Craig vs. Ayala Debate Review

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 8, 2009 in Debates,Intelligent Design,Reviews,William Lane Craig

craig-ayala

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig recently debated philosopher and biologist Francisco Ayala about the viability of Intelligent Design theory. (Download the audio here.)

If you read this blog you are familiar with William Lane Craig, so let me introduce you to Francisco Ayala. A former priest and still a believer, Ayala has been called the “Renaissance Man of Evolutionary Biology.” His research has led to the prevention and cure of diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people. In 2001, he was awarded the National Medal of Science. He is a leading defender of stem cell research, and is considered one of the best defenders of evolution today.

Despite his indisputable debate skills, Craig has never debated or published on biological arguments about intelligent design. So with Ayala’s 930 papers and 30 books – mostly on biology and philosophy of biology, with several specifically about intelligent design – this debate was a sweeping victory for Ayala, right?

Wrong.

Ayala may have all the right information in his head somewhere, but once again he did not bother to properly prepare for a debate with Craig. How many more opponents of Craig must embarrass themselves before they take my advice?

Ayala knows how to lecture. He does not know how to debate.

Ayala’s presentations were meandering musings on evolutionary theory, the history of science, and anecdotes about Darwin. Ayala also discussed the evidence for common descent, apparently unaware that intelligent design theory is compatible with the existing evidence for common descent. In his opening speech, during which he was supposed to present the case against intelligent design, Ayala did not even mention intelligent design.

Craig, as usual, cut very clearly to the heart of the disagreement between Ayala and Intelligent Design theory. He then showed how Ayala’s objections to intelligent design were invalid.

After he got womped by Craig in the opening speech, what did Ayala do? He completely ignored Craig’s arguments and continued on with his meandering lecture about how evolution works. He waved his hand dismissively toward the work of Michael Behe, and then decided to “refute” an example of irreducible complexity which Behe explicitly said was not an example of irreducible complexity – the eye.

Craig sums up his assessment of most intelligent design critics thusly:

I find this… to be very typical of the critics of ID. They don’t engage [intelligent design] theorists responsibly and in detail. Rather, they offer easy, dismissive refutations that don’t really take their work seriously.

Ayala responds with – you guessed it! – an easy, dismissive refutation:

For the record, there is no absence of evidence for the mechanism of natural selection for evolution. Hundreds of books, thousands and thousands and thousands of articles, made by thousands and thousands of people, who know how to use the scientific method…

He then concludes not with a scientific or philosophical argument against intelligent design, but a theological one.

Good grief.

Finally, if you want to hear a very concise for the viability (if not the truth) of intelligent design, well… nobody does this kind of thing better than William Lane Craig.

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{ 301 comments… read them below or add one }

ayer November 8, 2009 at 6:51 am

I agree. I generally have been more sympathetic to the theistic evolution position of Francis Collins and Ken Miller, but after listening to this debate, I feel the need to examine the new work by Behe and Meyer, particularly Behe’s work on the malaria virus and the “edge of evolution.”

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Reginald Selkirk November 8, 2009 at 7:08 am

A former priest and still a believer

Where did you get that information? Ayala has been very cagey about his personal beliefs.

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lukeprog November 8, 2009 at 7:16 am

From Ayala’s own mouth, in the debate.

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Reginald Selkirk November 8, 2009 at 7:24 am

Ayala also discussed the evidence for common descent, apparently unaware that intelligent design theory is compatible with the existing evidence for common descent.

Is it? When Behe or someone else claims that a certain biological entity, say the immune system, was intelligently designed, that means he is saying that it did not arise from earlier molecules through evolution and common descent. I.e. he is claiming that it was created. I.e. he accepts common descent, except when he doesn’t.

They don’t engage [intelligent design] theorists responsibly and in detail.

To call ID proponents “theorists” implies that they have a theory. And yet scientists generally agree that ID does not qualify as a theory, and even some ID proponents have agreed. Here’s Paul Nelson, Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, from Touchstone Magazine, 7/8 (2004) pp 64-65 (via Panda’s Thumb)

Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’-but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.

Now, if they don’t have a @$#%@$ theory, and their “work” consists of lobbying school boards and writing non-peer-reviewed popular books, why do let Craig get away with calling them “theorists”? You say that Ayala doesn’t know debate, but you yourself do not seem able and willing to point out the full extent of the dishonesty of Craig and the entire ID movement when it is apparent. You say that his rhetoric is effective, but you do not point out that it is entirely dishonest.

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Reginald Selkirk November 8, 2009 at 7:44 am

ayer: I agree.I generally have been more sympathetic to the theistic evolution position of Francis Collins and Ken Miller, but after listening to this debate, I feel the need to examine the new work by Behe and Meyer, particularly Behe’s work on the malaria virus and the “edge of evolution.”  

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When you say “new work” you mean “recent books,” because those folks haven’t done any research.

If you do not have a thorough understanding of biology (and if you have even the slightest sympathy towards ID, then you don’t), it would be irresponsible to read Behe’s book without checking into how it has been accepted by others in the biological community, and seeing what criticisms they have of that book.
Reviews of The Edge of Evolution.
At Panda’s Thumb
NYTimes, Richard Dawkins

In particular, Behe’s discussion of malaria and his use of probability in that book have been absolutely shredded, as has his statements on HIV. He has a reputation for moving the goal posts when one of his examples of irreducible complexity gets shot down by actual research.

The same with Stephen Meyer, whose latest book makes claims about Information Theory, a field in which he has no credentials, publications, or, apparently, knowledge. See what actual mathematicians think of his claims about Information Theory.
Jeffrey Shallit
Mark Chu-Carroll

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Hermes November 8, 2009 at 8:02 am

Reginald, thank you for the links.

While I suspected that the malaria virus was just Behe’s latest attempt at taking ID out for a spin, he should have learned something from the humiliating crater he left before with the research he didn’t do — both in the lab and in existing papers — on the bacterial flagellum. It is important to see people have already addressed this latest attempt at misinformation and/or bad scholarship. Quite informative.

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Bill Maher November 8, 2009 at 8:21 am

I have only seen about 2-3 debates I thought Craig lost in his career and he is a very talented debater, but this is essentially sophistry. Anyone who has taken Intro and read Plato knows that sophistry is the opposite of philosophy. It is obvious in sophist’s ability to sell complete horseshit through speaking nicely. This in no way gets at any truth and mosts talented sophists would win regardless of which side they were on.

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ayer November 8, 2009 at 8:32 am

Selkirk,

I will certainly check out the criticisms of Behe that you link to. However, I just read Dawkins’ review and it is not promising. It mostly consists of ridicule of Behe based on appeals to the authority of other biologists (why does Dawkins need to do that when he himself is a preeminent authority?), done in that off-putting, obnoxious Dawkins style. The main substantive argument that he makes is a reference to animal breeding by humans–but as Dawkins himself points out, that is an example of “intelligent design.” But I will consult the other links you provide.

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Reginald Selkirk November 8, 2009 at 9:35 am

The main substantive argument that he makes is a reference to animal breeding by humans–but as Dawkins himself points out, that is an example of “intelligent design.”

Not really. It is often called “artificial selection,” but the distinction between artificial selection and natural selection is, well, artificial. It presumes that man is not a part of nature. Humans played a role in selecting traits by controlling which animals and plants got to contribute to the next generation. How is this any different from predators “selecting” for prey animals which are faster, or a river appearing between the breeding ground and the feeding ground “selecting” for animals which can swim? Dawkins does a fairly good job of making this point in his latest book (The Greatest Show on Earth). The intelligence needed to perform such selective breeding did not require a deep knowledge of genetics, only a primitive understanding of heredity (likes breeds like). Moreover, some of the human-influenced selection may have required no conscious knowledge of the selection being applied.

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Reginald Selkirk November 8, 2009 at 9:40 am

Michael Behe gets Pwned by a grad student for his claims about HIV.
In which Behe claimed that HIV has no new genes. ERV, aka S.A. Smith, pointed out that this is factually incorrect. In follow-up, Behe attempted to move the goal posts about what he had said, and declined to enter inter into discussion with ERV on the grounds that she was mean. That’s one of Craig’s ID “theorists” at “work” right there.

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drj November 8, 2009 at 10:33 am

On this issue, Craig really outs himself as a pitch man for his faith, rather than an honest seeker of truth.

He relies heavily on “scholarly consensus” when pitching the resurrection. He even goes so far as to call theories of scholars like Richard Carrier, crank, fringe theories. He makes it all too clear that he doesn’t think its reasonable to treat them as if they have any credibility at all, simply because most scholars don’t believe them. Furthermore, its been demonstrated that he vastly oversells the strength of this alleged consensus that he relies upon so much in his debates.

Now turn the tables to science and intelligent design and he trots out Behe left and right.. Its basically impossible to oversell the strength of consensus in the scientific community for naturalistic evolution.

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lukeprog November 8, 2009 at 10:37 am

Great links, Reginald.

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lukeprog November 8, 2009 at 10:39 am

The problem, as always, is that when Craig engages in sophistry, his opponents do not properly call him on it. They have not trained themselves to call out “drops”, like a proper LDS debater would do. In contrast, Craig always calls out his opponents drops, and responds directly succinctly to each of their arguments, every single time. That is why he almost always wins, even while engaging in such sophistry.

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drj November 8, 2009 at 11:13 am

lukeprog: The problem, as always, is that when Craig engages in sophistry, his opponents do not properly call him on it. They have not trained themselves to call out “drops”, like a proper LDS debater would do. In contrast, Craig always calls out his opponents drops, and responds directly succinctly to each of their arguments, every single time. That is why he almost always wins, even while engaging in such sophistry.  

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This is true. Has anybody on the other side of the aisle made it a point to become a pro debater, to the extent Craig has?

Its a little silly sometimes… when he goes up against a clearly less experienced debater, its a lot like putting a pro baseball player in a little league game – its just kinda dumb.

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Steven Carr November 8, 2009 at 12:38 pm

I take it Craig never produced an example of something that had been demonstrated to be intelligently designed.

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ayer November 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm

drj: Now turn the tables to science and intelligent design and he trots out Behe left and right.. Its basically impossible to oversell the strength of consensus in the scientific community for naturalistic evolution.

I agree that intelligent design is outside the consensus, but notice that Craig chose only to defend the idea that intelligent design is a “viable option” (unlike a 6,000 year-old-earth) just as he would assert the view that the tomb was not empty is a viable option, even though it is not the view of the majority of scholars. Carrier, however, is the equivalent of a fringe figure like Ken Ham (since as I understand it Carrier has defended the view that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, which even liberal scholars dismiss).

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ayer November 8, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Reginald Selkirk: To call ID proponents “theorists” implies that they have a theory.

If Dembski’s two criteria for a design inference do not constitute a “theory” then what is it, since it could be applied quite well to the fields of archeology, the SETI project, forensic science, etc.?

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Scott November 8, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Does WLC actually make intelligent arguments, or is he just a great rhetorician? I’ve tried listening to his debates before, but I can never get past the smug humorlessness behind it.

I honestly don’t understand how people can buy into ID. It makes no sense whatsoever. “We can’t fully explain evolution, therefore it’s wrong.”

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Lee A. P. November 8, 2009 at 1:54 pm

God.

Did.

It.

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Reginald Selkirk November 8, 2009 at 2:15 pm

ayer:
If Dembski’s two criteria for a design inference do not constitute a “theory” then what is it, since it could be applied quite well to the fields of archeology, the SETI project, forensic science, etc.?  

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Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition

In which the NAS offers this definition of a scientific theory:

Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

Nothing Dembski has ever proposed is “well-substantiated.” His Explanatory Filter could be called a method, but it’s not a very good one. It is not in use in archaelogy, SETI or any legitimate field of science.

Practitioners of archaelogy, SETI, etc. uniformly reject comparisons of ID to their fields. Consider archaelogy: in order to determine whether an artifact is “designed” by hominids, for example, an archaelogist would want to know something about the identity and purpose of the designer. In some cases that is available, sometimes not. (there are certainly artifacts whose purpose is unknown.) In those cases, still the archaelogist would know a lot about the technology and methods available to the alleged designer. An example: Archaelogists have been known to do actual experiments to determine the sort of marks a stone knife would put on an animal bone during butchering, in order to differentiate those marks from random scratches produced by trampling.

ID proponents claim not to know, and express an odd lack of interest in the methods used by their putative Intelligent Designer.

Bad Analogies At Evolution News and Views by Christopher O’Brien

Dembksi’s filter at Talk.Origins

The only proposed intelligent design method, Dembski’s filter, is eliminative; it tries to detect design only by eliminating other possibilities. The methods used by scientists are not eliminative. They consider many possibilities and choose the one that best fits the data. If none fit the data, the question is left unresolved.

Why Intelligent Design Fails:
A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism.

Contents

8 The Explanatory Filter, Archaeology, and Forensics (Gary S. Hurd)
I will show why archaeology and forensics cannot be used to legitimize Intelligent Design Theory by examining the application of Dembski’s Explanatory Filter in archaeology and forensics.

Similar links available for SETI, but I think this is enough for one post.

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Bill Maher November 8, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Selkirk is on a rampage today :-)

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ayer November 8, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Reginald Selkirk: In which the NAS offers this definition of a scientific theory:

In the debate, Craig’s argument doesn’t hinge on whether ID is a “scientific” theory (indeed, he concedes that it may not be, as I recall), but whether it has explanatory power. It can be a “theory” as in “[t]heories are analytical tools for understanding, explaining, and making predictions about a given subject matter (from wikipedia).” Craig quoted the moderator of the debate as having written that he cares less about whether ID qualifies as a scientific theory than whether it is true.

Reginald Selkirk: In those cases, still the archaelogist would know a lot about the technology and methods available to the alleged designer.

In archaeology, we know we are dealing with human intelligence, but how does that apply to SETI? We have no idea about the technology or methods available to an alien civilization; indeed, from our perspective they could be quite “godlike” (as I recall from the movie “Contact”, that is how they were portrayed; similarly in “2001: A Space Odyssey”). And I see where Paul Davies (not an intelligent design advocate as far as I am aware) has posited a possible alien message in DNA:
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/08/09/1092022404578.html

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drj November 8, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Lots of scientists will heatedly debate over how scientific SETI actually is..

But in any case, SETI looks for radiowaves that are distinct from the types of waves known to be generated by natural causes, or similar to those created by us. They have referrants – naturally created radio waves, and human designed waves. The big assumption is that other intelligences would craft radio waves that stand out from the environment in similar ways to ours.

ID in biology is nothing like this. It claims to be able to pick out design absent any of that sort of background information that is available to both SETI and most aspects of archeology. Yet, its the background information thats so crucial to design detection in those other fields.

Perhaps one day, in a future where we have created many synthetic lifeforms, we can apply sort of “design detection” in order to determine if a particular unknown life form was designed by humans, or arose naturally. This would be design detection principles in action, similar to SETI or to those used in archeology, but not ID as we know it now.

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Jeff H November 8, 2009 at 4:11 pm

drj: Furthermore, its been demonstrated that he vastly oversells the strength of this alleged consensus that he relies upon so much in his debates.

I know this is somewhat off-topic, but would you happen to have a source for this? I think I’ve heard this before, but something I can bookmark or cut-and-paste to keep it for future reference would be great.

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Steven Carr November 8, 2009 at 11:50 pm

AYER
Carrier, however, is the equivalent of a fringe figure like Ken Ham (since as I understand it Carrier has defended the view that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, which even liberal scholars dismiss).

CARR
But the debate was not about the existence of Jesus of Bethelhem (wasn’t he born there?)

So the relevance is zero, which is why Ayer drags it up.

Even if Ayer was correct, this illustrate the chicanery of Craig, as it is equivalent to dismissing 2 time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling’s views on chemistry because of his crank views on Vitamin C.

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oliver November 9, 2009 at 12:28 am

I, too, have found Craig’s double standards annoying as hell.

His entire case for the “resurrection” rests on his so-called “5 facts” which he claims is supported by the “consensus of New Testament scholars”. Whenever his opponents dare try to introduce alternative theories as to what might have happened, or question the validity of those “5 facts” he sings the “scholarly consensus” song ad nauseum and rubs it in everybody’s face.

When it comes to evolution, however, he seems not to care for the “scholarly consensus” on the matter. Such double standards!

Annoying as hell, this man. He is transparently hypocritical, and yet he is considered Christianity’s most revered intellectual champion.

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Hylomorphic November 9, 2009 at 12:43 am

Eh, I don’t believe Carrier actually has endorsed the notion that Jesus never existed. I’m not entirely certain, but from what I recall of what he’s written, he hasn’t gone further than saying that it’s less implausible than many believe. Which is a far cry from actually espousing the claim.

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ayer November 9, 2009 at 6:06 am

Well, Carrier has said the following:

“Jesus might have existed . . . But until a better historicist theory is advanced, I have to conclude it is at least somewhat more probable that Jesus didn’t exist than that he did.” (Richard Carrier, “Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistory.” http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.shtml)

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Todd White November 9, 2009 at 7:27 am

This is very interesting, and thanks for recommending it, Luke. I will watch the video soon. In the meantime, I’m glad you picked up on something I’ve noticed: In the debates I’ve seen on the issue of the Intelligent Design issue, I.D. opponents rarely address the subject head-on. They use semantic games, evasions, and sometimes blatant misinformation. Even though I support I.D., I can think of a way for an anti-I.D. person to score well in a debate, but the only way to do it is to acknowledge that the I.D. supporters have a point, and since only 5% of the evolutionists can acknowledge that, they always come across as the weaker debater.

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Reginald Selkirk November 9, 2009 at 9:04 am

ayer: In the debate, Craig’s argument doesn’t hinge on whether ID is a “scientific” theory (indeed, he concedes that it may not be, as I recall), but whether it has explanatory power. It can be a “theory” as in “[t]heories are analytical tools for understanding, explaining, and making predictions about a given subject matter (from wikipedia).” Craig quoted the moderator of the debate as having written that he cares less about whether ID qualifies as a scientific theory than whether it is true.

I.e. Craig wants to claim the term “theory” without measuring up to the criteria. Evasion.

ID “explains” everything, therefore it explains nothing. One quick example. Today there are camelids (llamas, alpacas, etc.) extant in South America, and camelids (Dromedary and Bactrian) extant in Asia+Africa, but none in North America (outside zoos and farms). Should we find fossils of ancient camelids in North America?

Young Earth Creationism: Probably not, as Yahweh created the species as they are in their current locations; with some unlikely options about incredible post-flood migrations.

ID Creationism: No prediction. If God decided to put camelid fossils in North America, then it’s OK with us. Praise Jesus.

Modern science, including evolution: Yes. Given what we know about the age the Earth, the tectonic movements of continents, and the history of life: at some time in the past, camelids should have been able to move between North America and Eurasia. They probably crossed into South America fairly recently across the Central American land bridge, and some time after that, camelids went extinct in North America. But the bones of their ancestors may be buried there.

So YEC has predictive power, but is shown to be wrong in many such tests. ID has no predictive power. Evolution has predictive and explanatory power which held up well under experimental verification.

(BTW, the answer is yes. Camelid fossils have been found in North America.)

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Reginald Selkirk November 9, 2009 at 9:24 am

In archaeology, we know we are dealing with human intelligence, but how does that apply to SETI? We have no idea about the technology or methods available to an alien civilization;

OK, I guess I’ll have to jump through another hoop and deal with SETI.

SETI researchers are not sitting around praying over whether aliens exist, they’re running actual experiments which make assumptions about what technology might be available to possible aliens. They concentrate on signals they could detect with current earthly technology over the distances involved. Historically, this was primarily radio waves. Certain frequencies were concentrated on due to assumptions about transmissibility through intergalatic clouds, etc. Nowadays I believe some researchers are looking for light pulses as well.

Consider an actual historical incident: SETI researchers detected a regular pulsing radio signal. Apply Dembski’s filter: These pulses could not be explained by known physical law at the time. They were extremely unlikely to be random. Ergo, intelligent design? Well no. It turned out that the signals could be explained by new physical theories, the researchers had detected a pulsar. This is where the eliminative nature of Dembski’s filter falls down badly.

The same would apply in biology; that ID “researchers” had taken a cursory look at a biological system and were unable to accept a naturalistic explanation does not mean that “God did it” then wins by default. consider the VDJ recombination process of generating immunoglobulins which Michael Behe claimed to be irreducibly complex, and therefore intelligently designed. Behe dismissed the possibility that VDJ was evolutionarily descended from the known genetic entitites call transposons, or transposing elements as “hops into the box of Calvin and Hobbes.” Well, guess what?

Also, in biology, ID proponents have put zero effort into explaining just how their mysterious “Intelligent Designer” would have implemented his designs. They expect to win by default by casting doubt on opposing explanations. The closest they have ever come is a comment about “a puff of smoke” by Behe, which may or may not have been in jest.

Back to SETI: just like archaeologists, SETI researchers deny that ID is comparable to their field:

SETI and Intelligent Design
By Seth Shostak

Can Intelligent Design be considered scientific in the same way that SETI is?
by Robert Camp

Intelligent Design and the SETI Analogy
by Robert T. Pennock (Pennock is a philosopher of science, not a SETI researcher)

Some other differences: SETI researchers are running actual experiments, looking for actual data; they are not lobbying school boards to teach their hoped-for findings as real science before they have actually accomplished anything.

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Reginald Selkirk November 9, 2009 at 9:25 am

ayer: (as I recall from the movie “Contact”, that is how they were portrayed; similarly in “2001: A Space Odyssey”)

Hint: those were both works of fiction.

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Reginald Selkirk November 9, 2009 at 9:29 am

Steven Carr: 2 time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling’s

Correction: once for chemistry (1954), one for peace (1962)

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Tony Hoffman November 9, 2009 at 9:55 am

ID proponent David Heddle (a physicist) is on record saying that a hypothesis that cannot be tested is unscientific. There is no hypothesis for ID, let alone one that can be tested, and certainly not in biology.

I don’t care how effective WLC is as a debater, nor how bad Ayala is. I believe the debate is DOA because philosophical conclusions have nothing to say about a biological theory’s viability; the theory is viable if it can be tested, and it is falsified if it fails as predicted. Allowing the debate to be held as framed is the real mistake, because it further confuses the public about science and biology.

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Todd White November 9, 2009 at 9:57 am

I.D. is just as scientific as Darwinism.

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Tony Hoffman November 9, 2009 at 10:09 am

I.D. is just as scientific as Darwinism.

I think this would depend on how you define science. Do you have a definition that you can provide?

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Todd White November 9, 2009 at 12:04 pm

I’ll take a stab at a definition: “Increasing our knowledge and understanding of the Universe by using the Scientific Method to collect evidence, and then drawing objective conclusions from that evidence.”

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Tony Hoffman November 9, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Okay, thanks for your offering your own definition of science. So, for the sake of argument let’s see what happens if by using your definition to compare Darwinism (by which I take you to mean a shorthand for the Theory of Evolution or TOE) and ID.

“[B]y using the scientific method…” would entail, as I understand it, making predictions and offering a hypothesis, among other things.

The TOE does make predictions (we should look for transitional fossils in these rock formations, for instance), explains much through common descent (why dolphins and whales don’t swim like fish, e.g.), and offers its explanatory hypotheses for all these things, namely (but not exclusively) random mutation and natural selection.

But I’m probably getting ahead of myself. First, I should ask if you think the TOE and ID are equally scientific because TOE does not do as I stated above, or if you agree with my statements about the TOE how it is that you think ID conforms equally to the scientific method.

If the first, could you please provide where you think the TOE is insufficiently scientific (according to your definition), and if the second, what the hypothesis of ID is?

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Naug November 9, 2009 at 5:37 pm

I wonder what the price would be to have Craig argue FOR atheism in one debate to the full extent of his abilities. Would undoubtedly be fun to see.

Maybe we should raise some cash? .)

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majinrevan666 November 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Naug: I wonder what the price would be to have Craig argue FOR atheism in one debate to the full extent of his abilities. Would undoubtedly be fun to see.Maybe we should raise some cash? .)  

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This would be especially interesting if he debated someone
who used his own arguments verbatim.

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Silver November 9, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Luke, good on you for being willing to admit that WLC tends to make mince of the opposition. Atheists out of frustration resort to calling it “sophistry,” but one can’t fail to notice the urgency and desperation with which atheists trot around the globe insisting that belief in “God” is completely untenable and utterly outrageous. The upshot of responses to atheistic agitation like WLC’s, whether we call them “sophistry” or not, is that theism is abundantly plausible, and that if we accept that it is, it’s also quite understandable that Christians would prefer their own spiritual traditions over those of Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindoos etc.

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ayer November 9, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Reginald Selkirk: “Consider an actual historical incident: SETI researchers detected a regular pulsing radio signal. Apply Dembski’s filter: These pulses could not be explained by known physical law at the time. They were extremely unlikely to be random. Ergo, intelligent design?”

Wouldn’t Dembski’s second criterion would require that the pulses conform to an independently existing pattern, e.g., that the pulses were counting out the prime numbers, or were in Morse code? It would seem your example would flunk the ID filter in any event.

Reginald Selkirk: “SETI researchers are running actual experiments, looking for actual data; they are not lobbying school boards to teach their hoped-for findings as real science before they have actually accomplished anything.”

I’m not sure why that’s relevant to the truth or falsity of ID; it would just indicate that ID researchers are ineffective and wasting their efforts.

Reginald Selkirk: “Hint: those were both works of fiction.”

Yes, but wasn’t Contact based on a book by Sagan that was meant to follow accurately the efforts of SETI? And the 2001 example involves the finding of an alien artifact–if such an artifact was found, what method would be used to determine whether it was a natural phenomenon or intelligently designed?

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Hermes November 9, 2009 at 8:21 pm

I would not challenge Craig or Ravi Zacharias to a live debate. Both are pros and are well composed. A written one, though, that’s a possibility.

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Rhys November 10, 2009 at 5:40 am

I take it Dr Craig has not read “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution”. Dawkins may be a little specious when it comes to theology, but this is his area of SPECIALTY, he needs to step up and lay the ultimate smack-down on Dr Craig, completely pwn this fucker and show him why ID is a sentimental parody of the scientific method, and nothing more then Biblical Creationism with a fake mustache and a big pinata suit.

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Reginald Selkirk November 10, 2009 at 6:14 am

ayer: Wouldn’t Dembski’s second criterion would require that the pulses conform to an independently existing pattern, e.g., that the pulses were counting out the prime numbers, or were in Morse code? It would seem your example would flunk the ID filter in any event.

I believe that would hinge on the definition of “complex specified information,” which is not well-defined because it is a BS term used to cover circular reasoning.

Dembski admits that his Explanatory Filter is useless

I’ve pretty much dispensed with the EF. It suggests that chance, necessity, and design are mutually exclusive. They are not. Straight CSI is clearer as a criterion for design detection. – William Dembski

I’m not sure why that’s relevant to the truth or falsity of ID; it would just indicate that ID researchers are ineffective and wasting their efforts.

Way to change the subject. It is directly relevant to whether a comparison of ID to SETI is meaningful.

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Reginald Selkirk November 10, 2009 at 6:18 am

ayer: forensic science,

Just to bury this a little deeper, is ID comparable to forensic science, and would Dembksi’s Explanatory Filter be useful in forensic science?

The comparison does not appear to be a good one from the start. ID proponents claim they don’t have to concern themselves with who the designer is, or what his methodology may be, that they can discern design without that. Forensic science of criminal activity on the other hand, is deeply concerned with whodunnit and howtheydunnit.

And is an eliminative filter a good fit for criminal investigation? Do forensic investigators designate a default suspect, and if they can’t establish that someone else is guilty, that person takes the rap? I admit this may happen in the real world, but it is certainly not how forensic science should work, it would be unprofessional and illegal.

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Reginald Selkirk November 10, 2009 at 6:48 am

How Not to Detect Design

A review of William A. Dembski’s The Design Inference — Eliminating Chance Through Small
Probabilities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1998. xvii + 243 pg. ISBN 0-521-62387-1.
Branden Fitelson, Christopher Stephens, Elliott Sober

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 7:00 am

Tony: “The TOE does make predictions (we should look for transitional fossils in these rock formations, for instance), explains much through common descent (why dolphins and whales don’t swim like fish, e.g.), and offers its explanatory hypotheses for all these.”

TW: The fossil record has consistently failed to comply with the prediction of Darwin and modern-day TOE advocates. That’s why Stephen Jay Gould said, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.”

Tony: “I should ask if you think the TOE and ID are equally scientific because TOE does not do as I stated above, or if you agree with my statements about the TOE how it is that you think ID conforms equally to the scientific method.

TW: I guess both. TOE often fails to conform to the “scientific expectations” it holds for ID. But, in my opinion, TOE IS still scientific in important ways, and ways that can be duplicated by ID.

Tony: “If the first, could you please provide where you think the TOE is insufficiently scientific (according to your definition), and if the second, what the hypothesis of ID is?”

