Pharyngula

Convergence, schmonvergence

I swore off reading Simon Conway Morris long ago, after reading his awful, incoherent book, Life’s Solution, which I peevishly reviewed. He’s the go-to guy for Cambrian paleontology, and he’s definitely qualified and smart, but he’s got two strikes against him: he’s a terrible writer, making most of his output well-nigh unreadable, and he’s one of those scientists with a serious god infection, which means much of what he writes collapses into babbling theology at some point.

He’s done it again. Simon Conway Morris has an opinion piece in the Guardian, and it’s his usual tirade: atheists are nasty people who don’t think about the meaning of evolution, which is that god created us. As Jerry Coyne points out, this makes him indistinguishable from your garden variety creationist.

I have tried to follow the logic of Conway Morris. I can’t. Here is the bulk of his article, with my futile attempts to dissect the chain of reasoning in his central premise. This won’t be an easy exercise.

Isn’t it curious how evolution is regarded by some as a total, universe-embracing explanation, although those who treat it as a religion might protest and sometimes not gently. Don’t worry, the science of evolution is certainly incomplete. In fact, understanding a process, in this case natural selection and adaptation, doesn’t automatically mean that you also possess predictive powers as to what might (or even must) evolve. Nor is it logical to assume that simply because we are a product of evolution, as patently we are, that explains our capacity to understand the world. Rather the reverse.

Let’s agree with much of this. Our understanding of evolution is far from complete, of course. No one with any sense argues that the outcomes of the evolutionary process are at all predictable — there are just too many possibilities, chance and history play too great a role, and results are always dependent on local conditions, which change. This paragraph induces great confusion in me, though, because when you read the rest of the article, and when you’ve read his excruciating book, you realize that Conway Morris actually claims the exact opposite: that he can predict the general outcomes of evolution, that human-like beings are an inevitable outcome, and that in fact, the whole panoply of life on earth follows predictable paths to a small suite of convergent solutions.

But wait a moment; everybody knows that evolution isn’t predictable. Yes, a rich and vibrant biosphere to admire, but no end-product any more likely (or unlikely) than any other. Received wisdom pours out the usual litany: random mutations, catastrophic mass extinctions and other mega-disasters, super-virulent microbes all ensure that the drunkard’s walk is a linear process in comparison to the ceaseless lurching seen in the history of life. So not surprisingly nearly all neo-Darwinians insist that the outcomes – and that includes you – are complete flukes of circumstance. So to find flying organisms on some remote planet might not be a big surprise, but certainly no birds. Perhaps all life employs cells, but would anybody dare to predict a mushroom? In fact the evidence points in diametrically the opposite direction. Birds evolved at least twice, maybe four times. So too with the mushrooms. Both are among the less familiar examples of evolutionary convergence.

No, this is not at all correct, but Conway Morris does find another point of congruence with creationists. Most evolutionary biologists certainly do see chance and contingency as very important contributors to diversity…but no one concludes that species are “complete flukes of circumstance”. I’m surprised that he didn’t follow through with the usual cliche about evolution being like a tornado assembling a 747 in a junkyard.

Then he leaps onto his favorite hobby horse, convergent evolution. Remember the first paragraph I quoted, where he denounces the idea that we might predict evolutionary outcomes? Here he goes again, telling us that he can — implying that we ought to expect birds and mushrooms on other planets. (By the way, I have absolutely no idea what he’s claiming when he says that birds have evolved on earth four times, independently. I’m actually a bit concerned that I don’t know what he means by “birds” — terms seem to have a certain fluidity in the oozing liquidity of his logic.) But yes, let’s hear more about convergence.

Convergence? Simply how from very different starting points organisms “navigate” to very much the same biological solution. A classic example are our camera eyes and those of the squid; astonishingly similar but they evolved independently. But let’s not just concentrate on the squid eye, from molecules to social systems convergence is ubiquitous. Forget also the idea that in biology nearly anything is possible, that by and large it is a massive set of less than satisfactory compromises. In fact, paradoxically the sheer prevalence of convergence strongly indicates that the choices are far more limited, but when they do emerge the product is superb. Did you know eyes can detect single photons and our noses single molecules? Evolution has reached the limits of what is possible on planet Earth. In particular our doors of perception can only be extended by scientific instrument, enabling a panorama from the big bang to DNA.

