Pharyngula

One more thing!

I almost forgot: there was another comment in the Karen Armstrong interview that I found irksome…but my complaint is mainly with the interviewer. Here’s one question he asked her, and her answer.

But certainly there are a lot of people — both scientists and religious people — who speculate about whether there’s some cosmic order. For the evolutionary biologists, the question is whether there’s some natural progression to evolution.

Who knows?

Her answer is a kind of weak cop-out, but it’s acceptable…avoiding a question on which you are ignorant is not a problem. The question, though…jebus.

For evolutionary biologists, that isn’t the question at all. We have a darned good mechanism that doesn’t involve teleology, and while some may speculate, there’s no supporting evidence for any kind of purpose or progress (in the sense of change towards a goal) in evolution. Biologists don’t even ask that kind of question.

Note that this is not the same as saying we avoid the issue: it’s that there hasn’t been any reason to invoke teleology in evolution. Explanations are thought up to explain observations, not the other way around, and there aren’t any observations yet that require purpose in an explanation. All I can imagine here is that the interviewer has some weak and muddled view of the Intelligent Design creationists having some legitimacy, and that kind of dribbled out into his question.

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Peterson
    May 30, 2006

    Hmm.

    But what I really wanted to do was to congratulate Dr. Paul Z. Myers for being quoted as a foremost expert on vertebrate homosexuality in the latest issue of Seed.

    Seriously, way cool. And I had to stop and think for a second who “Paul” Z. Myers was. I always thought the “P” was for “Pedro.”

  2. #2 Charlie Wagner
    May 30, 2006

    Paul wrote:

    “Biologists don’t even ask that kind of question.”

    Paul, every time I see something dumb and insane from some neo-darwinian evolutionist, you come along to show that I haven’t yet plumbed the bottom of the barrel.

    ROSLMAO!

  3. #3 PaulC
    May 30, 2006

    All I can imagine here is that the interviewer has some weak and muddled view of the Intelligent Design creationists having some legitimacy, and that kind of dribbled out into his question.

    Or he was just on a fishing expedition and the fish didn’t bite. It’s not really obvious what he was getting at, though I agree it was a leading question.

  4. #4 Bronze Dog
    May 30, 2006

    Paul, every time I see something dumb and insane from some neo-darwinian evolutionist, you come along to show that I haven’t yet plumbed the bottom of the barrel.

    ROSLMAO!

    Well, it should be entertaining to hear exactly why not answering an unnecessary and likely meaningless question is dumb and insane.

  5. #5 Torbjörn Larsson
    May 30, 2006

    It is especially entertaining to hear this from a multiple crackpot (creationist, frontloader, panspermist, bigbang disbeliever) since such a person has a different view of “see”, “dumb”, “insane”, “show” and “plumb the bottom of the barrel” than the usual one.

    In Charlie’s case also “neo-darwinian” and “evolutionist” has a different meaning. So the least common denominator here is “Paul, every time I … something … and … from some …, you come along to … that I haven’t yet … .”

    Perhaps he means “Paul, every time I say something stupid and meaningless, you come along to reveal something I haven’t yet understood.” ?

  6. #6 Torbjörn Larsson
    May 30, 2006

    Uuups. Some of Charlie’s blather disappeared. In case someone miss it it could be “”Paul, every time I quote something stupid and meaningless from some creationist, you come along to reveal something I haven’t yet understood.”

  7. #7 Caledonian
    May 30, 2006

    A progression to evolution?!

    Someone get that author a dictionary… and a clue, if anyone has one they can spare.

  8. #8 Charlie Wagner
    May 30, 2006

    Bronze Dog wrote:

    “Well, it should be entertaining to hear exactly why not answering an unnecessary and likely meaningless question is dumb and insane.”

    Because it’s NOT an unnecessary and likely meaningless question and in the words of Kirk Douglas (to Adolphe Menjou) in “Paths of Glory”:
    “Because you don’t know (aren’t interested in) the answer to that question, I pity you.”
    BTW, that’s pretty much what Paul said to me when I suggested that “what you call evolution is the unfolding of a program that was present in the primordal DNA when it first arrived on earth from elsewhere. All of the information to produce every organism, along every evolutionary pathway, in every environmental situation was present from the very beginning.”
    I was just wondering if he can take as good as he gives.

  9. #9 Bronze Dog
    May 30, 2006

    So, why is the question necessary? From where I’m standing, there’s a distinct lack of reason to ask it, much less answer it. I’m not about to debate the average length of a unicorn’s horn before the existence of unicorns is proven.

  10. #10 Sastra
    May 30, 2006

    All I can imagine here is that the interviewer has some weak and muddled view of the Intelligent Design creationists having some legitimacy, and that kind of dribbled out into his question.

    No, my guess is that this question simply reflects the interviewer’s weak and muddled form of liberal spirituality, which tends to accepts evolution in a sort of Teillard de chardin sense, a progression towards higher levels of consciousness. Fundamentalists and mainstream religionists are on lower levels. Atheists get the science better, but fail to rise. Mature spirituality is the highest the goal of the universe. That’s why the Templeton Foundation gives out so much money.

    This view of mature spirituality just happens to be supported by people with this kind of mature spirituality.