TW: I think TOE IS scientific, just flawed, and worthy of skepticism. If you’re looking for ID’s hypothesis on the Fossil Record, I guess that would depend on how who ask. I would say it would be something like this: We can (and should) continue to look for fossils in order to increase our understanding of Earth’s history, but since the real mystery is Life itself, a more worthy project is figuring out how Life works among the species living today. That would mean focusing on DNA, which Bill Gates described as “being like a software program, except much more complex than any program ever devised.” The ID folks are very interested in DNA. Indeed, they were the ones pushing for research into “junk DNA” when the TOE consensus was that “junk DNA was…well junk.” Now we know that junk DNA is nothing of the sort.

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Gungfu November 10, 2009 at 7:56 am

I can’t believe this debate even took place. Even though Craig’s used the fine-tuning argument for years, I always assumed he accepted evolution. Even goes so far as to posit it as ‘proof for god’, most notebly in the debate with Hitchens. This, to me, totally discredits Craig. I used to respect his debate skill, but this just puts him in the Kent Hovind category.

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Tony Hoffman November 10, 2009 at 8:06 am

Todd White,

TW: The fossil record has consistently failed to comply with the prediction of Darwin and modern-day TOE advocates.

This is clearly false. Evolution predicts a hierarchy of lineages separated by time as revealed in the rock strata. This has yet to be falsified (the rabbit in the pre-Cambrian).

See here:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-transitional/part1a.html#pred

That’s why Stephen Jay Gould said, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.”

Punctuated equilibrium explains this.

TOE often fails to conform to the “scientific expectations” it holds for ID.

This is too vague too respond to. Can you provide an example?

But, in my opinion, TOE IS still scientific in important ways, and ways that can be duplicated by ID.

This sentence is hard to understand as well. Are there unimportant ways that the TOE is scientific? And can you please provide an example of what important ways ID can duplicate the TOE scientific ways?

I think TOE IS scientific, just flawed, and worthy of skepticism.

All science is worthy of skepticism. That is a hallmark of science.

If you’re looking for ID’s hypothesis on the Fossil Record,…

I am looking for ID’s hypothesis on anything. This, for instance, is not a hypothesis:

We can (and should) continue to look for fossils in order to increase our understanding of Earth’s history, but since the real mystery is Life itself, a more worthy project is figuring out how Life works among the species living today.

To quote ID proponent David Heddle again, a hypothesis which cannot be tested is inherently unscientific.

That would mean focusing on DNA, which Bill Gates described as “being like a software program, except much more complex than any program ever devised.” The ID folks are very interested in DNA. Indeed, they were the ones pushing for research into “junk DNA” when the TOE consensus was that “junk DNA was…well junk.” Now we know that junk DNA is nothing of the sort.

That ID folks were the ones pushing for investigation into junk DNA is clearly false, as ID folks have conducted no scientific research. (If you disagree, please cite the hypothesis of ID, and the scientific study conducted that tests (seeks to disprove) this theory.)

In fact, evolutionary biologists have conducted the only research on DNA (and discovered it because of Darwin’s theory, and incidences of atavism that result from junk DNA are another example of evidence for common descent), although I am not surprised that ID folks have claimed conclusions for junk DNA because that is what it appears that they do – make conclusions from evidence gathered by real scientists, but refuse to test those conclusions in the crucible of science.

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drj November 10, 2009 at 8:51 am

TW: I think TOE IS scientific, just flawed, and worthy of skepticism. If you’re looking for ID’s hypothesis on the Fossil Record, I guess that would depend on how who ask. I would say it would be something like this: We can (and should) continue to look for fossils in order to increase our understanding of Earth’s history, but since the real mystery is Life itself, a more worthy project is figuring out how Life works among the species living today. That would mean focusing on DNA, which Bill Gates described as “being like a software program, except much more complex than any program ever devised.” The ID folks are very interested in DNA. Indeed, they were the ones pushing for research into “junk DNA” when the TOE consensus was that “junk DNA was…well junk.” Now we know that junk DNA is nothing of the sort.

Well, while those ID’ists are busy being “interested” in DNA (while maintaining a healthy distance) people in the feilds of genomics, bioinformatics, microbiology, evo-devo etc are happily getting their hands dirty with it – all without ID. Heck, bioinformatics should be an ID’ists wet dream since its a cross disciplinary systhesis of molecular biology/genomics, computer science and information science – yet, they arent there – the actual work is being done by evolution accepting scientists in these fields. They arent all just looking at dinosaur fossils.

PS – Junk was simply the nickname given to large sequences of non-coding DNA for which no function was yet known. The moniker was not meant to imply that there is a scientific consensus that the DNA was useless. Since the discovery of non-coding DNA there have been diverse sets of hypotheses proposed and investigated regarding any function it may have.

Junk DNA “controversy” is one of the most blatantly fallacious Cdesignist straw-men.

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ayer November 10, 2009 at 9:47 am

Reginald Selkirk: I believe that would hinge on the definition of “complex specified information,” which is not well-defined because it is a BS term used to cover circular reasoning.

Call it what you wish, but a criterion of that nature would have to be used by SETI to dismiss the pulsar example as an intelligent message; it would also be necessary in the evaluation of an alien artifact.

It seems to me the better objection to ID is not the criteria it uses, but that the biological evidence we have (DNA, etc.) does not meet those criteria. As I said, I am undecided on the matter, since I view the Collins-Ken Miller position as just as consistent with theism as ID. But I was shocked at Ayala’s failure to address the issues head-on.

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Tony Hoffman November 10, 2009 at 9:56 am

But I was shocked at Ayala’s failure to address the issues head-on.

I think that’s big part of the secret of the success that ID has shown in continuing the illusion of a controversy. I don’t think there’s enough there (from the ID side) to merit a head-on attack. It’s kind of like the asymmetric warfare problem; without a standing opponent (so to speak), there’s nothing to attack.

I am curious — what do you think Ayala should have said to address the issues head on?

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ayer November 10, 2009 at 10:41 am

Tony Hoffman: I am curious — what do you think Ayala should have said to address the issues head on?

As Craig kept asking Ayala to do, either (1) demonstrate how the ID criteria are flawed or (2) demonstrate how, even if they are valid, the biological evidence does not satisfy the ID criteria.

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Tony Hoffman November 10, 2009 at 12:15 pm

So Ayala should…

…demonstrate how the ID criteria are flawed…

I admit that I wouldn’t know exactly what to say there either because that assumes that Craig offered any ID criteria at all. Behe, who is mentioned several times, offers only criticism of the TOE, no proposal of what ID’s criteria are, so I think this is completely irrelevant to the point of the debate. In other words, even if Ayala were to respond specifically to Behe’s (already discredited) criticism, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the purported point, that ID has any viability as a scientific theory.

In other words, the “argument” that Craig puts forth fails to address the point at least as badly as Ayala supposedly neglects to engage the arguments put forth by ID proponent. Ayala failed to address this gaping hole in Craig’s argument, which I agree was a mistake, but I think Craig embarrassed himself here in much the same way by sticking to an old script despite a more promising title.

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Tony: I’ll respond to a few of your questions.

Tony: “Evolution predicts a hierarchy of lineages separated by time as revealed in the rock strata. This has yet to be falsified (the rabbit in the pre-Cambrian).”

TW: What “hierarchy” can there be when we observe the Cambrian Explosion – the transition from simple organisms composed of a few cells to a rapid explosion of fully-formed complex animals over a 5-20 million period of time (or it could have happened immediately; we just don’t know).

Tony: “Punctuated equilibrium explains this.’

TW: I’m not sure how Punctuated Equilibrium explains anything. First of all, there is a great deal of debate over whether or not Punctuated Equlibrium actually happened (Dawkins, for instance, thinks it did NOT happen), and even if it DID happen, no one (not even Gould) has proposed HOW it happened.

Tony: “This is too vague too respond to. Can you provide an example?

TW: TOE claims that the ability to be falsified is a prerequisite for a scientific theory (and thus, they throw out ID for being unfalsifiable) but both ID and TOE occupy the same ground in the falsifiable/unfalsifiable spectrum. Depending on how people interpret TOE or ID, there is the danger of making it unfalsifiable (and indeed, TOE advocates do that all the time). See how the Evo Psyche people explain every human emotion – from altruism to selfishness, from intelligence to consciousness itself – as an “evolutionary adaptation.”

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Reginald Selkirk November 10, 2009 at 12:27 pm

ayer:
Call it what you wish, but a criterion of that nature would have to be used by SETI to dismiss the pulsar example as an intelligent message; it would also be necessary in the evaluation of an alien artifact.

Go ahead, keep fighting for an idea Dembksi himself has given up on. Some people will applaud you for your persistence. I won’t be among them.

As I said, I am undecided on the matter, since I view the Collins-Ken Miller position as just as consistent with theism as ID.

So your acceptance of any science is predicated on its compatibility with theism?

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 12:31 pm

DRJ: “While those ID’ists are busy being ‘interested’ in DNA (while maintaining a healthy distance) people in the feilds of genomics, bioinformatics, microbiology, evo-devo etc are happily getting their hands dirty with it – all without ID.”

TW: And how pray tell- did TOE help them in their work? And keep in mind, I’m talking about the theory itself, not the principle “change over time;” every ID proponent acknowledges that organisms “change over time.” The question is “How?” And here it would be interesting to know how TOE helped them.

DRJ: “Junk was simply the nickname given to large sequences of non-coding DNA for which no function was yet known.”

TW: It was unknown and ignored for a long time because the TOE consenus was that DNA SHOULD have a lot of junk, just like the human body SHOULD have vestigial organs (another TOE prediction that’s been falsified).

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Tony: “evolutionary biologists have conducted the only research on DNA (and discovered it because of Darwin’s theory, and incidences of atavism that result from junk DNA are another example of evidence for common descent).”

TW: Darwin’s theory led to the discovery of DNA? What TOE principles did Crick and Watson use in their discovery? I’d be very curious to know. Also, see my earlier post to DRJ above.

Plus, keep in mind that Common descent is an issue that’s controversial in the ID community; some proponents, like Behe, support it. Also, it should be noted that while Darwin advocated Common Descent, the idea itself predates Darwin.

I personally don’t think Common Descent has been proven, but I think it’s the most substantiated (actually, the only substantiated) piece of the TOE paradigm.

Everything else – how life began, how consciousness developed, how species were formed – is still in the theory stage; actually, maybe “theory” is too nice. It’s really more of a “hope.”

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Tony: “a hypothesis which cannot be tested is inherently unscientific.”

TW: The junk DNA hypothesis was tested and verified

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Tony: “ID folks have conducted no scientific research”

TW: The Biologic Institute and Evolutionary Informatics are 2 prominent ID research labs.

http://www.biologicinstitute.org/

http://www.evoinfo.org/

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Tony: “I am not surprised that ID folks have claimed conclusions for junk DNA because that is what it appears that they do – make conclusions from evidence gathered by real scientists, but refuse to test those conclusions in the crucible of science.”

TW: Just out of curiosity, would you allow pro-ID scientists to publish in peer-review publications and conduct research at publicly-owned university facilities? As you know, pro-ID scientists are essentially prohibited from doing both of those things right now, which kind of cramps our style, wouldn’t ya say?

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lukeprog November 10, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Gungfu,

Craig isn’t sure about intelligent design. He does not defend its truth in this debate, only its viability. He is mostly concerned that the common objections made to ID are not valid. And I agree with that, in most cases.

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ayer November 10, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Reginald Selkirk: Go ahead, keep fighting for an idea Dembksi himself has given up on. Some people will applaud you for your persistence. I won’t be among them.

Are you saying Dembski has abandoned ID? Because I don’t get that impression from his website.

Reginald Selkirk: So your acceptance of any science is predicated on its compatibility with theism?

No, just that either theory is compatible with Christian theism. If science established, for example, that the universe was eternal and thus that creatio ex nihilo was false, that would affect my theology. But the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem has confirmed that the universe is not past-eternal, so I haven’t run into that issue.

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Tony Hoffman November 10, 2009 at 4:17 pm

What “hierarchy” can there be when we observe the Cambrian Explosion – the transition from simple organisms composed of a few cells to a rapid explosion of fully-formed complex animals over a 5-20 million period of time (or it could have happened immediately; we just don’t know).

The hierarchy that is there. That there is an explosion of life in the Cambrian does not mean that it happened all at once, only that it happened relatively quickly. Are you saying that there is no hierarchy?

TOE claims that the ability to be falsified is a prerequisite for a scientific theory

This language is nowhere in the TOE. I think you are confusing the TOE with some definitions of science.

…but both ID and TOE occupy the same ground in the falsifiable/unfalsifiable spectrum.

This is patently false. It’s patently false because you have no one has been able to provide a hypothesis for ID. Without a hypothesis, there is nothing to falsify. So, on one hand you have the TOE, which presents a theory (that can be falsified), and on the other hand you have ID, which is…. I don’t know what. I can say that with confidence, because nobody else seems to be able to tell me what ID is either.

Depending on how people interpret TOE or ID, there is the danger of making it unfalsifiable (and indeed, TOE advocates do that all the time). See how the Evo Psyche people explain every human emotion – from altruism to selfishness, from intelligence to consciousness itself – as an “evolutionary adaptation.”

Yes, I hear this canard all the time. (I do, however, completely agree that there are some terrible “scientific” studies in the Evolutionary Psychology field.) What no one who repeats this false charge seems to understand is that because the field of Evolutionary Psychology contains the word “Evolutionary” that does not mean it is the theory of evolution; the field seeks to explain psychological behavior based on the premise that the TOE is true. In other words, aying that Evolutionary Psychology (a soft science) risks making the TOE (a hard science) unfalsifiable is akin to saying that Physicists’ inability to explain the flight of bumblebees falsifies Math.

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Tony Hoffman November 10, 2009 at 5:00 pm

TW: Darwin’s theory led to the discovery of DNA? What TOE principles did Crick and Watson use in their discovery? I’d be very curious to know.

Ah, I see that you fail to understand the significance of DNA. You see, looking for way that creatures pass on information that enables “like to breed like” would not be as remarkable as it is, and would have probably happened without a Theory of Evolution. But the kicker about DNA isn’t that it works, but that the same 4 amino acids are what make every living thing – the same stuff that makes a plant or a fungus makes us. The TOE accepts common descent, and that helped isolate the fact that all living organism rely on the same stuff. You see, without that insight, time could have been wasted looking for “human breeding information systems” and different “bacterium breeding information systems,” because design inferences limited previous theories like miniaturized versions of the thing that was breeding being passed on. The TOE, and the common descent it assumes, allowed researchers like Watson and Crick to imagine a space where they were not confined by this kind of thinking.

Plus, keep in mind that Common descent is an issue that’s controversial in the ID community; some proponents, like Behe, support it.

The fact that common descent is considered controversial in the ID community, and that Behe may be the only major ID proponent who accepts it, is a principal reason why I bother to protest the ignorance that ID seems to engender.

Also, it should be noted that while Darwin advocated Common Descent, the idea itself predates Darwin.

And this is the kind of problem that pops up from your silly use of the term Darwinism. Nobody who accepts the TOE cares a fig about how much of it survives intact from Darwin’s initial conception. Not a jot. (For that matter, the concept of natural selection predated Darwin as well. Darwin says as much in his introduction to the Origin of Species. The fact that you persist in this kind of thinking strongly implies that you have never read the Origin of Species, nor care much about the history of science.)

Everything else – how life began, how consciousness developed, how species were formed – is still in the theory stage; actually, maybe “theory” is too nice. It’s really more of a “hope.”

I’ll remind you that the TOE is not the field of abiogenesis. And I wouldn’t be too smug about not knowing how consciousness developed, as I’ll wager that you have no way of defining what consciousness even is. (Philosophers and scientists have a similar problem, so I wouldn’t feel too bad.)

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Tony Hoffman November 10, 2009 at 5:11 pm

TW: The Biologic Institute and Evolutionary Informatics are 2 prominent ID research labs.
http://www.biologicinstitute.org/
http://www.evoinfo.org/

This is a standard and transparent ploy. Instead of addressing the question directly (“What is the hypothesis of ID?”), wave your hands at some scientific sounding something and hope that it will mean that somehow there is real science happening.

How can you pass off these “prominent ID research labs” as evidence for without being able to provide me with a hypothesis for ID? Do you have any idea a) what the hypothess is that they’re testing, and b) a single result or new piece of data they’ve brought to light? If not, why would you offer them as evidence for scientific research (into ID)?

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Tony Hoffman November 10, 2009 at 5:17 pm

TW: Just out of curiosity, would you allow pro-ID scientists to publish in peer-review publications and conduct research at publicly-owned university facilities?

If they offered a hypothesis and tested it absolutely I would. Why would you guess I would not?

As you know, pro-ID scientists are essentially prohibited from doing both of those things right now, which kind of cramps our style, wouldn’t ya say?

As you should know, this is a lie. ID proponents have tried to skip doing science (the part where they actually test a hypothesis) to publish their pet ideologies and have been caught doing so red-handed. So far, none of them has been caught doing science.

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Rhys November 10, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Open questions to everyone:

(1) Does ID make any testable predictions at all? Seriously does it even make ONE?

(2) If you are an ID proponent, how do you justify the resultant double standard in regards to your vehement assertion that the scientific community is guilty of intellectual discrimination and complete disregard of the academic process, yet you want to cut right past peer review and put ID straight into the classrooms? Evolution was forced to endure a decades long battle of run-the-gauntlet from snarling academics eager to disprove it before it was finally granted provision into school curriculum. What gives ID unique shielding from the obligatory litmus test all other potential theories must endure?

(3) Explain why Bill Craig, an obviously articulate, intelligent human being, can get his facts so damn wrong about the Evolution-Intelligent Design Bickering Farce (don’t flatter yourself by calling it a controversy), and be so stunningly and embarrassingly ignorant and biased about it. He has had 30 years of his life to brush up on the facts about basic evolutionary biology and he still fucks them up demonstrably, its embarrassing.

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Tony Hoffman November 10, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Luke,

I am curious about this:

[Craig] is mostly concerned that the common objections made to ID are not valid. And I agree with that, in most cases.

What do you think are the most common objections made to ID? Because I think they are 1) ID does not present a hypothesis, and b) ID only presents a God of the Gaps argument.

I think both of these are the most common, and I think they are both valid. Did you have other objections in mind, or do you think these are valid?

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lukeprog November 10, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I am also interested in answers to Rhys’ questions (1) and (2).

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lukeprog November 10, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Tony,

I will write a lot more about ID in the future, and I will address your questions then.

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lukeprog November 10, 2009 at 6:42 pm

The Discovery Institute is specifically HIDING its “research” from peer review, and they admit it. Proudly.

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2006/10/the_state_of_scientific_resear.html

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ayer November 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Rhys: (1) Does ID make any testable predictions at all? Seriously does it even make ONE?

This example is given at Dembski’s blog:

“As just one example of a successful ID-based prediction:

Non-functionality of “junk DNA” was predicted by Susumu Ohno (1972), Richard Dawkins (1976), Crick and Orgel (1980), Pagel and Johnstone (1992), and Ken Miller (1994), based on evolutionary presuppositions.

By contrast, predictions of functionality of “junk DNA” were made based on teleological bases by Michael Denton (1986, 1998), Michael Behe (1996), John West (1998), William Dembski (1998), Richard Hirsch (2000), and Jonathan Wells (2004).

These Intelligent Design predictions are being confirmed. e.g., ENCODE’s June 2007 results show substantial functionality across the genome in such “junk” DNA regions, including pseudogenes.”

Rhys: (2) If you are an ID proponent, how do you justify the resultant double standard in regards to your vehement assertion that the scientific community is guilty of intellectual discrimination and complete disregard of the academic process, yet you want to cut right past peer review and put ID straight into the classrooms?

If ID proponets wish to do that, it is a serious mistake; but I would expect that the motivation is from parents who are suspicious that all evolutionary biologists are Dawkins acolytes who might try to smuggle atheism into the curriculum.

Rhys: (3) Explain why Bill Craig, an obviously articulate, intelligent human being, can get his facts so damn wrong about the Evolution-Intelligent Design Bickering Farce (don’t flatter yourself by calling it a controversy), and be so stunningly and embarrassingly ignorant and biased about it. He has had 30 years of his life to brush up on the facts about basic evolutionary biology and he still fucks them up demonstrably, its embarrassing.

If he was getting it so wrong in the debate, why didn’t Ayala call him out on it? As Luke said in his post, it was an embarrassing defeat for Ayala.

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Luke,

That Discovery Institute link actually provides a pretty compelling defense of their new policy, which was conducted in response to things like the Richard Sternberg/Smithsonian incident (which we covered) and the shutting down of Bill Dembski’s think tank at Baylor U after a lot of howling by pro-TOE colleagues…

http://www.sbcbaptistpress.org/BPnews.asp?ID=27762

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Rhys: “If you are an ID proponent, how do you justify the resultant double standard in regards to your vehement assertion that the scientific community is guilty of intellectual discrimination and complete disregard of the academic process, yet you want to cut right past peer review and put ID straight into the classrooms?”

TW: For the record, the Discovery Institute’s policy is NOT to advocate teaching ID in the classroom (in fact, they opposed the Dover School Board for precisely that reason). I’m essentially on board with Discovery’s policy, especially if – from a legal perspective – it makes it more likely that school teachers will simply have the academic freedom to show the flaws with TOE (without necessarily going into the details of ID). That strikes me as a common sense compromise.

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drj November 10, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Might want check your facts at some place other than evolutionnews there Ayer.

Evolutionary biologists have been predicting that some non-coding DNA has function, since non-coding portions of the genome were discovered (long before ID). And based on these predictions, research has been conducted and the predictions are being validated.

However, despite finding function for some portions of non-coding DNA, its pretty well established that a good portion of the non-coding DNA in many organisms, including humans, is in fact, non-functional. What’s ID say about that?

The junk DNA “prediction” of ID was really more like an ad-hoc post-diction to capitalize on public misconception over the term “junk DNA”. It was based on a pretty laughable premise – that an intentional designer wouldn’t have put all that stuff there for no reason – yet nature is absolutely filled with functionless (or nearly functionless) waste all over, in and out of the genome. What we see from ID here is not a well-defined and good faith scientific prediction… we see a cunning example of devious marketing.

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Tony: “ID proponents have tried to skip doing science (the part where they actually test a hypothesis) to publish their pet ideologies and have been caught doing so red-handed. So far, none of them has been caught doing science.”

TW: I really do have to challenge you on this assertion, and since I’ve already given you the links to 2 research labs, I don’t think it’s unfair of me to suggest that the burden of proof rests on you to demonstrate otherwise.

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Tony: “Do you have any idea a) what the hypothess is that they’re testing, and b) a single result or new piece of data they’ve brought to light? If not, why would you offer them as evidence for scientific research (into ID)?”

TW: this webpage explains the biologic institute’s “core ideas” and lists its publications…

http://biologicinstitute.org/research/

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ayer November 10, 2009 at 7:58 pm

drj: What’s ID say about that?

I have no idea, I’ve only just started to look into it; as I said, I’ve found Collins and Miller’s theistic evolution perspective persuasive. But in fact, Miller is one of the few who seem to have done the homework on ID in order to take it on; others like Ayala and Dawkins just brush it off in lazy arrogance.

I really don’t understand the almost jihadist mentality of the “evolution community” in attacking ID. I mean, let it rise or fall on its own merits without all the emotionalism.

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drj November 10, 2009 at 8:07 pm

ayer: I really don’t understand the almost jihadist mentality of the “evolution community” in attacking ID. I mean, let it rise or fall on its own merits without all the emotionalism.

The emotionalism comes from the fact that its “merits” arent what seem to determine its success. Social pressure, politics, and stigma arent the tools most scientists want to have to use to thwart unreasonable opposition to scientific facts and established theories – but in the case of evolution, many feel they have too.

Just ruminate on the history of TTOE for a minute and the unique forms of opposition that it faces when compared with other scientific theories, and it shouldn’t be hard to see why the climate is the way it is and where the emotionalism comes from.

Heck, in some alternate universe, where people are indifferent to evolution the way most are indifferent to other scientific theories, like relativity, then none of us probably would have even heard of Richard Dawkins, “the atheist” – only perhaps Richard Dawkins, the biologist.

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Ayer: “I really don’t understand the almost jihadist mentality of the ‘evolution community’ in attacking ID. I mean, let it rise or fall on its own merits without all the emotionalism.”

TW: Ah, now you’re getting to the nub of the matter, my friend. Once you understand the source of that “emotionalism,” everything falls into place.

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Kendalf November 10, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Rhys, where did you get the notion that ID proponents “want to cut right past peer review and put ID straight into the classrooms?”

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drj November 10, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Kendalf: Rhys, where did you get the notion that ID proponents “want to cut right past peer review and put ID straight into the classrooms?”

Probably because for at least a decade (or more) the major names in ID spent their energy doing nothing ID related except advocacy by lobbying school boards and legislatures around the country.

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Todd White November 10, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Tony: “That there is an explosion of life in the Cambrian does not mean that it happened all at once, only that it happened relatively quickly. Are you saying that there is no hierarchy?”

TW: I’m saying that the Cambrian Explosion is counter to what we would expect under TOE. TOE would predict a gradual, progressive development in body forms over literally hundreds of millions of years. Instead, the Cambrian Era shows an explosion of body forms in a blink of an eye (historically speaking) and then a general stasis running up until the recent past.

Tony: “This language is nowhere in the TOE. I think you are confusing the TOE with some definitions of science.”

TW: Yes, I should have said “TOE advocates.”

Tony: “No one has been able to provide a hypothesis for ID. Without a hypothesis, there is nothing to falsify.”

TW: I’ll paraphrase a hypothesis: “Living things show the handiwork of design, as we see, for instance in the functionality of body parts. Thus, in the case of DNA, we expect to find things like ‘junk DNA’ to have functions useful to the organism.”

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drj November 10, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Cambrian was a little more than a blink of the eye – more like ~50 million years.

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Kendalf November 10, 2009 at 9:11 pm

drj:
Probably because for at least a decade (or more) the major names in ID spent their energy doing nothing ID related except advocacy by lobbying school boards and legislatures around the country.  

Now I’m curious how you arrived at that notion?

Perhaps I should specify. Which decade? Which major names in ID? What school boards and legislatures?

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Rhys November 10, 2009 at 9:33 pm

“Rhys, where did you get the notion that ID proponents “want to cut right past peer review and put ID straight into the classrooms?””

Hi Kendalf, it is a culmination of many things I’ve seen and watched. Penn and Teller did an episode of their show about the Dover incident, and there was an interesting debate a while back between Behe and Lawrence Krauss, where Behe was arguing strongly that ID must be taught in school and Lawrence Krauss was basically saying:

“If you want to teach ID as science, you have to go through all the same processes that normal science does! You cannot be granted a special exemption, it would be extremely unfair to everyone else who has had to endure decades of peer review and intellectual scrutiny to get their theories through.” Which I think hits the nail right on the head.

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Kendalf November 10, 2009 at 10:17 pm

Thanks for the response, Rhys. Is this the debate btw Krauss and Behe that you were referring to? The pertinent question for Behe occurs around the 5:00 mark.

In this video it didn’t really come across to me that Behe was arguing strongly that ID must be taught in school. In his words, “I’m not trying to push anything. All I’m doing is trying to advance an idea…” If you listen to the rest of Behe’s response, what he thinks would be worth doing in the classroom is critical discussion of evolution theory rather than the teaching of intelligent design per se.

It seems a bit of an exaggeration to say that Behe would like to mandate the teaching of ID in high schools.

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Rhys November 10, 2009 at 10:20 pm

One other thing Ill ad to my above comment, it sometimes takes quite alot of effort to cause paradigm shifts in science. Intelligent Design is not being singled out at the expense of all else, it is merely being subject to the same level of criticism and challenge that anything else would be. A recurring theme in the history of science is the discoverer of a new phenomenon, or the founder of a modern theory being usually regarded with scorn and ridicule at first. The scientists that have confidence in their ideas will persist until their peers soften their stance and the new theory slowly gains acceptance. Carl Scheele, Reginald Sprigg and Gideon Mantel are 3 examples how the politics of science have sometimes been stifling to the growth of knowledge. Despite being dealt a bad hand, these scientists always persisted to publish their ideas, and now after their death they are finally recognized for their contributions.

Intelligent design proponents do not do this!

Instead they take the namby-pamby chicken-livered route and cry foul to the rest of the world and claim they are being Expelled! and not being taken seriously. If in all sincere and meaningful honesty they actually thought they had some new practical ideas that would advance our understanding and increase our knowledge of the world, they would be taking an entirely different approach to what they are doing now.

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Rhys November 10, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Hi Kendalf, yep that is the one I was talking about. I think your right and he did not make it explicit that he wanted ID taught as an alternative theory like I thought he did, however it is interesting to note that the Intelligent Design movement’s policy has significantly changed over the years, it has faded somewhat and grown milder. They plan to begin with the Teach the Controversy campaign, which at the outset seems fairly innocuous, however they do not plan on stopping there.

