Pharyngula

Tony Sidaway discusses a unifying property of theistic evolutionists: the desire or need for there to be some kind of universal plan for their existence. It’s not an attitude I understand very well; I don’t think it makes life better to believe that there is some ineffable teleological intent behind the events in your life, and no one ever bothers to explain why it would be preferable to be a pawn to a cosmic puppetmaster. Their reasoning also tends to be incredibly bad, as can be seen in the article by Mark Vernon that inspired Tony’s musings.

The work of Conway Morris, and now many others, is showing that evolution keeps coming up with the same solutions to natural problems. One of the better-known examples is that sabre-toothed cats. They evolved on at least three different occasions along independent Darwinian paths. And yet they look almost exactly the same. Dozens of examples of convergence have now been documented across a wide variety of biological phenomena, from animal and plant physiology to molecular biology.

Convergence raises the possibility of directionality in evolution. This is anathema to the old school. Strictly speaking, even to talk of adaptations being advantageous is to risk a false sense of teleology. The sense of “advantage” only comes because we have hindsight. As Stephen Jay Gould put it: according to this interpretation of evolution, if you re-ran the “tape of life”, life would look very different.

Convergence challenges this, because in a way, evolution has already re-run the tape of life several times, and it looks strikingly similar.

The argument from convergence is wrong and makes no sense, yet somehow it appeals to smart people like Simon Conway Morris and Ken Miller, who have both made it themes in their books. Convergence occurs, of course, but “dozens of examples” is not very impressive and does not imply that this is a dominant mode of evolution. The examples also exhibit the constraints of contingency; yes, several mammals have evolved saber teeth, which seem to be tools for a particular kind of predation that involves deep tearing to induce bleeding in prey. If we get away from mammals, though, it doesn’t appear very often, if at all. Raptors, for instance, probably used an overdeveloped claw in the same way. Convergence is often a consequence of limitations in anatomy and physiology that make a narrower range of solutions to common problems available.

Another good example is the eye. Eyes have independently evolved multiple times, and we do see examples of convergence — molluscs and vertebrates have simple camera eyes that are not related by ancestry. It’s not because of some master plan, however, but because using a lens to focus light on a sheet of photoreceptive cells is a simple, easily evolved strategy for putting an image on a neuronal array. This is a case where physics itself imposes some limitations on how a receptor organ can function. At the same time, though, life explores a wider set of solutions than we can imagine. Mollusc and vertebrate eyes differ in all the details of their development and anatomy, and obviously enough, other organisms, such as arthropods, have put together radically different solutions with compound eyes. Did a god have a plan that involved eyes forming as orbs with single lenses? Why? And does that make dragonflies satanic, for defying the plan?

Vernon is also completely wrong. The tape of life has not been replayed, except in a small scale and with historical limitations. You could argue, I suppose, that the Permian and Cretaceous extinctions represented a catastrophic rewinding of life’s tape for large terrestrial animals, but do note that each produced different solutions. Dinosaurs became ascendant (in a megafauna sense) after the Permian, but very different vertebrates took over after the Cretaceous.

It’s all very peculiar. This particular breed of teleologist seizes upon small functional similarities in organisms, tooth size or body shape or color pattern, and declares that because two species independently generate similar solutions to common problems, it must be because there is a guiding force producing these solutions. They want the guiding force to be a deity, but unfortunately, Darwin long ago identified the force as short-term local adaptation to environmental forces, nothing more, no grand planner, no deep purpose, and these instances of convergence provide no evidence otherwise.

There must be some psychological need in the teleologists that I lack. I don’t feel any a priori requirement that complexity and adaptation and similar solutions must be driven by any kind of master blueprint, and I find any kind of deterministic explanation for earth’s history to be personally horrifying (not that that is an obstacle to such explanations being true, but it does confuse me that some people think such an answer to be desirable).

We are each our own individual engines of purpose, operating in a hostile universe where randomness can shape our fates. There is no grand scheme behind our existence, other than the same function that all our ancestors had: to order our local environment to allow each to survive and to make the world a little better for our progeny. And that’s enough — that’s all that is needed to make a rich, diverse, living planet, and it’s all I need to live a satisfying life.

Comments

  1. #1 I am so wise
    August 23, 2008

    The answer is simple- people want meaning and telology is a way to give them meaning. Nobody likes thinking existence in general, much less their own, is pointless, so they subscribe to teleology in all aspects of history, just not a minor historical subset like evolutionary biology.

  2. #2 wazza
    August 23, 2008

    I like particularly the second-to-last paragraph. People tend to assume that we let our beliefs guide our interpretations, and that we deny god because we want to deny god and we’d find the evidence if we really wanted to. But we have to work with what we see. We looked at the evidence, then formed our world-view, rather than letting our world-view colour the evidence.

  3. #3 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    The issue for me with taking meaning from teleology (or any idea of cosmic purpose) is that, if we were planned, then so was the tapeworm. People only want meaning so far as it bolsters their self worth. But like all believers, they won’t take the premise to its logical conclusion. Cancer, venomous snakes, flesh eating bacteria, even the very teeth of the sabertooth tiger meant to rip its agony gripped prey into tiny bleeding shreds, must also be planned. And that’s a good thing? Somehow indicating the presence of a divine being?

    Even if there were a god I wouldn’t worship it. To create a world like this, with such a surplus of suffering, such a god would surely have to be evil, or incompetent, or not very powerful (or all of the above). None of which seem very god like attributes.

  4. #4 arensb
    August 23, 2008

    I don’t feel any a priori requirement that complexity and adaptation and similar solutions must be driven by any kind of master blueprint, and I find any kind of deterministic explanation for earth’s history to be personally horrifying

    A while back, Ron Gilbert, the designer of the first two Monkey Island games, wrote in “Why Adventure Games Suck“:

    at the beginning the player should have a clear vision as to what he or she is trying to accomplish. Nothing is more frustrating than wandering around wondering what you should be doing and if what you have been doing is going to get you anywhere.

    So maybe the fact that you don’t feel a need for an ultimate goal in biology or the universe simply means that you prefer open-ended games like The Sims over goal-driven games like Myst or Monkey Island (modulo the pirates, obviously, ‘cos who doesn’t love a good pirate adventure game?).

  5. #5 Jason Dick
    August 23, 2008

    Quick note on determinism:

    Naturalism doesn’t escape this. Quantum mechanics is still fully deterministic. Of course, I imagine you meant determinism in a sense of pre-determined by some intelligent entity, and the determinism of physics is nothing more than physical objects following physical laws.

  6. #6 Dan
    August 23, 2008

    It seems that you are speaking the languange of “faith.”
    I personally find that the atheist tends to be as stubborn in clinging to their faith as the theist that clings to theirs. One will not be able to scientifically prove their position in either case.

    The theist, however, is able to experience the act of “being” as miraculous – and is able to live a life of Thankfulness. This is wonderful to experience.

    Faith truly is a gift. One has to sincerely be open to it, however. Based on my own experience, I would say that one can use that feeling of “uncomfortable longing for meaning” that most persons experience at some point in their life as a starting point for asking/praying for faith.

  7. #7 TSC
    August 23, 2008

    This should take care of the Micahel Dowd drivel.

  8. #8 Monado
    August 23, 2008

    Glib arguments such as that don’t address the question of why in Australia kangaroos fill the function that deer do elsewhere. “Selection from any number of sufficing solutions to a physical problem” doesn’t seem to occur.

  9. #9 LisaJ
    August 23, 2008

    Yeah, I think the issue of needing to feel that there is a predetermined purpose to your life really keeps alot of people stuck in needing to believe in a higher power. It is this single issue that had me holding onto a belief in, not exactly god, but ‘something more’, something greater’ for a long time. I had falsely learned that one of the greatest feats in life was to determine what your ‘purpose’ was, and make that happen. Well, all that really did for me was make me afraid to try new things, for fear that this was the wrong path, and stressed out that I wasn’t tapping in to my true purpose.

    Seriously, someone needs to tell these guys that giving up this belief in a higher power and the need for a defined meaning to your life is really very freeing. I’ve found that it’s incredible how much more fulfilling your life can be once you realize that you can make your own ‘purpose’ in your life, and that you don’t need to waste time trying to figure out what your life’s meaning is ‘supposed to be'; just do what interests you and see where it goes. It’s way better!

  10. #10 Pangloss
    August 23, 2008

    Is this the same Tony Sidaway who was a Wikipedia administrator of some controversy?

  11. #11 Ben Abbott
    August 23, 2008

    Teteology? … isn’t that just another name for “Intelligent Design”. Granted it does sound more “intellectual” ;-)

  12. #12 Paul
    August 23, 2008

    Seems to be a mighty big leap from

    “natural selection seems to favour a few solutions to environmental challenges”

    to

    “my life is part of a great big cosmic plan”

  13. #13 Dan
    August 23, 2008

    What if it wasn’t “intelligent design” but more an “emotional design.” Where love sets in motion a creativity of expressions of love which has as its’ goal – love.

  14. #14 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    Dan,
    Please explain how anything you are proposing would occur. What does ‘emotional design’ mean? How would the amorphous concept of ‘love’ function?

    Also, to hold oneself to the reality that can be perceived, while not positing that which cannot be perceived, is not faith. Faith is believing in that which you have no evidence for. Our lack of need for cosmic purpose on the other hand, stems from the same reason you don’t believe in the tooth fairy. You have no reason to.

  15. #15 horrobin
    August 23, 2008

    What if it wasn’t “intelligent design” but more an “emotional design.” Where love sets in motion a creativity of expressions of love which has as its’ goal – love.

