson (for Gilead, 2005), who recently took the occasion of her four Yale Terry Lectures to attack the evolutionary biologists who talk as if science were atheism writ large.

But let Bethell tell it: Marilynne Robinson, who is better known as a novelist, attacked E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker and even the sainted W.D. Hamilton [my word! - ed.] in her recent book Absence of Mind. In Harper’s (Nov 2006) she was also fiercely critical of Dawkins’s God Delusion.

Here’s a New York Times interview with her that doesn’t seem to be a hatchet job:

What the human mind does is, as it happens, what Robinson is most interested in and most galled to see unappreciated or gotten wrong. Her current project is devoted to Christological essays, essays that reconsider Jesus, just as in earlier work she has reconsidered Moses. “If you could create a phenomenology of consciousness, some part of it would be the systematic falsification of the foundations of our culture,” she said. “We remember Moses saying, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ But he also said, ‘Love the stranger as thyself.’ This is not unimportant. And so I feel the humanity of Moses. Like John Ames. He’s a character I put together in my mind, sure. But when people do things that are honorable and fine, it is terrible to see them slandered. And it doesn’t matter if they did them 3,000 years ago, you know?”

It’s good to see the Times sponsoring a non-naturalist point of view for once, but it is probably too late. They are laying off another hundred people.

I’d feel sorrier for them except for this: Way back when, Billy Graham’s Angels (1975) was one of the best-selling books in North America but the Times was reluctant at first to say much about it because it came from a Christian house. The practice of noticing the rankings of bestsellers from Christian houses seems to have begun with the big turn-of-the-century Left Behind series .

Now, I may be one of the few who haven’t read Graham’s book on angels, and have very mixed feelings about the “Left Behind” phenomenon (I did read the first book, for work).

However, a newspaper of record that felt secure enough to largely ignore major North American cultural phenomena that the Manhattan cocktail set didn’t relate to was poised to be slaughtered by the Internet, no matter what. The Internet is not waiting with bated breath for society hostesses’ invitations. And they would never have known enough to reposition themselves in time.

File under: Some problems just solve themselves.

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Author: "News" Tags: "Intelligent Design, Media, News"
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Date: Monday, 06 Oct 2014 18:51
L'Image et le Pouvoir - Buste cuirassé de Marc Aurèle agé - 3.jpg

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) was a stoic/Pierre-Selim

Apparently. We sometimes follow philosopher Massimo Pigliucci’s blog, Scientia Salon. See, for example, Cosmologist Sean Carroll would retire falsifiability as a science idea. Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci defends it.

Stoicism was one of the more reasonable philosophies of ancient Greece, developed more widely perhaps in Rome; it stressed the importance of developing good character in societies where bad character was increasingly cool.

Pigliucci seems to have got really interested in the philosophy, on a trip to Greece. Here’s what he says:

Now, try for a minute to set aside your skeptical, secular 21st-century attitude and see how this idea can be translated into modern terms without incurring in all too easy a posteriori rationalization. Indeed, notice that what I’m about to suggest is most definitely not what I think the ancient Greco-Romans thought, but rather a reasonable update of their thinking given modern science and philosophy.

So, at bottom, and very crudely, the stripped down version of Stoic metaphysics may be said to consist (I’m not a Stoic scholar, so take it with a grain of salt [12]) of the following ideas:

a) The universe is organized according to rational principles (logos);

b) The world works in a deterministic way (fate);

c) There is a fundamental unity, or interconnectedness, of all things.

A modern rendition of the above would say that the universe is understandable in logics-mathematical terms (a), that it works according to general exceptionless laws (b), and that it is described by a single wavefunction, to use quantum mechanical terms.

More speculatively, of course, one could even say that Stoicism is compatible with (but doesn’t depend on) stronger ontological notions, such as mathematical Platonism [13]; more radical metaphysics, such as ontic structural realism [14]; and even highly speculative philosophical ideas like the simulation hypothesis [15] — about all of which, as readers of SciSal know, I maintain various degrees of skepticism coupled with an open interest.