They have made it very clear that their ultimate goal is to:
“Reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” (Wikipedia)

It is downright creepy and deranged that they wonder why they are not being taken seriously as honest scientists after publishing statements like that.

I even heard on a YouTube vid a long time ago that on their mission statement, they stated their ultimate long term goal was to actually eradicate the teaching of evolution altogether and only teach intelligent design!

Ill see if I can find that video.

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Gungfu November 10, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Tony Hoffman: Luke,I am curious about this:What do you think are the most common objections made to ID? Because I think they are 1) ID does not present a hypothesis, and b) ID only presents a God of the Gaps argument.I think both of these are the most common, and I think they are both valid. Did you have other objections in mind, or do you think these are valid?  (Quote)

I would say the same thing, you couldn’t give an example? Even if the common objections are not valid, that still wouldn’t make it a viable alternative to evolution. Scientoglogists say the common objections to it are not valid, still doesn’t make it a viable belief system. And didn’t this already get smaked down in court as an obvious ‘religous alternative’, thus violating seperation of church & state?

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Rhys November 10, 2009 at 10:59 pm

“TW: For the record, the Discovery Institute’s policy is NOT to advocate teaching ID in the classroom (in fact, they opposed the Dover School Board for precisely that reason). I’m essentially on board with Discovery’s policy, especially if – from a legal perspective – it makes it more likely that school teachers will simply have the academic freedom to show the flaws with TOE”

Hi Todd, I also think that evolution should be subject to the same kind of critical examination that any scientific theory is in the science classroom. However there are genuine questions to consider that advance knowledge and make for exciting debate!

Examples would be:

(a) What explains the evidence better? punctuated equilibrium, phynetic gradualism, or both?

(b) What hypothesis do you think explains the evolution of sexual reproduction the best?

(c) Do you think that Schwartz’s idea that we are closer cousins of orang-utans then chimpanzees holds any weight?

These kinds of debates are generally constructive, stimulating and very educating for the kids! Do not forget evolution should not be singled out, have debates about all science! I think they should encourage critiquing and arguing about popular theories in physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy etc etc as well.

What the Discovery Institute wants children to do is to look for any gaps they can find in evolution theory and plug them with design. I heartily disagree with this since it defeats the entire purpose of science: finding explanations that increase our understanding, ID, wether they know it or not, actually are retarding the growth of knowledge by design inference, since it only converts one mystery into another. This is all just the opinion of a keenly observing layman anyway.

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Gungfu November 10, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Rhys: Instead they take the namby-pamby chicken-livered route and cry foul to the rest of the world and claim they

X2

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Gungfu November 10, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Maybe a better analogy would be alchemy and chemistry. Even if chemists dismiss alchemists with a wave of the hand, that wouldn’t make alchemy more viable.

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Rhys November 10, 2009 at 11:37 pm

“Maybe a better analogy would be alchemy and chemistry. Even if chemists dismiss alchemists with a wave of the hand, that wouldn’t make alchemy more viable.”

What I was saying bro was that if the DI was really doing science, they would suck it up and keep persisting to get their literature published, peer reviewed and taken seriously, which is what you do if your a scientist and you have good ideas. However their unwillingness to do this suggest to me that deep down they know what they are doing has nothing to do with science at all.

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Gungfu November 10, 2009 at 11:45 pm

I agree with you, that wasn’t directed at you.

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lukeprog November 11, 2009 at 12:34 am

Does ‘X2′ mean ‘Ditto’?

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ayer November 11, 2009 at 6:07 am

drj: The emotionalism comes from the fact that its “merits” arent what seem to determine its success. Social pressure, politics, and stigma arent the tools most scientists want to have to use to thwart unreasonable opposition to scientific facts and established theories – but in the case of evolution, many feel they have too.

What success? The entire scientific establishment rejects ID (poor Behe’s fellow faculty actually put up a disclaimer on the university website condemning his views–I’ve never seen that before no matter how wacky a professor’s view are). And yet the establishment seems very, very afraid of ID for very little reason, and it makes them look silly.

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 6:15 am

ayer: Are you saying Dembski has abandoned ID? Because I don’t get that impression from his website.

I am saying Dembski has abandoned the Explanatory filter. I already posted a link and quote, which I will repeat:

Criticism of Dembski’s “Explanatory Filter”: Vindicated

Wesley R. Elsberry, 2008-12-06

I’ve pretty much dispensed with the EF. It suggests that chance, necessity, and design are mutually exclusive. They are not. Straight CSI is clearer as a criterion for design detection. – William Dembksi

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 6:28 am

ayer: This example is given at Dembski’s blog:

These Intelligent Design predictions are being confirmed. e.g., ENCODE’s June 2007 results show substantial functionality across the genome in such “junk” DNA regions, including pseudogenes.”

drj is correct, you should not be using Dembski as a source on biology. He is not, and never has been a biologist.

I suggest you check out what Larry Moran at Sandwalk has to say on the topic. Moran has a long career a a biochemist and is a co-author of a book on biochemistry. He has posted about junk DNA several times over the last few years. Here is a paragraph from him which he thinks is a fair summary of the current scientific view on junk DNA:

More Junk DNA Fallacies

Genes that encode proteins, and other genes, make up only a few percent of our genome. If you add in all of the other DNA sequences that are known to be essential you still can only account for no more than 5% of our genome. Most of the rest is thought to be junk DNA with no biological function. There are no respectable scientists who think that none of it will ever be shown to have a function but the general consensus among the defenders of junk DNA is that the vast majority of these DNA sequences, consisting mostly of defective transposons and pseudogenes, will turn out to have no function.

The authors of the paper go on to present evidence that about 5.4% of non-coding DNA has a function.

Note that Moran provides some actual numbers, while Dembksi uses the imprecise “substantial functionality across the genome.” Note also that Dembksi very oddly includes pseudogenes among that functionality.

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 6:30 am

Tony Hoffman: the same 4 amino acids are what make every living thing

You presumably meant nucleic acids. I would have said 5, to take in the distinction between T in DNA and U in RNA.

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 6:41 am

Kendalf: If you listen to the rest of Behe’s response, what he thinks would be worth doing in the classroom is critical discussion of evolution theory rather than the teaching of intelligent design per se.

But then, you repeat yourself. George Gilder, co-founder of the Discovery Institute, is quoted in the Boston Globe of July 27, 2005 as saying:

I’m not pushing to have [ID] taught as an ‘alternative’ to Darwin, and neither are they,” he says in response to one question about Discovery’s agenda. ”What’s being pushed is to have Darwinism critiqued, to teach there’s a controversy. Intelligent design itself does not have any content.

Since ID itself has “no content,” what is the distinction between “critical discussion of evolution theory” and “the teaching of intelligent design per se”?

ID is a political strategy used by Creationists to circumvent existing legal precedents on the teaching of Creation Science by removing all the positive claims (age of the earth, Noah’s flood). The criticism raised by ID proponents lack substance.

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 6:49 am

ayer: What success? The entire scientific establishment rejects ID (poor Behe’s fellow faculty actually put up a disclaimer on the university website condemning his views–I’ve never seen that before no matter how wacky a professor’s view are). And yet the establishment seems very, very afraid of ID for very little reason, and it makes them look silly.

Despite the utter failure of ID i the scientific arena, it has garnered some success in garnering public sentiment and convincing school board members and legislators to do its bidding. School board cases have cropped up in dozens of states, as have attempts to pass ID-friendly legislation. The attempt in Lousiana was successful, and Bobby “The Exorcist” Jindal signed it into law in 2008.

The bill is derived from a model bill put forward by the Discovery Institute (yes, those guys again), and encourages examination of, you guessed it, “evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” Louisiana is now the first state to pass the new generation creationist bill under the guise of academic freedom. Five other states have similar bills pending, including Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and South Carolina.

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 6:51 am

Reginald Selkirk:
But then, you repeat yourself. George Gilder, co-founder of the Discovery Institute, is quoted in the Boston Globe of July 27, 2005 as saying:…

I messed up my quoting tags in that post. The first quoted paragraph is Gilder, the last two are me.

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ayer November 11, 2009 at 6:51 am

Reginald Selkirk:
I am saying Dembski has abandoned the Explanatory filter. I already posted a link and quote, which I will repeat:Criticism of Dembski’s “Explanatory Filter”: Vindicated
  

(Quote)

I wonder why you didn’t also link to Dembski’s discussion of and explanation of that quote at his website, which was easy enough to find:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/faq/#wddspef

Such “quote-mining” doesn’t do ID critics any credit.

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Gungfu November 11, 2009 at 6:52 am

Yeah, I don’t know why it didn’t quote the whole comment, I was definitely saying ‘ditto’ to what he said in that comment.

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 6:55 am

The Cambrian as an evolutionary exemplar

Life existed on earth is unicellular forms for billions of years before the Cambrian. Eukaryotic life existed for 0.5-1.5 billion years before the Cambrian. Complex multi-cellular life existed before the Cambrian, and progress has been made in linking some earlier life forms (Vendian fauna, Burgess shale) to later Cambrian forms. The Cambrian “explosion” itself lasted tens of millions of years. Evolution is observable, before, during and after the Cambrian “explosion.”

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 6:59 am

ayer: I wonder why you didn’t also link to Dembski’s discussion of and explanation of that quote at his website, which was easy enough to find:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/faq/#wddspef

Such “quote-mining” doesn’t do ID critics any credit.

I don’t usually read at Uncommon Descent. Their “science” is atrocious, and their censorship policy is offensive. In that link, Dembski doesn’t present any reasons why the EF should be resurrected, and only shows that he is unwilling to admit past mistakes.

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 7:16 am

From your Uncommon Descent link:

… the CSI concept is in part based on the properly understood logic of the EF. Just, having gone though the logic, it is easier and “clearer” to then use “straight CSI” as an empirically well-supported, reliable sign of design.

In greater detail: The above is the point of Dembski’s clarifying remarks that: “. . . what gets you to the design node in the EF is SC (specified complexity). So working with the EF or SC end up being interchangeable.” …

Note that he seems to be saying that CSI is interchangeable with the EF, and can be sustituted for it. But the purpose of the EF was to discern CSI. If you cannot identify cases of CSI, how can you use it to establish anything else? Logic fail.

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drj November 11, 2009 at 8:13 am

Reginald Selkirk: Despite the utter failure of ID i the scientific arena, it has garnered some success in garnering public sentiment and convincing school board members and legislators to do its bidding. School board cases have cropped up in dozens of states, as have attempts to pass ID-friendly legislation. The attempt in Lousiana was successful, and Bobby “The Exorcist” Jindal signed it into law in 2008.

You beat me to it. Study after study has shown appalling numbers regarding the rejection of evolution in America, in favor of creationism, either young earth or otherwise – and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. We see the movement bubble up in the form of all the little schoolboard uprisings and “teach the controversy” campaigns, legislation, that as near as I can tell – its all becoming more frequent.

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Tony Hoffman November 11, 2009 at 8:16 am

Ayer,

I think that the instance Dembski provides for an ID hypothesis is closer to the issue – at least it tries to address the real problem that ID hasn’t figured out how to start being productive. If there was more stuff like that (and if the portrayal by ID proponents of the Junk DNA issue wasn’t so misleading) then that would go a long way to giving ID some credibility with me.

Unfortunately, Junk DNA is a quibble that is easily contained within the confines of the TOE: Does the non-encoding DNA serve an unrecognized purpose (has a secondary phenotypic effect that hasn’t been identified), or is it an example of natural selection acting on “selfish DNA.” The determination of that question is being settled by evolutionary biologists, not ID researchers.

I think it’s productive to ask those who thoughtfully consider that ID is valid as science what kind of experiment they can imagine that would confirm design. Most people I ask this question to dismiss the question, saying they’re unqualified, etc. But that’s nonsense.

Here’s where I’d start: If ID is to be viable as science (be productive), and if ID is true and organisms are designed (have purpose, are teleological), then what does that assumption give us in terms of scientific investigation?

Here’s one, based on your example. If junk DNA is designed (and not the result of evolutionary processes), then we could distinguish it from evolutionary explanations by exposing an organism to environmental conditions it could have never been exposed to in its evolutionary history and see if the junk DNA serves a purpose. For instance, if I was an ID proponent, I’d do some version of this experiment: expose billions of microbial organisms to a variety of conditions in which it would a) not normally survive, and b) it would have never faced in it’s evolutionary history, such as extreme temperatures, weightlessness, etc. – and see if any of these organisms exhibit a new phenotype that is activated by its existing (but non-encoding) DNA. I would consider some version of that an ID hypothesis, and I would consider some version of it a scientific test.

The question ID proponents (and softer versions like Craig) should ask themselves if the want to be taken seriously as anything other than disingenuous shills is, why not do these kind of experiments?

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Tony Hoffman November 11, 2009 at 8:33 am

Reginald,

You presumably meant nucleic acids. I would have said 5, to take in the distinction between T in DNA and U in RNA.

Thanks for the catch, and for your posts. Good stuff.

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 8:46 am

The latest ID propaganda:
Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Intelligent Design
from William Dembski and Sean McDowell. Another attempt to enlist children in disrupting science classes. It =includes this bit:

1. Design Detection If nature, or some aspect of it, is intelligently designed, how could we tell?

Design inferences in the past were largely informal and intuitive. Usually people knew it when they saw it. Intelligent design, by introducing specified complexity, makes the detection of design rigorous. Something is complex if it is hard to reproduce by chance and specified if it matches an independently given pattern (an example is the faces on Mt. Rushmore). Specified complexity gives a precise criterion for reliably inferring intelligence.

So here they are saying that “specified complexity” makes the detection of design precise. But how does one determine “specified complexity”? Without such a method, this is nothing but circular argumentation. Dembski’s explanatory filter was supposed to be a “rigorous” way to determine complex specified information, but he is somehow now claiming that CSI is equivalent to the EF. Round and round and round, down the rabbit hole.

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Tony Hoffman November 11, 2009 at 9:09 am

Tony: “ID proponents have tried to skip doing science (the part where they actually test a hypothesis) to publish their pet ideologies and have been caught doing so red-handed. So far, none of them has been caught doing science.”

TW: I really do have to challenge you on this assertion, and since I’ve already given you the links to 2 research labs, I don’t think it’s unfair of me to suggest that the burden of proof rests on you to demonstrate otherwise.

Then you misunderstand the burden of proof or the failure of your argument. I didn’t ask you to provide me with links to websites that promote ID. I asked you what is the science being done on ID.

Providing the websites you did is not good faith; the first is a website sponsored by the Discovery Institute, that has a page for “Research,” the first linked publication links to an article with this abstract:

ABSTRACT
Red spherule coelomocytes are immune cells in the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus that have been characterized as motile O2 transport cells. Video microscopy of living red spherule coelomocytes reveals a constitutive, dynamic array of cellular morphologies and movements. Cells continuously send out and retract membrane blebs all over the cell surface as part of their normal cellular physiology. Disruption of microtubules by perfusion with either nocodazole or taxol had no effect on bleb formation or motility. Perfusion with cytochalasin B abated bleb formation and revealed cells that exhibited multiple small spheres attached by short membrane extensions. Attenuation of blebbing and intracellular organelle motility were restored by washing out with cytochalasin B. Treatment with phalloidin also abated bleb formation and revealed a smooth, spherical cellular morphology. The effects of phalloidin were completely reversible after washout. Red spherule coelomocytes treated with blebbistatin rounded up with an irreversible retraction of blebs into surface blebs that were greatly reduced in size, number and motility. Normal cell surface bleb formation and intracellular organelle motility were not restored after washout of the drug. These results indicate that the acto-myosin contractile mechanism contributes to the dynamics of constitutive cell surface membrane blebbing in invertebrate immune cells.

So you have exhibited the behavior of a troll. You have referred me twice now to a website sponsored by a famously disingenuous and partisan organization, that does not offer a hypothesis for ID as your response would imply, that itself contains a page entitled “Research” the first link for which takes me to an abstract for research that does not test ID.

You said that you wanted to challenge me, but all you’ve done, once again, is waste my time.

If you can work your way up to substantively engaging in this debate I will respond to your comments. If you continue on in this vein I will ignore what you write as a testament to its merit.

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ayer November 11, 2009 at 9:25 am

Tony Hoffman: I think it’s productive to ask those who thoughtfully consider that ID is valid as science what kind of experiment they can imagine that would confirm design.

The problem with that test as to what qualifies as “science” is that Darwin’s theory would not have qualified when it was introduced because it relied on “inference to the best explanation” (IBE) of the available data (or “abduction”), and not on replicable experiments. See:

http://fs-morente.filos.ucm.es/docentes/rivadulla/textos/abductive.pdf

It seems to me that ID is also based on IBE, the same tool that Darwin used.

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Tony Hoffman November 11, 2009 at 9:57 am

Ayer,

Even if I agree with this (below) it still does not address my question:

The problem with that test [asking what productive test could be conducted using the premise of design] as to what qualifies as “science” is that Darwin’s theory would not have qualified when it was introduced because it relied on “inference to the best explanation” (IBE) of the available data (or “abduction”), and not on replicable experiments.

The fact is that Darwin’s theory did lead pretty quickly to testable predictions, explanations, experiments, etc. I don’t really care how a theory starts, I care where it leads. Right now, ID has to figure out where and how it can be productive or stop whining about not being taken seriously as a science.

In other words, I don’t dismiss alchemy as being unscientific because its roots are in superstition or that its proponents were ignorant tinkers of the middle ages. I dismiss it as unscientific because its proponents couldn’t figure out a way to predict, explain, or find a way to be productive. I don’t think that’s so unfair.

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lukeprog November 11, 2009 at 9:58 am

ayer,

The Leibnizian cosmological argument is an inference to the best explanation. Does that mean it is science?

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Reginald Selkirk November 11, 2009 at 10:08 am

ayer: The problem with that test as to what qualifies as “science” is that Darwin’s theory would not have qualified when it was introduced because it relied on “inference to the best explanation” (IBE) of the available data (or “abduction”), and not on replicable experiments. See:

http://fs-morente.filos.ucm.es/docentes/rivadulla/textos/abductive.pdf

I think the historical facts as you state them are disputable. Darwin did many experiments with domesticated animals regarding inheritance of traits, etc. He made field observations relevant to common descent and speciation. He discovered and examined fossils. His theory also made many predictions.

And regardless what the conditions may have been in 1859, the theory of evolution by means of natural selection has been put to relentless scientific hypothesis testing, and has come out very well.

It seems to me that ID is also based on IBE, the same tool that Darwin used.

Does it seem that way to you? Then you are in disagreement with an overwhelming majority of biologists. ID proponents claim IBE, but they conveniently ignore any evidence which contradicts their pre-drawn conclusions.

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ayer November 11, 2009 at 10:17 am

lukeprog: ayer,The Leibnizian cosmological argument is an inference to the best explanation. Does that mean it is science?  

(Quote)

No, but just because not all IBE is science does not mean that IBE ipso facto cannot be science.

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Tony Hoffman November 11, 2009 at 10:35 am

Ayer,

I think it would help if you offered a definition of science. I’m not asking you to offer something definitive or to settle that pesky demarcation problem once and for all, but I think it would be useful if I understood how you define science.

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ayer November 11, 2009 at 11:17 am

Tony Hoffman: Ayer,I think it would help if you offered a definition of science. I’m not asking you to offer something definitive or to settle that pesky demarcation problem once and for all, but I think it would be useful if I understood how you define science.  

(Quote)

That’s a very deep question that would take quite a bit of time and thought to come up with (but I hope to do so at some point). Right now, I’m just looking at one example that is just about universally considered to be science, i.e., Darwin’s theory circa 1859, and observing that if such an IBE-based theory is “science” then ID should probably be considered science as well (though I am ready to hear arguments otherwise).

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Tony Hoffman November 11, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Ayer: That’s [what is your definition of science?] a very deep question that would take quite a bit of time and thought to come up with (but I hope to do so at some point).

Okay, but for the record you are already applying a definition of science in regard to this issue, the definition being (my words of what I understand you to mean) it is widely considered that Darwin’s Origin of Species was recognized as a scientific theory in 1859, so whatever standard was used in that determination is my working definition. In other words, you can’t discuss this issue and not be applying any definition.

And I think that’s a big part of your problem. For one, I don’t believe that the Origin of Species was widely considered an uncontroversially valid scientific theory out of the box. On the contrary.

But regardless of its immediate reception, the beauty of Darwin’s Origin of Species is that it a) conformed better to all the evidence, and b) explained and predicted in ways that were immediately testable and would prove testable in unimagined ways later.

Right now, ID doesn’t best conform to all the evidence, and no one has figured out a single way to have it provide a prediction or explain in a way that’s testable.

So, even by your working definition, I believe ID totally fails in comparison to the earliest version of Darwin’s theory.

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Rhys Wilkins November 11, 2009 at 1:58 pm

“It seems to me that ID is also based on IBE, the same tool that Darwin used.”

Darwin also provided many ways his theory could be falsified, i.e. a static fossil record, certain character traits in one species that had evolved solely for the good of another etc (read chapter 6 of Origin). He also predicted that we would eventually find many transitional forms, which we now have (though not as many as we would like). His theory also predicted that the Earth would have to be ancient to accommodate the slow cumulative evolutionary processes.

Also predicting that some junk DNA actually codes is not a testable falsifiable prediction made by ID. If DNA is discovered that is genuinely proven to be junk, then the designer simply made a blunder or he put it there to fill up space. This is why design sucks balls as an explanation because you can always say that however the organism turns out, the designer designed it that way.

(a) What about the Richard Lenski experiment?

Meh, the designer put the genes there for the organism to activate

(b) What about endogenous retroviruses?

Meh, the designer put them there to make us look like we all descended from a common progenitor.

(c) What about observed rapid evolution of new morphological structures? (Cecal valves, Italian Wall Lizard)

Meh, the designer put the genes in there, a mutation just flicked them on.

(d)Hey this structure isn’t irreducibly complex! In fact the Mullerian 2-step can produce IC structures from natural processes!

Meh, the designer made the creatures so that they could adapt and make wonderful structures by themselves. Isn’t He cool!

Now if the Discovery Institute wanted to teach their pseudo-science as theology then that is perfectly OK, but the fact that they attack and lambaste the scientific community for being intellectually honest and doing their fucking jobs makes my blood boil so much. Especially considering I am in training to become a scientist! Fuck ID!

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ayer November 12, 2009 at 6:09 am

Rhys Wilkins: Darwin also provided many ways his theory could be falsified

I understand your point about falsifiability, but would that problem not also apply to SETI research (e.g., “yes, that signal might appear to be generated naturally, but that’s because the aliens have an unusual way of communicating, or want to be subtle in their outreach to us”, etc., etc.). It would also seem to apply to the multiverse hypothesis, often proposed in physics to explain the apparent fine-tuning of our universe for life (e.g., “yes, it appears that fine-tuning exists, but that’s because there must be billions of other universes that are not so fine-tuned (even though it will be impossible to detect them empirically) and we are in the one that just happens to be life-permitting”)).

This would render SETI and the multiverse theory “non-science.”

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Todd White November 12, 2009 at 6:32 am

Hi Rhys: While I’m OK with having classroom discussions on the topics you suggested, that’s not really what I meant when I said that “school teachers should have the academic freedom to show the flaws with TOE.” I don’t mean discussing unresolved issues with TOE (although that’s fine); I mean flaws in the theory itself.

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Todd White November 12, 2009 at 6:36 am

Rhys: “What the Discovery Institute wants children to do is to look for any gaps they can find in evolution theory and plug them with design. I heartily disagree with this since it defeats the entire purpose of science: finding explanations that increase our understanding, ID, wether they know it or not, actually are retarding the growth of knowledge by design inference, since it only converts one mystery into another.”

TW: I don’t share your interpretation of DI’s mission. There’s no inherent reason why discussing the flaws with a theory “retards the growth of knowledge.” Example: Would discussing the flaws in Newtonian physics in 1900 have caused a “retarding of knowledge?” Actually, such discussions would prove pivotal in the discovery of quantum mechanics.

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Reginald Selkirk November 12, 2009 at 7:07 am

ayer: The problem with that test as to what qualifies as “science” is that Darwin’s theory would not have qualified when it was introduced because it relied on “inference to the best explanation” (IBE) of the available data (or “abduction”), and not on replicable experiments. See:

I am currently reading Dawkins’ latest book, and was thereby reminded that Darwin did plenty of replicable experiments which contributed to his theory. For example, Darwin soaked various seeds in salt water in order to find out which ones would still be viable after given lengths of time. He also tried frog and salamander eggs. This provided data about which plants and animals would be likely to survive a trip from a continent to an island. The findings, which are quite replicable, show that some plant seeds do better than others, that those plants are more likely to be found on mid-ocean islands of volcanic islands, and that amphibians eggs die immediately upon exposure to salt water, thus explaining the complete absence of frogs and salamanders on such islands, even though the habitat appears to be suitable for them.

Darwin did far more hands-on experimental research than the vast majority of ID proponents.

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Todd White November 12, 2009 at 7:08 am

Tony: I don’t know what you’re so upset about. First, you say ID isn’t science because it doesn’t have “hypotheses,” so I give you a “hypothesis.” Then you say there’s no research labs doing ID research; so I give you the names of 2 labs which are doing ID research. Then you say those labs aren’t publishing articles; then I give you the names of published articles. Now you’re saying…what? You cut and paste the article abstract, but don’t criticize it in any way. Then you call me a troll (again).

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Reginald Selkirk November 12, 2009 at 7:26 am

ayer:
I understand your point about falsifiability, but would that problem not also apply to SETI research (e.g., “yes, that signal might appear to be generated naturally, but that’s because the aliens have an unusual way of communicating, or want to be subtle in their outreach to us”, etc., etc.).It would also seem to apply to the multiverse hypothesis, often proposed in physics to explain the apparent fine-tuning of our universe for life (e.g., “yes, it appears that fine-tuning exists, but that’s because there must be billions of other universes that are not so fine-tuned (even though it will be impossible to detect them empirically) and we are in the one that just happens to be life-permitting”)).This would render SETI and the multiverse theory “non-science.”  

It is true that ideas within science are criticized for not being testable. (I do not particularly agree with the examples you present; I would have chosen String Theory instead.) However, since these fields are criticized on that very point of lack of testability, it necessarily means that ID cannot escape criticism by evoking a comparison to these other fields. ID might as well claim (as Michael Behe did under oath at the Dover trial) that ID is just as much a “scientific theory” as astrology.

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Tony Hoffman November 12, 2009 at 7:56 am

Tony: I don’t know what you’re so upset about. First, you say ID isn’t science because it doesn’t have “hypotheses,” so I give you a “hypothesis.”

And you have failed to respond to my subsequent comment where I pointed out that your “hypothesis” is not a hypothesis. I even explained why. Your turn.

DNFTT.

Then you say there’s no research labs doing ID research; so I give you the names of 2 labs which are doing ID research.

And I pointed out that you had misrepresented (and continue to misrepresent) what these websites are. Your turn again.

DNFTT.

Then you say those labs aren’t publishing articles; then I give you the names of published articles.

And now you misrepresent me (feel free to quote me saying that those labs don’t publish articles). I simply pointed out that the first abstract linked to the first site you referred me to appears to have nothing to do with testing a hypothesis for ID.

DNFTT.

You cut and paste the article abstract, but don’t criticize it in any way.

I was doing some of your work for you, leaving it for you to make a case that this abstract is what you have represented it to be – the product of a lab conducting research on ID. Knock yourself out.

Then you call me a troll (again).

Wow, an accurate statement. That took your whole comment for one to appear.

If the shoe fits, my friend.

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ayer November 12, 2009 at 8:00 am

Reginald Selkirk: It is true that ideas within science are criticized for not being testable. (I do not particularly agree with the examples you present; I would have chosen String Theory instead.) However, since these fields are criticized on that very point of lack of testability, it necessarily means that ID cannot escape criticism by evoking a comparison to these other fields.

I think we may be in agreement. If SETI and string theory are excluded from the definition of “science”, then ID should also be excluded. But I have the impression (I could be wrong) that there are few critics of ID who maintain your consistency in regard to the scientific nature of these three areas of study.

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Tony Hoffman November 12, 2009 at 8:20 am

ayer: But I have the impression (I could be wrong) that there are few critics of ID who maintain your consistency in regard to the scientific nature of these three areas of study.  

An interesting point, and if your impression was right I think that would be a real problem for many critics of ID.

On the other hand, I just watched this video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo&feature=player_embedded

a few nights ago, and there the physicist Lawrence Krauss does (as an aside) lump string theory in with ID. So, at least there’s one data point that the rules are being applied consistently by scientists.

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lukeprog November 12, 2009 at 8:33 am

I love that video by Krauss.