    Yeah, the sabertooth cat’s five inch long canines were a particularly creative expression of love.

  16. #16 Chris Crawford
    August 23, 2008

    Convergence is just divergence with the sign reversed. We observe even greater amounts of divergence than convergence. For example, all life forms diverge from metabolisms that concentrate nitroglycerin in some organ, because such a system would lead to the organism blowing itself to smithereens. Is this indicative of purposefulness in evolution — or just plain old selection logic? After all, organisms that blow themselves to smithereens don’t have many descendants.

  17. #17 yogi-one
    August 23, 2008

    We don’t see everything. We are animals, and have evolved particular ways of sensing and responding (and this includes thinking and logic as responses to perceptions from our environment).

    In the same way that a cat or a dog can understand its world and existence only within the parameters of its capabilities of sensing and interpretation, so it is with humans.

    Though I’m not drawn to the Old Testamant God or any other caricature, I’m also very wary of folks who claim we have seen all there to the existence already. That’s very shakey ground.

    Our sun will live 10 billion years, and evolution on this planets seems to go in faster cycles as it progresses. It may have taken billions of years to get life onto land, but then it took a shorter time period to cover the land with vegetation and highly specialized animals. The time scale on which humans evolved from earlier primates is on the order of 2-3 million years only.

    Our sun has four more billion years. If evolution continues to speed up, we don’t know what we will evolve into, or what existence will look like to beings who have evolved from us or after us, and perhaps sense and interpret the existence in far different ways than we do. We don;t know their capabilities will be. Perhaps they will learn to be able to separate themselves sustainably from their home planet and become cosmic beings. Perhaps they will be able to play with the energy of a star (or even a black hole) in the same way we experiment with the energies of single atoms and particles.

    We don’t know. We aren’t seeing the whole picture, and to assume that we are puts us right back at believing we are the center of the universe and it revolves around us. It doesn’t, we aren’t, and we most likely don’t even perceive most of it (this is especially true is the dark matter makes up a large part of the universe).

    Nothing is more frustrating than wandering around wondering what you should be doing and if what you have been doing is going to get you anywhere.

    Welcome to Life! Have a nice day!

  18. #18 Nick Gotts
    August 23, 2008

    Dan,
    Why do you cling to your aleprachaunist faith?

  19. #19 Pyrrhonic
    August 23, 2008

    Re: I Am So Wise

    Most people, theistic people included, do not experience their lives as “meaningless”; in fact, in our everyday sense of being, we simply do not think about the “meaningfulness” of our lives.

    This really tired interpretation of religious experience offers nothing in the way of a sophisticated response to these problems, and, in lots of ways, gives theistic people a way out of the problem. The search for meaning, when so phrased, universalizes this very experience. People are then led to wonder what this means if, in fact, the search for meaning is universal. They then conclude, quite wrongly, that this must be “genetic”–if they use the word genetic, then they get to argue that they are being “scientific”–and that this “genetic” search for meaning–an impossibility in itself–must be the design, the will, of an intelligent creator.

    Bull!

    This fundamentally ignores the good work that has been done in historicizing religious experience, and showing how religions develop not from any universal need or genetic preprogrammedness, but from cultural-societal pressures and apparatuses, power struggles, etc.

    Every time anyone suggests that the “quest for meaning” props up religious/spiritual expression, every time we unthinkingly suggest that this experience is ubiquitous, we tacitly comply in the furthering of religious goals.

    As PZ rightfully suggests, these experiences are not ubiquitous; we know many people who have not had them, and who have not responded in the same way (some find the gene and not Jesus!!).

    [First time post from a long-time lurker]

  20. #20 Matt Penfold
    August 23, 2008

    Teteology? … isn’t that just another name for “Intelligent Design”. Granted it does sound more “intellectual” ;-)

    You are correct, there is not much difference between ID and teleology. The difference seems to be how the position was arrived at.

    The IDers are creationists who realised that by sticking to the typical creationist agenda they were getting nowhere. The teleologists more readily accept the science but are unable to accept the idea that the fact humans evolved involves a great deal of chance being worked on by selective processes.

    Both ID and teleology think that evolution needed some help from god along the way.

  21. #21 Gm-ishi Ashi Gurum
    August 23, 2008

    yogi-one:

    STRAWMAN!

    Where has ANYONE here said that we know there is all to know? It is in fact the very opposite; science continually demonstrates and proclaims that the more answers we have, the more questions arise. This is a point of pride of science, something it loudly proclaims.

    If anything, it is theism, of all sorts, that proclaims to have all the answers, or at least the ultimate ones, based on nothing but the tingly feelings they get from a bunch of ancient texts.

    Do you have all the answers of the FSM? Of Russell’s teapot? Of any insane notion any schizoid moron can pull out of his ass? Yes, one wants to keep an open mind to possibility, but that does not mean politely entertaining notions that are just pulled out of people’s asses, which, underneath all the reverence and history and art and emotional attachment, all religions are.

    And your positing of the possibility of eventual transhumanism ala the beings in the 2001 series, I agree with. But what the hell does that have to do at all with theism? How does that at all stand in contradiction to the notion “we’re not going to conclude that something made up that doesn’t correspond to reality at all is true.” ???

  22. #22 Ben Abbott
    August 23, 2008

    yogi-one: I’m also very wary of folks who claim we have seen all there to the existence already.

    Science doesn’t claim knowledge of all things. It takes the position that natural phenomena must be explained naturally and in a manner that provides for testing.

    If there exists phenomena for which no evidence exists then science does not apply, nor do have any motive to care.

  23. #23 Gm-shi Ashi Gurum
    August 23, 2008

    christian teleologists, liberal christians, progressive christians, all are just really New Testament fundamentalists. I think it’s time we start calling them that.

  24. #24 David Marjanovi?, OM
    August 23, 2008
    at the beginning the player should have a clear vision as to what he or she is trying to accomplish. Nothing is more frustrating than wandering around wondering what you should be doing and if what you have been doing is going to get you anywhere.

    When there’s nothing I should be doing, I simply do what I like to be doing.

    (Well, actually, even if there’s something I should be doing, I frequently… but I digress.)

    Apparently, however, there are people who aren’t really interested in anything. It must really suck to be such a person.

    Quantum mechanics is still fully deterministic.

    In the sense that the probabilities are determined. That’s a very watered-down sense of “deterministic” IMHO.

    I personally find that the atheist tends to be as stubborn in clinging to their faith as the theist that clings to theirs. One will not be able to scientifically prove their position in either case.

    <sigh>

    Science cannot prove in the first place. It can only disprove. Mathematics and formal logics can prove — nothing else can.

    The theist, however, is able to experience the act of “being” as miraculous – and is able to live a life of Thankfulness. This is wonderful to experience.

    The atheist and the agnostic, on the other hand, are able to experience the world, the act state of being included, as beautiful and interesting — and are able to live a life of Bliss. This is wonderful to experience.

    Faith truly is a gift.

    So, when He did not give it to us, God had perfectly good reasons, and you are committing a blasphemy in trying to second-guess His decision. Right? :-

    One has to sincerely be open to it, however.

    In order to believe, one must already believe. Is that what you want to say?

    Based on my own experience, I would say that one can use that feeling of “uncomfortable longing for meaning” that most persons experience at some point in their life as a starting point for asking/praying for faith.

    Thank you for answering my question. If you pray for faith, you already have faith, duh — otherwise you wouldn’t and couldn’t pray!

    And I still don’t get this “longing for meaning” thing. I am perfectly comfortable with not having been planned (beyond the fact that my parents wanted a child). I am perfectly comfortable with not having been born with a list of homework to do. I am perfectly comfortable with not having been produced for a purpose!

    Sure, I do have a longing for doing something that will last and will be of interest to other people. So far, so good.

  25. #25 Nick Gotts
    August 23, 2008

    Is it not the case that, since the Cambrian, there has been a pretty much monotonic increase in the “braininess” (and hence, probably, behavioural complexity and learning capability) of the most “brainy” animals? This doesn’t require selection always or even usually to be for greater behavioural complexity and learning capability – only that at any level of braininess, selection can act in that direction. If this is the case, there would be a weak sense in which the eventual evolution of an organism capable of developing indefinitely complex cultures is very likely, once a certain point (development of something like a CNS?) has been reached, and given long enough. This would in no sense require teleology, nor imply that the first such organism would be a land-living featherless biped.

  26. #26 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    They want the guiding force to be a deity, but unfortunately, Darwin long ago identified the force as short-term local adaptation to environmental forces, nothing more, no grand planner, no deep purpose, and these instances of convergence provide no evidence otherwise.

    Did Darwin identify “the force”? Or merely a ~quantifiable way of looking at the mechanism?

    There must be some psychological need in the teleologists that I lack. I don’t feel any a priori requirement that complexity and adaptation and similar solutions must be driven by any kind of master blueprint,

    Your lack of […..] aside, does your “I don’t feel any a priori requirement” answer whether a master blueprint indeed exists?

  27. #27 CalGeorge
    August 23, 2008

    There’s absolutely no point in this existence – a bunch of species running around on a planet struggling to survive.

    What a fucking joke.

    The people who aren’t in on the joke invented religion and teleology and a million other excuses to feel better about our miserable lot.

  28. #28 keiths
    August 23, 2008

    It’s interesting that many theistic evolutionists (particularly Christians) want evolution to be deterministic, with humans being an inevitable result of the process; yet those same people balk at the idea that human behavior is also deterministic.