  11. #11 Charlie Wagner
    May 30, 2006

    Bronze Dog wrote:

    “So, why is the question necessary? From where I’m standing, there’s a distinct lack of reason to ask it, much less answer it.”

    It’s the very nature of science and the mandate of scientists to ask questions. When you stop asking questions, science stagnates. To take the position that you’re so sure of something that you can’t question it is an anathema to science.
    The belief that there is some sort of cosmic order and a natural progression to evolution is strongly supported by historical and modern observations. To simply dismiss this possibility without investigation is unconscionable and unscientific.
    Hume noticed it back in the 17th century when he wrote:
    “Look round the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions, to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy, which ravishes into admiration all men, who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; of human design, thought, wisdom and intelligence. Since therefore the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of men; though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work, which he has executed…”
    (I don’t need a lesson on Hume. I know the rest of his argument)
    In modern times we see further evidence every day of multiple structures and multiple processes integrated together into functional systems, systems that could not have arisen by any number of chance occurrences over any period ot time, no matter how long.
    The evidence for some sort of cosmic order, for some sort of teleological progression approaches being self-evident. To continue to deny it to support a weltanschauung that has long been rendered obsolete and to refuse to even ask the question is nothing less than an insult to science and everything we hold sacrosanct.

  12. #12 Bronze Dog
    May 30, 2006

    It’s the very nature of science and the mandate of scientists to ask questions. When you stop asking questions, science stagnates.

    I’m willing to ask the question, but it has to be necessary and meaningful to ask it. Neither of those prerequisites have been demonstrated.

    To take the position that you’re so sure of something that you can’t question it is an anathema to science.

    Which is not what I’m doing, of course. Demonstrate the necessity of teleology/unicorns, and I’ll be willing to entertain such questions.

    The belief that there is some sort of cosmic order and a natural progression to evolution is strongly supported by historical and modern observations. To simply dismiss this possibility without investigation is unconscionable and unscientific.

    If you’re talking about a teleological order, observations such as…?

    “Look round the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions, to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy, which ravishes into admiration all men, who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; of human design, thought, wisdom and intelligence. Since therefore the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of men; though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work, which he has executed…”

    Ye olde “It looks designed, so it is.” Try going beyond superficial observations. It’s also working backwards.

    In modern times we see further evidence every day of multiple structures and multiple processes integrated together into functional systems, systems that could not have arisen by any number of chance occurrences over any period ot time, no matter how long.

    You can’t put a lack of imagination in an evidence locker. Also, nice old, old, straw man with the whole chance thing. Try using an argument that doesn’t rely on putting words in your opponents’ mouths.

    The evidence for some sort of cosmic order, for some sort of teleological progression approaches being self-evident.

    Just like it was once “self-evident” that the Earth was flat. You’re just parroting superficial observation.

    To continue to deny it to support a weltanschauung that has long been rendered obsolete and to refuse to even ask the question is nothing less than an insult to science and everything we hold sacrosanct.

    Says the person who assumes that some processes are impossible based on his lack of imagination. I’m willing to ask probing questions, but I’m not going to waste time on unfalsifiable affirmative conclusions based on negative premises.

  13. #13 outeast
    May 31, 2006

    Leave Carlie alone, BD. His mind is made up and it’ll just lead to yet another thread filled with his Dembskiesque inanity. We’ve heard it all before.

  14. #14 JB
    May 31, 2006

    Some biologists do ask questions of direction or purpose. Conway Morris in “Life’s Solution” argues that there is at least considerable constraint in the directions that evolution can take, that convegence upon the same evolutionary solutions is rampant, and that it appears inevitable that something like humans would eventually arise. He at raises the possibility that direction or even purpose is built in to the physical properties of the universe, though ultimately that is a philosophical/worldview question rather than a scientific one.

  15. #15 ekzept
    May 31, 2006

    my comment on the Armstrong interview is here.

  16. #16 ekzept
    May 31, 2006

    … but the discussion here prompts some other thoughts. like there are specific cases where any teleological explanation is inferior to the “groping around in the dark” one. the only way teleology remains in the running is by invoking some kind of “hidden variables” gimmick, where We Just Don’t Know What Kinds Of Mysteriously Useful Properties These Random Things Have. even Vogel falls for that, at least judging by his Vital Circuits.

    what would be useful here is a theorem akin to the one in quantum (forget its name at the moment), where the “hidden variables” alternative definitively is shown to give a wrong explanation.

  17. #17 Torbjörn Larsson
    June 1, 2006

    This is the second time ever I need to support a little bit of what Charlie says.

    It certainly isn’t dumb or insane as Charlie first stated to not look further for natural progression in the face of a shortterm algorithm (lets say RM+NS) and no supporting evidence. But it is nevertheless a question if not the whole biosphere has tendencies. The exobiologists and especially SETI are asking for such complementary information. (Ie how often does life occur, and how often does intelligence occur.)

    The rest of Charlies reasoning is as usually inane. Especially his version of frontloading is a basic misunderstanding of how algorithms behaves. Algorithms, such as simple evolutionary ones, pick up information from the environment they work in contrary to what confused IDiots believe. A limb added as a local solution to fitness means new degrees of freedom for the animal, ie new information created.

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