Okay, this is a whistle stop. Pigliucci is just not going to be able to “update” ancient stoicism so as to conform to the demands of naturalist atheism. As one friend put it, naturalist atheism isn’t bottom up, it is bottom only.

No stoic thought that the mind was an illusion. But that’s the default position of naturalist neuroscience. No stoic thought that living an ethically noble life was a way of spreading his selfish genes either. (Well, Stoic, meet Evo Psych, who has a message that will certainly change your life if you accept it. You can forget all that noble Roman stuff … ;) )

What Pigliucci may do, however, is resurrect rational atheism. The reason new atheism has become so unpopular (cf best-known new atheist and now public punching bag Richard Dawkins) is that it does not appear to provide a rational basis for behaving morally. Or even a rational basis for itself.

(Note: Whether the mind is an illusion is a separate question from whether the mind survives the body.)

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Date: Monday, 06 Oct 2014 06:11

Election season is upon us and we hope for clarity in the debates to come. Too often campaign strategies involve ambiguity, avoiding difficult questions and political calculation. But sometimes the candidates’ positions on the issues, and their point of disagreement, are clear for all to see. I would rather have such clarity, even if I disagree on some of the issues. As with politics, the origins debate also sometimes lacks clarity. I don’t have a problem with disagreement, but I hope people understand what they are disagreeing on. A good example is the problem of evil. It is often at the heart of disagreements in the origins debate, and because it deals with ultimate issues it offers a clear distinction between positions. There’s just one problem: many people do not understand it, including those who use it.  Read more


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Author: "Cornelius Hunter" Tags: "Intelligent Design"
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Date: Monday, 06 Oct 2014 00:29

Here’s a good illustration:

Here, Cornelius Hunter references U Washington evolutionary biology prof ‘s religious screed, which he presents to his students, in favour of Darwinism (and there is no doubt that “it is a religious screed):

As evolutionary science has progressed, the available space for religious faith has narrowed: It has demolished two previously potent pillars of religious faith and undermined belief in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God.

So, is BioLogos (or, as I call them, Christians for Darwin) a waste of time?

It is hard to believe that an organization that claims to be Christian could have so signally failed in vision that it would be attacking Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt. And I haven’t heard anything like the same level of concern about blatant promos for atheism in evolution classes like this one. I have no idea what motivates them, which may be just as well.

But back to Barash:

The twofold demolition begins by defeating what modern creationists call the argument from complexity. This once seemed persuasive, best known from William Paley’s 19th-century claim that, just as the existence of a complex structure like a watch demands the existence of a watchmaker, the existence of complex organisms requires a supernatural creator. Since Darwin, however, we have come to understand that an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness. Living things are indeed wonderfully complex, but altogether within the range of a statistically powerful, entirely mechanical phenomenon.”

Do we see what he has done here?

He simply states that “an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness.”

Is that true? Does he demonstrate it?

No, for two reasons. First, he can’t, because it probably isn’t true. See Dembski on the Law of Conservation of Information here.

Information is powerful, but it is not magic, and that is what Barash would need.

Now, Dembski could be wrong. Maybe Darwin really did discover magic. But Barash knows he doesn’t have to address that. Which brings me to my second point.

In today’s science world, the more important reason Barash doesn’t demonstrate it is that he doesn’t need to. His hearers at the New York Times, where the article appeared, nod approvingly, and assume their magic is safe.

If reality mattered, it’s crumbling, actually (but then so is the Times). See for example, New Atlantis dumps on the hard Darwinism of Dawkins and Dennett (Would this account not have been greeted five years ago by howls of media outrage? Where are Darwin’s airheads?)

That said, Darwinian claims are probably still good for a decade and a half anyway, just as the Times may be. Magic dies hard. – O’Leary for News

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Author: "News" Tags: "Darwinism, Intelligent Design, Naturalis..."
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