    Determinism in the first instance accords with their idea of a Divine Plan, but determinism in the second instance means that God is responsible for human evil. The first is theologically palatable to them, but the second is not, so they accept determinism in one case but not the other.

  29. #29 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    does your “I don’t feel any a priori requirement” answer whether a master blueprint indeed exists?

    No salt it doesn’t. But that still gives no reason to believe in one. The burden of proof is on those who posit a blueprint maker. And after this many centuries of searching, the lack of any convincing evidence to back that up is good reason to feel comfortable not believing any bluerprint exists.

  30. #30 SC
    August 23, 2008

    Naturalism doesn’t escape this. Quantum mechanics is still fully deterministic. Of course, I imagine you meant determinism in a sense of pre-determined by some intelligent entity, and the determinism of physics is nothing more than physical objects following physical laws.

    Hmm…

    I was just visiting Blake Stacey’s blog a few hours ago and happened to follow a link to this:

    http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=364

  31. #31 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    Naturalism doesn’t escape this. Quantum mechanics is still fully deterministic. Of course, I imagine you meant determinism in a sense of pre-determined by some intelligent entity, and the determinism of physics is nothing more than physical objects following physical laws.

    Yeah, SC, I didn’t pay much attention to that comment as it totally missed the point. “Purpose” as used by believers means “consciously willed” not naturally determined by mindless physical laws. That simply isn’t human enough. In other words, that purpose giving agent (god) it isn’t enough like the believers themselves.

  32. #32 David Marjanovi?, OM
    August 23, 2008

    Oops, sorry. I clicked “Post” without having read the rest of the thread.

    Our sun will live 10 billion years, and evolution on this planets seems to go in faster cycles as it progresses.

    Cycles???

    It may have taken billions of years to get life onto land, but then it took a shorter time period to cover the land with vegetation and highly specialized animals. The time scale on which humans evolved from earlier primates is on the order of 2-3 million years only.

    Our sun has four more billion years. If evolution continues to speed up

    Oh, that’s what you mean.

    Don’t you see that you have selected these events in a completely arbitrary way? Why the step onto land and not the origin of the backbone? Why the origin of humans and not the origin of insects?

    And “speed of evolution” means “number of fixed mutations per time”. If you have any evidence this has increased, I’d really like to see it.

    (BTW, the sun keeps getting hotter. In just 1 or 2 billion years, not 4 or 5, the Earth will turn into another Venus, unless… no idea what could stop that.)

  33. #33 Nick Gotts
    August 23, 2008

    If we have an atom that is in a excited state and so is going to emit a photon, we cannot say when it will emit the photon. It has a certain amplitude to emit the photon at any time, and we can predict only a probability for emission; we cannot predict the future exactly. – Richard Feynman, quoted by Blake Stacey in SC’s link. Jason Dick, would you agree with this, and if so, how is it compatible with your claim that QM is fully deterministic? If not, where was Feynman wrong?

    (N.B. I don’t think this question has important implications either for the (in)determinism of evolution on Earth, or questions of free will.)

  34. #34 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Michael X | August 23, 2008 1:50 PM
    does your “I don’t feel any a priori requirement” answer whether a master blueprint indeed exists?

    1. No salt it doesn’t.

    2. But that still gives no reason to believe in one.

    3. The burden of proof is on those who posit a blueprint maker.

    1. the truth
    2. arguable
    3. needs definition

    Quite a dilemma here.

  35. #35 Hesistant Iconoclast
    August 23, 2008

    I personally admire the final paragraph. It is both frightening and exhilarating to accept the chaos and randomness of life is simultaneously the bare-bones truth.

  36. #36 Nick Gotts
    August 23, 2008

    In just 1 or 2 billion years, not 4 or 5, the Earth will turn into another Venus, unless… no idea what could stop that. – David Marjanovi?, OM

    A sunshade. Such has already been proposed as a “solution” to anthropogenic global warming (highly unrealistic because: timescale too short, political problems too great, wouldn’t stop the acidification of the seas), but if any technological culture is around in a few hundred megayears, it would be feasible as a response to increased solar radiation.

  37. #37 Nick Gotts
    August 23, 2008

    So, Salt, you are no doubt anxious to produce your evidence or argument for the existence of a blueprint maker – and I’m sure it’s something we’ve never heard before. Come on, we’re agog.

  38. #38 Mrs Tilton
    August 23, 2008

    Dan @13,

    your second sentence is literally meaningless.

  39. #39 Jim Harrison
    August 23, 2008

    Teleology does not imply belief in a creator or, for that matter, a creation. Aristotle, who was the guy who first defined teleology, believed that the world is eternal but that the various kinds of things naturally strove to perfect themselves according to an inbuilt principle. That’s very different than believing that the world and its inhabitants are machines designed by some sort of cosmic craftsman, though that Paleyian view is also teleological.

    The notion that there are certain configurations that recur in biological evolution doesn’t imply that anybody is rigging the game. Hexagons show up in many natural and cultural settings, for example–beehives, compound eyes, the arrangement of cells in the cortex, simulation games–because hexagons can tile the plane, not because God is a bee. D’Arcy Thompson’s famous book, On Growth and Form, which has been an inspiration to many a purely secular biologist, is a fascinating account of the spatial and temporal structures ubiquitous in nature because they are mathematical maxima or minima. Thompson thought that physical constraints directly produced forms like the spiral shapes of gastropods, but it now seems that they are instead the inevitable results of natural selection, which calculates them by a sort of Monte Carlo method. Evolving species find them as the ball bearing eventually finds the clown’s eye. That, too, is a kind of teleology.

    One can argue that teleological explanations are wrong-headed; but then you’d actually have to argue. Reducing everything to a Manichean struggle between Reason and Theology doesn’t cut it.

  40. #40 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Michael X | August 23, 2008 1:50 PM
    And after this many centuries of searching, the lack of any convincing evidence to back that up is good reason to feel comfortable not believing any bluerprint exists.

    Sorry, should have addressed this too.

    What kind of evidence? Purely scientific? Or that admissible in a court of law? Anecdotal? Testimonial?

    What convinces one may not convince another; i.e. juries. “Convincing evidence” is a loaded term.

  41. #41 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    Ok salt.

    The FSM created the universe. Allah is god and muhammed is his prophet. Tom Cruise really does know how to audit you and rid you of Thetans.

    Do you believe any of these to be true?

    But, much like your blueprint maker, there is no evidence to the contrary. So isn’t it ‘arguable’ that these are true. And wouldn’t that make you illogical for dismissing these claims? Or is this all silly bullshit?

    So, While your point 1) is irrelevant, your point 2) is only arguable in your mind and the minds of those who’ve already made them up. We are prudent to not place belief in that which has no evidence for its existence.

    As for the semantics in your point 3), Burden of Proof is a common phrase used in everyday english, as you well know when you’re not trying to derail an argument. But for the sake of clarity, in everyday language, Burden of Proof: means that you must present evidence that defends a claim that you have made. And we’ve been waiting centuries for that.

  42. #42 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    That a deity created the universe is a scientific claim Salt. I’m sure you can guess what kind of evidence would qualify.

  43. #43 scooter
    August 23, 2008

    Check out the Etymology

    Main Entry:
    teleology
    \?te-l?-?-l?-j?, ?t?-\
    Function:
    noun
    Etymology:
    English, a contraction of touchy and feely, as in touchyfeelyology
    Date:
    1965

  44. #44 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Nick Gotts | August 23, 2008 2:13 PM
    So, Salt, you are no doubt anxious to produce your evidence or argument for the existence of a blueprint maker – and I’m sure it’s something we’ve never heard before. Come on, we’re agog.

    Evidence? Is there evidence that you would find acceptable? If I knew what that might be, I’d know if I had anything to offer. I’ve been here long enough to know the answer to that question.

    Argument? Why should I? No argument here, sans “smoking gun”, is worth making.

  45. #45 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    And by the way Salt, there is a very easy way of ending this argument and shut me up, instead of making me correct your pedantic nitpicks.

    If you believe that there is blueprint maker, provide testable evidence that one exists. Otherwise, I’m not here to instruct you on how everyday people speak english.

  46. #46 Jim Thomerson
    August 23, 2008

    Is anyone familiar with the Ernst Mayer discussion of teleology? As I recall, he discussed four different aspects.

  47. #47 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Michael X | August 23, 2008 2:28 PM
    provide testable evidence

    I have none. The “smoking gun” (testable evidence) may yet be out there, but I do not have it. All the other evidence is irrelevant to you.

  48. #48 Jim Thomerson
    August 23, 2008

    Here is a link to Mayer on teology.

    http://faculty.washington.edu/lynnhank/Mayr3.pdf

  49. #49 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    Salt @44

    Is there evidence that you would find acceptable?

    Are you kidding? Of course there is. A good start is showing a function that cannot be explained by natural processes, but can only be explained by supernatural ones. While this requires you describe how that supernatural force functions, it isn’t unthinkable.

    But am I instead to take it that you have no evidence, never did have evidence, nor did you ever expect to back any of your claims up? In such a case, our conversation would be over.

    But I’ll give you an out: What evidence makes you believe?

  50. #50 Jim Thomerson
    August 23, 2008

    Here is a link to Mayer on teology.

    http://faculty.washington.edu/lynnhank/Mayr3.pdf

  51. #51 scooter
    August 23, 2008

    SALT

    Did Darwin identify “the force”?

    That was George Lucas, who got it from wooMaster Joseph Campbell, who got it directly from Yoda while eating mushrooms with Native Americans.

  52. #52 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Michael X | August 23, 2008 2:25 PM
    That a deity created the universe is a scientific claim Salt.