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Tony Hoffman November 12, 2009 at 8:48 am

Yeah, some guys, like Krauss and Feynman, et al., just have that gift for taking the impossibly complex and making it (seem) accessible to little brained people like me. And they’re so up front about what they don’t know, and how their minds work, because as bright as they are I think they value curiosity more than intelligence, or something like that. Anyway, I find it impossible to stop watching those kinds of presentations once they start. And I pretty much never invest an hour in something like a youtube video.

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ayer November 12, 2009 at 9:04 am

Tony Hoffman: there the physicist Lawrence Krauss does (as an aside) lump string theory in with ID. So, at least there’s one data point that the rules are being applied consistently by scientists.

Thanks, I look forward to watching that. I believe falsfifiability may be the best way to delineate “science” from “nonscience.” ID, SETI, and string theory could then be moved into some other academic department. Of course, the criteria of falsifiability limits the areas upon which science can authoritatively pronounce, but I am ok with that, since that is where philosophy takes over.

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Reginald Selkirk November 12, 2009 at 9:20 am

ayer:
I think we may be in agreement.If SETI and string theory are excluded from the definition of “science”, then ID should also be excluded.But I have the impression (I could be wrong) that there are few critics of ID who maintain your consistency in regard to the scientific nature of these three areas of study.  

Criticism of string theory has come from some of the biggest names within the field of physics.
Unstrung

Now two members of the string-theory generation have come forward with exposés of what they deem to be the current mess. “The story I will tell could be read by some as a tragedy,” Lee Smolin writes in “The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next” (Houghton Mifflin; $26). Peter Woit, in “Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law” (Basic; $26.95), prefers the term “disaster.” …

My current shallow understanding ( I Am Not A Physicist) is that String Theory is not testable with today’s technology, but it might be some time soon (a decade or two).

I don’t think your condemnation of SETI is entirely earned. While I think the probability of a successful SETI finding is pretty low, and there are better uses of research funding; at least SETI proponents are not claiming to have found a positive result, and are not lobbying school boards to have that alleged positive result taught as valid science in the public school classrooms. To continue to experimentally search for a positive SETI result is entirely consistent with a scientific outlook.

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ayer November 12, 2009 at 10:00 am

Reginald Selkirk: Criticism of string theory has come from some of the biggest names within the field of physics.

Yes, but are they lobbying to have it removed from the science curriculum at universities? If no experiments can be conducted, it appears it should be moved into metaphysics for the time being.

Reginald Selkirk: To continue to experimentally search for a positive SETI result is entirely consistent with a scientific outlook.

But the issue is what is the difference between a “positive” SETI result and a non-positive result? This issue of the criteria is the same one affecting ID.

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Reginald Selkirk November 12, 2009 at 10:29 am

ayer: But the issue is what is the difference between a “positive” SETI result and a non-positive result? This issue of the criteria is the same one affecting ID.

SETI researchers have a clear idea of what they would consider a positive result (radio signals with certain characteristics, etc.) and any report of a result would result in further investigation to identify the source. Certainly experimental error and hoax would have to be thoroughly ruled out, and any claim would have a predictive value.

This stands in stark contrast to ID proponents, who do not carry out experiments, and are looking for the minimal check-off they can get away with before declaring that current data comprises a positive result, despite the protestations of the vast majority of biologists who disagree with their interpretation. I.e. they are faking it.

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ayer November 12, 2009 at 11:01 am

Reginald Selkirk: This stands in stark contrast to ID proponents, who do not carry out experiments, and are looking for the minimal check-off they can get away with before declaring that current data comprises a positive result, despite the protestations of the vast majority of biologists who disagree with their interpretation. I.e. they are faking it.

This means they are operating in bad faith, but if ID did adhere to the SETI standards by specifying in good faith a “clear idea of what they would consider a positive result” then it would have equivalent status to SETI. That status may be non-science, but whatever it is would be equivalent.

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Reginald Selkirk November 12, 2009 at 11:38 am

ayer: This means they are operating in bad faith, but if ID did adhere to the SETI standards by specifying in good faith a “clear idea of what they would consider a positive result” then it would have equivalent status to SETI. That status may be non-science, but whatever it is would be equivalent.

I don’t know if I was clear enough. ID needs to propose “a clear idea of what would constitute a positive result” which most biologists would agree with.

Suppose I say “If I find an acorn on the sidewalk on my way home, this would be a clear positive result which would convince me of inter-galactic aliens.” You would say “bull***! There are much simpler explanations for that result.” This is the reactions biologists have when ID proponents claim that a bacterial flagellum, or an immune system, or DNA is clear evidence of ID.

The same applies for SETI. They would need to do something like find a clear signal that is detectable by researchers other than themselves, establish to a reasonable probability that it could not be an experimental error (e.g. reflection of a signal off mars or some such) or a hoax. These are criteria which would satisfy not only themselves, but the majority of researchers in the relevant fields (astronomy, I suppose.) At this point, no one in SETI is making any such claims, unlike ID.

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ayer November 12, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Reginald Selkirk: I don’t know if I was clear enough. ID needs to propose “a clear idea of what would constitute a positive result” which most biologists would agree with.

I don’t think that can be the standard because that would just be an appeal to authority.

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Rhys Wilkins November 12, 2009 at 4:04 pm

“There’s no inherent reason why discussing the flaws with a theory “retards the growth of knowledge.”

Hi Todd, I agree with you. However as I said before, this is not what ID wants to do, they want school children to find any gaps they can in the theory and plug them with design, effectively ending all debate. It is extremely naive to think that all the Discovery Institute wants to do is encourage a bit of critical examining of evolution. To make this more perspicuous, this is a couple of quotes from the Wedge document outlining their ultimate long term goal (in 20 years time):

“To see intelligent design as the dominant perspective in science”

“Too see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life”

They are trying to achieve this by putting their foot in the door first with the Teach the Controversy strategy. And it is completely asinine that they expect people to buy this bullshit when it is so obviously religiously motivated it isn’t even funny.

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Tony Hoffman November 12, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Ayer,

I don’t think that can be the standard [something that most biologists would agree on] because that would just be an appeal to authority.

I think this is a fair point, and I tend to agree. One can easily point to instances of breakthroughs in science where the majority of those in the field initially resisted (and were subsequently proven wrong), and it’s reasonable to consider that it can happen again.

What makes it harder for ID proponents to settle the issue in their favor is that they haven’t proposed or conducted anything that would determine that those in authority (the vast, vast majority of biologists) are indeed all wrong. ID proponents are the ones who are basically saying, “There’s a conspiracy among 99% of biologists to not publish our pet ideologies!” In that case, I admit that citing the majority opinion can still be called an appeal to authority, and is not logically conclusive, but in the vast, vast majority of these disputes the majority opinion of the specialists is still the reasonable side to take.

In that case, all that the ID proponents are saying is, “It’s possible we’re right,” which doesn’t really change what we already know, and doesn’t change the fact that 99% of all biologists have concluded that ID does not represent a scientific idea.

In other words, “There’s a (less) than 1% chance we’re right that ID is a scientific idea!” is not enough for us to definitively conclude what ID is, but we can certainly make a probabilistic argument against it from there.

And at the very least it certainly should put to rest the lie inherent in “Teach the controversy.” There is, as the numbers indicate, no controversy.

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ayer November 12, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Tony Hoffman: And at the very least it certainly should put to rest the lie inherent in “Teach the controversy.” There is, as the numbers indicate, no controversy.

I certainly agree with you there. ID proponents should advance their view through the normal, peer-review process and not attempt to put in school curricula prior to that. If biologists are as professional as cosmologists (and I have no reason to think they are not), they will publish good evidence even if it goes against any atheistic views that they hold, just as cosmologists have published and come to accept the big bang model, apparent fine-tuning of the initial physical constants of the universe, etc., even though theistic implications can be drawn from that evidence.

From my reading so far, it appears ID would best be excluded from the science classroom and instead subsumed into the philosophical/natural theology fine-tuning argument, i.e., out of the infinity of possible universes, God’s design involved choosing to create that universe that is fine-tuned in the initial conditions so as to be life-permitting and whose evolutionary process he foreknew would ultimately result in DNA and all the complex life that we see. So the methods of biological science are just going to be irrelevant in resolving this type of “design” issue. It will fall to philosophy drawing upon cosmology, etc.

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Reginald Selkirk November 13, 2009 at 6:28 am

ayer:
I don’t think that can be the standard because that would just be an appeal to authority.  

I would like to draw a clear distinction between authority and expertise. The recurrent laryngeal nerve between the brain and the vocal cords does not take an excursion into the chest cavity and loop around a coronary artery because anatomists say so, but rather anatomists say so because it actually does (a classic case of “bad design” which reveals the evolutionary history of our embryonic development.) Scientists, including biologists, possess expertise, not authority.

There is no question that the expertise biologists possess is genuine, unlike astrology and theology. Their statements of scientific fact are readily verifiable, and they get real results.

The whole point of doing science is to expand our knowledge of the world by discovering new things about it, and occasionally overturning old things. Of course biologists would be motivated to accept new findings – if they are shown the evidence. The biggest prizes in science are given for overturning old, wrong ideas.

What alternative standard would you suggest? An appeal to school boards and politicians? Hello Lysenkoism!

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ayer November 13, 2009 at 6:59 am

Reginald Selkirk: Of course biologists would be motivated to accept new findings – if they are shown the evidence. The biggest prizes in science are given for overturning old, wrong ideas.

I am in general agreement that evidence will eventually win out, but we shouldn’t exaggerate the motivation to accept new findings. Allowance has to be made for the Kuhnian phenomenon of resistance to a new scientific paradigm:

“During periods of normal science, the primary task of scientists is to bring the accepted theory and fact into closer agreement. As a consequence, scientists tend to ignore research findings that might threaten the existing paradigm and trigger the development of a new and competing paradigm” (http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/Kuhnsnap.html)

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Todd White November 13, 2009 at 6:59 am

Hi Rhys,

I don’t think it’s disingenuous for the Discovery Institute to say its “long-term goal” is to make I.D. “the dominant perspective in science” while they also refuse to advocate the teaching of ID in schools today.

Since the “goal” of teaching ID in schools isn’t achievable today, they’re not interested in advocating for it; however, if the goal is achievable in 20 years (based on a change in attitude by the scientific and legal authorities), then they will (probably) advocate for it.

Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

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Reginald Selkirk November 13, 2009 at 11:44 am

ayer: Allowance has to be made for the Kuhnian phenomenon of resistance to a new scientific paradigm…

how many experiments did Kuhn run to back up this “paradigm” schtick?

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ayer November 13, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Reginald Selkirk:
how many experiments did Kuhn run to back up this “paradigm” schtick?  

He was doing history–is that an invalid field of study because it doesn’t do experiments?

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Tony Hoffman November 13, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I do think that Ayer brings up a reasonable point. And no, Kuhn did not do any experiments on his paradigm, but there are plenty of tests done on cognitive bias, and I think that those tests indicate the phenomenon exists.

Of course, one of the successes of science is that it has implemented procedures that help to eliminate the effects of cognitive bias, although I don’t think one could prove that those steps have entirely eliminated the possibility of such biases.

I don’t see any material difference in differentiating between authority and expertise. One problem with the laryngeal analogy is that the definition of what is a science is not the same as a laryngeal nerve; the nerve exists independently of the biologists, but the opinion of biologists does not exist independently of biologists; the study of the laryngeal nerve is a hard science, the study of biologists expert opinions about what makes up science is a soft science.

I’d basically say that an appeal to authority is ONLY a fallacy if one tries to argue that the conclusion is determinative. Referring to the opinion of biologists regarding the scientific validity of ID is very strong evidence that ID is not scientifically viable (possibly the strongest evidence we have, and enough to satisfy a reasonable doubt verdict, I believe), and it would only be an appeal to authority if it was mis-portrayed as being logically conclusive.

That’s what I think, anyway. I’d like to hear what either of you has to say further, however, as I wrestle with the pros and cons of the appeal to authority too often (coming at it from sides I both agree and disagree with).

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GungFu November 13, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Saw this today & thought it would be relevant.

YouTuber potholder54 makes a great point about intelligent design.

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Rhys Wilkins November 13, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Hi Todd,

This is what is ticking me off though, they have asserted themselves many times that they want to see the theory of evolution thrown in the scrapheap since it conflicts with their Christian theistic worldview. Therefore they cannot try and act all innocent by saying all they want is for students to see the flaws and unanswered questions in evolution because this is simply not true. This is them just trying to put their foot in the door first so then they can proceed to eradicate any science that challenges their slightly-too-literal exegesis of Genesis. From their perspective it would be reasonable since they truly believe all that stuff about the Bible, and it would be absolutely fine too teach in a theology course at Talbot, but if you want to question a scientific theory, it has to be done in a way that potentially can advance our understanding. Eugenie Scott, the Director of the NCSE, sums it up nicely:

“It would be unfair to tell students that there is a serious dispute going on among scientists whether evolution took place, because there really is not”

Really, the only controversy is a political and religious one, and to lie to school children and tell them there is a scientific one would be deliberately misleading them to appease some right wing Christian lobbying group, and that frankly, is unacceptable. They can teach any religious mumbo jumbo they want, but they need to learn to keep it out of the frickin science classrooms.

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Todd White November 14, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Hi Rys,

Rhys: Christians are “just trying to put their foot in the door first so then they can proceed to eradicate any science that challenges their slightly-too-literal exegesis of Genesis.”

TW: I don’t agree with your analysis. And besides, the truth or falsehood of TOE is independent of the psychological motivations of those who participate in the debate. The facts regarding TOE should be analyzed on their own terms. That’s what science is all about.

Rhys: “The only controversy is a political and religious one, and to lie to school children and tell them there is a scientific one would be deliberately misleading them to appease some right wing Christian lobbying group, and that frankly, is unacceptable.”

TW: I disagree. There IS a scientific controversy. And that’s precisely why discussing the controversy shouldn’t be banned from the classroom.

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Rhys Wilkins November 15, 2009 at 12:57 am

Hi Todd,

You said:

(1) There is an actual scientific controversy over the veracity of evolution taking place in the scientific community.

(2) Therefore, students should be made aware of this controversy and be allowed to discuss it.

I am sorry Todd, this is where I am forced to permanently conclude this dialogue. I was prepared to discuss the flaws and merits of the Teach the Controversy strategy with you, but now I see that our polarized opinions are entirely contingent on your assumption that evolution is a scientifically unstable and highly undemonstrated theory.

I could ramble on some long discourse about the countless reasons why evolution is considered the number one undisputed greatest explanation for the diversity and history of life on this planet, or I could point out to you that William Lane Craig is a self admitted layman on the topic of evolution whom can deceptively seem very authoritative on any subject with his insuperable debating and rhetorical skills, or I could point out that roughly 99.97% of biologists, whom are required by definition to be skeptical and critical of any facts and theories that formulates their understanding of the natural world wholeheartedly and non-democratically point to evolution as the best explanation for life. I could also point out that if a person discovered a piece of evidence that falsified evolution, he/she would become a Nobel laureate and a worldwide household name faster then you could say “Eureka!”, but from my experience of having to argue with creationists, I can safely say it never gets anywhere, and only results time of mine being wasted that I will never get back. Your mind is the sole author of your worldview, and it is only your mind that can make the choice to consider that you may be wrong about something, research the facts, and maybe admit to yourself that your beliefs that you once held with ardor and vigor, were ultimately based on a slightly erred and under-informed conception of the whole picture. Until then, it is peace out from me my friend.

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Todd White November 15, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Hi Rhys,

Rhys: “I am sorry Todd, this is where I am forced to permanently conclude this dialogue. I was prepared to discuss the flaws and merits of the Teach the Controversy strategy with you, but now I see that our polarized opinions are entirely contingent on your assumption that evolution is a scientifically unstable and highly undemonstrated theory.”

TW: I’m sorry you feel that way, buddy, but I honestly don’t think I said anything that should’ve caused you to cut communication so quickly. oh well.

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Michael November 15, 2009 at 9:03 pm

I was very surprised by the debate in general. In Craig’s latest newsletter, he even said himself that he was surprised and disappointed that Ayala didn’t seem to even try to respond to Craig but simply lecture the audience. I was front row(although that is irrelevant) and kept wondering if Ayala would respond to anything.

I guess I will start by saying that I am skeptical of macroevolution but firmly believe in microevolution. My reservations are really the same as Craig’s, viz. it is a huge extrapolation from micro to macro. I am really agnostic on this issue. But in my opinion it is a major obstacle to me accepting neo-Darwinian theory. I agree ID is not much of a theory, but as Craig said, does that matter if it is true? So the problem isn’t whether it is science or not, but can it be true? From reading Craig, I would say that he would jump onto the bus if he was shown sufficient evidence, as would I.

I don’t really agree with ID being taught in schools, but I do think evolution should be analyzed critically, rather being taught as pure fact (there is a reason it is not accepted like gravity). But it does have a lot of merit.

I think the most important issue here is not letting philosophy and metaphysics hindering scientific processes, and Craig and Plantinga stress this greatly. Methodological naturalism is unwarranted, and while natural explanations should indeed be preferred, if there is another explanation that seems more probable, then it should at least be considered.

Someone, sorry about forgetting the name, said earlier that Craig seemed questionable as he loves to quote consensus for his resurrection facts but that it is not the case when it comes to evolution. To this, I think it is important to recognize the difference between history and science. Consensus in history is considered more powerful than in science. For example, people used to think the world was flat, then that it was at the center of the universe, and yet neither was true. And in each case, it was only a few that questioned the ideas. In history, “old histories” aren’t usually overturned by new evidences. This is the opposite in science. Now, I agree he should give the consensus a little more credit, but I agree with his stressing historical “facts” over scientific theories. Another thing is that he is not a biologist, and may not know truly how solid evolutionary theory is (as in my case) and therefore questions it on a personal level (probably at least partially due to bias). But I definitely feel that if Ayala had responded accordingly and shown why the extrapolation was merited that he may even have admitted to a change of mind. I know I would.

So if anybody knows of some good articles showing why this extrapolation is supported by the evidence, please let me know. I would prefer that they be scholarly and detailed, as I have read many-a books on evolution (all of Dawkins books even) but have not found them answering this particular issue. Thanks.

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Kendalf November 15, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Michael, I am quite in agreement with your points. I do want to offer one minor quibble that in no way detracts from your primary point.

Historians have shown that with just a handful of exceptions, no educated person from the 3rd century BC onwards believed that the Earth was flat, and that the contemporary view that people in the Middle Ages used to believe the Earth was flat is a grotesque misrepresentation of history.

See this article by historian of science Jeffrey Burton Russell, which is a summary of his book Inventing the Flat Earth. You may also find this blog post on the topic illuminating.

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Michael November 16, 2009 at 7:16 am

I do recognize that people did stop believing in this at some point in time, probably around the date you mentioned, but I guess my point was more simply that this was a view that was held but changed due to new evidences. I did not mean that people thought of the flat earth and geocentricism were both believed in the middle ages, but that they were believed at separate times. So my apologies if this is the way it seemed.

Something I would like to mention is the idea that MANY biologists outside of the ID movement confirm that if something were indeed to exhibit all elements of design, then ID would have to be considered. Now, this is not to say that they support ID, not at all. They simply say that what ID supporters call evidence for ID is not really evidence for ID because it doesn’t exhibit all of the elements necessary for the design inference. But then the question is, what qualifies and what doesn’t? A boat is obviously designed. But what about bacterial flagellum? Behe says that this design is more efficient and more productive than anything a human engineer has ever designed. So why would one simply throw out the mere possibility of design from at the start? These are the questions that plague my mind. One thing Ayala brought up is the similarities between a whale’s flipper, a bat’s wing, a human hand, etc. He said that surely a designer would not use the same structure for such different uses? We don’t see planes built on car frames? Or boats built on plane frames? But my question is, why couldn’t a designer do such if it was effective? All of the examples are made of similar materials that run on gas and have engines that propel them in fairly similar ways… So it seems to me that his analogy is very weak. So the question remains… Could it have been designed? If not, explain why? I certainly believe that it COULD have been designed, but was it? If one can show that design is not NECESSARY, but that something else is not only possible but even probable, then design hypothesis fails. But if something is improbable, then I would think that design MAY be merited. So until shown otherwise… For me, I am always told that there are thousands of articles and books out there that explain why… but I am never told a specific article or book or shown any. I am just told that there is. I will jump right on in if even one of these mysterious articles are convincing, but the ones I have read are mere hand waving and rejection based on faulty philosophical/metaphysical grounds.

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 7:20 am

Michael: I guess I will start by saying that I am skeptical of macroevolution but firmly believe in microevolution. My reservations are really the same as Craig’s, viz. it is a huge extrapolation from micro to macro.

So you believe in inches, but not in miles.

Another thing is that he is not a biologist, and may not know truly how solid evolutionary theory is…

C’mon. He’s old enough to have read a few books, and if he is engaging in public debates on the topic, he can’t claim lack of interest and should not claim lack of preparation. His use of probability is absolutely preposterous.

Here’s the best short online essay I’ve seen summarizing the evidence for evolution, and explaining why ID is not science.
The Case Against Intelligent Design: The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name
by Jerry Coyne

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 7:48 am

Michael: A boat is obviously designed. But what about bacterial flagellum?

If one can show that design is not NECESSARY, but that something else is not only possible but even probable, then design hypothesis fails.

Well, there you go.
Current Biology on flagellum evolution

This just in. Current Biology has published a short dispatch piece reviewing the flagellum evolution issue:
W. Ford Doolittle and Olga Zhaxybayeva (2007). “Reducible Complexity – The Case for Bacterial Flagella.” Current Biology, 17(13), R510-R512. July 3, 2007. DOI

Flagellum evolution in Nature Reviews Microbiology

Pallen MJ, Matzke NJ. (2006). “From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella.” Nature Reviews Microbiology, 4(10), 784-790. October 2006. Advanced Online Publication on September 5, 2006.

Behe never presents any positive evidence for how the flagellum, or any other of his “irreducibly complex” examples, was designed – and implemented. Who designed (and implemented) it? When? How? Behe delivers nothing at all on this.

All he does is question the naturalistic evolutionary explanations, and he does it poorly, showing an unfamiliarity with what is in the scientific literature, and by ignoring known evolutionary mechanisms for producing “irreducibly complex” systems, such as exaption. Then, having presented a deeply questionable summary of the science which would be offensive to anyone knowledgable, Behe switches to some folksy story about groundhogs crossing highways or some such.

Other examples presented by Behe have likewise fared poorly as being unexplainable (immune system, clotting system, etc.)

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Tony Hoffman November 16, 2009 at 7:56 am

I would prefer that they [books on evolutionary theory] be scholarly and detailed, as I have read many-a books on evolution (all of Dawkins books even) but have not found them answering this particular issue.

Yikes. So you’ve read The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, The Ancestor’s Tale, and the Greatest Show on Earth, and you haven’t found an answer anywhere in these books for biological diversity?

I’d note that personal incredulity is not an argument. Is there anything in particular that you’d like Reginald to refer you to?

I think the most important issue here is not letting philosophy and metaphysics hindering scientific processes, and Craig and Plantinga stress this greatly. Methodological naturalism is unwarranted, and while natural explanations should indeed be preferred, if there is another explanation that seems more probable, then it should at least be considered.

I believe that you have expressed a contradiction above, while getting it exactly wrong (unnecessary and unproductive philosophical assumptions are exactly what threatens scientific processes). I love the fact that the thing (detaching unnecessary metaphysical assumptions from the study of the natural world) that has brought us the greatest intellectual progress is viewed by religious believers as that which holds it back. It’s kind of like a guy seeing how fast his horse can run without the plow saying, “If only we could re-attach this plow the horse would be able to go twice as fast!”

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 8:53 am

Michael: But my question is, why couldn’t a designer do such if it was effective?

If your designer is omnipotent and omniscient, why then He could do literally anything! But if an explanation would explain literally anything, including A or not A, then it explains nothing. And it is not testable.

One of the main predictions of evolutionary theory, and the most testable, is that biological organisms have a history, that structures and processes have historical antecedents. And this is what we observe.

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 8:56 am

Michael: Something I would like to mention is the idea that MANY biologists outside of the ID movement confirm that if something were indeed to exhibit all elements of design, then ID would have to be considered.

Uh, and what are those “elements of design”? Since evolution can explain apparent design, it would have to be elements that are not explainable by evolution. Pony up, fill us in.

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 9:01 am

Michael: I guess I will start by saying that I am skeptical of macroevolution but firmly believe in microevolution. My reservations are really the same as Craig’s, viz. it is a huge extrapolation from micro to macro…

By “macroevolution,” I am presuming you mean speciation. Is that indeed what you mean? Let’s consider an example already presented above: camelids. There are camelids in South America: llamas, alpacas, vicunas. There are camelids in Asia/Africa: bactrians and dromedarys. Under the evolutionary explanation, these various camelids all share a common ancestor. The fossil record, anatomical and sequence comparisons all concur, and tell us that the common ancestors were in North America some tens of millions of years ago.

Do you consider this evolutionary explanation to be improbable? Do you consider geological separation to be an unlikely cause of the splitting into diverse species? Or what?

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 9:10 am

Michael: One thing Ayala brought up is the similarities between a whale’s flipper, a bat’s wing, a human hand, etc. He said that surely a designer would not use the same structure for such different uses? We don’t see planes built on car frames? Or boats built on plane frames? But my question is, why couldn’t a designer do such if it was effective?

How convenient that whales and other mammals also share other traits – including air-breathing and placental birth. These are things that are impediments, not advantages, to life in the ocean. I.e. this is “bad design.” And what’s more important, the design is bad in a way that speaks of evolutionary history. In the case of whales, fossils and sequence comparisons also provide evidence for the evolutionary explanation. If a Designer were going to re-use genetic sequences, why would he re-use them in a way that speaks of tens of millions of years of evolutionary divergence from a common ancestor?

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Michael November 16, 2009 at 9:12 am

Reginald Selkirk:
So you believe in inches, but not in miles.
  

This is not how it works. One limit of an experiment is how it can be related to outside of the experiment. For example, if I study how people in a lower class area behave, I could not say this is how everybody behaves, as there are upper class and middle class people as well that may behave differently. To show that behavior can be extended to a general idea or population, one needs sufficient evidence that it is universal. It is not a matter of measurement as in inches and miles, but rather can something be explained in terms of another term as in behavioral psychology. This is an extrapolation, for these are two different things. One does not necessarily follow the other.

but let’s say your analogy is good… We have evidence that there are inches as well as miles and a certain number of inches in each mile. yet we don’t know how many small changes it takes to make a new species, or even a new organ to evolve.

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Michael November 16, 2009 at 9:25 am

Reginald Selkirk:
How convenient that whales and other mammals also share other traits – including air-breathing and placental birth. These are things that are impediments, not advantages, to life in the ocean. I.e. this is “bad design.” And what’s more important, the design is bad in a way that speaks of evolutionary history. In the case of whales, fossils and sequence comparisons also provide evidence for the evolutionary explanation. If a Designer were going to re-use genetic sequences, why would he re-use them in a way that speaks of tens of millions of years of evolutionary divergence from a common ancestor?  

I agree! But we see bad design all of the time, but that doesn’t change whether it was in fact designed. Craig even brought this point up and said bad design is still design. My point was simply that this claim by Ayala does not refute design in any way, although it may decrease its probability.

For the record, I do not have a philosophical problem with evolution (although Plantinga explains why the naturalist should) and that I will accept it whole-heartedly if I have my questions answered. So currently, I am undecided on the issue, but definitely don’t agree with YEC or anything close to that, but think that the universe is around 13 to 15 billion years old, etc. but that God could have created certain things knowing others would evolve from them. I don’t even have a problem with mammals having a common ancestor. But Darwinian thought also says there is a common ancestor between humans and fungi and sponges. I do question that, as we have no evidence for such. I will concede even that maybe all animals have a common ancestor. And all plants as well. But even these two seemingly huge areas of life are actually miniscule compared to all of life, showing that this is a much bigger extrapolation than one may envision when thinking of evolution. This is the stuff not taught in classrooms. They show how animals may have evolve, but that’s it. Not how single cell organisms evolved into every type of known life.

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Tony Hoffman November 16, 2009 at 9:27 am

To show that behavior can be extended to a general idea or population, one needs sufficient evidence that it is universal.

And what part of evolutionary theory do you think lacks sufficient evidence that it is universal?

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Tony Hoffman November 16, 2009 at 9:29 am

But Darwinian thought also says there is a common ancestor between humans and fungi and sponges. I do question that, as we have no evidence for such.

I have to ask if you want to stick with your story about having read every book Dawkins has ever read? Because this sentence is good evidence that you have not.

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Michael November 16, 2009 at 9:57 am

Tony Hoffman:
And what part of evolutionary theory do you think lacks sufficient evidence that it is universal?  