I cannot bear it any more. I have to make a secondary complaint about Conway Morris’s piece. He seems to regard the English language as an axe murderer would a corpse: as an awkward obect that must be hacked into fragments, and the ragged chunks tossed into a rusty oil drum he calls an article. Continuity and flow are something that can be added after the fact, by pouring in a bag of quicklime. Unfortunately, one difference between the two is that Conway Morris will subsequently proudly display his handiwork in a newspaper, while the axe murderer at least has the decency to cart the grisly carnage off to the local landfill for anonymous and clandestine disposal. One can only hope that someday the paleontologist will perfect his emulation and take his work to the same conclusion.

As for convergence, Conway Morris focuses on it because it fits his desired conclusion, that biology is fore-ordained by a creator, not because it fits the totality of the evidence. I argue against the significance (but definitely not the reality) of convergence on two grounds.

  • Common descent tangles the interpretation of convergence hopelessly. I recommend an article in this week’s Nature by Shubin, Tabin, and Carroll that argues for an important concept of deep homology. We do see similar structures, such as limbs in insects and invertebrates, that are not at all homologous on a morphological level, but when we examine their molecular genetics, we find similar substrates for both. This is the central idea of deep homology, that we have shared primitives, a set of regulatory networks, that see reuse over and over again in evolution. So while limbs arose independently in insects and vertebrates, when we look more deeply, we find that both use the distal-less developmental pathway. We see convergence because there are common functional demands that channel the solutions of selection, but there are also shared molecular constraints that limit the range of likely solutions.

  • Conway Morris dwells far too much on the patterns that fit his model, and ignores the importance of divergence. For instance, one can focus on the way vertebrates have repeatedly evolved fusiform shapes for aquatic life: fish, ichthyosaurs, cetaceans. There certainly seems to be one likely answer that re-evolves over and over again. But these are all vertebrates, and that seems to be a pattern that is also a consequence of fundamentals of our body plan. But our seas are full of a very different solution: squid. Sure, they configure themselves into a streamlined teardrop shape for rapid locomotion, but they began with a very different body plan, and their solution is radically different, with long arms and jet propulsion. But then, perhaps, Conway Morris’s definition of “fish” is sufficiently fluid to include squid, ignoring the differences.

Convergence is interesting, and it does happen, but as a universal explanation for evolution, it is seriously lacking.

Yet how the former led to the latter, how it was that complexity emerged and is sustained even in that near-miracle of a chemical factory we call the cell is still largely enigmatic. Self-organisation is certainly involved, but one of the puzzles of evolution is the sheer versatility of many molecules, being employed in a myriad of different capacities. Indeed it is now legitimate to talk of a logic to biology, not a term you will hear on the lips of many neo-Darwinians. Nevertheless, evolution is evidently following more fundamental rules. Scientific certainly, but ones that transcend Darwinism. What! Darwinism not a total explanation? Why should it be? It is after all only a mechanism, but if evolution is predictive, indeed possesses a logic, then evidently it is being governed by deeper principles. Come to think about it so are all sciences; why should Darwinism be any exception?

Once again, in the welter of sentence fragments, we again see an example of convergence…between Conway Morris and creationists. There is the word “Darwinism” used as a pejorative; how often do we see that particular trope? Cells are really, really complex on the inside, full of “factories”, and he has a hard time imagining how they could have evolved without a designer — that’s straight from the Intelligent Design playbook. There too is the surprisingly ignorant accusation, in this case that neo-Darwinians are reluctant to use the word “logic”. If you’ve read Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful, for example, you’ll find it uses the word frequently — there is regulatory logic (which he explains with liberal use of comparisons with computer science), developmental logic, evolutionary logic. We simply do not hesitate to point out a rational examination of the world of biology does reveal order and pattern! Science wouldn’t work if the universe were purely chaotic. Where we differ is that we see that logic as a product of the natural properties of our universe, not as the product of a deity, but that does not mean that we deny order.

But there is more. How to explain mind? Darwin fumbled it. Could he trust his thoughts any more than those of a dog? Or worse, perhaps here was one point (along, as it happens, with the origin of life) that his apparently all-embracing theory ran into the buffers? In some ways the former possibility, the woof-woof hypothesis, is the more entertaining. After all, being a product of evolution gives no warrant at all that what we perceive as rationality, and indeed one that science and mathematics employ with almost dizzying success, has as its basis anything more than sheer whimsy. If, however, the universe is actually the product of a rational Mind and evolution is simply the search engine that in leading to sentience and consciousness allows us to discover the fundamental architecture of the universe – a point many mathematicians intuitively sense when they speak of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics – then things not only start to make much better sense, but they are also much more interesting. Farewell bleak nihilism; the cold assurances that all is meaningless. Of course, Darwin told us how to get there and by what mechanism, but neither why it is in the first place, nor how on earth we actually understand it.