    Oh, please!

    Science would be but one way to prove such a claim. But such claim is no more a scientific one than claiming that you baked a cake.

    (I am trying to stay civil here)

  53. #53 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    Salt @47

    Well Salt, I appreciate your honesty. Come on back when you have reason for me, or any other critical mind, to believe what you do.

  54. #54 Rey Fox
    August 23, 2008

    “Convergence raises the possibility of directionality in evolution. This is anathema to the old school. Strictly speaking, even to talk of adaptations being advantageous is to risk a false sense of teleology.”

    Pah. Teleology is the old old school. As in the “The gods sent this famine to punish us” school.

  55. #55 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    Salt @52

    I’m afraid I have to disagree Salt. A universe created by a conscious will, should look a great deal different than one created by mindless natural causes. And out of curiosity, by what other means would seek to prove the existence of a deity that everyone else can independently verify other than scientifically?

  56. #56 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Michael X | August 23, 2008 2:36 PM
    only be explained by supernatural ones. While this requires you describe how that supernatural force functions, it isn’t unthinkable.

    If I could describe how it functioned, it would not be supernatural.

    What evidence makes you believe?

    Non scientific. Evidence (anecdotal, testimonial, that which is admissible in a court of law, etc) which does not rise to your expectations other than to ridicule.

  57. #57 Azkyroth
    August 23, 2008

    It seems that you are speaking the languange of “faith.”
    I personally find that the atheist tends to be as stubborn in clinging to their faith as the theist that clings to theirs. One will not be able to scientifically prove their position in either case.

    The theist, however, is able to experience the act of “being” as miraculous – and is able to live a life of Thankfulness. This is wonderful to experience.

    Faith truly is a gift. One has to sincerely be open to it, however. Based on my own experience, I would say that one can use that feeling of “uncomfortable longing for meaning” that most persons experience at some point in their life as a starting point for asking/praying for faith.

    Dan, did you even read the bloody article?

  58. #58 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    Salt @56

    So you agree that you hold no evidence with which to verify your claims about the actual existence of a particular deity other than your own person belief that it is true.

    But, you must also agree that such ‘evidence’ as you believe supports your belief can and is produced by people who hold views that contradict your own. How do you deal with their claims? And how do you even out the fact that what you call ‘evidence’ can be and is used to ‘prove’ nearly anything?

  59. #59 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    re – Posted by: Michael X | August 23, 2008 2:42 PM
    A universe created by a conscious will, should look a great deal different than one created by mindless natural causes.

    Why? How do you come to that conclusion?

    by what other means would seek to prove the existence of a deity that everyone else can independently verify other than scientifically?

    Those who do independently verify do via non scientific means. Means you do not accept. Science is not the be all end all of truth, though many would appear to believe so.

  60. #60 Azkyroth
    August 23, 2008

    What if it wasn’t “intelligent design” but more an “emotional design.” Where love sets in motion a creativity of expressions of love which has as its’ goal – love.

    Explain guinea worms, then.

  61. #61 oldcola
    August 23, 2008

    PZ,
    and everybody else,
    Why stick to the “theistic evolutionist” characterization and don’t just use something like neo-creationism to describe, well, neocrationists’ take.
    I was hearing Ken Miller interviewed by Dennis Preager (after min 11) stating he is believing to an Intelligent Designer (probably a universes fine tuning guy) and reading about the Pope calling to strengthen the “doctrine of creation” and to proclaim God in his full grandeur as Creator and Redeemer, which may answer why christians (at least roman catholic ones) stick to a teleological approaches (Redemption).
    You can’t have Redemption without clever bipedal mammals created at the image of God to Redeem.

    And Ken Miller is not considering himself as a “theistic evolutionist.”

    Please, do him (and me) a favor, call him neo-creationist; the Pope may be happy with that to.

  62. #62 Azkyroth
    August 23, 2008

    Though I’m not drawn to the Old Testamant God or any other caricature, I’m also very wary of folks who claim we have seen all there to the existence already. That’s very shakey ground.

    I am aware of no atheist who claims any such thing.

  63. #63 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Michael X | August 23, 2008 2:52 PM
    But, you must also agree that such ‘evidence’ as you believe supports your belief can and is produced by people who hold views that contradict your own. How do you deal with their claims? And how do you even out the fact that what you call ‘evidence’ can be and is used to ‘prove’ nearly anything?

    I could care less what others believe. It matters not one iota that others believe differently, even you. As to their claims, I weigh what evidence I find and go from there.

    As far as “And how do you even out the fact that what you call ‘evidence’ can be and is used to ‘prove’ nearly anything”, is correct, as such proof is to the best of our knowledge, not on an absolute fact.

  64. #64 Peter Mc
    August 23, 2008

    The theist, however, is able to experience the act of “being” as miraculous – and is able to live a life of Thankfulness. This is wonderful to experience.

    I got all that wonder and thankfulness shovelling a load of horseshit into a wheelbarrow on a sunny summer evening in rural England, with swallows darting around the farmyard taking insects on the westering sun. No God needed. And at least I can do something with my steaming pile of shit. Yours just takes money off you and makes you live in false hope of life being greener on the other side of the death.

  65. #65 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    Salt @59

    Why? How do you come to that conclusion?

    I have experience with conscious wills. My own and those of the people around me. A civil engineer could design the human body better than it is at present. Instead we can tract its evolution from simple form to the complex form that it is now. Thus, we breathe and drink through the same tube. So I can compare how a conscious will would design the body and how nature did. I can then take this idea to other aspects of the universe and ask those in the know, how they would have done better.

    Those who do independently verify do via non scientific means. … Science is not the be all end all of truth, though many would appear to believe so

    I’m trying to figure out where you’re going with that first sentence. We perceive with our senses, but we (in the scientific sense) verify through testing. So while our senses may not be “scientific” in and of themselves, they are not “unscientific” in incompatible with science (obviously). Claims are still made, tested and verified or found wanting. In the end, your point seems irrelevant.

    Also, I never stated that science is the end all be all to truth. But if you wish to make a truth claim that is to be rigorously tested and verified by anyone, I’d love to know of a better way to do so than scientifically.

  66. #66 Azkyroth
    August 23, 2008

    Evidence? Is there evidence that you would find acceptable?

    Here are a few suggestions.

    Anyway, so far as I can tell, your problem seems to be that you suffer from the common misconception that claims start in a nebulous “maybe” state and must then be pushed from there, by evidence and argument, into either “true” or “false” (and the non-sequitur but popular corollary that unless an idea can be pushed into one of those categories with absolute certainty, it’s “ok” to think whatever the hell you want to about it). In any kind of meaningful logical process, that “maybe” is part of “not true.” It is never logically justified to assume things that are not supported by evidence because you like the idea and it hasn’t been “proven false” (or at least, decisively false enough to make it impossible to ignore). The other thing to keep in mind is that absolute proof is neither possible in the real world nor required for this kind of reasoning.

  67. #67 natural cynic
    August 23, 2008

    Michael X: A universe created by a conscious will, should look a great deal different than one created by mindless natural causes.

    How would you know? If you were the deity involved, I’m sure that you would do things differently just a I would. But the point of the “unscientificnes” of ID is that a deity could do whatever He/She/It/They would want.

  68. #68 Michael X
    August 23, 2008

    Well Salt, I have a matinee to do so I must leave you with this. You state “as such proof is to the best of our knowledge, not on an absolute fact.”

    This whole argument seems to stem from one point that is missing here. Some claims have more evidence than others and we can actually test that. Everything is not equal simply because it is not absolute. The claim of a deity is no exception. It too can be tested and found wanting. Indeed, it has.

    As for you not caring what others believe, I can’t actually believe that… Our beliefs tend to drive our actions. What you think about the world will color what you do. And as a species that can really hurt eachother and the world, while you may not like the fact, you better care what people think, as it may effect you some day, and probably already does.

  69. #69 Dan
    August 23, 2008

    All this talk of saber tooth tigers and guinea worms somehow being evidence that I am wrong – fails to take into account the possiblity that maybe the “end” wasn’t strickly where we/you are today.

    We’re not there yet.

  70. #70 owlbear1
    August 23, 2008

    “..driven by any kind of master blueprint..”

    That would mean somebody was in control. Control is necessary. Somebody in control means someone with whom to make deals. Somebody to blame, too.

    The universe is much easier when you can make deals with it and lay blame at its feet.

  71. #71 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Michael X | August 23, 2008 3:10 PM
    A civil engineer could design the human body better than it is at present. … I can then take this idea to other aspects of the universe and ask those in the know, how they would have done better.

    Would that civil engineer, by chance, be using that which already exists in making it better? Or would it be from scratch? If improvement is but the goal, that’s playing from a stacked deck.

  72. #72 SteveM
    August 23, 2008

    The answer is simple- people want meaning and telology is a way to give them meaning. Nobody likes thinking existence in general, much less their own, is pointless, so they subscribe to teleology in all aspects of history, just not a minor historical subset like evolutionary biology.

    To me this is exactly backwards. To me, to think that my life is following some divine plan would be the ultimate in meaninglessness. It is like the difference between painting on a blank canvas versus a paint-by-number kit. The blank canvas lets me produce meaning, painting by numbers reduces me to a mere machine. A meaningful life is one you create yourself, not one where you are merely an actor following someone else’s script.

  73. #73 Azkyroth
    August 23, 2008

    All this talk of saber tooth tigers and guinea worms somehow being evidence that I am wrong – fails to take into account the possiblity that maybe the “end” wasn’t strickly where we/you are today.

    We’re not there yet.