Really only the extrapolation from micro to macro. Most evidence we have supports micro beyond any reasonable doubt. But we cannot test macroevolution in the same way because it necessarily requires millions of years. And I have read Dawkins, but most of his work is simply evidence for micro and natural selection, which I don’t question. But again he does not show why such an extrapolation is justified (at least not that I remember). All of what I remember him saying is that ID is not justified (which I agree with to an extent) and that natural selection is how things change, Darwin did the same thing in Origin of Species, as he dedicated most of the book to explaining natural selection. If you have some excerpts or articles regarding the extrapolation, let me know. I would love to read them.

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Tony Hoffman November 16, 2009 at 10:22 am

If you have some excerpts or articles regarding the extrapolation, let me know. I would love to read them.

I’ll offer this link then: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html

I have to say that one of the more remarkable analogies I found in “The Greatest Show on Earth” was the example of a child going from adolescent to adult. As individuals we see children and we see adults, but just because we don’t have a definable moment, an isoloated instance in time, when the child becomes an adult, does not mean that children do not become adults. I think the question regarding evidence for speciation suffers from the same flaw.

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 10:37 am

Michael: I agree! But we see bad design all of the time, but that doesn’t change whether it was in fact designed. Craig even brought this point up and said bad design is still design.

Then Craig is an ignorant nincompoop. Whether the features observed or not were designed is a question, not a given. We do NOT know that it is “still design.”

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 10:53 am

Michael: but let’s say your analogy is good… We have evidence that there are inches as well as miles and a certain number of inches in each mile. yet we don’t know how many small changes it takes to make a new species, or even a new organ to evolve.

You want an exact accounting of how many mutations it would take for speciation, or evolution of a new organ, and yet the positive evidence for design is…? There is an extreme variation between the evidence demanded of an opponent, and the evidence one is willing to provide for one’s own alternative.

Anyway, some examples, based on the unevidenced assumption that your inquiry is not a bogus as it appears to be:

—-

Lizards Undergo Rapid Evolution after Introduction to a New Home

In which lizards introduced to an island evolved a new digestive organ in 36 years or less. The exact number of mutations involved not known. Yet.

—-

Bacteria evolve new nutrient pathway
The Lenski experiments. E. coli grown in culture for decades suddenly evolved the ability to use a new nutrient – the citrate which had been used to buffer the pH of their growth medium. The mutational path leading to this development is known in considerable detail. Of course the concept of “speciation” is not exactly applicable to prokaryotes, who are promiscuous in their use of Horizontal Gene Transfer.

—-
Speciation
by Jerry A. Coyne and H. Allen Orr. Sinauer Associates, Inc.; 1 edition (May 2004), ISBN-13: 978-0878930890

Coyne is one of the leading experts on speciation. In his book Why Evolution Is True he gives the current estimates for how long speciation takes (on average, etc.)

Keep in mind that speciation may involve neutral drift a swell as natural selection.

In some cases involving polyploidy, speciation can occur in a single generation. This is uncommon in animals, but not in plants. Several specific examples have been observed, replicated and studied in detail.

—-

The Genomics of Speciation in Drosophila: Diversity, Divergence, and Introgression Estimated Using Low-Coverage Genome Sequencing
Kulathinal RJ, Stevison LS, Noor MAF (2009) PLoS Genet 5(7): e1000550. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000550

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 11:03 am

Michael: Darwinian thought also says there is a common ancestor between humans and fungi and sponges. I do question that, as we have no evidence for such. I will concede even that maybe all animals have a common ancestor. And all plants as well. But even these two seemingly huge areas of life are actually miniscule compared to all of life, showing that this is a much bigger extrapolation than one may envision when thinking of evolution. This is the stuff not taught in classrooms. They show how animals may have evolve, but that’s it. Not how single cell organisms evolved into every type of known life

I guess my classrooms were better than yours.

We most certainly do have evidence that humans, fungi and sponges all share common ancestors. DNA sequence comparisons fit the bill quite nicely.

To go back further and include plants has also been clearly established, but one must understand endosymbiosis if one is going to go back that far.

Did you know that you have two genes which code for malate dehydrogenase? One version makes a cytoplasmic version of the enzyme, and the other makes a mitochondrial version. You can run them through sequence comparisons, and one form will cluster with one population of bacterial sequences, while the other will cluster with a different population of bacterial sequences. This is clear evidence for a) common ancestry and b) endosymbiosis.

The near-universality of the genetic code is also evidence of common ancestry. Once again, the evolutionary explanation makes a testable prediction (common genetic code) while the Designer explanation makes no testable prediction (maybe the Designer re-used the code, maybe he didn’t). If there is a Designer, how curious that He chose the explanation consistent with evolution at every opportunity.

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 11:07 am

Michael: And I have read Dawkins, but most of his work is simply evidence for micro and natural selection, which I don’t question. But again he does not show why such an extrapolation is justified (at least not that I remember).

But again, I don’t recall you saying why such extrapolation would not be justified. Given that mutation rates are readily measurable, and have been measured, and given the known timeline provided by geology, fossils, and your own DNA, what’s to keep those mutations from continuing to accumulate? What possible limitation could there be?

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 11:09 am

Michael: For the record, I do not have a philosophical problem with evolution (although Plantinga explains why the naturalist should)

Plantinga knows even less about biology than you appear to know.

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Reginald Selkirk November 16, 2009 at 11:15 am

Behold your ancestor: SpongeBob SquarePants

Humans and sponges may share a slimy ancestor
Placulan origin re-roots the tree of life.
Published online 26 January 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.55

The debate is not whether sponges and humans share an ancestor, but whether that ancestor resembled a sponge. Nature is a pay site, so I’ll dig up another article:

Genome of simplest animal reveals ancient lineage, confounding array of complex capabilities

Trichoplax adhaerens, appears to harbor a far more complex suite of capabilities than meets the eye. The findings, reported in the August 21 online edition of the journal Nature, establish a group of organisms as a branching point of animal evolution and identify sets of genes, or a “parts list,” employed by organisms that have evolved along particular branches.

“Our whole genome analysis supports placing the placozoans after the sponge lineage branched from other animals,” said Daniel Rokhsar, the publication’s senior author

Earlier mitochondrial DNA studies suggested that this “mother of all metazoans,” Trichoplax, was the earliest branch, before sponges diverged, but this remains debatable—even among collaborators.

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Todd White November 16, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Scrolling through the last 20 or so comments, I was intrigued by Reginald’s link to the lizard study.

I thought this might be the Holy Grail of TOE since he billed it as evidence of the development of new organs and speciation.

Actually, as this Uncomment Descent rebuttal points out, the lizard study is evidence of neither.

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/rapid-evolution-is-it-ns-or-the-environment-that-matters/

So the search continues…

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lukeprog November 16, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Reginald with the dominant linkage again…

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Tony Hoffman November 16, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Todd White: I thought this might be the Holy Grail of TOE since he billed it as evidence of the development of new organs and speciation.

This is false; there is no “holy grail” of the TOE (except in the imaginations of those who fear it), and he billed it as an example of a new organ, not of speciation. His notation was clear. Why would you lie or write so carelessly?

Todd White: Actually, as this Uncomment Descent rebuttal points out, the lizard study is evidence of neither.

This is false; even the link you gave admits it is a new organ. (The consideration of Lamarckism in that “rebuttal” as a possible explanation is hilarious, though.)

I am curious. Speaking on behalf of your people, do trolls know that they are trolls, or are you under the impression that you are honest parties to a discussion?

(I have to admit that I lied, too; I said I’d ignore your subsequent comments if they lacked any merit. That’s what I should have done, but I had some time on my hands…)

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Todd White November 16, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Tony: “There is no ‘holy grail’ of the TOE.

TW: I thought TOE was an indusputible fact like gravity.

Tony: “He billed it as an example of a new organ, not of speciation. His notation was clear. Why would you lie or write so carelessly?”

TW: But it’s not a new organ. It’s a rare organ, but not a new organ. At least that’s not how I interpret the article.

Tony: “Speaking on behalf of your people, do trolls know that they are trolls, or are you under the impression that you are honest parties to a discussion?”

TW: I’m not a troll. Sorry.

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Michael November 16, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Reginald Selkirk:
Plantinga knows even less about biology than you appear to know.  

I admit to not understanding a lot of biology (although I have read quite a bit on it, I seem to struggle to grasp it, possibly because I have never really enjoyed it… although this is irrelevant), but Plantinga’s objection has absolutely nothing to do with the truth of evolution, but rather its ontological consequences. I can find a link if you are interested. So he has philosophical objections to naturalist evolution, but sees no problem with it on the theist side. So I find this post more degrading than anything.

And I admit to not knowing much about mutation rates, and having read your link I agree that the rate is decent. However, some other articles I have read mention how most mutations are either neutral or fatal, and only a hand full are beneficial. Is this true or have I been misinformed?

Anywho, it still doesn’t explain why such a major extrapolation can be made. We have transitional species between many animals, but can’t seem to find our common ancestors outside of the animal kingdom. This seems a big problem for me. I could say that I have a friend who runs a 9.87 100 yard dash. Could be assume he ran a sub-4.3 40? Not unless given sufficient evidence. It seems to make sense that he must… The thing is, my friend runs a 4.43 40. The point is that it may seem logical to make the extrapolation at first glance, but then you realize the vast difference between the two and recognize that it requires more than you initially thought to rationally go from one to the other.

Please continue supplying the links though. I am enjoying them quite a bit, and they are helping bridge the gap, even if only little by little.

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Tony Hoffman November 17, 2009 at 6:00 am

Michael,

What is it that you find so persuasive in Plantinga’s argument against naturalism and evolution? Because I think that the premise that natural selection cares nothing about the truth of our cognitive faculties is breathtakingly ignorant.

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Tony Hoffman November 17, 2009 at 6:45 am

Tony: “There is no ‘holy grail’ of the TOE.
TW: I thought TOE was an indusputible fact like gravity.

There is no holy grail of any scientific theory because all hypotheses set out to disprove, not to prove. It’s science. Induction. You should learn how it works before you try criticizing it.

I don’t know what you mean by saying that TOE “was an indusputible fact like gravity.”

Tony: “He billed it as an example of a new organ, not of speciation. His notation was clear. Why would you lie or write so carelessly?”
TW: But it’s not a new organ. It’s a rare organ, but not a new organ. At least that’s not how I interpret the article.

The question was, Why did you misrepresent what Reginald had presented? Are you aware that strawmanning is a sign of bad faith?

Regarding how you interpreted the article, you came away with this: Todd White: “It’s a rare organ, but not a new organ.”

But the article says this in only its 5th paragraph:

Cecal valves, which were found in hatchlings, juveniles and adults on Pod Mrcaru, have never been reported for this species, including the source population on Pod Kopiste.

Once again, I have to conclude that you are either lying, so careless as to be negligent, or unable to comprehend English. None of these are attractive attributes in a discussion on a site like this.

TW: I’m not a troll. Sorry.

Then if you are interested in topics like this you should stop behaving like one.

I like to imagine an impartial reader coming across all of the comments in a discussion like this. I believe they would see that one side is addressing the issues with rigor, patience, evidence, and engagement. The other side is careless, willfully ignorant, disengaged (ignores valid questions, peruses relevant materials without taking the time to comprehend them, etc.), rambling, and often misrepresents.

I admit that my biases could blind me to which side I am on. I wonder if you have considered that your biases may have misled you as to which side the impartial reader would classify you.

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Reginald Selkirk November 17, 2009 at 6:49 am

Michael: but Plantinga’s objection has absolutely nothing to do with the truth of evolution, but rather its ontological consequences. I can find a link if you are interested.

Don’t bother. I am familiar with it, and consider it to be a pile of ****.

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Reginald Selkirk November 17, 2009 at 7:03 am

Michael: And I admit to not knowing much about mutation rates, and having read your link I agree that the rate is decent. However, some other articles I have read mention how most mutations are either neutral or fatal, and only a hand full are beneficial. Is this true or have I been misinformed?

Larry Moran again:

Simple calculations suggest than even a rate of 0.1 deleterious mutations per individual will spell doom for the species. This is a well-known limitation and it was widely used in developing several key components of evolutionary theory and in explaining the size and composition of eukaryotic genomes.

The average total mutation rate in humans is about 120 mutations per genome per generation.

Here Moran states that Cordova is wrong, but really doesn’t explain why.

Human mutation rate revealed

Every time human DNA is passed from one generation to the next it accumulates 100–200 new mutations, according to a DNA-sequencing analysis of the Y chromosome.
This number — the first direct measurement of the human mutation rate — is equivalent to one mutation in every 30 million base pairs, and matches previous estimates from species comparisons and rare disease screens.

Most of the Y chromosome doesn’t mix with any other chromosomes, which makes estimating its mutation rate easier. But the mutation rate might be somewhat different on other chromosomes, points out Adam Eyre-Walker…

My understanding is that this number is the (estimated) number of base changes in the entire genome, not just those that affect functional regions (genes, promoters, regulatory regions)

Now, are you really sad that > 90% of your genome is junk?

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Reginald Selkirk November 17, 2009 at 7:35 am

Michael: And I admit to not knowing much about mutation rates, and having read your link I agree that the rate is decent. However, some other articles I have read mention how most mutations are either neutral or fatal, and only a hand full are beneficial. Is this true or have I been misinformed?

More random bits on mutation rates, from a different perspective:

Considering just the portion of the genome that codes for proteins, (~ 2%), along with information about overall mutation rates already posted, we would calculate roughly 3-5 mutations per generation which affect protein coding. So right there we have cut down the size of the question tremendously.

The genetic code, you may recall, is degenerate. There are 64 possible codons which code for (usually) 20 amino acids and a few control codons. If a codon for Leucine gets altered to one of the other 5 codons for Leucine, there is no effect whatsoever on the protein sequence produced. The mutation is neutral.

The 20 amino acids (actually 19 amino acids + proline, which is an imino acid) vary in chemistry; some are fairly similar to others. This means some coding mutations will usually be neutral; e.g. leucine to isoleucine.

Proteins have specific folded three-dimensional structures. If a mutation is on the outer surface of the protein, the mutation is likely to be neutral, unless it interferes with a docking site where the protein links up with another molecule.

The most critical mutations will be those which affect the active site residues where enzymes bind their substrates and catalyze chemical reactions. This is only a small fraction of the total number of residues.

Other critical mutations will also have large effects, those that create or destroy a STOP codon and thus change the length of the protein. There are only 3 STOP codons in the canonical code. Also, insertions or deletions which cause a frame shift will change the entire coding sequence following the mutation.


Another thing to keep in mind: whether or not a mutation is beneficial or deleterious depends on the situation.

Example: sickle cell anemia. A single amino acid change in hemoglobin increases the probability that hemoglobin molecules will congregate in long fibers, possibly damaging red blood cells. In regions prone to malaria, this can actually be beneficial in the heterozygous form, as it increases resistance to malaria infection. In regions not prone to malaria, homozygous individuals still suffer a severe detriment, and heterozygous individuals suffer a mild detriment.

Another example: Vitamin C, ascorbic acid. The reason this is called a “vitamin” is that we need to get it in our diet, because our bodies do not manufacture their own. Long ago our ancestors were able to produce their own, but at some point a mutation killed an enzyme in our vitamin C pathway. is this mutant deleterious? Not as long as we continue to get an adequate amount of vitamin C in our diets. BTW, the inheritance of this mutation by all primates is evidence for common descent.

You may note here that I am chipping away at this with anecdotes which are true and relevant, but don’t go to the heart of the matter. That’s because I am a molecular biologist, not a specialist in evolutionary biology. The most direct response would be a link for a discussion of Nachman’s paradox from a reliable source (i.e. not Uncommon Descent), but I don’t happen to have such a link handy. Maybe you could go over to Larry Moran’s blog and ask him to expound on that topic a bit more.

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Reginald Selkirk November 17, 2009 at 7:54 am

Michael: We have transitional species between many animals, but can’t seem to find our common ancestors outside of the animal kingdom. This seems a big problem for me.

What?

Links about endosymbiosis already posted. One consequence of endosymbiosis is that our nuclear chromosomal genes have one line of ancestry in the prokaryotic world, an our mitochondria have another line of descent. Likewise, chloroplasts in plants also have a line of ancestry distinct from plant chromosomes.

The further back you go, the harder it is to trace these things, for a few reasons.
* The genetic sequence differences get bigger, and if they get too big they can get lost in the noise.
* Single cells are not as prominent and distinct in the fossil record because they are really tiny and the things that make them distinct do not show up in fossils.
* Prokaryotes are notorious for engaging in Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT). This is well-known, this is readily observable. Bacteria can exchange genes for antibiotic resistance, for example. This makes tracing ancestry difficult. Which gene is vital to the organism’s identity? Typically the ribosomal RNA genes are used for such deep tree-of-life studies.

BTW, horizontal gene transfer itself is evidence for common descent. HGT only makes sense if the participants share the same genetic code. Otherwise passing genes back and forth would make no sense at all.

There are studies on this stuff. You might want to read up on the Three Domain Hypothesis. (at Larry Moran’s site again)

Another topic you could read up on is the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA)

The Three Domain Hypothesis and LUCA are both active areas of research, i.e. there is no cut-and-dried answer yet. That makes it more exciting.

Sandwalk and Pandas Thumb are both excellent sites for biological information. Pharyngula is also quite good for that, but some people have issues with the frequent theist-bashing there.

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Reginald Selkirk November 17, 2009 at 9:28 am

Books which might be of interest:

I recently read Dawkins the Greatest Show on Earth (480 pages) as well as Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True (304 pages). Both purport to present the evidence why evolution is accepted by nearly all biological scientists, and they do cover the same basic material: definitions of science, the fossil record, vestigial organs, embryology, anatomical and genetic comparisons, biogeography, natural selection, human evolution. Coyne includes a chapter “The Origin of Species,” which is about speciation. Coyne’s book is also shorter and more linear. Dawkins is constantly veering off on tangents to discuss material which is not directly on topic. Depending on your attention span, this may be either entertaining or annoying.

Evolutionary developmental (evo-devo) biologist Sean B. Carroll (not to be confused with cosmologist Sean Carroll) has also written a few books, including The Making of the Fittest. This book is interesting in that it takes a different approach from all the other books. Since the fossil record is adequately covered elsewhere, Carroll doesn’t waste his time on it, and instead concentrates on his specialty. He includes numbers for mutation rates, time for fixation of traits, etc.

If you think you can handle a little more depth than the stuff above, Ernst Mayr’s What Evolution Is gives an overview from one of the leading evolutionary biologists of the 20th century. It emphasizes populations.

For lots and lots of fossils, there’s Donald Prothero’s Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. This book is not really a thorough account of evolution as much as it a refutation of every Creationist argument about fossils. Discussion of the process of fossilization, dating techniques, fossil series showing gradual change of traits, and page after page of vertebrate, mostly mammalian fossils, and of course, a thorough chapter on human ancestor fossils.

The dominant college textbook on evolutionary biology is written by Douglas Futuyma, but a) I haven’t read it. b) He has a couple books out with similar titles, “Evolution” and “Evolutionary Biology,” and I’m not sure about the distinction between the two.

Lukeprog: the comment preview is messing up in an interesting way. The first link shows up alright, but the second and third links are combined, with all the text in between gone missing. Same for the 4th and 5th comments. I think it will be OK once I actually submit the comment, but if it isn’t I’ll let you know.

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Michael November 17, 2009 at 9:48 am

Thanks. I will try to get to reading.

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Todd White November 17, 2009 at 10:17 am

Tony: Let’s stick to our original agreement of not responding to each other. I don’t think you’re a bad guy, per se, but you’re just too touchy on this subject, and it affects your ability to be an enjoyable debate partner.

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Michael November 17, 2009 at 10:32 am

Tony Hoffman: Michael,What is it that you find so persuasive in Plantinga’s argument against naturalism and evolution? Because I think that the premise that natural selection cares nothing about the truth of our cognitive faculties is breathtakingly ignorant.  

Plantinga explains that it cannot have an effect on truth value, but only survival value. He explains this in his example of a humanoid being facing a tiger. He could be thinking that the best thing to do is to pet it, but maybe he thinks that the best way to do so is to run away. Or maybe he wants to be attacked, but for some reason believes this tiger won’t attack him. Or maybe… there are many possibilities that allow him to survive but the beliefs that allow him to do so are fallacious. A great example of this is religion, and one many atheists use regularly. The argument being that religion has survival benefit over non-religion, and therefore just a bi-product of evolution. But as any decent philosopher would say, this is the genetic fallacy and also applies to any belief whatsoever that is held, including atheism and evolution itself, as they may also have survival benefits. And if the atheist says that their beliefs aren’t beneficial, well then they will pass away with time. Or if they are neutral, they don’t matter. (at least this is how it appears to me. I hope you will not withhold judgement if you disagree haha).

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Reginald Selkirk November 17, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Reginald Selkirk: Here Moran states that Cordova is wrong, but really doesn’t explain why.

Larry Moran follows up with more detail on Genetic Load, Neutral Theory, and Junk DNA


And a comment from his previous thread:
Alexander said…
How is the high mutation rate supposed to defeat “Darwinism,” when ID (supposedly) predicts that most of the genome is functional and that mutations can only decrease information? IDiot indeed.
Monday, November 16, 2009 8:15:00 PM

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Reginald Selkirk November 17, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Michael: Plantinga explains that it cannot have an effect on truth value, but only survival value.

In other words, he says that an indirect effect is no effect at all. Do you not see a problem with that?

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Reginald Selkirk November 17, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Alvin Plantinga gives philosophy a bad name
by PZ Myers

To which I say…exactly! Brains are not reliable; they’ve been shaped by forces which, as has been clearly said, do not value Truth with a capital T. Scientists are all skeptics who do not trust their perceptions at all; we design experiments to challenge our assumptions, we measure everything multiple times in multiple ways, we get input from many people, we put our ideas out in public for criticism, we repeat experiments and observations over and over. We demand repeated and repeatable confirmation before we accept a conclusion, because our minds are not reliable. We cannot just sit in our office at Notre Dame with a bible and conjure truth out of divine effluent. We need to supplement brains with evidence, which is the piece Plantinga is missing.

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Reginald Selkirk November 17, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Michael: The argument being that religion has survival benefit over non-religion, and therefore just a bi-product of evolution.

The argument is not that any particular set of religious beliefs has survival value, but that a tendency towards religious belief has survival value. Thus JC has to share this argument with Krishna, Zeus, Thor, the rain god, etc.

But as any decent philosopher would say, this is the genetic fallacy and also applies to any belief whatsoever that is held, including atheism and evolution itself, as they may also have survival benefits.

Note previous comment.

And if the atheist says that their beliefs aren’t beneficial, well then they will pass away with time. Or if they are neutral, they don’t matter. (at least this is how it appears to me. I hope you will not withhold judgement if you disagree haha).

There are possible complications which you do not mention. Suppose, for example, that a tendency towards religious belief does not in itself have survival value , but is an indirect consequence of something which does (possible example: a desire and ability to assign causes to phenomena). This would be perfectly consistent with evolution.

Or suppose that a tendency towards religious belief is a result of something else which has survival value, but more of that property resulted in the rejection of religion. That would be perfectly consistent with evolution.

Or suppose that the spread of religion is good for religion, but is not good for those who hold it. This is also an evolutionary argument, and is quite comparable to parasites.

Or suppose that a tendency towards religious belief was beneficial in the past, but is no longer so. This is perfectly consistent with an evolutionary explanation.

Since Plantinga knows squat about evolution, and about science in general, he does not address any such possibilities.

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Michael November 17, 2009 at 6:55 pm

This was exactly the point though. None of these issues address whether something is true or not. Now I’m not a scientist, so I go along with what scientists say (I will say evolution seems plausible, however, I don’t think it should be considered on par with gravity and such, although it may one day get there). However, a large majority of philosophers believe in absolute truths, and evolution DOES NOT explain this, as evidenced in your posts. There are indeed possible evolutionary theories that could explain how we got them, but this does not address whether it is true or not. This was Pantinga’s idea, viz. there are possible explanations for origins of our beliefs whether religious or otherwise, but that we cannot determine that they are true or untrue simply because they have evolved or because we currently hold them. His example shows why survival value is not the same as truth value, and that it is possible to have one without the other. Actually, I believe it was Craig (maybe, don’t quote me on this, but I know somebody said it recently), said that religion may lead to a decreased survival value, or at least did or does in some areas where certain religions are persecuted and martyred. This would seem to decrease religion in those areas. But interestingly enough, religions, Christianity in particular, actually spread more rapidly amongst these areas than prosperous ones.

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Reginald Selkirk November 18, 2009 at 5:59 am

Michael: (I will say evolution seems plausible, however, I don’t think it should be considered on par with gravity and such, although it may one day get there).

Ha ha ha! This is a display of your ignorance. Evolution is actually better established than current theories of gravity. Newton’s “laws of motion” are known to be deficient for very large masses and very large velocities. Einstein’s relativity corrects for these, BUT a) there are difficulties reconciling relativity with quantum mechanics under certain conditions and b) Dark Energy is yet to be explained. Moreover, while we may some day find a more accurate formulation for calculating gravity, we still cannot explain why it exists.

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Reginald Selkirk November 18, 2009 at 6:11 am

Michael: Actually, I believe it was Craig (maybe, don’t quote me on this, but I know somebody said it recently), said that religion may lead to a decreased survival value, or at least did or does in some areas where certain religions are persecuted and martyred. This would seem to decrease religion in those areas. But interestingly enough, religions, Christianity in particular, actually spread more rapidly amongst these areas than prosperous ones.

Shallow. The bulk of persecution of religious people throughout history has been carried out by other religious people. And it only “spreads more rapidly” in such areas because it is starting from a smaller number; i.e. the spread is calculated as a percentage of the previous extent. BTW, see Bertrand Russell on why he characterized Soviet communism as a religion.

However, a large majority of philosophers believe in absolute truths, and evolution DOES NOT explain this, as evidenced in your posts.

Slow down. What do you mean by “absolute truths”? And why should I give a @$@@$ what a large majority of philosophers believe about topics on which they demonstrate a lack of knowledge?

This was Plantinga’s idea, viz. there are possible explanations for origins of our beliefs whether religious or otherwise, but that we cannot determine that they are true or untrue simply because they have evolved or because we currently hold them.

Was that his idea? Because I thought his idea was that naturalism was incompatible with evolution. Too bad he can’t explain it properly since he has no grasp of evolution.

You need to get off this “Plantinga said this” and “Craig said that.” You need to evaluate these ideas for yourself and discard the patently silly ones.

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 9:24 am

I guess my question then is why do any scientists question evolution if it is such fact? Nobody denies the theories of motion and stuff, granted they don’t’ apply to everything. But evolution doesn’t explain the origin of life either, so it faces limitations as well.

By absolute truth I mean simply the idea that relativism is not true and that there is real truth. So the opposite of true agnosticism that says we can’t actually know anything. And I find it odd that that you say philosophers demonstrate a lack of knowledge in philosophy, as this is their expertise. So I still hold that most philosophers agree that relativism is not true and that there are correct and incorrect ideas. And as I said, evolution does not explain this, and that is not just a philosophical view, but one that the naturalist must accept. And from what I’ve read, he does not say that naturalism is incompatible with evolution, but rather both together are incompatible with correct ideas. So I would say that naturalism and evolution are definitely compatible, but that one then must accept that there is no way to determine what is true vs. false via evolutionary explanations. This is really simply due to the genetic fallacy.

And I think that quoting experts in their fields of expertise to show that I have looked into the ideas available and that these are the ones I happen to agree with. One cannot simply come to his own beliefs that nobody has ever believed before. You do the same when you quote people as well. Although I would say that these are the people that led you to your beliefs rather than that you simply accept their opinions because it is their opinion.

You seem to suggest that Craig and Plantinga are inept at what they do. I have to disagree with this as they are very respected scholars (by atheists as well) in the filed of philosophy. I understand that some may dislike or disagree with what they say, but that does not mean at all that they are inept. That would be like me saying that I don’t currently accept evolution as a fact and therefore I think Dawkins and Ayala and others are inept. But I think these guys are genious and have contributed so much to their respective fields, so they are in fact very respected.

Finally, how does evolution lead to true beliefs if it does? The examples you gave earlier are compatible with the belief being false as well, so these examples don’t explain this at all. If anything, they show my point, which is that they commit the genetic fallacy whenever they try to say a belief is true or is false based on how one comes to believe in something, that is, that it is beneficial for them therefore they believe it. But I can believe that I am a long lost king and live a dominant lifestyle, having many wives and children, spreading my genes, and surviving well. This belief is one that would result in survival and spreading of ones genes, which is what natural selection selects, and therefore is a beneficial belief. Problem: It’ false. So if evolution can explain how a belief is true, I would honestly like to know, so that I don’t have a false belief of my own that it does not.

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Tony Hoffman November 18, 2009 at 9:37 am

Michael,

Sorry I haven’t responded directly yet to your defense of Plantinga’s EAAN yet. Reginald has said much better what I would have, but I’ll add in my thoughts.