Now we get a shift in emphasis. Somehow, the evidence of convergent evolution is supposed to point to a godly plan for life, but also human consciousness, which he argues is unique, is also supposed to point to god. It really doesn’t matter what phenomenon Conway Morris discusses — common solutions or one-off oddities, they all seem to cry out “god!” to the god-soaked mind. He thinks this is interesting, but I’m afraid that I find postulating untestable, unevidenced phenomena like a supreme being to explain reality is a tedious cop-out.

Of course, the claim that atheism implies “bleak nihilism” is yet another common canard. I am an atheist, yet neither am I bleak nor a nihilist. I know very, very few people who could even be called nihilists, but Conway Morris must find it easier to invent a caricature to rail against than to actually consider that most atheists are reasonably positive and find rationality to be a solace and an advantage.

To reiterate: when physicists speak of not only a strange universe, but one even stranger than we can possibly imagine, they articulate a sense of unfinished business that most neo-Darwinians don’t even want to think about. Of course our brains are a product of evolution, but does anybody seriously believe consciousness itself is material? Well, yes, some argue just as much, but their explanations seem to have made no headway. We are indeed dealing with unfinished business. God’s funeral? I don’t think so. Please join me beside the coffin marked Atheism. I fear, however, there will be very few mourners.

Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind. We have not found any property of the human mind that is not dependent on the physical substrate of the brain (which does not preclude the possibility that other factors could contribute, but no one, including Conway Morris, ever manages to stutter out a useful alternative in public. Does he want to postulate a soul? I’m sure he does. But he never quite manages the courage to state it outright.)

This is a strange funeral Conway Morris is attending. The corpse is awfully lively, dancing about the room, courting all the pretty young boys and girls, thumbing its nose at the stuffy preacher, and jeering at the morose and inarticulate creationist standing in the corner with his shiny, unused shovel. Need I mention that we’ve buried a succession of gods? Apollo is gone, Zeus is no more, Thor is neglected, Dionysius is scarcely remembered (although I’m sure his wake was to die for), and almost all the gods people have ever worshipped are extinct. I’m sure Jesus will follow sometime, and this next time, there will be no resurrection — he’ll be the archaic myth that people only recall in literary metaphor.

Atheism will only die with human reason. It could happen, and Conway Morris is right — there may be no mourners. But there should be.

Comments

  1. #1 shonny
    February 15, 2009

    P.Z., – buddy, you are a masochist!
    I like to believe I have a half-reasonable consentration span, but those guys always get the better of me. Couple of paragraphs of getting nowhere, with nothing of interest in sight, how are you able to read it?
    Masochist!

  2. #2 Coel
    February 15, 2009

    PZ writes:

    By the way, I have absolutely no idea what he’s claiming when he says that birds have evolved on earth four times, independently. I’m actually a bit concerned that I don’t know what he means by “birds” ? terms seem to have a certain fluidity in the oozing liquidity of his logic.

    I think he means that feathers/wings evolved independently in several different groups of dinosaurs, and that extant birds derive from more than one such group.

    See comment #340772 by Richard Dawkins on the Dawkins site. http://richarddawkins.net/articleComments,3602,Darwin-was-right-Up-to-a-point,Simon-Conway-Morris,page4#340772

  3. #3 Ouchimoo
    February 15, 2009

    OMG PZ how do you write this much so fast? I just spent 20 minutes writing a 8 paragraph story of my creationist science fair trip. It’s horribly laden with bad grammar and spelling and I tried my best to clean it up. I refresh your page and you have a BOOK. No wonder I despise blogging.

  4. #4 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 15, 2009

    The meaning of evolution? Morris doesn’t get it is to survive long enough to produce a sufficient amount of offspring that the species continues? The woo can strike even scientists.

  5. #5 Sven DiMilo
    February 15, 2009

    Thanks Coel (@#2) for that Dawkins-link. We need David Marjanovi? or Tom Holtz to drop in and confirm my top-o-the-head response, but: huh? Is there any good evidence at all that extant birds are polyphyletic? Even if we include fossil birds acknowledged as such, is it really possible that “birds” evolved convergently under any meaningful definition of “birds”???