    No it doesn’t. A loving guide would not take such a painful route if it could avoid it, and an omnipotent, omniscient being could find away to avoid it. Even a being that was neither, but loving, would find a way to apologize and comfort in a direct and perceptible fashion.

  74. #74 eddie
    August 23, 2008

    There is no great porpoise. Just the illusion of free willy.

    /flippant

    Anyway, I get annoyed by the infinite regress – Was that decision pre determined? No, I decided it for my own purpore. Ah, but was that purpose pre…

  75. #75 David Marjanovi?, OM
    August 23, 2008

    So, Salt, you are no doubt anxious to produce your evidence or argument for the existence of a blueprint maker – and I’m sure it’s something we’ve never heard before. Come on, we’re agog.

    In other words: “Dance, trollboy! Dance!” B-)

    Evidence? Is there evidence that you would find acceptable? If I knew what that might be, I’d know if I had anything to offer.

    That’s very easy. If you were wrong, how would you know? Just tell us that.

    Science would be but one way to prove such a claim.

    Science cannot prove, only disprove. Only math and formal logic can prove.

    But such claim is no more a scientific one than claiming that you baked a cake.

    Which, in turn, is an entirely scientific claim — it is testable. Let’s see. Is there a cake? (If it’s already eaten, it’s usually possible to find that out, too.) Was Michael X in the right place at the right time? Does he know how to bake a cake? And so on. Lots of testable questions.

    Would that civil engineer, by chance, be using that which already exists in making it better? Or would it be from scratch? If improvement is but the goal, that’s playing from a stacked deck.

    Why should an intelligent designer be subject to such pesky little constraints? Most cdesign proponentsists go so far as to ascribe omnipotence to the designer.

    ———————

    All this talk of saber tooth tigers and guinea worms somehow being evidence that I am wrong – fails to take into account the possiblity that maybe the “end” wasn’t strickly where we/you are today.

    We’re not there yet.

    That’s untestable.

    Do you feel comfortable outside of science?

  76. #76 horrobin
    August 23, 2008

    All this talk of saber tooth tigers and guinea worms somehow being evidence that I am wrong – fails to take into account the possiblity that maybe the “end” wasn’t strickly where we/you are today.
    We’re not there yet

    Oh, I see…the “you can’t make an omelette without making millions of animals die in agony” argument. I guess when you said love, you meant “really, really tough love”

    And some people say unguided evolution is depressing.

  77. #77 Paul Burnett
    August 23, 2008

    All this talk of saber tooth tigers and guinea worms somehow being evidence that I am wrong – fails to take into account the possiblity that maybe the “end” wasn’t strickly where we/you are today.” – Dan, #69

    It could be that we were designed to be nothing more than tasty treats for saber tooth tigers and such. But the experiment got out of control when the prey outlived/outbred the predators. Maybe we’re just the leftovers from a failed experiment, and God is a saber tooth tiger…or a tapeworm.

  78. #78 JStein
    August 23, 2008

    Interesting stuff on convergence. I’ve always wondered why smart people actually think this is a reasonable concept.

    I’ve used the same general principle, but you (as always, phrase it better than I do).

  79. #79 Hugo
    August 23, 2008

    SteveM: “A meaningful life is one you create yourself, not one where you are merely an actor following someone else’s script.”
    I know this is like painting with numbers, but I’m going to use that anyway.

  80. #80 Nick Gotts
    August 23, 2008

    Salt,
    You’re a boring, dishonest creep with nothing whatever of value to contribute. I’m adding you to my killfile.

  81. #81 Gay Species
    August 23, 2008

    Many people confuse natural teleology, which is false, with human instrumental action, which is true, notably 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas.

    “Intending” and “intentionality” are all goal-seeking processes, even if conceptually, as well as in action. It was Aristotle’s mistake to think humans’ ability to have “goal-orientated” activities, if true for humans, must be true for all of nature. And thus, it fit into the Aristotle’s four “be-causes,” four explanation of movement.

    But even Aristotle did not commit his devotee Aquinas’ mistake: Natural Teleology is akin to Instrumental Action, but not conflated into each other, as Aquinas disasterously did. Thus the “fourth be-cause,” the “reason why things act,” is that they act “for their final end,” their purposeful end, which is rather brilliant for its times, however anthropomorphic it appears now.

    This falsehood of natural teleology was discredited long ago, and certainly sealed shut with Darwin. Unfortunately, while teleology is a concept foreign to Judeo-Christian thinking, the sense of “Inevitable Forces Leading Towards” comes right out of Marx in his Dialectical Historicism. It fits with the Absolute Moving Toward Its Destination, whether Hebrews to the Promised Land, Christians to the Kingdom, Marx to Uptopia, and who knows were else.

    Marxists and Roman Catholic Church defend teleology, still, as does writer Robert Wright’s many books, which gives lip service to the teleological fallacy, but embraces it anyway. It must be a powerful idea to hold sway in the presence of fallaciousness.

    None dare call them stubborn.

  82. #82 JoJo
    August 23, 2008

    Would that civil engineer, by chance, be using that which already exists in making it better? Or would it be from scratch? If improvement is but the goal, that’s playing from a stacked deck.

    As I understand this argument, the engineer has to work with a basically jury-rigged construction, trying to improve it without completely rebuilding it. Granted, a lot of engineering is just that (I speak from experience as an engineer). However, if an engineer, especially an omniscient one, were to design from scratch and with a specific goal in mind, then the end result would much better put together.

    As the old joke goes, god can’t be a decent engineer. Who would put a playground next to a couple of sewer outlets?

  83. #83 eigenvector
    August 23, 2008

    Actually, multiple, but independent, solutions to the same problem would seem to validate evolution. In one sense evolution is just a logical response to physics. Our sun is a yellow star, thanks to the spectra of sodium, and therefore any instrument trying to make use of this radiation will develop accordingly. So we get eyes evolving 50 independent times, so, evolution works, as advertised, over and over again! If the only hunting tool I had was my mouth, I’d be plenty happy to evolve a sabre tooth even if it was the fourth time it evolved. The fact that it evolved three times, over a large span of time, makes me wonder just how many times this god-guy had to drop by and wave his magic wand, obviously more than once. Yeah, sure, that’ll happen!

  84. #84 bornagain77
    August 23, 2008

    You may like this funny video PZ

    Automated Atheist Answering Machine – video

    http://www.godtube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=41412ae6d65d1ed0bc9a

  85. #85 Claire
    August 23, 2008

    I hate when people try to simplify something they know nothing about. Convergence is not simply “re-running the tape of life.” Most features that are convergent may look superficially similar, but are slightly unique in their own way. That is why it is so cool.

  86. #86 Tony Sidaway
    August 23, 2008

    On the Gould/Conway Morris dispute over the role of historical contingency, in Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, Conway Morris cited Lenski’s Long Term Evolution Experiment as support for his view that convergence is so strong that it leads inevitably to humans (for some value of human).

    However more recently the same experiment (12 strains of E. coli diverged for 2,000 generations and then each divided into 3 and fed on DM25 for the past twenty years) has seemed to give strong evidence that historical contingency plays a decisive role even in this very, very simple rerun. Just one of the 36 cultures developed a strain that metabolized the citrate medium so well that a stable polymorphism has arisen, involving two species: the specialist that lives solely on glucose, and the generalist that competes poorly for glucose but thrives on the citrate that the specialist cannot consume.

    See “History restricts and guides the evolution of innovations” on Ed Yong’s “Not exactly rocket science” blog, and this (PDF) for the original paper by Blount et al. This results suggests that Conway Morris may have a lot of hard thinking to do if he is still wedded to the teleological view that God used natural selection to create the human race.

  87. #87 Nick Gotts
    August 23, 2008

    Tony Sidaway@86,
    I may be unduly cynical here, but I doubt whether Conway Morris will have any difficulty in moving the goalposts. By the way, does anyone know when he became infected with Christianity? Gould’s account of him in Wonderful Life does not suggest he was Christian at the time it was written – although it doesn’t explicitly say otherwise.

  88. #88 Tony Sidaway
    August 23, 2008

    Um, I should add that Blount et al showed that the likely evolutionary mechanism here was strongly contingent, and definitely not a point mutation. Probably several different adaptations had to happen in the right order and survive over a long period in a competitive environment. This has obvious implications for evolution in highly contingent environments where selection events are frequent.

  89. #89 Tony Sidaway
    August 23, 2008

    @87, Nick he doesn’t talk like a convert. His language seems to be straightforward Church of England to me, and converts tend make a beeline for the crazy charistmatic end these days for some reason.

    I suspect that it just took Conway Morris a while to get himself known in his own right (which he certainly did, being an undeniably talented paleontologist) and to think through the implications of Gould’s view (no more God).

  90. #90 Kagehi
    August 23, 2008

    Salt, I am rather confused here. You state that types of possible evidence are “(anecdotal, testimonial, that which is admissible in a court of law, etc.)”. Well, I don’t have a damn clue what your “etc.” encompasses but anecdotal is ***not*** accepted in courts, and testimonial is **only** allowed when its deemed that a) the person in a trustworthy witness, b) the person is saying something that makes some sort of reasonable sense in terms of how the world is “scientifically” known to work, and c) there is some general verification that it could have happened at all. A) is only useful in assessing belief or state of mind when B ad C are absent, not in asserting truth about the universe in general. B) is generally a given, unless you have C to back it up, thus announcing that you saw something leap in to the sky and fly is not going to be admissible in any court, unless it includes fracking video tape or an explanation grounded in something other than comic book physics. C) Means they had to be there to witness it, the person/thing they witnessed had to be there, or at least likely to be there, they had to be there when they said, looking where they said, and a whole list of other “requirements” to make it plausible and thus admissible.