I think Plantinga makes a basic Christian mindset mistake of failing to consider the how of cognitive abilities; he seems to think that it was either planted their whole by God (his somehow “rational” belief), or it was somehow sprung whole in a gentleman who first encountered a tiger.

Plantinga uses a Bayesian analysis at times to defend his EAAN. This seems to make the mistake above, where there is no tree of cognition built on empirical abilities. For instance, making a basic Cartesian progression for beliefs Plantinga seems to think that there is a 50-50 likelihood that I a) believe that I exist; b) believe that there is an outside world; c) believe that my sense are reliable and that tigers exist; d) believe that tigers represent a threat (is neutral, but I’ll remove this option from the equation for now), or a benefit; and e) believe that the best way to deal with my belief about tigers is to pet it or run away.

So, using Bayesian calculations, according to Plantinga I have ony about a 3% chance of having a true belief about my relationship with Tigers. But why in the world would I use a Bayesian calculation for arriving at a belief that is based on a series of beliefs each of which would be selected for prior to my choosing what to do on encountering a tiger?

Either Plantinga completely fails to understand what natural selection and evolutionary thought is, or he is being purposely obtuse to prop up his own beliefs. Each of my beliefs upon which my belief about what to do when encountering a tiger exists prior and independently of the belief that leads to an action. I do not arrive at my encounter with a tiger with only a 50/50 chance of believing that there is an outside world, because my failing to accept this belief would not permit me to adopt an interactive stance with that world, for instance. In other words, if I am facing a tiger, I have a 100% chance of believing that there is an outside world with which I can react, because if I did not have this belief I would not exist long enough to ever encounter a tiger.

The fact that this argument is so bad is somehow part of its longevity, I think, because I think most people who understand even a bit of evolutionary theory don’t believe it’s even worth a response.

Isn’t the gaping hole in Plantinga’s argument I described above covered very well in Climbing Mount Improbable and the Blind Watchmaker? Don’t you think that that Plantinga’s reasoning with the EAAN fails to grasp the fundamental power of natural selection to achieve what is mistaken as complexity achieved through random forces alone?

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Tony Hoffman November 18, 2009 at 9:43 am

So if evolution can explain how a belief is true, I would honestly like to know, so that I don’t have a false belief of my own that it does not.

Expose your belief to empirical testing. If you believe there is a wall in front of you, open your eyes, reach out your hand, throw a ball against it and listen for the noise. Is that really so hard to imagine?

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 9:49 am

I figured I would also post a link to a site within this site that even discusses how the genetic fallacy is invalid both for theistic and atheistic beliefs.
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=1280#more-1280

We cannot know whether either is true or false based in evolution. Therefore, evolution has NO effect on truth, but only attributes that increase chances of survival. This is the argument, that beliefs can be demonstrably false yet beneficial, or true and harmful. In that case, the false belief would persist and the true one wouldn’t.

As for Russell arguing that communism should be classified as religion: Wow. The idea of communism and Marx was to entirely rid religious belief entirely, not just Christianity! And yeah, Stalin tried to people to worship him, but the issue here is that is not religion. There is a difference between a worldview and a religion when people wish there to be, but sometimes people wish them to be the same. The problem here is that atheists don’t want to be seen as religious, but that they hold a worldview, but when an atheist commits a heinous crime, they were being religious. Dinesh D’Souza makes this point constantly. He admits that religions often do commit crimes “in the name of religion.” But so do atheists. Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot just to name a few. Christianity should take responsibility for its crimes, so should Islam, and all other religions… But so should atheism.

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 9:57 am

Tony, the problem that I am suggesting is that not all beliefs can be empirically tested. But certainly there are beliefs like such that are false and some that are true?

And I understand that the Bayesian idea is not the greatest, and probably not how we make decisions. But the fact remains that one COULD have the wrong belief and still survive. I’m not worried about probability, but I still see that a false belief could be beneficial, and this is exactly the problem. Evolution may not promote true beliefs, because some true beliefs may even be harmful. So I agree that his analogy is weak in those terms, but it still shows how it is possible to have an entirely false belief and benefit from it.

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Reginald Selkirk November 18, 2009 at 10:35 am

I guess my question then is why do any scientists question evolution if it is such fact? Nobody denies the theories of motion and stuff, granted they don’t’ apply to everything.

In every case I have personally seen, the questioning of evolution is due to prior religious indoctrination.

There is in fact a Flat Earth Society. There are in fact people who question heliocentricity, including at least one person with a B.S. in astrophysics and a Ph.D. in astronomy. Cranks question relativity all the time, and the stuff about difficulty in reconciling quantum mechanincs and gravity, and about dark energy, are known in mainstream physics.

By absolute truth I mean simply the idea that relativism is not true and that there is real truth.

You define “absolute truth” as “real truth”? Dude, up your game a bit. See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philsophy for various theories of “truth,” including axiomatic, identity, coherence, correspondence, etc.

As a scientist, I of course believe that there is an actual world out there. Science is about finding out about that actual world, and relativism of knowledge is colossally unpopular in science.

So the opposite of true agnosticism that says we can’t actually know anything.

BZZZT WRONG! Agnosticism doesn’t claim there is no “truth,” only that it cannot be known. That’s a clear distinction.

And I find it odd that that you say philosophers demonstrate a lack of knowledge in philosophy, as this is their expertise.

I dare you to find a direct quote of me saying that. Several philosophers have in fact shown a lack of knowledge of science, in particular evolution. If my remarks were unclear, that is because I was responding to your unclear statements, such lack of clarity amply catalogued.

So I still hold that most philosophers agree that relativism is not true and that there are correct and incorrect ideas. And as I said, evolution does not explain this, and that is not just a philosophical view, but one that the naturalist must accept.

This makes no sense to me. Evolution does not explain that some ideas which people hold about the natural world are correct, and others are incorrect?

And I think that quoting experts in their fields of expertise to show that I have looked into the ideas available and that these are the ones I happen to agree with.

Okey dokey; when you quote someone to back up a point, I will assume that you yourself agree with the quoted view. So when a quoted view is demonstrably silly, I will then assume that you yourself are silly. Plantinga has said things that are so incredibly silly that I was offering you a break by giving you a chance to distance yourself from them.

You seem to suggest that Craig and Plantinga are inept at what they do. I have to disagree with this as they are very respected scholars (by atheists as well) in the filed of philosophy.

I did not say that everything they do is inept, but yes, some things they have said are quite inept, which i consider to have been demonstrated (e.g. Plantingas arguments concerning evolution). If they are respected within modern philosophy, that is a black mark on the field, and it is no wonder that most people associate philosophy with togas, and consider it to be a dead and irrelevant field.

That would be like me saying that I don’t currently accept evolution as a fact and therefore I think Dawkins and Ayala and others are inept.

No, I would expect you to demonstrate that their views were inept. Mere disagreement wouldn’t do it.

Finally, how does evolution lead to true beliefs if it does? The examples you gave earlier are compatible with the belief being false as well, so these examples don’t explain this at all. If anything, they show my point, which is that they commit the genetic fallacy whenever they try to say a belief is true or is false based on how one comes to believe in something, that is, that it is beneficial for them therefore they believe it.

I am not sure why you keep harping on the genetic fallacy, as I do not see its relevance to the current discussion.

Plantinga says the effect of beliefs on evolution is only indirect, therefore it is nonexistent. Allow me to point out that almost all natural selection is indirect, since it operates on the bodies and behaviour of organisms, not directly in their genes. That was an incredibly silly, sloppy argument by him. You are shamed by your repetition of it.

People do hold a great number of false beliefs, so it would be misguided indeed for a believer in naturalistic evolution to claim that evolution had generated perfect brains which never hold false beliefs. We would both agree, for example, that a majority of people in the world hold false beliefs about religion. Perceptual illusions and cognitive illusions abound, and indeed we cannot completely trust our senses and our cognitive abilities. This is a strawman argument by Plantinga.

So if evolution can explain how a belief is true,

Just as soon as you define “true.” May I suggest the correspondence theory of truth for purposes of this discussion?

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Reginald Selkirk November 18, 2009 at 10:46 am

Michael: As for Russell arguing that communism should be classified as religion: Wow. The idea of communism and Marx was to entirely rid religious belief entirely, not just Christianity!

So what’s youre definition of religion? Communism is a curious mix of social, political, economic and religious ideas which has no sound scientific basis. It has unquestionable dogma, it has charismatic leaders.

And yeah, Stalin tried to people to worship him, but the issue here is that is not religion. There is a difference between a worldview and a religion when people wish there to be, but sometimes people wish them to be the same. The problem here is that atheists don’t want to be seen as religious, but that they hold a worldview, but when an atheist commits a heinous crime, they were being religious. Dinesh D’Souza makes this point constantly. He admits that religions often do commit crimes “in the name of religion.” But so do atheists. Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot just to name a few.

Dinesh D’Souza is not a reliable source. For example, Hitler was not an atheist. The others on your list were all communists, I would maintain they committed their crimes in the name of communism, not atheism.

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Reginald Selkirk November 18, 2009 at 10:52 am

Michael: We cannot know whether either is true or false based in evolution. Therefore, evolution has NO effect on truth, but only attributes that increase chances of survival. This is the argument, that beliefs can be demonstrably false yet beneficial, or true and harmful. In that case, the false belief would persist and the true one wouldn’t.

Uh huh. So, you’re saying this never happens, therefore evolution is false?

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Reginald Selkirk November 18, 2009 at 10:59 am

This is the argument, that beliefs can be demonstrably false yet beneficial, or true and harmful. In that case, the false belief would persist and the true one wouldn’t.

Wait a minute. I can see the first case, a false belief being beneficial; say running from a tiger for the wrong reason. Could you explain or provide an example of the latter, a true belief being harmful?

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Tony Hoffman November 18, 2009 at 11:25 am

Tony, the problem that I am suggesting is that not all beliefs can be empirically tested

I thought you were making the point that Plantinga is correct that evolution and naturalism are incompatible. Now I don’t know what point you are trying to make.

But certainly there are beliefs like such that are false and some that are true?

Yes. The argument you were making earlier (in support of the EAAN) is that belief in evolution is so highly improbable that it can be safely considered false.

And I understand that the Bayesian idea is not the greatest, and probably not how we make decisions.

Actually, Bayesian analysis is an awesome tool, it’s just totally and completely inappropriate to how Plantinga uses it to argue for EAAN.

But the fact remains that one COULD have the wrong belief and still survive.

This is true.

I’m not worried about probability, but I still see that a false belief could be beneficial, and this is exactly the problem.

You should be worried about probability if you are a proponent of the EAAN. The EAAN is all about probability.

Evolution may not promote true beliefs, because some true beliefs may even be harmful.

This makes no sense. A harmful belief would be selected against under any common definition of “harmful.” In that way, natural selection would promote true beliefs (by punishing ones that are, on balance, harmful).

So I agree that his analogy is weak in those terms, but it still shows how it is possible to have an entirely false belief and benefit from it.

On what other terms, besides probability, do you see Plantinga arguing?

I would like to clear the air here, too. I believe that you may have misrepresented yourself earlier when you said that you have read everything Dawkins has written. If you could please amend that for me to list what of Dawkins you have read I would appreciate it, because it would help me understand the degree to which your understanding is based on ignorance (something we all own in abundance but that that is thankfully correctable) and what could otherwise be explainable as cognitive bias.

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Reginald Selkirk: And why should I give a @$@@$ what a large majority of philosophers believe about topics on which they demonstrate a lack of knowledge?

I was discussing truth here, and what philosophers say about it. So if this was a misinterpretation, my apologies.

As for truth, I would say the correspondence theory sounds wonderful (apologies for my vagueness).

Religion, I would define as belief in a transcendent reality and a personal commitment to such.
As for Hitler, here’s a quote from him. “We do not want any other god than Germany itself. It is essential to have fanatical faith and hope and love in and for Germany.” That sounds very atheistic to me, unless you consider nationalism religion.

And communism is based on atheism, and I would consider that a worldview (set of presuppositions which we hold about the basic makeup of the world-Sire). Communism does not hold to a transcendent reality, and “worship” does not mean that one believes in one either. And if communism was based on atheism (as Marx firmly held to atheistic thinking and removal of all religion), then to do something in the name of communism is to do so in the name of atheism. It sucks, I know, and is not something we want. For example, the Crusades were done by Christians, and even though I can say that this is not what Christianity is about and not the teachings of Jesus, they still did it due to their belief in Christianity. Same goes for the people I mentioned, they were all atheists (Hitler included, he wanted to seem religious for political reasons, but from his actions, one would be forced to see he was anti-religious as he appointed anti-religious people to pretty much every position that he could). But beside that, D’Souza is a pretty reliable source for such information as this is what he is currently studying and writing about.

And I’m not saying evolution is false, just that it can’t establish true beliefs in and of itself. So if only evolution is true, we must examine beliefs as they are, and in this sense naturalism fails because it says the world is all there is and if our beliefs are simply due to evolution then we have to be agnostic. My point is that we know that some beliefs are true and some are false, and therefore there must be a external reason that we know such. The Christian can say this is because we are made in the image of God, while the naturalist, if truly being consistent, becomes a nihilist (see Sire’s The Universe Next Door.

Reginald Selkirk: Wait a minute. I can see the first case, a false belief being beneficial; say running from a tiger for the wrong reason. Could you explain or provide an example of the latter, a true belief being harmful?  

This is a hard one, but Christianity can kind of fit in here. For example, a Christian is called to not denounce his beliefs, and this has led to martyrs. So picture the Christian as a rabbit. And a persecutor as a fox. The fox runs at it, the rabbit has the chance to run, but decides not to. It is eaten. So in this sense, it is harmful to not run for survival, but still they didn’t wish to run.

So if a true belief is harmful (which is possible, even if my example may not be the greatest), then this true belief would cease to be held and only false one promoted. And herein lies the problem.

As for probability, this is where Plantinga and I part ways I guess. I don’t think probability is a big deal, as I think a majority of true beliefs would be selected to persist, but my issue is with the fact the false ones could as well. So this is where I see the problem, that evolution does not pick a belief because it is true or false, the way we try to.

I’ve skimmed through the God Delusion (I found this pretty amusing, and read it more for fun as this is way out of his field of expertise and even some atheist philosophers found it amusing). I’ve read the selfish gene, blind watchmaker, unweaving the rainbow, devils chaplain, and extended phenotype. I haven’t had the chance to read greatest show on earth yet though, but I bought it a couple months ago and plan to, in the middle of climbing mount improbable. I think there are one or two more I haven’t read, but from the reviews they seemed to be pretty repetitious to some of his other material. Now I will admit that some of the stuff he presented was a little to much for me to handle, so some of my ignorance is probably due to misunderstanding rather than bias. I feel like I have no reason to believe or disbelieve evolution, as either way I think God still exists. I have a very analytic mind, and have always struggled with the biology and anatomy, which is actually why I like discussing these things, so that I can be less of a fool and more knowledgeable on these topics. I find that lay people that understand this stuff present it much more clearly than professors do. So I would like to thank you guys for all the input you give me, and I am not offended by your critiques (and I hope not to have offended you at anytime either, as that is not my intention).

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Along the lines of religion being the cause of evil atrocities, here is the author of this site’s quote:
“Another paradigm shift occurred in the comments of my post Common Atheist Mistakes. I had originally written that just as religion is partly responsible for the Crusades and 9/11 and other evils, so too is atheism partly responsible for the anti-theistic genocides of Stalin and Pol Pot, and it is unfair of atheists to blame religion for 9/11 while denying the influence of atheism on Pol Pot’s genocide of theists. Several readers, especially toweltowel, helped me to realize that neither theism nor atheism can contribute to violence, since there is nothing inherently violent about either position. Instead, certain specific worldviews can contribute to violence, for example those which venerate scriptures that advocate violence against unbelievers (Christianity and Islam, for example). I originally argued against toweltowel’s position, but now I am persuaded by it, and I changed my original post.”

So he agrees that an atheist cannot claim that religion is the cause of their OWN atrocities and that the worldview, not religion is to blame (although one can definitely lead to the other).

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Tony Hoffman November 18, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Michael,

Running out of time right now but as a general rule I believe it’s preferable to make an argument based on evidence rather than the opinions of others. For instance, I am not persuaded by Luke’s having taken a position regarding how belief or lack of belief in theism contributes to violence as much as I would be by evidence that Pol Pot committed his atrocities against theists based on his atheism. (I had never heard this before — do you have a reference?)

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Reginald Selkirk November 18, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Michael: As for Hitler, here’s a quote from him. “We do not want any other god than Germany itself. It is essential to have fanatical faith and hope and love in and for Germany.” That sounds very atheistic to me, unless you consider nationalism religion.

Hitler’s writings, including Mein Kampf, are long and rambling. There are a great many quotes in there which can be read as belief in Christianity or Germanic neo-Paganism as well. The Holocaust follows a long tradition of European anti-Semitism dating back to before the time of Martin Luther, author of On the Jews and Their Lies.
Hitler Was a Christian
Was Hitler an atheist
Hitler’s religious beliefs and fanaticism

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord. – Hitler, in Mein Kampf.

Gott mit uns.

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Reginald Selkirk November 18, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Michael: And if communism was based on atheism (as Marx firmly held to atheistic thinking and removal of all religion), then to do something in the name of communism is to do so in the name of atheism.

NO. You have been repeatedly harping on the genetic fallacy, then you make a statement like that?

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 1:50 pm

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~amamendo/KhmerRouge.html

Pol Pot simply wanted to get to “Ground Zero” where people were stupid, uninformed, and “malleable.” He also considered religion of any kind to be threatening to his ideal utopia, so wished to kill them all.

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Reginald Selkirk: NO. You have been repeatedly harping on the genetic fallacy, then you make a statement like that.

I’m not sure how this violates the genetic fallacy, as the genetic fallacy is “A fallacy that occurs when someone attacks the cause or origin of a belief rather than its substance. Why a person believes something is not relevant to the belief’s legitimacy/soundness/validity.” Or “The genetic fallacy is the claim that an idea, product, or person must be untrustworthy because of its racial, geographic, or ethnic origin.” I’m not questioning the validity or trustworthiness of anything when I say that communism was based on atheistic thinking. I’m simply stating that as a fact. And if that is true, then it follow that atheism can be seen at least as partial cause for such crimes.

1. Many major crimes (mass murders, genocides, etc.) have communism at their roots.
2. Communism is based on atheistic thoughts and ideals
3. Therefore, atheistic thoughts and ideals are at least partially in causal effect of the major crimes.

This is a logical version of what I was trying to say.

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Reginald Selkirk November 18, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Michael: And I’m not saying evolution is false, just that it can’t establish true beliefs in and of itself. So if only evolution is true, we must examine beliefs as they are, and in this sense naturalism fails because it says the world is all there is and if our beliefs are simply due to evolution then we have to be agnostic. My point is that we know that some beliefs are true and some are false, and therefore there must be a external reason that we know such. The Christian can say this is because we are made in the image of God, while the naturalist, if truly being consistent, becomes a nihilist (see Sire’s The Universe Next Door.

You are still wrong about this. Naturalism + evolution does not guarantee that all beliefs we hold will be true. That is agreed. Evolutionists do not claim the contrary. It is readily demonstrable that people hold false beliefs.

Does this mean that in a world with naturalism + evolution, there are no methods for approaching truth? No. We have logic. We have empirical science. We have probability and statistics. There is nothing in naturalism + evolution that negates these. The successes of science and technology are a pretty good indicator that some of our beliefs about the natural world cannot be completely wrong.

Michael: Could you explain or provide an example of the latter, a true belief being harmful?

This is a hard one, but Christianity can kind of fit in here. For example, a Christian is called to not denounce his beliefs, and this has led to martyrs.

Sorry, I do not grant that the Christian’s belief in Christianity is a true belief. Pick something less question-begging.

Michael: The fox runs at it, the rabbit has the chance to run, but decides not to. It is eaten. So in this sense, it is harmful to not run for survival, but still they didn’t wish to run.

Ignoring the equation of fox and rabbit to persecutor and Christian, it is not the rabbit’s true belief, whatever that may be, which causes it to die, it is the decision not to run.

Michael: As for probability, this is where Plantinga and I part ways I guess. I don’t think probability is a big deal, as I think a majority of true beliefs would be selected to persist, but my issue is with the fact the false ones could as well. So this is where I see the problem, that evolution does not pick a belief because it is true or false, the way we try to.

YES, and once again, how does this deviate from the observed world around us? Are you saying this never happens, therefore evolution is false? False beliefs are abundant! I have repeated this several times now, and you have failed to provide an adequate response.

Suppose for example, that someone refrains from eating shellfish because they think it is “sinful,” because they read such in an ancient religious text. This could save them from getting one of the fairly common diseases which are contracted from eating shellfish, even if the concept of “sin” based on the disapproval of a persnickety deity (who also told them a bat was a type of bird) was entirely false.

Recall that natural selection depends on circumstances. There might be other circumstances under which a refusal to eat shellfish might be harmful, such as a shortage of other food sources.

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Reginald Selkirk November 18, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Michael: 2. Communism is based on atheistic thoughts and ideals
3. Therefore, atheistic thoughts and ideals are at least partially in causal effect of the major crimes.

No, I cannot agree. How do you make the attribution that these bad effects of communism are due to its atheist roots and not some other source?

Perhaps this is the fallacy of composition, not the genetic fallacy.

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Reginald Selkirk: Hitler’s writings, including Mein Kampf, are long and rambling. There are a great many quotes in there which can be read as belief in Christianity or Germanic neo-Paganism as well. The Holocaust follows a long tradition of European anti-Semitism dating back to before the time of Martin Luther, author of On the Jews and Their Lies.
Hitler Was a Christian
Was Hitler an atheist
Hitler’s religious beliefs and fanaticism
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord. – Hitler, in Mein Kampf.
Gott mit uns.  

Hitler certainly claimed to believe in God and such, and I agree that he was a “friend” of the church. But this does not mea he was a Christian. His idea of Christ was the perfect German, not the Christ of the Bible. And his childhood beliefs aren’t his adult beliefs. If that were true, many prominent atheists would still be “Christians.” So his childhood may have affected his beliefs, but he did not maintain the same ones throughout his life. And to say that Hitler’s God was the same God as the Bible is pretty ridiculous. Hitler ignored the entirety of the Bible that preaches that murder is wrong and loving one’s enemies. Also, Hitler was one of the greatest speakers of all time, and he was really really good at convincing people of things. So he got people to believe that he was religious, as most people were, and knew that having their support would be beneficial. So his religiousness was merely political and he claimed in a god, but this god was Germany and the pure German race. Here’s a song that Hitler’s Youth sang: We follow not Christ, but Horst Wessel,
Away with incense and Holy Water,
The Church can go hang for all we care,
The Swastika brings salvation on Earth.

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Isaac Farley November 18, 2009 at 2:16 pm

I was greatly looking forward to this debate as one involved in the website design business and a Christian theist, ID has been a great interest of mind for several years. Even if I do hold to a theistic evolutionary view.

But Ayala did let us down, he was elderly and somewhat reminded me of Antony Flew carrying on about totally irrelevant points. Ayala is a brilliant man however. He seems to have bought in to the same garbage that Dawksins and the like are peddling and thinks that ID is a cheaper version of young earth creationism. Which is very disappointing.

The most valuable part of the whole debate was Craig showing that ID really does need to be taken more seriously in the academy even if it is wrong, let’s see where it fails to explain the data. Also Craig’s response to the problem of animal suffering was a new one for me I’m going to see about picking up Micheal Murry’s book that Craig cited later on this month.

Even though this was way out of his usual field of study Craig still got the won the debate on Design.

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lukeprog November 18, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Isaac,

You say, “let’s see where it fails to explain the data.” But I would like very much for intelligent design theorists to show it where and how ID theory does explain the data. That’s what we haven’t seen yet.

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Reginald Selkirk: Suppose for example, that someone refrains from eating shellfish because they think it is “sinful,” because they read such in an ancient religious text. This could save them from getting one of the fairly common diseases which are contracted from eating shellfish, even if the concept of “sin” based on the disapproval of a persnickety deity (who also told them a bat was a type of bird) was entirely false.
Recall that natural selection depends on circumstances. There might be other circumstances under which a refusal to eat shellfish might be harmful, such as a shortage of other food sources. 

I think you must be confusing what I am saying, because this is exactly my point. False beliefs are abundant, and evolution may be the “cause” of them persisting. And this is the point Plantinga and I are making, viz. evolution does NOT care about a beliefs truth value, but only survival value. So evolution, according to your example, proves my point.

As for fallacy of composition, I could say that since the reason for many of the mass murders was due to extreme atheism or anti-religiousness, or at least the idea that there was no one to hold them accountable in the end. However, I will concede that this may not be the actual cause of said events, but then the same can be said of most religious crimes as well. Personally, I don’t think religion or lack thereof has too much effect on these crimes, but that they are the result of other things. But the issue all too often is that atheists claim that religion is the “root of all evil” and atheism is perfect. But they themselves are then committing this fallacy of composition or otherwise atheism is equally responsible for crimes committed by atheists.

And my point about Christianity is possibly true, so it is, in theory at least, an example if it were to be true. But again, my point is that evolution does not prevent false belief and may even promote it, and on naturalism, if all of our cognitive faculties are developed through evolution (including our minds and brains), then they are therefore unreliable even when testing empirically as our faculties in general may be faulty. So then you could be wrong in saying that you believe that there is a reality outside of your mind. Although, neither of us believe this, but then one needs another way to ground such beliefs, and the only other place to do so is in one’s metaphysical beliefs.

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ayer November 18, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Reginald Selkirk: The successes of science and technology are a pretty good indicator that some of our beliefs about the natural world cannot be completely wrong.

“…SOME of our beliefs about the natural world cannot be COMPLETELY wrong” (?!) If that is the strongest statement in favor of the reliability of our cognitive faculties that the naturalist can make, then it is game, set and match to Plantinga.

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drj November 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm

How does Plantinga say that we can have confidence in true beliefs under Christian theism?

By the bare assertion that a deity would want it.. game over Plantinga.

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 3:58 pm

drj: By the bare assertion that a deity would want it.. game over Plantinga.

The problem here is that if that deity does in fact exist, then he is correct. If it doesn’t, he’s in the same boat as the naturalist. However, I think the fact that we do recognize that we think that there is a correspondent truth is a great reason to think about things at a metaphysical level and realize that if we are to hold this, then a foundation is necessary, and that foundation is only in a deity like the Christian God. And I would say that it is not a bare assertion either, but that one can offer arguments that support the idea (even if some think these arguments are weak or faulty) that make it not a bare assertion.

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drj November 18, 2009 at 5:05 pm

The problem here is that if that deity does in fact exist, then he is correct.

I disagree. After all the immense work Plantinga does to try and decouple truth value from utility, he can’t just glue humpty-dumpty back together again. It’s special pleading for theism.

Whose to say the aims of said deity are best serviced by true beliefs? It could just as easily be false belief that will ultimately condition your state of mind to service his aims best – there’s no way to tell. And judging by the amount of false belief in the world, using it is a technique this deity is fond of.

I do believe it can be said, that ultimately, the Christian deity wants us to survive (eternally) – yet, by Plantinga’s own arguments, we shouldn’t expect true beliefs to necessarily play any part in survival, whether its for this life, or the next.

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 5:27 pm

drj: Whose to say the aims of said deity are best serviced by true beliefs? It could just as easily be false belief that will ultimately condition your state of mind to service his aims best – there’s no way to tell. And judging by the amount of false belief in the world, using it is a technique this deity is fond of.
I do believe it can be said, that ultimately, the Christian deity wants us to survive (eternally) – yet, by Plantinga’s own arguments, we shouldn’t expect true beliefs to necessarily play any part in survival, whether its for this life, or the next.  

I partially agree. I agree that there could be a malicious deity that would desire such, but that would not be the Christian God. And in that case, then we still would have no foundation. You would be in the same trap as the naturalist again. However, the God of the Bible, if real, would be such foundation as He claims to have made us in His image and to know Him and His creation. Now this does only work if He exists, and if not… then we still have no foundation. So its not special pleading or ad-hoc, as this would be a necessary step to have that foundation.

I also would add that eternal surviving requires true belief in the deity Himself, and therefore requires the ability to obtain true beliefs through our faculties and thoughts.

Also, I would say that just because there is false belief does not mean that this is what the deity wishes. So that is irrelevant to whether it/He provides us with the foundation or not. And if He does, then it is our misuse of our faculties to determine truth, not a lack on His part.

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Tony Hoffman November 18, 2009 at 6:11 pm

I can never believe that the EAAN gets as much discussion as it does. Ever.

Here’s yet another problem. Plantinga acts as if the only way a belief can be tested in naturalism is if it aids in survival. This is patently false – ideas can be tested whether or not they have survival benefits. We don’t have to wait to see who’s left standing after so many generations to come to a determination of what beliefs are probably true and which are not. (I can’t help but wonder if the EAAN is simply a strange ploy to divert from this inevitable progression.)