  6. #6 dbpitt
    February 15, 2009

    Could he have meant that flight evolved four times (insects, birds, bats, and pterosaurs)?
    Did you really read an entire book by this guy, PZ? I have trouble reading a few paragraphs of his writing. It’s dull and the wording is often confusing.

  7. #7 Wes
    February 15, 2009

    I saw Conway Morris speak in Austin, TX, last week. He’s a very entertaining speaker, but you’re right, his “logic” is impossible to follow. He basically lists very interesting instances of evolutionary convergence, and then makes the enormous leap to a kind of Platonistic interpretation of optimality. I couldn’t make any sense of how he was connecting his evidence to his conclusions. I don’t know if he could either.

    Convergence is cool, and it definitely deserves more attention. But, alas, it does not prove anything about any gods.

  8. #8 Alex
    February 15, 2009

    Why is evolution trumpeted as “God’s search engine” for his worshippers? What was wrong with the instant creation traditionally espoused?

    Oh yeah, reality is not what the bible says it is, so they had to adapt, but you can’t claim evolution, no matter how you fudge it, has as much to do with us and god as genesis does. Even the fundies know this – it takes a lot of sophistry and cognitive dissonance to convince someone otherwise.

  9. #9 Stephen Wells
    February 15, 2009

    I find it odd that some people can argue that material causes can’t lead to rational minds, when to me it seems obvious that our rational minds can _only_ be explained by material causes; invoking ghosts is not an explanation.

  10. #10 Robert Saunders
    February 15, 2009

    Conway Morris was preaching in the BBC Radio 4 service for the day, complete with someone providing a comedy Darwin voice for readings from The Origin. You can hear this over at the BBC Radio 4 website:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/programmes/sunday_worship/

    I couldn’t listen to it all…

  11. #11 DavidL
    February 15, 2009

    “I’m sure Jesus will follow sometime, and this next time, there will be no resurrection”

    Unfortunately, I fear you are an optimistic dreamer!

  12. #12 Teleprompter
    February 15, 2009

    That was an amazing effort, PZ.

    You read an entire book by that guy? Wow.

    I was really frustrated when I read Conway Morris’s excerpts, because I literally saw half-dozen or more creationist/ID/Christian/theist talking points. How many fallacies? That article must be groaning underneath the enormous weight of his fallacious thinking. Of course, the intellectual lightness of the reasoning should make up for that and prevent his head from exploding. Arrggh.

  13. #13 H.H.
    February 15, 2009

    But there is more. How to explain mind? Darwin fumbled it. Could he trust his thoughts any more than those of a dog?

    I’m not sure I understand this at all. What does he mean “trust his [own] thoughts?” And why is it relevant that they be more trustworthy than a dog? Certainly canine cogitation isn’t equal to that of humans, but why would it be less reliable or “trustworthy?” And if it were completely untrustworthy, how would that change anything? If Morris is saying an evolved mind can’t be trusted, and Morris freely admits we did evolve, then isn’t he saying his personal conclusions can’t be trusted either? How does invoking a god after Morris has established that his perceptions and thought process are unreliable suddenly reverse this? It doesn’t.

    This certainly is tortured logic.

  14. #14 Sili
    February 15, 2009

    The only (selfconfessed) nihilist I’ve known, was a (selfconfessed) christian.

    We … didn’t hit it off.

    I hope she’s happier now.

  15. #15 Strangebrew
    February 15, 2009

    Maybe it is just bias but his ‘style’ is remarkably similar to the last rant without a focus that PZ displayed for our descent unto the second circle of purgatory….the level concerned with sexual peccadilloes.
    In so far it was a stream of consciousness to text via keyboard seemingly without breath pause or dramatic climax.

    And unfortunately only a little more coherent…but coherence is not a trait often associated with godbotting consequently tis not the coherence only the wilful rejection of reality…which is a shame!
    Maybe one day the the jeebus infection will have run its course and receded to a head ache and he will be rather ashamed!

  16. #16 Coel
    February 15, 2009

    Could he have meant that flight evolved four times (insects, birds, bats, and pterosaurs)?

    Surely no-one would call an insect a “bird”. And if he meant that he wouldn’t have said “at least twice, maybe four times”.