    And strangely enough, while you “testimonial” can, given all the collateral, verifiable, and therefor “scientific” evidence implying that it happened, and you could have witnessed it, is allowed in courts, what you mean by the term is a) stories people may or may not have made up, and b) people claiming to witness the stories they may or may not have made up, none of which have been “allowed” in a court of law since the fracking Salem Witch Trials, for the damn good reason that we figured out a long time ago that people lie, and its not a “valid” way to determine who killed someone or what made a cow sick, by allowing “testimonials” from people claiming agencies or actions that **evidence** all suggests don’t exist, can’t happen, and/or they couldn’t have possibly witnessed.

    Note the issue here with that final bit. Even in a court of law ***you*** would, I rather hope, demand that any claims made “fit” scientific rigor, at least as far as to verify that there was time, a place it could have happened, that the event was at all believable, and that the person “claiming” to witness it wasn’t 10 miles away having his/her 6th drink in a bar. Yet, if I am wrong, then there is obviously a serious case of cognitive dissonance in your head, because I can’t comprehend why you would “accept” that level of rigor in a court case where someone claimed to witness you drawing magic symbols on their cow, while refusing the apply the same to any other similar claims.

    And, yeah, I know damn well what your answer to that is, “Well, I don’t believe in magic, so its only the stuff I do believe in that gets to be accepted for reasons that don’t stand up in even a court of law, never mind a science lab!” Congratulations, you just relegated your belief system to the same stupid unthinking idiocy that drove the slave trade, convinces people who are “true believers” to kill their kids in exorcisms, and hundreds of other insane things they do because, they **only except evidence of this kind for things they already think are true**. You should be proud of being part of the long tradition of every idiot idea from Middle Ages adherence to the dogma of blood letting and bad humors, to every other nonsensical idea ever held onto because people “felt” it was true, rejected the same class and quality of evidence for nearly all other ideas, and convinced themselves that the guy in a beak mask was curing them of the plague, instead if killing them through ignorance and superstition. Your in… well, company, of a sort, but I refuse to call it “good”.

  91. #91 Cujo359
    August 23, 2008

    Convergence is often a consequence of limitations in anatomy and physiology that make a narrower range of solutions to common problems available.

    Non-biologist that I am, I was thinking that biological organisms are limited by what their DNA and the bodies that result from them are capable of. Rather like how engineers are limited by the materials and science we have available to solve a problem.

    Arguments about religion so often involve selective memory, and these guys seem to be no exception to that rule.

  92. #92 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Kagehi | August 23, 2008 5:28 PM

    Gee, Kagehi, I mean,,, like,,, wow! That was impressive. Pedantic, but impressive. You must be some conversationalist.

  93. #93 Paper Hand
    August 23, 2008

    Salt @ 92
    Kagehi wasn’t having a casual conversation. He or she was participating in a debate. People talk very differently when debating than when having a conversation.

  94. #94 Cuttlefish, OM
    August 23, 2008

    The reason that some want a plan
    Is to show that, since life first began,
    It was God’s Own Behest
    To deliver The Best–
    Which could be nothing other than Man.

  95. #95 SC
    August 23, 2008

    I get first pick for my intellectual dodgeball team? I choose Salt!

  96. #96 Timothy Mills
    August 23, 2008

    Excellent post, P.Z.! I especially enjoyed the last paragraph.

  97. #97 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Paper Hand | August 23, 2008 5:58 PM
    Salt @ 92
    Kagehi wasn’t having a casual conversation. He or she was participating in a debate.

    Really? Kagehi seemed to go off into la la land.

    Lets take just one small part –

    “Salt, I am rather confused here. You state that types of possible evidence are “(anecdotal, testimonial, that which is admissible in a court of law, etc.)”. Well, I don’t have a damn clue what your “etc.” encompasses but anecdotal is ***not*** accepted in courts,

    “anecdotal is ***not*** accepted in courts” – Dayam, did I ever say it was?

  98. #98 Nix
    August 23, 2008

    Nick Gotts@#36, sunshades are too risky. They need regular maintenance, so one collapse of civilization and you fry.

    The right solution is to remove a large amount of mass from the Sun, and adjust the Earth’s orbit so that this doesn’t freeze it. The reduction in mass will reduce its heat output and elongate its lifespan at the same time, and the resulting mass loss is permanent, no matter what happens to us.

    Of course this is rather more technically *challenging* than a sunshade. :)

  99. #99 Tony Sidaway
    August 23, 2008

    @pangloss, #10, yes that’s me. I was also Sherilyn (also for some reason “of some controversy”). I seem to have quite a fan base who have been known to follow me from place to place. ;)

  100. #100 Morgan- Lamberth
    August 23, 2008

    PZ, theists merely use pareidolia to see teleology when the weight of evidence as Simpson and others, contrary to Eugenie C.Scott, shows no cosmic teleology. Furthermore, there are patterns that scientists notice rather than designs. All teleological arguments – design, from reason, fine-tuning and probability assume what they shoud first show. So, theists make multiple fallacies in using teleology. This is the naturalistic atelic argument .as Amiel Rossow notes @ Talk Reason in his essay on Kenneth Miller that the latter puts ID out the front door, only to put it back through the back one.
    All their argumentation in the end,even those who so value natural theology, really rely on faith, the we just say so of credulity.It is due to their argument from angst that all this comes about. Augustine, Paul Tillich, Francisco Jose Ayala, and countless preachers state that we must overcome dread and find a purpose through divine agency. No, as Albert Ellis would say, they need counseling for so braying against reality [ The Myth of Self-Esteem ]! This Sally Field life, our own purposes and human love suffice; no future state and divine love and purpose are available.
    It follows from the presumption of naturalism that theists must overcome it as Einstein did Newton and thus does not beg the question nor sandbags theists. All causes and explanatins are efficient, necessary, primary and sufficient. Leibniz to the contrary, they are the sufficient reason!
    Theists try to obviate all this with the two category classification of origins [ science] or contingency and telos [ actually Stannard use another term] or necessary being [the contingency form of the cosmological with Russell Stannard’s two ideas- the first of each pair][ Malcolm Diamond in his introduction to the philosophy of religion and Kai Nielsen’s], but all that begs the question.
    Theists ever beg questions!
    Then one applies the ignostic-Ockham challenges that either God is vacuous or else He is superfluous. He need not apply for work!
    And why would God want worship anyway? Low self-esteeem! No god has the right to expect worship and even to punish us. Any just god would apply the problem of Heaven: if in Heaven , one has free will and yet will not do wrong, then why not here in the first place? Theists special plead in trying to reply.See ‘Arguments for God” and “Atheism, Morality and Meaning” for more on this argument. My friend Graham Robert Oppy shows in the first one how theism is so fallacious! Then we have “Logic and Theism.” We naturalists have many advanced books to compete with theistic heavy hitters, who outdo Dawkins for those theists who fault him [You speak eloquently of their not appreciating his argumentation!]
    For fuller expositions of these points, Google skeptic griggsy.
    PZ, fortunately we have you! How about rebutting haughty John Haught and such wiseacres! He cannot fathom that the courier is so wrong!

  101. #101 Morgan- Lamberth
    August 23, 2008

    PZ, theists merely use pareidolia to see teleology when the weight of evidence, as Simpson and others, contrary to Eugenie C.Scott, shows no cosmic teleology. Furthermore, there are patterns that scientists notice rather than designs. All teleological arguments – design, from reason, fine-tuning and probability assume what they shoud first show. So, theists make multiple fallacies in using teleology. This is the naturalistic atelic argument. .As Amiel Rossow notes @ Talk Reason in his essay on Kenneth Miller that the latter puts ID out the front door, only to put it back through the back one. He is indeed a creationist, faith-based in the end.
    All their argumentation in the end,even those who so value natural theology, really rely on faith, the we just say so of credulity.It is due to their argument from angst that all this comes about. Augustine, Paul Tillich, Francisco Jose Ayala, and countless preachers state that we must overcome dread and find a purpose through divine agency. No, as Albert Ellis would say, they need counseling for so braying against reality [ The Myth of Self-Esteem ]! This Sally Field life, our own purposes and human love suffice; no future state and divine love and purpose are available.
    It follows from the presumption of naturalism that theists must overcome it as Einstein did Newton and thus does not beg the question nor sandbags theists. All causes and explanatins are efficient, necessary, primary and sufficient. Leibniz to the contrary, they are the sufficient reason!
    Theists try to obviate all this with the two category classification of origins [ science] or contingency and telos [ actually Stannard use another term] or necessary being [the contingency form of the cosmological with Russell Stannard’s two ideas- the first of each pair][ Malcolm Diamond in his introduction to the philosophy of religion and Kai Nielsen’s], but all that begs the question.
    Theists ever beg questions!
    Then one applies the ignostic-Ockham challenges that either God is vacuous or else He is superfluous. He need not apply for work!
    And why would God want worship anyway? Low self-esteeem! No god has the right to expect worship and even to punish us. Any just god would apply the problem of Heaven: if in Heaven , one has free will and yet will not do wrong, then why not here in the first place? Theists special plead in trying to reply.See ‘Arguments for God” and “Atheism, Morality and Meaning” for more on this argument. My friend Graham Robert Oppy shows in the first one how theism is so fallacious! Then we have “Logic and Theism.” We naturalists have many advanced books to compete with theistic heavy hitters, who outdo Dawkins for those theists who fault him [You speak eloquently of their not appreciating his argumentation!]
    For fuller expositions of these points, Google skeptic griggsy.
    PZ, fortunately we have you! How about rebutting haughty John Haught and such wiseacres! He cannot fathom that the courier is so wrong!