For instance, we can conduct a scientific test on Plantinga’s belief that prayer heals the sick. The result of this test will have nothing to do with Plantinga’s or my survival, but if the results are the same as every scientific test that’s been conducted on prayer it will affect my confidence in Plantinga’s belief that prayers heal the sick. (I have a feeling that Plantinga’s belief will be unaffected by the results of this test.)

So if Naturalism is true, and evolution is true, what makes proponents of the EAAN think that whether or not a creature holding certain beliefs lives or dies is the only way that one can test a belief?

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ayer November 18, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Tony Hoffman: So if Naturalism is true, and evolution is true, what makes proponents of the EAAN think that whether or not a creature holding certain beliefs lives or dies is the only way that one can test a belief?

I believe you have misunderstood the EAAN. Survivability is not a means of testing individual beliefs. Because survivability (under evolutionary naturalism) is the only criteria that has shaped our cognitive faculties as a whole, doubt is thrown on our ability (using scientific means or otherwise) to assert that any of our beliefs are aligned with truth.

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 6:24 pm

I feel like you may be misunderstanding the argument. True belief applies to metaphysics as well, and the problem then becomes can we trust our faculties? The answer, on naturalism, is “we can’t be sure because they have evolved and could possibly be false.” So testing does no good because you need a foundation for your faculties in the first place. So you can’t just say you will test them because your testing is being questioned and so is your interpretation of the testing.

So, for example, your prayer idea. First, it is untestable to begin with, but let’s just say it was testable. So we test it, and you are correct to say that the result will not affect your survival, but only your beliefs. So some beliefs are even unaffected by evolution, which puts you in a bigger hole! How do you explain the belief now if evolution doesn’t explain it and you may not be able to trust your test in the first place? You can’t. In order to run tests on anything, even thought experiments, one must first believe that he can trust his senses and thoughts to begin with. But why would you be able to based solely on evolutionary history? Our brain and senses have evolved for survival, not for finding what is true or false, unless it helps survival, and in that case, it is neutral and chooses whatever is beneficial, even if false.

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Tony Hoffman November 18, 2009 at 6:51 pm

I believe you have misunderstood the EAAN. Survivability is not a means of testing individual beliefs.

But survivability is a means of testing cognitive abilities — and the ability to accurately enough perceive the outside world is a test of our cognitive abilities.

This seems to me like arguing that because birds evolved their ability to fly, they cannot fly because evolution only cared if the birds survived, not if they flew.

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Michael November 18, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Tony Hoffman: But survivability is a means of testing cognitive abilities — and the ability to accurately enough perceive the outside world is a test of our cognitive abilities.
This seems to me like arguing that because birds evolved their ability to fly, they cannot fly because evolution only cared if the birds survived, not if they flew.

That’s not a very good analogy. The problem is that you can’t test your cognitive abilities because that requires using the very cognitive abilities you are testing. We are not denying that one can think that something, but rather whether that thinking is grounded in something that allows us to determine truth. You can’t test heat with a fire.

And your bird analogy actually shows our point. Evolution didn’t care if they flew, just as it doesn’t care if we think true thoughts, it is only that we do and that it helps us survive that it cares about. So I think your analogy unfortunately backfires.

I think I understand what you are trying to say. But the problem is how does one get outside of one’s thoughts to think about one’s thoughts. One thought experiment that a lot of beginning philosophy classes do is this:
Think about a wall. Now think about the person who is thinking about the wall. Now think about the person that is thinking about the person that is thinking about the wall. Now think about the person that is thinking about the person that is thinking about the person that is thinking about the wall. What do you realize? That even when you try to think about your thoughts, your thoughts are still thinking about your thoughts. Therefore, we cannot determine our mental capacities through any testing, but simply by acknowledging that they are true (we hope). And then you end up discussing truth and how one can actually know truth. And this only can happen if one has a metaphysical foundation for this belief, or is otherwise unwarranted.

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drj November 18, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Michael: I partially agree. I agree that there could be a malicious deity that would desire such, but that would not be the Christian God.

I think you misunderstand. Once you’ve decoupled truth value from utility all together, it need not be a malicious deity deceiving you – it can be a perfectly good deity who simply fashioned you a set of false beliefs because they will provide you with the most utility.

Simply saying that a good God would want you to believe true things, because true things are useful in some way, is contrary to the whole argument.

And in that case, then we still would have no foundation. You would be in the same trap as the naturalist again. However, the God of the Bible, if real, would be such foundation as He claims to have made us in His image and to know Him and His creation. Now this does only work if He exists, and if not… then we still have no foundation. So its not special pleading or ad-hoc, as this would be a necessary step to have that foundation.

This could all simply be a useful lie – even one with your own best interests at heart, but a lie nonetheless. Even if one religion out of them all is true, we still live in a world where the vast majority of people who have lived or are alive believe in a false one – and if there is an omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity out there, this is his ideal world – where billions believe falsehoods.

I also would add that eternal surviving requires true belief in the deity Himself, and therefore requires the ability to obtain true beliefs through our faculties and thoughts.

This is no different than a naturalist saying that true belief is beneficial to survival… except that the naturalist has much better reason to think so.

Lets just assume for a second, that we are in a world where one’s proximity to an object or entity, determines how we can interact with it. If we are far away from something, we cannot interact with it, but if we are close to it, we can. Plantinga’s caveman, who runs from the tiger because he wants to be eaten, will not survive in this world as well as a person who holds a more accurate belief… for example, lets say he evolved a brain that came to observe a correlation between his proximity to an object and his ability to interact with it. Plantinga’s caveman will be running from the deer he is trying to hunt, or the berries he is trying to pick. The survival value of this belief is directly tied to its accuracy.

In fact, its quite hard to think of a false belief that would serve this person better.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 5:03 am

Michael: Hitler certainly claimed to believe in God and such, and I agree that he was a “friend” of the church. But this does not mea he was a Christian.

Yes, it looks like the No True Scotsman fallacy!

I assume you know that Hitler banned atheist and freethought groups very early in his reign. If you don’t know basic facts like that, you shouldn’t be trumpeting your ignorance in public.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 5:06 am

Isaac Farley: Ayala is a brilliant man however. He seems to have bought in to the same garbage that Dawksins and the like are peddling and thinks that ID is a cheaper version of young earth creationism. Which is very disappointing.

You should consider the possibility that it is not “garbage,” and the ID really is a political ploy cooked up by cdesign proponentsists to circumvent existing court precedents banning Creationism and Creation Science. Or, you should demand that someone demonstrate tha ID has any substance to it.

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ayer November 19, 2009 at 5:11 am

drj: This could all simply be a useful lie – even one with your own best interests at heart, but a lie nonetheless.

It COULD be, but the question is which is more plausible–the Christian epistemology, which is internally consistent in affirming that an all-good God values truth and thus provides a plausible foundation for the reliability of our cognitive faculties, or naturalistic evolution, which explicitly affirms that survivability, NOT truth, is the relevant criteria for the development of our faculties.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 5:12 am

Michael: I think you must be confusing what I am saying, because this is exactly my point. False beliefs are abundant, and evolution may be the “cause” of them persisting. And this is the point Plantinga and I are making, viz. evolution does NOT care about a beliefs truth value, but only survival value. So evolution, according to your example, proves my point.

Is that your point? I thought that you were making a case against naturalism + evolution, and my demonstration that naturalism + evolution is consistent with observed reality is an argument in its favour, not against it. You seem to be very confused. Or very dishonest.

Michael: As for fallacy of composition, I could say that since the reason for many of the mass murders was due to extreme atheism or anti-religiousness, or at least the idea that there was no one to hold them accountable in the end.

If you learn about several rattlesnakes which are venomous, do you then conclude that all snakes are venomous? That would be the fallacy of composition. The analogy is near-perfect. Every atheist on your list of genocidal maniacs was not just an atheist, but a Soviet-style communist. It seems much more sensible to me to assign the characteristics to Soviet-style communism, not to atheism.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 5:18 am

Michael: And my point about Christianity is possibly true, so it is, in theory at least, an example if it were to be true. But again, my point is that evolution does not prevent false belief and may even promote it, and on naturalism, if all of our cognitive faculties are developed through evolution (including our minds and brains), then they are therefore unreliable even when testing empirically as our faculties in general may be faulty.

You repeat yourself once again, without making a case for your argument or addressing counter-arguments. I am beginning to think you are stupid. Or dishonest.

Evolution + naturalism says that people could hold false beliefs. They demonstrably do. Point in favor of evolution + naturalism.

Evolution + naturalism says that our sense perceptions and our cognitive abilities might be flawed. They demonstrably are. Point in favor of evolution + naturalism.

The remainder of your, and Plantinga’s argument is an absolutist falalcy so common to theists. If morality/purpose/perceptual and cognitive reliability are not perfect/infinite/eternal, then they are completely useless. This is utter nonsense. It is a false dichotomy. We can start with the extent to which our perceptions are reliable, and then devise ways to test them, uncover and compensate for the unreliabilities. We can invent logic and empiricism.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 5:19 am

ayer:
“…SOME of our beliefs about the natural world cannot be COMPLETELY wrong” (?!)If that is the strongest statement in favor of the reliability of our cognitive faculties that the naturalist can make, then it is game, set and match to Plantinga.  

You fecking idiot. You presumably typed your response into a computer. That means that a great deal of physics, including quantum mechanics, must be right enough for all of that equipment to work.

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drj November 19, 2009 at 5:19 am

ayer: It COULD be, but the question is which is more plausible–the Christian epistemology, which is internally consistent in affirming that an all-good God values truth and thus provides a plausible foundation for the reliability of our cognitive faculties, or naturalistic evolution, which explicitly affirms that survivability, NOT truth, is the relevant criteria for the development of our faculties.

To say this God values truth is just begging the question, in the same way Plantinga accuses the naturalist. Its really no different than saying natural selection “values” truth. Yet you rely on inherently untrustworthy cognitive faculties to make your assessment, so you cannot rationally accept your assessment.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 5:22 am

Michael: I partially agree. I agree that there could be a malicious deity that would desire such, but that would not be the Christian God. And in that case, then we still would have no foundation. You would be in the same trap as the naturalist again. However, the God of the Bible, if real, would be such foundation as He claims to have made us in His image and to know Him and His creation. Now this does only work if He exists, and if not… then we still have no foundation. So its not special pleading or ad-hoc, as this would be a necessary step to have that foundation.

So your argument is that you wanta foundation, therefore it exists. Are you attempting to make a clean sweep of all the fallacies in this one thread? Save some for later.

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Michael November 19, 2009 at 5:29 am

Hitler was a political genius. He played his cards right. Yes he made it seem like he was a Christian, but he wasn’t. He was worried about purifying the German race not the Christian religion. That’s the problem. If he was really doing it “for” God,” he would have been trying to convert people, not murder them. Again, what he did is entirely inconsistent with any view of the Christian God. Actions speak louder than words. He can prevent freethought and kick out atheists… but his SS were almost entirely atheist, so were many of his people in power. Why would this be so if he wasn’t really an atheist? Again, unless Germany can be considered a deity… I admit that his writings seem to talk about God, but this could be a metaphor for his Germany, and Christ the perfect German figure. His Christian upbringing may have had some effect on what he did, especially to the Jews, but it was not who he was when in power. He manipulated people into thinking he was a good person, on a mission from God. Why? Otherwise nobody would have supported him!

Reginald Selkirk: Is that your point? I thought that you were making a case against naturalism + evolution, and my demonstration that naturalism + evolution is consistent with observed reality is an argument in its favour, not against it. You seem to be very confused. Or very dishonest.

But if it doesn’t care about truth value, why would you expect your senses to be geared toward recognizing truth? They could be all of of whack for all we know. That’s the point, that if evolution does its thing for survival, it doesn’t acre how we survive. So if we are delusional but have a 95% better chance of surviving, awesome! So then you have to question why you can trust your senses and thinking, and as I said in my other posts, the only basis for such trust is the Christian thought of a God valuing truth and wanting us to know it. You can’t test your senses, as I explained. And therefore all of your perceptions could be wrong. What is your ground for thinking you are reliable? You can’t say because it corresponds with reality, because your view of reality may be wrong as this is the way you percieve reality.

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drj November 19, 2009 at 5:47 am

But if it doesn’t care about truth value, why would you expect your senses to be geared toward recognizing truth? They could be all of of whack for all we know.

Well, except for some of the very most basic of faculties, our senses don’t appear to be geared for truth – at all. The brain is riddled with insidious biases (many which are explained quite plausibly by evolution, no less). I think in the end, the amount of false beliefs in the world is fatal for belief in a truth valuing God. If he exists, he obviously finds lies *very* useful.

But again, imagine a possible world where one’s distance from things governs how one can interact with those things.
In this world you need to either interact with some things to survive, or avoid interaction with some things to survive. In this world, a mind who understands this concept with accuracy, will be much more likely to survive, when compared with Plantinga’s caveman. Natural selection, if we can say it selects for beliefs, would select for the mind who understands distance. In this hypothetical world, natural selection would be more likely to select for accuracy.

And by all accounts that world is this one.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 5:59 am

Michael: The answer, on naturalism, is “we can’t be sure because they have evolved and could possibly be false.” So testing does no good because you need a foundation for your faculties in the first place. So you can’t just say you will test them because your testing is being questioned and so is your interpretation of the testing.

We have found ways to test our perceptual and cognitive reliability. We have done this by developing empirical science. Apparently your claim is that we cannot identify and characterize such perceptual imperfections are are commonly identified and studied in perceptual illusions. Even with demonstrably imperfect senses and demonstrably imperfect cognitive abilities, we have found ways to study such things.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 6:00 am

Michael: That’s not a very good analogy. The problem is that you can’t test your cognitive abilities because that requires using the very cognitive abilities you are testing.

Demonstrably false, examples already provided.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 6:03 am

ayer: It COULD be, but the question is which is more plausible–the Christian epistemology, which is internally consistent in affirming that an all-good God values truth

This would be inconsistent with the God of the Bible, who deliberately puts false thoughts into people’s heads so that he can punish them for it.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 6:05 am

Michael: Hitler was a political genius. He played his cards right. Yes he made it seem like he was a Christian, but he wasn’t. He was worried about purifying the German race not the Christian religion. That’s the problem. If he was really doing it “for” God,” he would have been trying to convert people, not murder them.

More True Scotsman. I’ve read the Bible, and Yahweh does a whole lot of murdering. The Bible contains explicit instructions as to how to deal with unbelievers (i.e. kill them). Maybe Hitler was trying to emulate Yahweh.

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Tony Hoffman November 19, 2009 at 6:11 am

The problem is that you can’t test your cognitive abilities because that requires using the very cognitive abilities you are testing.

You seem to conclude that if there is no god Solipsism is the only reasonable alternative. And ignore the fact that a naturalist only make the assumption that there is an outside world in order to test our cognitive abilities (looks like a wall, feels like a wall, etc.), while the theist must also assume that there is an outside world and that an omniscient, omnipotent God who loves us all made our cognitive abilities.

And your bird analogy actually shows our point. Evolution didn’t care if they flew, just as it doesn’t care if we think true thoughts, it is only that we do and that it helps us survive that it cares about. So I think your analogy unfortunately backfires.

And I think you don’t understand my analogy. You seem to think that because Evolution only cares if birds survive they do not fly. This is manifestly incorrect, what with all the birds flapping around outside. And the same is for our cognitive abilities. If you allow that an outside world exists, our cognitive abilities allow us to know, with varying degrees of success, the outside world. We don’t need to know how they were formed in order to use them with varying degrees of confidence, the same way a bird doesn’t stay on the ground when a snake approaches, thinking, Drat, if only evolution cared that I could fly!

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 6:14 am

Michael: But if it doesn’t care about truth value, why would you expect your senses to be geared toward recognizing truth?

Because truth has a higher probability of having survival value. You need to get out of your absolutist rut.

They could be all of of whack for all we know. That’s the point, that if evolution does its thing for survival, it doesn’t acre how we survive. So if we are delusional but have a 95% better chance of surviving, awesome! So then you have to question why you can trust your senses and thinking, and as I said in my other posts, the only basis for such trust is the Christian thought of a God valuing truth and wanting us to know it. You can’t test your senses, as I explained. And therefore all of your perceptions could be wrong. What is your ground for thinking you are reliable? You can’t say because it corresponds with reality, because your view of reality may be wrong as this is the way you percieve reality.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. We can trust logic and empirical science far more than we can trust the Christian God, who may not even exist. We can test our senses, as I demonstrated. We can characterize, and in some cases quantify just how our perceptions and cognitions can be wrong. You need to stop answering concrete examples with hand-waving. Your argument insists that experimental psychology cannot exist. And yet it does.

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ayer November 19, 2009 at 7:00 am

Reginald Selkirk: We can invent logic and empiricism.

Yes, you have “invented” logic and empiricism using cognitive faculties that, on evolutionary naturalism, are not geared toward truth. You have thus entered cognitive self-referential absurdity.

Reginald Selkirk: You fecking idiot.

I am sure that your winsome manner will convert many to your point of view.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 7:15 am

ayer: You have thus entered cognitive self-referential absurdity.

Instead of tossing around two-dollar words that fully earn you disrespect for their emptiness, you need to show how such a characterization differs from the actual situation. People have demonstrably imperfect senses and cognitive abilities. And yet, through millenia of struggle, they have indeed invented mathematics, including logic and probability, and empirical science. What we know about the natural world has come to us through struggle, trial and error, wrong turns later corrected. Our scientific understanding of the world was not handed to us on the mountaintop carved on stone tablets.

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Michael November 19, 2009 at 7:23 am

I don’t understand what you are arguing for at all. If you can’t trust your senses and thoughts, then you are stuck. As I showed, you can’t test these things because testing them requires using them. So no, you can’t test them. And you did not give any ways we could, you simply stated that we could. How can one test anything without using thoughts and senses? You have to assume that they are accurate to begin with. You are then making absolutely ungrounded assumptions. You assume there is a natural world, you assume that you can test things accurately, but don’t have a reason why you assume. So you have to have a metaphysical foundation for doing so. And you have none. You are trying to build a house in mid-air…

And I would say that on the naturalist view, solipsism is consistent. Since you could be delusional.

Reginald Selkirk: Evolution + naturalism says that people could hold false beliefs. They demonstrably do. Point in favor of evolution + naturalism.
Evolution + naturalism says that our sense perceptions and our cognitive abilities might be flawed. They demonstrably are. Point in favor of evolution + naturalism.

So you agree that your senses are faulty? Then how can you use them accurately? You are contradicting yourself. If they are faulty, you can’t trust them. But in order to test, verify, think at all, you make the assumption that they are not faulty. You can’t have both.

I’m not saying that I WANT a foundation. I’m simply saying that evolution would not produce necessarily accurate faculties (I think we agree on this), and that if one claims that they can be trusted, they NEED a metaphysical foundation. So I think you are begging the question, or you simply want to have accurate faculties so that you can empirically test things, but have to say you don’t because that is not the aim of evolution.

And now your getting into name calling, so lets shy away from that, as this helps no one. Thanks.

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drj November 19, 2009 at 7:29 am

ayer:
Yes, you have “invented” logic and empiricism using cognitive faculties that, on evolutionary naturalism, are not geared toward truth.You have thus entered cognitive self-referential absurdity.

One of the major points of contention here is that evolutionary naturalism CAN select for many accurate beliefs, because accuracy often aids survival.

If you disagree, perhaps you can make an argument showing as much. Plantinga’s silly narrative of cavemen and tigers doesn’t cut it.

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Michael November 19, 2009 at 7:31 am

Reginald Selkirk: We can trust logic and empirical science far more than we can trust the Christian God, who may not even exist.

So we can’t trust our faculties but can trust what they come up with. That is very circular and again begs the question.

Reginald Selkirk: And yet, through millenia of struggle, they have indeed invented mathematics, including logic and probability, and empirical science. What we know about the natural world has come to us through struggle, trial and error, wrong turns later corrected. Our scientific understanding of the world was not handed to us on the mountaintop carved on stone tablets. 

We agree on this! But in order for us to critique others and improve what we know about the world, we first are assuming that our faculties are not inept but that they can be used to form an accurate description of said world. So again, circular reasoning. You can’t say that we know that our faculties are faulty because we have tested them using our faculties… that are faulty. And I would never say we come to knowledge via revelation, but that we need a foundation for why we can trust our faculties, which we have both agreed would be untrustworthy via only evolution, and then even our knowledge of evolution could be faulty. So your arguments are rife with circular reasoning. If this is simply a misunderstanding of what you are trying to say, please show me what you mean.

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Michael November 19, 2009 at 7:42 am

drj: One of the major points of contention here is that evolutionary naturalism CAN select for many accurate beliefs, because accuracy often aids survival.

I agree, it COULD, but does it? On evolutionary naturalism, we CANNOT know because what we wish to use to study everything with are the very things we are studying. And there are man examples one could give where an inaccurate beliefs are more beneficial. One argument against religion is such, that it is false but aids survival. So we now have a defeater that accuracy is always desired, and if it is not always desired, we cannot know when it is or when it isn’t, for if it isn’t desired of our faculties, then anything we do using them is questionable. And as with my example of thinking about a wall and then the person thinking about the wall, etc. You are stuck in your mind and your senses, entirely unable to do anything outside of them. So then we have to turn to philosophy and metaphysics in order to explain whether or not we can or can’t trust them. And on naturalism, there is nothing outside of nature, and therefore no foundation for the exact naturalism that one holds, as if your faculties are wrong and there is something else. But on Christian theism, God would be this foundation, and the traditional view of the Christian God is that He desires us to find truth, and will give us the tools necessary to do so, but won’t simply give us knowledge. We do have to find it ourselves, so it’s not that He is giving us knowledge on stone tablets from a mountain, but that we can find knowledge using the tools He has given us.

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drj November 19, 2009 at 7:43 am

Michael: We agree on this! But in order for us to critique others and improve what we know about the world, we first are assuming that our faculties are not inept but that they can be used to form an accurate description of said world. So again, circular reasoning. You can’t say that we know that our faculties are faulty because we have tested them using our faculties… that are faulty. And I would never say we come to knowledge via revelation, but that we need a foundation for why we can trust our faculties, which we have both agreed would be untrustworthy via only evolution, and then even our knowledge of evolution could be faulty. So your arguments are rife with circular reasoning. If this is simply a misunderstanding of what you are trying to say, please show me what you mean.

Obviously false belief is arguably more wide-spread than true belief. If theism were true, why should we not expect more true belief, and less false belief? By the mere assertion that a truth loving God mysteriously wants only a few of us to have semi-trustworthy faculties… some of the time? Its hard to see how this explanation could be more ad-hoc.

On the other hand, naturalism is providing concrete explanations and detailed accounts of true-vs-false beliefs, our cognitive biases, how and why they are the way they came to be this way. More importantly, its helping us discover how to overcome them.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 8:30 am

Michael: I don’t understand what you are arguing for at all. If you can’t trust your senses and thoughts, then you are stuck. As I showed, you can’t test these things because testing them requires using them. So no, you can’t test them.

You are still arguing that the field of experimental psychology cannot exist, and yet it does. Therefore, you are wrong.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 8:40 am

Michael: So you agree that your senses are faulty? Then how can you use them accurately? You are contradicting yourself. If they are faulty, you can’t trust them. But in order to test, verify, think at all, you make the assumption that they are not faulty. You can’t have both.

I provided you with a link to a perceptual illusion. When I look at it, it appears to be moving. But I know that it isn’t. I can print the web image to a file format which I know can’t accommodate motion. I can print it out on paper, which I know absolutely precludes animation. And still, when i stare at it, it appears to me to move. I could study that systematically, using logic, using science. I could try using different shapes, different combinations of colors. I could try to figure out what it is about that image that gives me the illusion of motion. I could devise new patterns to test these hypotheses.

Can you measure something with a broken ruler? Of course you can. You need to watch some MacGyver re-runs to see how people can make do with what they have, rather than throwing up their hands and giving up. “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 8:46 am

Michael: but that we need a foundation for why we can trust our faculties, which we have both agreed would be untrustworthy via only evolution, and then even our knowledge of evolution could be faulty. So your arguments are rife with circular reasoning.

You need to figure out the distinction between circular reasoning and bootstrapping.

When Charles Darwin came up with an idea for evolution by means of natural selection in the mid-19th century, it is very plausible that he could have been wrong. Brain fart, whatever. Se he devised tests. He figured out what be the state of things if it was true, and what wouldn’t. He carried out those tests. He published. Other people tested his idea. Some of the tests were very mathematically precise. And yet it has passed all those tests.

Meanwhile the lying SOBs who came up with Intelligent Design could also have merely been experiencing a brain fart. They have not been able to suggest any experiments we could do to test their idea.

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Reginald Selkirk November 19, 2009 at 8:51 am

Michael: And there are many examples one could give where an inaccurate beliefs are more beneficial.

Are there? You haven’t been able to produce a single one.

I gave an example of one false belief (concerning shellfish) that could be beneficial under certain circumstances. But I wouldn’t claim that false belief would be more beneficial than a true belief.

Michael: So we now have a defeater that accuracy is always desired, and if it is not always desired, we cannot know when it is or when it isn’t, for if it isn’t desired of our faculties, then anything we do using them is questionable.

There you go again, whining that we need perfection or we are hopelessly lost. Get over yourself.

I think I’ve made my argument adequately, and this is now getting into tedious repetition. Goodbye.

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ayer November 19, 2009 at 9:45 am

Reginald Selkirk: Are there? You haven’t been able to produce a single one.

Example–belief in God. False from an atheist point of view, right? And yet beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13983-religion-is-a-product-of-evolution-software-suggests.html

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Tony Hoffman November 19, 2009 at 9:46 am

So you have to have a metaphysical foundation for doing so. And you have none.

What? My existence, and the existence of the universe, are brute facts, and they are all the metaphysical foundation I need.

With my existence being knowable, and the universe a brute fact, I can test my cognitive abilities empirically. It makes as much difference if they reflect reality 100% accurately as it does that you and I taste pineapple the same. If you want more from reality than I believe you can safely assume, then you are free to try and justify that. I feel it is superfluous, and sometimes dangerous, to demand that what we can know must be “properly grounded,” or have “a foundation,” or whatever it is that theists insist is required for us to know more than the minimum of what we can know.

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ayer November 19, 2009 at 9:52 am

Reginald Selkirk: You need to figure out the distinction between circular reasoning and bootstrapping

You have not only fallen into circularity, but what is classically known as “epistemic circularity” (sorry for the two-dollar word):

epistemic circularity, a malady from which an argument for the reliability of a faculty or source of belief suffers when one of its premises is such that my acceptance of that premise originates in the operation of the very faculty or source of belief in question. If you give an epistemically circular argument for the reliability of a faculty, then you rely on that very faculty for the truth of one of your premises.

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ayer November 19, 2009 at 10:01 am

drj: One of the major points of contention here is that evolutionary naturalism CAN select for many accurate beliefs, because accuracy often aids survival.

Again, no one is disputing that it is POSSIBLE that natural selection selects for some true beliefs–the problem is, the likelihood of its doing so is inscrutable, so the naturalist is thrown into “Humean skepticism”:

“”Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? … I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, environed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since Reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, Nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends. And when, after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.”
— David Hume (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)

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lukeprog November 19, 2009 at 10:14 am

Ah, Hume. Great stuff.

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Michael November 19, 2009 at 10:31 am

Reginald Selkirk: You are still arguing that the field of experimental psychology cannot exist, and yet it does. Therefore, you are wrong. 

I don’t believe I ever made this claim at all.

ayer: epistemic circularity, a malady from which an argument for the reliability of a faculty or source of belief suffers when one of its premises is such that my acceptance of that premise originates in the operation of the very faculty or source of belief in question. If you give an epistemically circular argument for the reliability of a faculty, then you rely on that very faculty for the truth of one of your premises.  

To Reginald Selkirk: Wow. This is exactly what you are doing. You are saying we can test our knowledge of anything by using our knowledge. Your example of Darwin testing his theory, for example, requires him to use the very faculties he is testing! So we cannot test our faculties, period. But you keep claiming we can. I am saying that one needs to turn to ontological rather than epistemological ideas, that is, the origin of beliefs rather than how we get to know them. I don’t care how we get to know things, but the fact that we claim to know anything at all is based on the assumption that we can know. So when you make any claim to knowledge, you are presupposing that you can know in the first place. But why is that if evolution doesn’t care about whether you can know truth vs. not truth? You don’t have a reason on naturalism. So a consistent position with naturalism in agnosticism (universe next door) and if followed consistently, will lead to nihilism.