  17. #17 H.H.
    February 15, 2009

    By the way, this is straight-up creationist thinking. Compare Morris’ complaint that an evolved mind must be “untrustworthy” to a notorious creationist’s statement on the same subject:

    ?If evolution is true, you could not know that it?s true because your brain is nothing but chemicals. Think about that.? – Kent Hovind

  18. #18 Diego
    February 15, 2009

    It’s ridiculous to say birds evolved four times if you are talking about the evolution of flight, and yet, I can’t help thinking this must be what he’s talking about (insects, pterosaurs, birds, and bats).

    I’d forgotten about this guy. I read Life’s Solutions, disliked it, and then put him in the rubbish bin of my brain. Fortunately PZ sometimes takes these gems back out of the old trash can of deserved obscurity for everyone’s enjoyment.

  19. #19 Sven DiMilo
    February 15, 2009

    Jerry Coyne is bloggin like crazy, and he has posted Steve Pinker’s reaction to Conway-Morris’s neoWallacian dualism:
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/02/15/steven-pinkers-take-on-the-material-mind/

  20. #20 Teleprompter
    February 15, 2009

    H.H.,

    Yes, I love (/sarcasm) how Conway Morris’s statements match up perfectly with Kent Hovind’s. Sigh.

  21. #21 RBH
    February 15, 2009

    H.H. wwrote

    But there is more. How to explain mind? Darwin fumbled it. Could he trust his thoughts any more than those of a dog?

    I’m not sure I understand this at all. What does he mean “trust his [own] thoughts?” And why is it relevant that they be more trustworthy than a dog?

    That’s a rough version of Alvin Plantinga’s evolution/naturalism is self-refuting argument. It’s a non-starter for several reasons, among them that those who deploy the argument waffle between “reliable” knowledge and “true beliefs.” The former, of course, is achieved by natural selection: critters whose perceptual/cognitive apparatus gives them unreliable representations of the world end up as lunch for those with more reliable apparatus, yielding populations whose representations of (relevant aspects of) their world become more and more reliable, though not to some Platonic end — evolution is interested in ‘good enough,’ not ‘optimal.’ The latter version — “true beliefs” — turns on slippage in what “true” is to mean.

  22. #22 chris y
    February 15, 2009

    Such a pity, because AFAIK, he really is the go to guy on Cambrian palaeontology.

  23. #23 Eamon Knight
    February 15, 2009

    Nor is it logical to assume that simply because we are a product of evolution, as patently we are, that explains our capacity to understand the world.

    It’s not? Seems to me W.V.O.Quine had a short, pithy answer to that.

    As for SCM: despite occasional hints of goofiness, Crucible of Creation was a good book (primarily because the goofiness was, in fact, only occasional). Teasing out the affinities at the base of the animal tree is his field, and when he sticks to that he’s fascinating.

  24. #24 Circe of the Godless
    February 15, 2009

    This guy is such an unbelievable ass-wipe.

    I have yet to comprehend how people can think that evolution + Sky Fairy is more likely than evolution on its own.

    All his effort is actually non-sequitors, judgemental, and very muddled thinking. What a twat.

  25. #25 Her Reference Ron Sullivan
    February 15, 2009

    Doesn’t this guy have an editor? Some of those sentences could be clipped out, shaken up in a bag, and put next to each other at random and the thoughts would flow about as coherently as they do now.

    PZ, I’ll just have to print out your wonderful ax-murderer conceit and hang it on the wall. Pauline Kael couldn’t have done it better.

  26. #26 Norman Doering
    February 15, 2009

    PZ wrote:

    He seems to regard the English language as an axe murderer would a corpse: as an awkward object that must be hacked into fragments, and the ragged chunks tossed into a rusty oil drum he calls an article.

    Ohhh, the horror, the horror:
    http://www.box.net/shared/6jmhhl23xc

  27. #27 jagannath
    February 15, 2009

    It seems certain people equate god with their own lack of imagination and thus creating a god image which is by their own admission merely as good as their lack of imagination.

    Kind of sad to hear that people reach their limits of their imagination when facing the concept of cells and the abilities of cells.

  28. #28 Sigmund
    February 15, 2009

    Conway Morris is a believer in dualism – he’s publicly advocated an idea that the brain is a sort of receiver for the soul. It’s a classic Christian apologetic solution to the problem of ‘ensoulment’ that relies on zero evidence (apart from the contrary variety that they choose to ignore).

  29. #29 defectiverobot
    February 15, 2009

    Did you know eyes can detect single photons…?

    I’d heard that one myself and was struck with wonder at the idea. Until, that is, I asked a Fermilab staff physicist about it and he said he didn’t see how that would be possible since photons are quite a bit smaller than the atoms that make up your eye, so the possibility of an eye’s detecting a single photon is quite remote.