  102. #102 Tony Sidaway
    August 23, 2008

    @Morgan- Lamberth, #101, thanks for the references. I’m in the middle of writing an essay (which may one day show up on my blog) about Gould and Conway Morris and teleology (and cabbages and kings, of course).

    Ever since I first read Wonderful Life I’ve been fascinated by the question of rerunning the tape of life. That it would turn out to be such a pivotal question for the theistic views of Conway Morris was not obvious twenty years ago, but here we see the clear influence of historical contingency in the life of Conway Morris. Had Steve Gould not covered his work in a book with quite such a radical central thesis, completely inimical to Conway Morris’s religious beliefs, Simon’s professional career might have gone in a completely different direction. :)

  103. #103 John Landon
    August 23, 2008

    Debates over teleology have been wrecked by religious obsessions. Forget ‘god’ for a moment and consider a kind of ‘Kantian’ natural teleology.
    The evidence behind the abstractions of teleology is that of directionality. Here the study of history, and the ‘eonic effect’ can help with specific empirical approaches to the question.
    http://darwiniana.com/2008/08/23/outbreak-of-teleological-debates/

  104. #104 Peter Ashby
    August 23, 2008

    I read Mark Vernon’s book on his journey from priest to atheist to agnostic and it appeared from it he had never read any Dawkins. If he had then the strawman he puts up and knocks down so easily would be a lie.

    I have asked him on his blog if he has read Dawkins and not got a reply, so I guess not.

  105. #105 Pikemann Urge
    August 23, 2008

    Convergence might be explained by complexity (chaos) theory. There is probably and attractor (fixed or strange, I wouldn’t know) in the system. That would explain the ‘direction’ of biological evolution.

    I’m a deist but don’t see the requirement to attach the force/god/vibe to anything. God is to pure for that.

  106. #106 Tony Sidaway
    August 23, 2008

    @Peter Ashby | August 23, 2008 8:22 PM, #104

    I actually live quite close to Mark and I’ve suggested it might be nice to meet. If this ever happens, I think I’ll probably bring along a few Dawkins books and see if he’s read them. If not, he’s welcome to borrow mine.

  107. #107 amphiox
    August 23, 2008

    #36, #98

    Another solution would be to move the orbit of the earth (this would be an automatic side effect of changing the mass of the sun, but we could also do it without messing with the sun as well)

    Or we could move the biosphere off the earth. This would necessitate finding some place to move it to. In the absence of suitable natural candidates, it may be possible to build an artificial one (or several).

    Not sure which would be the technically easiest, though.

  108. #108 amphiox
    August 23, 2008

    There is, I think, a psychological need for a plan and a purpose, for many people. Perhaps it is a side effect of our storytelling instinct.

    To which I say, if you want your purpose that badly, stop wasting your time looking for it where it does not exist, and make one of your own.

  109. #109 The MadPanda
    August 23, 2008

    Well put, Kagehi! A masterful summary indeed. Utterly lost on the recipient, though.

    Shorter Salt:

    “I got nothin’, but I figger I can bluff all the way to the last hand with an ace kicker…”

    You’ve been pwned, my young padawan apprentice. Go away until you can come back with something that will actually hold together under scrutiny. Y’know: something testable?

    Barring that, come back with something that has not been seen, tested, found wanting, and refuted a thousand times over.

    Until then, all available evidence suggests thou art naught but a d’Orc in a Trollsuit.

    The MadPanda, FCD

  110. #110 melior
    August 23, 2008

    John Landon #103:

    Debates over teleology have been wrecked by religious obsessions. Forget ‘god’ for a moment and consider a kind of ‘Kantian’ natural teleology.

    Actually, if you remove the assumption of god from Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason, the whole thing falls over like a wet paper sack.

  111. #111 Tony Sidaway
    August 23, 2008

    Pikemann Urge | August 23, 2008 9:20 PM, #105

    Sure but does convergence need a special explanation? Convergence is to be expected in a system of common descent. A striking illustration of the role of common descent in convergence is the role of homeotic genes in different lineages of metazoans.

    With such construction company genes controlling the show, the expression of other genes is constrained. This drives convergence.

    Constraints can often arise from what Dennett has called “qwerty phenomena” –accidents of history named by Dennett after an early design of typewriter keyboards. We still use the qwerty design (the exact arrangement differs according to country: in France it’s azerty) because of an accident of history.

    Where constraints are particularly strong (for instance in those genes that regular development) the effect of accidents of history can be to close off potential lineages. Thus in a rerun history might very well be quite different. Which is what Steve Gould said, and what Simon Conway Morris finds so unacceptable.

  112. #112 Salt
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: The MadPanda | August 23, 2008 10:08 PM

    Well put, Kagehi! A masterful summary indeed. Utterly lost on the recipient, though.

    Shorter Salt:

    “I got nothin’, but I figger I can bluff all the way to the last hand with an ace kicker…”

    You’ve been pwned, my young padawan apprentice. Go away until you can come back with something that will actually hold together under scrutiny. Y’know: something testable?

    Pwned? LMAO!!!! Hardly.

  113. #113 JimV
    August 23, 2008

    Posted by: Salt | August 23, 2008 3:32 PM

    Posted by: Michael X | August 23, 2008 3:10 PM
    A civil engineer could design the human body better than it is at present. … I can then take this idea to other aspects of the universe and ask those in the know, how they would have done better.

    Would that civil engineer, by chance, be using that which already exists in making it better? Or would it be from scratch? If improvement is but the goal, that’s playing from a stacked deck.

    The first mechanical farm vehicle had no steering wheel. Human engineers are in fact much better at improving existing designs than coming up with anything new and perfect from scratch. Which is to say, human design proceeds by a process very similar to biological evolution. And yet, some (few of whom have ever designed anything) claim to see the need for a supernatural designer based on analogies to human design work – which seems ironical to me.

  114. #114 Anton Mates
    August 24, 2008

    The implications that might be drawn from convergence is what Conway Morris’ new book explores….Conway Morris himself has tentatively suggested that the brain could be thought of as an evolving “antenna” that detects mentality which is itself independent of human intelligence.

    It is no surprise that religious believers warm to such suggestions.

    But…but I thought theistic evolutionists knew that science and religion are fundamentally different pursuits, and that it’s fruitless to stake your faith on a god of the gaps! My innocence has been shattered!

  115. #115 Michael X
    August 24, 2008

    Pwned? LMAO!!!! Hardly.

    This is of course the natural outcome when many people play the same game, but a special self declared group, plays by different rules.

  116. #116 Gary Royal
    August 24, 2008

    I just want to raise the point that i we did run the tape of evolution again, of course the result would be different. In 99.9999999% of the cases I doubt you’d end up with an organism even capable of understanding the experiment.

    Life is very probably common, okay, even inevitable within the bounds of the requirement there be liquid water to enable its biogenesis, but ‘intelligent’ life (however you choose to define it) is apparently extraordinarily rare and technologically advanced life is evidently unique.

    Because we see things like eyes and wings re-evolving all the time, but the capacity for sophisticated abstract thinking has occurred exactly once, and it’s not biologically necessary for survival unless you consider an organism’s deliberate attempt to evade extinction a biological necessity as opposed to an unprecedented conceit.

  117. #117 Alan Kellogg
    August 24, 2008

    Being nitpicky here, but dinosaurs did not take the place of the Permian therapsids. First was the lystrisaurus interrugnum, then thecodonts arose to take their place. Dinosaurs appeared later in the Triassic to supplant the thecodonts.

    While there was some expansion among aves and suchus, it was not to the same degree as among the thecodonts, and they were fairly quickly supplanted by mammals and multituberculates. The later to disappear when the rodents appeared.

    The matter of botany at each transition must also be considered, for the thecodonts and dinosaurs of the Triassic did not have to deal with the vegetation existing at the time of the Paleocene. They couldn’t have, for grasses and flowering plants required changes that could not have existed at the P/T boundary, but needed preliminary changes that had not occurred yet. In other words, early Triassic plants did not have the changes that made the changes possible that made the changes possible that made the changes possible which made early flowering plants possible.

    And so the early Paleocene could not recapitulate the early Triassic except in the broadest of senses.

  118. #118 kenmillerisnotacreationist386sx
    August 24, 2008

    I always thought convergence was an instance that only your average Creationist would use as an argument for “poof.” What it pretty amounts to is a god of the gaps argument from ignorance type of deal. Ken Miller is not a Creationist, so I guess I stand corrected on that.

    Man, God really finds the most ignorant gappy places in which to to hide Itself sometimes. Gee I wonder why! Ken Miller isn’t a Creationist though.

  119. #119 kenmillerisnotacreationist386sx
    August 24, 2008

    Sorry for the extra and missing words up there in the previous comment. Time for sleepies byes.

  120. #120 Militant Agnostic
    August 24, 2008

    If the universe has a purpose, it is uterly arrogant to assume that we are it. Perhaps god likes spiral galaxies and we are a just a side effect. Maybe god (if he/she/it even notices us) is annoyed by all the worshipping and praying.

    George Carlin said that if humanity was the purpose of the universe then the universe aimed low and was satisfied with very little.

  121. #121 Matt Heath
    August 24, 2008

    #120: You hit the nail squarely on the head there. Even if we pull back from “god” with it’s hint “person-likeness” and just talk about the possibility of the “universe having a purpose”. We are arrogant to assume it’s us and nearly as arrogant if we claim we have a clue what it might be.