This is the point I am making, you HAVE to have a basis for why you CAN know anything as truth. If you want to claim that you know evolution is true, then you have to have a metaphysical reason for any claim to truth, which the naturalist simply does not have. J.P. Moreland once debated an agnostic. And he asked him, “Do you know that you are an agnostic, or do you only think that you are an agnostic?” He replied,”I guess I only think that I am an agnostic.” Moreland, “Do you know that you think that you are an agnostic, or do you only think that you think that you are an agnostic?” Reply,”I guessI only think that I think that I am an agnostic.” Once more, “Now do you know that you think that you think that you are an agnostic, or do you only think that you think that you think that you are an agnostic.” “I guess I only think that I think that I think that I am an agnostic.” The point here is that this man recognized that to be consistent with his philosophical beliefs, he could not know anything for sure. This is the situation that the true naturalist finds himself in, and if he can’t even know that we he think that he thinks that he thinks is true, then what good is that claim? As he now seems pretty unsure of himself entirely. So to claim anything as true, or as knowledge, one absolutely has to have a metaphysical foundation for such, otherwise agnosticism, nihilism, relativism, and solipsism is the way to go.

So this will probabaly be my last post here, as we seem to be making no progress towards any agreement, as it seems that Reginald wants to have his cake and eat it too, as he wants to make the truth claim that our faculties are not perfect, even though it is exactly these faulty faculties that led him to such conclusion. I think that our faculties, while not necessarily perfect, can be used to grasp truth, which is consistent with Christian philosophy. However, as a naturalist, one would have to admit that rather than measuring with a broken ruler, he could be measuring with a 2 legged chair, which would not aid in measuring at all, even if it seemed to.

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drj November 19, 2009 at 12:33 pm

ayer: Again, no one is disputing that it is POSSIBLE that natural selection selects for some true beliefs–the problem is, the likelihood of its doing so is inscrutable, so the naturalist is thrown into “Humean skepticism”:

This doesn’t require the naturalist to retreat into a desperate gloomy skepticism – simply perhaps that no belief is beyond *ALL* re-examination.

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drj November 19, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Anyhow, gone for the weekend… have some snowboarding to do.

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Tony Hoffman November 19, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Michael: If you give an epistemically circular argument for the reliability of a faculty, then you rely on that very faculty for the truth of one of your premises.

And if you accuse your opponent of that which you are guilty it is called psychological projection. The circularity is within your argument, which boils down to “my cognitive abilities are reliable because I I know that my god has given me reliable abilities.” You seem blissfully unaware of your own circularity, and that adding a premise that you cannot prove makes your argument weaker, not stronger.

Here’s a question for all those who feel that the EAAN is valid; how is it that a priori knowledge such as existence, logic, and math, could be misapprehended by the evolved being? For example, are you suggesting that it is equally possible that evolved beings could live in a universe and be mistaken that the law of non-contradiction is valid?

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ayer November 19, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Tony Hoffman: Here’s a question for all those who feel that the EAAN is valid; how is it that a priori knowledge such as existence, logic, and math, could be misapprehended by the evolved being? For example, are you suggesting that it is equally possible that evolved beings could live in a universe and be mistaken that the law of non-contradiction is valid?

Of course; chimps, dogs and cockroaches are “evolved beings” and have no clue as to the truth or falsity of logic, math, etc. because they are irrelevant to their survival. And they have all survived very well under natural selection.

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Tony Hoffman November 19, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Ayer, I was asking if you think that the only thing that makes the law of non-contradiction valid is that it was created by your deity. In other words, do you think it’s possible that I, an evolved being, could be mistaken that the law of non-contradiction is valid.

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Michael November 19, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Tony Hoffman: The circularity is within your argument, which boils down to “my cognitive abilities are reliable because I I know that my god has given me reliable abilities.” You seem blissfully unaware of your own circularity, and that adding a premise that you cannot prove makes your argument weaker, not stronger.

The thing here is that I have evidence for this God, even if you want to consider it bad evidence. I have never seen a single argument against the existence of a god, other than the problem of evil, which would not apply to a god who was not omni-benevolent. So this is not evidence against any god, but only against the Christian God, and there are many theodicy’s that dissolve even that problem. So my belief in God is more grounded than your belief in no god.

Second, if God does exist, then my “theory” works. If He doesn’t, we’re both in the same boat anyways.

Third, that would not be circular, as the idea is that God wishes, therefore it is so, not that I have said faculties, therefore He is so, and therefore my faculties are so.

It keeps coming back to how does one test their faculties without using that which they are testing?

And I would say that logic was not created by God, but that God’s omnipotence is “limited” by logic. So logic exists without His saying so. But the fact that we recognize logic is evidence that our faculties are geared toward truth, and this would only be true if God existed. While I’m not a huge admirer of Dinesh D’Souza, this is actually one of his arguments for God’s existence. The idea that the matter and laws and logic in the reality apart from us match those which we think about and we can comprehend them. If everything were entirely random, why would this be so? Now this is not a great argument, but I think that it does have a point, that is, that this is not as random as people want to say it is.

So the point is not whether the law of non-contradiction exists only within our minds, or that it comes from God, but rather, why is it that we are able to recognize such laws at all? Why are you able to ask that question and think about it in a logical manner? Why DON’T other evolved beings have the ability to do so. It appears that it is not necessary for survival (although maybe it was for ours), but surely it would be more beneficial for other species to have the same knowledge, right? So we CAN comprehend these laws, but the question is WHY, not HOW? And this is where you need a metaphysical foundation for our ability to find truth, otherwise it could merely be an survival tool that has no more truth to how the universe works than a bird’s wing does. It simply aids survival, and we have no way of knowing if it is reality or not.

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ayer November 19, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Tony Hoffman: Ayer, I was asking if you think that the only thing that makes the law of non-contradiction valid is that it was created by your deity. In other words, do you think it’s possible that I, an evolved being, could be mistaken that the law of non-contradiction is valid.  

I would say the law of noncontradiction is true in all possible universes as an abstract object which exists nonspaciotemporally (other such objects would be numbers, etc.). The best explanation for this existence is that they are concepts in the mind of God, who also exists nonspaciotemporally in every possible universe (as an aside, this is known as the “conceptualist” argument for God’s existence–see http://www.doxazotheos.com/?page_id=99)

So the law of noncontradiction was not “created” by God like the contingent universe. It is a necessary truth just as God is a necessary being.

Could an unguided process of evolution produce a being who could apprehend the law of noncontradiction? Yes. But that being would have no basis for confidence that its apprehension of the law of noncontradiction was a grasp of “truth”, since the process which produced its cognitive faculties was not geared toward truth. It would just be one of the many “beliefs” floating on top of the firing neurons of the brain, and the cognitive activity of the brain will just be focused on getting the body parts in the right placed to survive and reproduce.

Of course, I believe that our belief in the truth of the law of noncontradiction is correct, based on the fact that we were created in the image of the God whose mind provides the ontological grounding for that law as a necessary truth.

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Tony Hoffman November 19, 2009 at 5:54 pm

The thing here is that I have evidence for this God, even if you want to consider it bad evidence.

You’re probably right that I would consider it bad evidence.

I have never seen a single argument against the existence of a god, other than the problem of evil, which would not apply to a god who was not omni-benevolent.

The God hypothesis is a great place to start. Basically, put forth the hypothesis that “There is an omniscient, omnipotent god who loves us and wants nothing more than to communicate with us,” or something like that. Test your hypothesis and, among other things, explain why God doesn’t ever show up in real life, and reconcile this with your hypothesis. I think this is a great argument against the existence of god, and I think it’s funny the lengths most theists must go to design a hypothesis which seeks to disprove nothing.

So this is not evidence against any god, but only against the Christian God, and there are many theodicy’s that dissolve even that problem.

This makes no sense, although I have yet to see any theodicy that dissolves the problem of unnecessary suffering.

So my belief in God is more grounded than your belief in no god.

You are free to believe and claim that. Right now you’ve done nothing to convince me or any reader here.

Second, if God does exist, then my “theory” works. If He doesn’t, we’re both in the same boat anyways.

Your first sentence is circular, again. Yes, I am arguing that we are both in the same boat regarding reality. I would imagine that we’re both in the same boat if you’re right as well, unless you imagine that the difference in our boats is that your argument saves your soul, and my argument damns mine?

Third, that would not be circular, as the idea is that God wishes, therefore it is so, not that I have said faculties, therefore He is so, and therefore my faculties are so.

A circular argument assumes that which it sets out to prove. You want to prove that your cognitive abilities are reliable because the only way they could be reliable is if God gave them to you. But you are assuming that your cognitive abilities are reliable when you make your argument, otherwise you could not make an argument. In other words, you are assuming that your cognitive abilities are reliable because you must first assume that god exists, and you have the arrogance to chastise Reginald for circularity. Failure to recognize this dooms you as someone worth having a discussion with on topics like these.

I’ll make this plain by explaining it another way. If you are a product of evolution and your cognitive abilities are unreliable as you claim they would be (without a God), then you could be deceiving yourself about your argument with your unreliable cognitive abilities. In other words, the only way your argument that only God can give us rationality assumes that you have the rationality that God gave you. The only thing that circle is missing are the two eyes and smile inside.

It keeps coming back to how does one test their faculties without using that which they are testing?

Yes, your argument does. I wish you would listen to your own lecture.

Those of us who accept our existence, a priori knowledge, and an external reality are perfectly content to test our faculties. You should consider joining us, as I believe that’s the way the vast majority of those fortunate enough to be educated are headed.

But the fact that we recognize logic is evidence that our faculties are geared toward truth, and this would only be true if God existed.

Anytime you want to prove this knock yourself out. Instead you are just spouting nonsense of a circular kind.

So the point is not whether the law of non-contradiction exists only within our minds, or that it comes from God, but rather, why is it that we are able to recognize such laws at all?

That’s really not my question, nor do I think it’s the point. I asked a specific question, which was “are you suggesting that it is equally possible that evolved beings could live in a universe and be mistaken that the law of non-contradiction is valid?”

Why are you able to ask that question and think about it in a logical manner? Why DON’T other evolved beings have the ability to do so.

Now you’re just publishing your ignorance and calling it a point. Wasps can count, and you can’t count without logic. So, how do you explain the ability of animals, even some as small-brained as wasps, being able to count? And how do you explain much more sophisticated behavior in social primates, who must do much more than apprehend the law of non-contradiction?

It appears that it is not necessary for survival (although maybe it was for ours), but surely it would be more beneficial for other species to have the same knowledge, right?

Yupper. Hence, why they have (vastly inferior to ours, but recognizable nonetheless) cognitive abilities.

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Tony Hoffman November 20, 2009 at 7:06 am

Ayer,

Thank you for answering my question directly.

I would say the law of noncontradiction is true in all possible universes as an abstract object which exists nonspaciotemporally (other such objects would be numbers, etc.). The best explanation for this existence is that they are concepts in the mind of God, who also exists nonspaciotemporally in every possible universe…

What you call an explanation I call a wild ass guess. (I glanced over the paper you linked to, and among other things I thought the explanation for why numbers must exist in every universe to be one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever heard.)

So the law of noncontradiction was not “created” by God like the contingent universe. It is a necessary truth just as God is a necessary being.

Or it is a brute fact of reality. I think that’s simpler.

Could an unguided process of evolution produce a being who could apprehend the law of noncontradiction? Yes. But that being would have no basis for confidence that its apprehension of the law of noncontradiction was a grasp of “truth”, since the process which produced its cognitive faculties was not geared toward truth.

Even if this were true it affects us not at all. What does your theory that the EAAN is true predict or explain? If I imagine that the world is run by a cartel of unicorns who manage the world so that we will be unaware of their existence and everything will operate exactly as it does, what does my theory provide?

Of course, I believe that our belief in the truth of the law of noncontradiction is correct, based on the fact that we were created in the image of the God whose mind provides the ontological grounding for that law as a necessary truth.

This seem to have devolved to an expression of personal feelings that the EAAN must be right. I would like to hear an argument that’s not based on a total lack of understanding of evolution as to why our cognitive abilities cannot be relied on.

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ayer November 20, 2009 at 9:17 am

Tony Hoffman: and among other things I thought the explanation for why numbers must exist in every universe to be one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever heard.

Are you saying there is a possible universe where 2 + 2 = 4 is not true?

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Tony Hoffman November 20, 2009 at 9:57 am

Are you saying there is a possible universe where 2 + 2 = 4 is not true?

No, sorry — I should have been more specific there if I was going to mention it. The part where a universe that contained nothing would still contain a set with the number 0, therefore it wouldn’t contain nothing. Or something like that. (I would say that a universe that contained nothing would have a null value, which everyone who’s written computer code knows will throw a big fat exception error the second you try to treat it like the number zero.)

Unless you think it’s essential to you argument, I meant it as an incidental comment.

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Michael November 20, 2009 at 10:11 am

Mmk, I will start by saying that I see your point and have been thinking very hard about the problem, but have yet to come to a conclusion, so I plan on posting on that soon.

However, I would say that given that we are in the same boat, we have every reason to question our ideas about evolution as we do about God, that is if we can’t know that our faculties are reliable.

I guess that’s all I can say for now, as I hope to give you some more defenses of the EAAN here soon. I will have to read up some more on ontology and epistemology.

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Tony Hoffman November 20, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Michael,

Thanks for acknowledging that I have a point in regard to the EAAN. It’s actually seldom that I get something like that from theists, so at least you’ve got that going for you.

However, I would say that given that we are in the same boat, we have every reason to question our ideas about evolution as we do about God, that is if we can’t know that our faculties are reliable.

I doubt you will ever find a proponent of evolution who suggests that we not question our ideas about evolution. I should remind you that every hypothesis is a test to disprove, and that scientists are constantly trying to disprove evolution.

Regarding the supposed problem of not knowing if our cognitive abilities are unreliable in ways that can’t be known I don’t see how this matters because we are too busy correcting our cognitive abilities in ways that do matter.

Suppose, for instance, that when we think we fly to Jamaica for vacation on a silver 747 we are actually upside down, going backwards in a yellow banana in which we arrive in Toledo. If we all experience our flight on the silver 747 the same way and all enjoy Toledo as we would Jamaica, what possible difference does it make that in some other “more real” reality we are inside a yellow banana, flying upside down and backwards?

In other words, since imperfections in our cognitive abilities do make a difference in the reality we know, why should we waste a second of our time worrying about how our cognitive abilities could fail us in ways that can have no effect whatsoever?

Like I said earlier, there are so many problems with the EAAN that it’s hard to know why it’s even worth addressing.

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ayer November 20, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Tony Hoffman: Like I said earlier, there are so many problems with the EAAN that it’s hard to know why it’s even worth addressing.

You might be interested in the book “Naturalism Defeated? Essays on Plantinga’s EAAN” in which Plantinga takes on critics and the EAAN comes out very well:

http://www.amazon.com/Naturalism-Defeated-Plantingas-Evolutionary-Argument/dp/0801487633/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258755262&sr=8-1

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Tony Hoffman November 20, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Ayer,

Are you saying there is a possible universe where 2 + 2 = 4 is not true?

I am, however, saying that the proponent of the EAAN seems to be saying this. Plantinga is making the argument that we cannot know that 2 + 2 = 4 if our brains are evolved, because it’s possible, according to his understanding of evolution, that 2 + 2 will equal 17 in a world ruled by evolution if the answer 17 is what benefits us in survival. In other words, the proponent of the EAAN seems to think that evolution means completely uncoupling cognitive abilities and reality. This strikes me as a difficult position to maintain.

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ayer November 20, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Tony Hoffman: I am, however, saying that the proponent of the EAAN seems to be saying this. Plantinga is making the argument that we cannot know that 2 + 2 = 4 if our brains are evolved, because it’s possible, according to his understanding of evolution, that 2 + 2 will equal 17 in a world ruled by evolution if the answer 17 is what benefits us in survival. In other words, the proponent of the EAAN seems to think that evolution means completely uncoupling cognitive abilities and reality. This strikes me as a difficult position to maintain.

No, EAAN involves epistemology, not ontology. The proponent of EAAN is saying that even though 2 + 2 = 4 in a world in which a sentient creature evolved under naturalistic evolution, that creature might very well believe that 2 + 2 = 17 if believing such had no impact on the its ability to get its body parts in the right place to survive and reproduce. If it embraced naturalistic evolution as its theory of how its cognitive faculties developed, its epistemological limitations would eliminate its ability to ever have confidence that its cognitive faculties were matching up with ontological truth.

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Tony Hoffman November 20, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Ayer,

I don’t know where you got my problem with the EAAN being ontological from what I wrote.

To be clear, the proponent of the EAAN (you) is saying that 2 + 2 = 17 is an equally possible conclusion for an evolved creature to have concluded. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s the position.

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Michael November 20, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Tony Hoffman: To be clear, the proponent of the EAAN (you) is saying that 2 + 2 = 17 is an equally possible conclusion for an evolved creature to have concluded. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s the position.  

An EAAN proponent says that it is equally possible that an evolved creature would BELIEVE this, but belief that this is so does not make it true. Even in this world somebody could honestly believe that 2+2=17, but this would not be a true belief, but a belief nonetheless. So the idea is that belief does not equate to truth, so one could say that 2+2=17, but they would not be correct in saying so.

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Tony Hoffman November 21, 2009 at 9:40 am

An EAAN proponent says that it is equally possible that an evolved creature would BELIEVE this, but belief that this is so does not make it true. Even in this world somebody could honestly believe that 2+2=17, but this would not be a true belief, but a belief nonetheless. So the idea is that belief does not equate to truth, so one could say that 2+2=17, but they would not be correct in saying so.

This is my point. The EAAN proponent seems to believe that in a world where our cognitive abilities were the product of evolution that 2 + 2 = 17 or 2 + 2 = 4 are equally probable or the argument falls apart. In other words, the EAAN takes the absurd position that evolutionary mechanisms and reality are in no way related, whereas the naturalist takes the more sensible position that they are related but imperfectly so. Like I said, if you want to be a proponent of the EAAN you are free to do so, but I believe you will inhabit the kind of territory that flat earthers, etc. stand on.

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ayer November 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Tony Hoffman: The EAAN proponent seems to believe that in a world where our cognitive abilities were the product of evolution that 2 + 2 = 17 or 2 + 2 = 4 are equally probable

I’m afraid Michael’s wording was incorrect here. Plantinga’ EAAN does not stipulate any percentage (such as 50% or “equally probable”) in regard to whether beliefs held by cognitive faculties that were selected for survival, not truth. Plantinga says the odds are inscrutable. Which is enough to throw the sincere proponent of evolutionary naturalism into Humean skepticism regarding the epistemic circularity he finds himself trapped in.

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drj November 21, 2009 at 4:12 pm

ayer: I’m afraid Michael’s wording was incorrect here. Plantinga’ EAAN does not stipulate any percentage (such as 50% or “equally probable”) in regard to whether beliefs held by cognitive faculties that were selected for survival, not truth. Plantinga says the odds are inscrutable. Which is enough to throw the sincere proponent of evolutionary naturalism into Humean skepticism regarding the epistemic circularity he finds himself trapped in.

I do believe Plantinga uses Baysian probability to say that very thing, does he not?

So whats the problem with acknowledging that no belief is beyond examination? There isnt.

You continue on as if you have some epistemic advantage with theism. So, by what means can we calculate the likelihood that a given belief is true, under theism? Hard numbers would be nice.

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ayer November 21, 2009 at 6:26 pm

drj: So whats the problem with acknowledging that no belief is beyond examination? There isnt.

Examination with cognitive faculties in whose reliability under evolutionary naturalism we have no confidence? What purpose would that serve?

drj: You continue on as if you have some epistemic advantage with theism. So, by what means can we calculate the likelihood that a given belief is true, under theism? Hard numbers would be nice.

Here’s a “given belief” with 100% certainty under theism: “God exists”

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drj November 22, 2009 at 4:36 pm

ayer: Here’s a “given belief” with 100% certainty under theism: “God exists”

This answer shows me you might be misunderstanding the objections raised in this thread, by myself and others like Tony.

Sure, if theism is true, the existence of a deity would be 100% true fact. If atheistic naturalism is true, then the non-existence of a deity is a 100% true fact. This is not controversial, and not the issue. You are implying that theism gives you some means in which truth values of various beliefs become ‘more scrutable’. Well, pony up. Lets see this method in action. Tell us how it works, and why it is justified. Or concede that you really have no epistemic advantage at all (which appears to be the case).

Unless you can show otherwise, I think the debate in this thread has amply demonstrated that you are simply begging the question in the same manner in which you accuse the naturalist.

So far, you (or Plantinga for that matter) have failed to explain how you get this advantage, other than by way of types of claims that are easily in reach by the naturalist.

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drj November 22, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Examination with cognitive faculties in whose reliability under evolutionary naturalism we have no confidence? What purpose would that serve?

The more and more apparent success that our cognitive faculties seem to have in modelling the universe, the more and more strained it becomes to believe that they are wholly unreliable. Sure, it IS possible that all our intellectual feats are part of a grand deception that is enabled by some universal flaw in our cognition.

But this possiblity need not result in full blow humean skepticism, solipsism or anything else so drastic – it simply requires us to take nothing for granted.

Heck, the entire system of logical operations can be derived from one, simple universally complete logical operation. If we make the meager assumption, that this one logical operation is likely to confer a survival advantage to a sentient being in this universe, then its reasonable to believe that sentient beings will acquire this capability. With this capability will come a means for such a being to scrutinize derived beliefs, and their truth values.

Even if each piece of wetware is imperfect, the combined efforts of many peices can easily build much more fault tolerant system – this is exactly what the scientific method does.

Its perfectly reasonable to me, to move forward with such assumptions. Plantiga’s claim that naturalism is not rationally acceptable, is simply ludicrous.

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Tony Hoffman November 22, 2009 at 5:42 pm

DRJ: You [Ayer] are implying that theism gives you some means in which truth values of various beliefs become ‘more scrutable’.

Actually, it’s much worse than that. Ayer seems to be saying that the naturalist has no grounds for discussion, that the position itself disqualifies the holder from examining any issue.

There are so many other problems with Ayer’s position that I am losing interest in talking about them because it gives the appearance that the EAAN deserves serious consideration. But I’ll list a few:

- What makes the theist think that there is an equal chance that in evolution the chance that an evolved being will believe that 2 + 2 = 17 as that 2 + 2 = 4? I have yet to get answer on this one.
- Beliefs are not inherited. What makes the theist think that they are?
- How does the theist explain the recognized cognitive abilities of other animals?
- How does the EAAN distinguish between fanciful beliefs (beliefs that cannot be tested, such as the existence of God, etc.), a priori knowledge (logic, math, etc.), and empirical beliefs? If not, wtf?
- Complex beliefs (memes) appear to compete against other beliefs in ways that can benefit and can also damage the survival chances of those who hold them. So, what makes the theist think that the survival of a holder’s genes is the only factor in a complex belief’s survival?
- Etc.

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ayer November 22, 2009 at 6:05 pm

drj: This is not controversial, and not the issue.

No, it goes precisely to the issue. On theism, the religious belief that humans experience is established as directed toward truth. On evolutionary naturalism, religious belief, which has been shown to be adaptive under natural selection (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A934283), is a false belief which unreliable cognitive faculties have formed.

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ayer November 22, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Tony Hoffman: – What makes the theist think that there is an equal chance that in evolution the chance that an evolved being will believe that 2 + 2 = 17 as that 2 + 2 = 4? I have yet to get answer on this one.

You need to re-read my previous comment. It was another commenter who said “equally”; I (and Plantinga) specified “inscrutable.”

Tony Hoffman: – Beliefs are not inherited. What makes the theist think that they are?

Why would it have to, since the distinction of “testable” becomes irrelevant when you are using the cognitive faculties in which you have no confidence to do the “testing?

Who said they were? I only said that the odds that, under evolutionary naturalism, any particular belief is tied to truth are inscrutable.

Tony Hoffman: – Complex beliefs (memes) appear to compete against other beliefs in ways that can benefit and can also damage the survival chances of those who hold them. So, what makes the theist think that the survival of a holder’s genes is the only factor in a complex belief’s survival?

“Meme” theory is a bizarre and controversial theory which poses no threat to the EAAN (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme#Criticism_of_meme_theory)

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Tony Hoffman November 22, 2009 at 7:02 pm

You need to re-read my previous comment. It was another commenter who said “equally”; I (and Plantinga) specified “inscrutable.”

I read your comment. I still understand Plantinga’s argument to be that natural selection will not lead us any closer to reality (hence my 50% question). What do you think inscrutable means in terms of probability, and why won’t you answer my question?

Why would it [the heritability of beliefs] have to, since the distinction of “testable” becomes irrelevant when you are using the cognitive faculties in which you have no confidence to do the “testing?

Um, because you are making an argument against evolution in which the survival of a man who runs from a tiger preserves his belief and thus seeks to disqualify cognitive abilities that result from evolution. I would think that you’d have engaged with what it is that evolution considers how cognitive abilities and beliefs evolved before you present a criticism of it.

“Meme” theory is a bizarre and controversial theory which poses no threat to the EAAN.

Except that it posits an evolutionarily-based explanation of how false beliefs persist, something that it does far better than theism. Unfortunately for you, explanation doesn’t seem to be of any interest to the EAAN.

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drj November 23, 2009 at 8:50 am

ayer: No, it goes precisely to the issue. On theism, the religious belief that humans experience is established as directed toward truth. On evolutionary naturalism, religious belief, which has been shown to be adaptive under natural selection (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A934283), is a false belief which unreliable cognitive faculties have formed.

You have been repeatedly challenged to provide a good argument as to why theism actually entails “orientation towards truth”! I understand you believe this, but you seem to be missing out on the fact that is one of the very claims that’s been challenged by myself and others in this thread. Simply asserting that this is the case, over and over again, is still begging the question.

If things couldn’t get worse, you still have yet to show just how beliefs become ‘less inscrutable’ under theism. You must account for rampant false belief in the world, and show how your foundation in theism gives you a functioning, practical, epistemic advantage over naturalism, when evaluating beliefs. If you can’t, then you would appear to be guilty of a double standard.

As to your article on evolution… well, I’m surprised you keep going this route, when I know it has been pointed out at LEAST once (by Reginald and others) that this is a naive, and simplistic, (not to mention controversial) evolutionary account of religion. There are several models for how maladaptive traits can take root in populations. Some traits that are maladaptive over all, can even be beneficial in certain fitness landscapes (see sickle cell anemia).

The naturalist can easily make a plausible case that accurate belief is likely to yield more adaptability, over a wider range of fitness landscapes, when compared with false belief. Indeed, this is what I have been saying this entire thread. This is illustrated perfectly by my counter example to Plantinga’s caveman. His cavemen sure avoids being eaten by tigers fairly well… but if he follows the same reasoning when hunting, he’s going to starve.

It remains to be seen just how adaptive religious beliefs are long term, in a fitness landscape that includes nuclear weapons.

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lukeprog November 26, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Huh. This post wins the award for most-commented article on this site so far.

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Rhys Wilkins November 26, 2009 at 5:27 pm

haha don’t worry Luke, this record will be surpassed in no time :)

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manicstreetpreacher March 16, 2010 at 5:14 am

Sorry to weigh in so late, but I’ve been reading through some of the older posts on this blog and have plenty to say.

I read your review before listening to the debate and Ayala did not come off as badly as you implied. You have an annoying habit of overstating the extent of Craig’s debate victories, Luke.

Granted, Ayala is an academic not a debater and his thick Spanish accent and broken English did not help. But frankly, Craig did his job for him by using fallacious reasoning and discredited IDiot authorities. Canadian computer science professor and ID critic Jeffrey Shallit discusses here the common creationist tactic of “credential inflation” which I recommend you take a look at.

What will convince Craig that his pornographic descriptions of improbability with regard to events asserted a priori is simply wrong? Ayala’s one good rhetorical swipe was that the joke about William Dembski is that you don’t need to address his arguments because he doesn’t exist on the grounds that his birth was so improbable!!!

You’ve stated in other posts that Craig’s arguments are at least logically valid no matter how dishonest and how much you disagree with them, but I don’t see how they can be logically valid. At least not in the real world.

Craig’s coy stance about only claiming only to be arguing for the viability of ID as opposed to accepting it as true is typical of the movement’s attempt to disguise itself from what it is: a fundamentalist, Christian, creationist front.

This debate, together with Craig’s relatively new sound bite about evolution being so improbable that if it did occur it would have been a miracle and therefore evidence for God shows that he is either an Old Earth Creationist or an ID proponent.

The man is fooling no one.

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tim July 18, 2010 at 7:42 pm

ayala spoke at my university last semester. he’s very intelligent when it comes to genetics and evolution but he doesn’t make a lot of logical connections when moving into religion.

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Rev Dr. James Verner April 5, 2011 at 12:00 am

Mayer should take a page out of Dr. Craig’s book. When he says that Craig’s approach to debate is being able to talk any kind of “bullshit” and win. Since Myer is in the “bullshit” category himself, why not at least attempt to do a Craig on us all. That would impress me! Or are you just kidding?
James Verner

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