    “Purpose in the universe” is like money trapped in accounts in Nigeria; it may very exist, but anyone telling you how to find it is a conman.

  122. #122 scooter
    August 24, 2008

    Matt Heath

    “Purpose in the universe” is like money trapped in accounts in Nigeria

    That’s a good one I just might have to plageurize that.

  123. #123 Iain Walker
    August 24, 2008

    Salt (Comment #97):

    “anecdotal is ***not*** accepted in courts” – Dayam, did I ever say it was?

    Yes, you did:

    “Evidence (anecdotal, testimonial, that which is admissible in a court of law, etc) which does not rise to your expectations other than to ridicule.”
    Posted by: Salt | August 23, 2008 2:46 PM (Comment #56) (my italics)

    Admittedly, the sentence construction is ambiguous, since it could be read either as evidence which is “anecdotal, testimonial and admissible in a court of law” or which is “anecdotal, testimonial or admissible in a court of law”.

    But that aside, Kagehi has you bang to rights. Human testimony is often unreliable, which is why both science and the courts put a high premium on corroboration.

    Oh, and regarding your #63:

    I could care less what others believe.

    Maybe not, but you should perhaps care if you and they are relying on the same criteria for what to believe, and nevertheless end up believing very different things. That’s usually a good indicator that the criteria you’re using aren’t very reliable.

  124. #124 Iain Walker
    August 24, 2008

    Dan (Comment #6):

    Faith truly is a gift.

    Why am I reminded of the Cigarette Smoking Man from the X Files?

    “Life is like a box of chocolates – a cheap, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for.”

  125. #125 David Marjanovi?, OM
    August 24, 2008

    Admittedly, the sentence construction is ambiguous, since it could be read either as evidence which is “anecdotal, testimonial and admissible in a court of law” or which is “anecdotal, testimonial or admissible in a court of law”.

    The “etc” clearly favors the latter interpretation. So much so that I didn’t notice any other was possible.

    But all this is beside the topic. Salt, you say you have evidence that would be admissible in a court of law. What is it? Put up or shut up, please.

  126. #126 Aphrodine
    August 24, 2008

    Did a god have a plan that involved eyes forming as orbs with single lenses? Why? And does that make dragonflies satanic, for defying the plan?

    The only obvious answer is “YES!”

  127. #127 SC
    August 24, 2008

    The “etc” clearly favors the latter interpretation. So much so that I didn’t notice any other was possible.

    Absolutely true, but the fact that what’s given in courts is called “testimony” does create some ambiguity.

    Salt:

    Let’s say someone is on trial for murdering one of your loved ones. He says he couldn’t have done it because he was baking a cake at the time of the crime. What evidence should the jury accept as confirming his alibi? Should they accept the testimony of his parents and siblings that he was baking a cake even if there’s no physical evidence to support their story, or if there’s physical evidence contradicting it? What if their accounts differ in fundamental details, or are at odds?

    Or, you could just respond to David Marjanovi?:

    Salt, you say you have evidence that would be admissible in a court of law. What is it? Put up or shut up, please.

  128. #128 Nick Gotts
    August 24, 2008

    David Marjanovi?,
    Salt will never put up, and probably won’t shut up until that glad day when he expires. Having added him to my killfile, I only know a little of what he’s been spewing, from others’ replies, but he’s just wasting your time – that’s how he gets his jollies.

  129. #129 Iain Walker
    August 24, 2008

    yogi-one (#17):

    It may have taken billions of years to get life onto land, but then it took a shorter time period to cover the land with vegetation and highly specialized animals. [snip] If evolution continues to speed up […]

    I think you may be confusing rates of diversification (i.e., rate of production of new lineages) with rates of evolutionary change (i.e., rate of morphological or genetic change within an existing lineage). These aren’t the same thing. An increase in the rate of diversification doesn’t necessarily mean that evolution is running faster – it can just mean that more evolution is going on (in parallel, if you like) during that time.

    And it’s far from clear that there’s a long term trend of increasing rates of either – or rather, that there’s a long term trend of increase such that you could expect that increase to continue.

    During the history of life, there have been a number of evolutionary breakthroughs (e.g., in animals – the evolution of multicellularity, vision, the ability to breath air etc) which have opened up hitherto unrealisable possibilities for ecological specialisation. Consequently, you get these bursts of diversification (e.g., the Cambrian “Explosion”, the colonisation of the land). But as the new niches get filled, the rate of diversification start to slow down again. Ditto with mass extinctions – ecological space becomes available to the survivors, diversification increases, diversification slows down as the available space is filled up again.

    So increases in rates of diversification tend to be temporary phenomena, contingent upon local factors, and the overall ultra-long-term trend is towards a levelling off as life establishes itself globally and the possibilities for new ecological space shrinks (barring the occasional top-up after mass extinctions). Similarly, rates of morphological or genetic change within individual lineages vary according to local, contingent environmental and genetic factors. In neither case is there any obvious reason for expecting evolution to “speed up” in future, except locally and temporarily.

  130. #130 Kagehi
    August 24, 2008

    Yes, and others have pointed out Salt, saying that you didn’t intend for annecdote to be in the list of “admissible”, doesn’t help your case at all, as I hinted at in my post. Why? Because testimonial/testimony is ***the same thing*** if you can’t corroborate that it took place, and if you can, then it, automatically, falls under “testable”, and therefor scientific, evidence. There isn’t any fracking “etc.”, which is quite frankly why you can’t state what etc. is, but have to hand wave and babble, “And other sorts I can’t define right now.”, in the first place.

  131. #131 Ouch
    August 24, 2008

    I got hit by a semi-truck while riding my bicycle to graduate school. It was a very serious accident and for months I went through some kind of hell. Although I was often depressed and having trouble, it was never of the kind “why did this happen to me”. I knew that it was a random, meaningless event and I needed to pick up the pieces, recover my health and sue the shit out of the douchebag that hit me (sorry I still have some anger issues). My wife on the other hand is a mild believer in a god, or a grand plan to life and to top it all off her dad suffered through cancer for 7 years and died when she turned 18. She kept on saying, “why did this happen. I am a good person and I am so nice and helpful to everybody. It just isn’t fair.” This type of thinking has been devastating and actually makes things worse when you have something bad happen to you. Needless to say, she has moved on from this path of thinking somewhat. Oh, and I am doing a lot better.

  132. #132 Nemo
    August 24, 2008

    Gary Royal:

    …but ‘intelligent’ life (however you choose to define it) is apparently extraordinarily rare and technologically advanced life is evidently unique.

    There is no evidence of that. There is no evidence one way or another… although, when I have to make a guess, I go with the anti-anthropic principle every time (i.e., we’re not special). Historically, it’s been a winner.

    There are solutions to the Fermi paradox that don’t require technological life to be rare.

  133. #133 llewelly
    August 24, 2008

    If you assume it takes a hell of a lot of energy to travel lightyears, Fermi’s problem is not a paradox.

  134. #134 Nick Gotts
    August 25, 2008

    llewelly@133,
    But it doesn’t: not “a lot” for a civilisation a century or so ahead of ours technologically. A von Neumann probe could be quite small, and using them the galaxy could be fully colonised by space-adapted intelligent entities within a few tens of millions of years.

  135. #135 James Cape
    August 25, 2008

    I think that a lot of this is not being able to take the mental leap required to fully appreciate the concept of natural selection. Which in turn is related to needing a sense of control, yes.

  136. #136 llewelly
    August 25, 2008

    Nick Gotts, #134:

    But it doesn’t: not “a lot” for a civilisation a century or so ahead of ours technologically. A von Neumann probe could be quite small, and using them the galaxy could be fully colonised by space-adapted intelligent entities within a few tens of millions of years.

    That would make Fermi’s problem a paradox if it was a given that a technological civilisation of sufficient sophistication would build a Von Neuman colonization machine, and that such a machine and its descendants would necessarily operate correctly for tens of millions of years (given that best computers of our civilisation don’t reproduce, and yet, at best, operate correctly for only mere decades, that sort of reliability may be very difficult). That’s not a given. It’s a possibility – and it may be a very unlikely one. In order for Fermi’s paradox to not be a paradox, we need only establish that Von Neuman colonization machines are not inevitable.

  137. #137 Nick Gotts
    August 25, 2008

    llewelly@136,

    Not so: you only need one civilisation that builds a von Neumann probe (or more realistically, several), and on average the probe(s) produce more than one “child” before ceasing to function. So if technological civilisations are assumed reasonably common, you need an argument why such civilisations will never launch successful von Neumann probes.

  138. #138 michael edwards
    August 25, 2008

    As to the ‘needs’ of teleogists, I think you’re needlessly complicating the issue. The deep roots of these ideas are often planted when we’re 2-3 old. Raised a catholic, I abandoned chrisitan beliefs 45 years ago. And even now, the remnants of prayers, hymns, and feelings still surface annoyingly from time to time. I’d say it’s early childhood conditioning, not belief. Consider yourself fortunate for lacking their needs.

  139. #139 ymr049c
    August 25, 2008

    We are each our own individual engines of purpose, operating in a hostile universe where randomness can shape our fates.

    Minor quibble- I’d call it an indifferent universe.

    Otherwise, I agree that this popular compulsion to think it all has a grander purpose is strange. It looks like Brownian motion to me.

  140. #140 thefunnyness
    August 26, 2008

    Wow, interesting read. Maybe the silently floating idea that PZ might have some unfortunate noetic disability rings true. Explains all the confusion.

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