    If that is indeed the case, it smacks in the face of Morris’ scientific credibility with respect to the particular arguments he makes here.

    Has anybody else heard this one?

  30. #30 Tim
    February 15, 2009

    On the writing style – I think the dawkins comment in the above link sums it up well. He uses sarcasm so much its hard to know what he is actually saying. As someone who was lectured by him, it reminds me a bit of his lecture notes.

  31. #31 Psychodigger
    February 15, 2009

    The woof-woof hypothesis?

  32. #32 sdl
    February 15, 2009

    “Birds evolved at least twice, maybe four times.”

    THEREFORE GOD IS REAL!! Note: proof of assertion not necessary, much less clear language.

    The bit about evolution’s work having been done made me cringe. Firstly, evolution has no goal, no grand sculpture in mind to which it chips a little closer every day. Secondly, to look at human animals and some of the things they do, and call that finality and/or perfection, would be at once grossly egotistical and terribly depressing. We have a long way to go.

  33. #33 David Harper
    February 15, 2009

    Did you know eyes can detect single photons…?

    There’s an interesting discussion on the subject here.

    It includes this account of an experiment to determine the sensitivity of the human retina:

    It is possible to test our visual sensitivity by using a very low level light source in a dark room. The experiment was first done successfully by Hecht, Schlaer and Pirenne in 1942. They concluded that the rods can respond to single quanta during scotopic vision.

    In their experiment they allowed human subjects to have 30 minutes to get used to the dark. They positioned a controlled light source 20 degrees to the left of the point on which the subjects eyes were fixed so that the light would fall on the region of the retina with the highest concentration of rods. The light source was a disk which subtended an angle of 10 minutes of arc and emitted a faint flash of 1 millisecond to avoid too much spatial or temporal spreading of the light. The wavelength used was about 510 nm (green light). The subjects were asked to respond “yes” or “no” to say whether or not they thought they had seen a flash. The light was gradually reduced in intensity until the subjects could only guess the answer.

    They found that about 90 quanta had to enter the eye for a 60% success rate in responding. Since only about 10% of photons which arrive at the eye actually reach the retina this means that about 9 photons were actually required at the receptors. Since the photons would have been spread over about 350 rods they were able to conclude statistically that the rods must be responding to single photons even if the subjects were not able to see them when they arrived too infrequently.

  34. #34 Sigmund
    February 15, 2009

    Conway Morris is a believer in dualism – he’s publicly advocated an idea that the brain is a sort of receiver for the soul. It’s a classic Christian apologetic solution to the problem of ‘ensoulment’ that relies on zero evidence (apart from the contrary variety that they choose to ignore).

  35. #35 Me
    February 15, 2009

    Yes, Conway Morris is obviously full of it and a crank, and why should anyone on this blog take him seriously? Strange, however, that he has such a substantial career and reputation. You wouldn’t think a creationist/ID gasbag would have the biography he does. You’d think his achievements would earn respect and courtesy from his inferiors. But cocky Lilliputians want to pick a fight with Gulliver. Have at him, kids!

  36. #36 Sven DiMilo
    February 15, 2009

    Believe it or not, Me, most of us are capable of respecting and appreciating his achievements in Cambrian paleontology while at the same time questioning and even ridiculing his ham-handed attempts to shoehorn his god into discussions of biological science. See? We inferiors are not limited to the poles of your false dichotomy.

  37. #37 Stephen P
    February 15, 2009

    I’ve never considered myself much of a writer, but after reading the quoted passages here I suddenly feel a whole lot better.

  38. #38 chris
    February 15, 2009

    For instance, one can focus on the way vertebrates have repeatedly evolved fusiform shapes for aquatic life: fish, ichthyosaurs, cetaceans. There certainly seems to be one likely answer that re-evolves over and over again. But these are all vertebrates, and that seems to be a pattern that is also a consequence of fundamentals of our body plan. But our seas are full of a very different solution: squid.

    Trust a cephalopod fan to come up with this one.

    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t trilobites swim in a way that is quite different from both fish *and* squid? That’s at least three different swimming methods for three different phyla – much more different than, say, the three kinds of tetrapod wing.

    I don’t get what he means here either. If by “flying organisms aren’t surprising, they just wouldn’t be birds” he actually means only that they wouldn’t be birds, then bats and pterodactyls *aren’t* birds – they’re flying nonbirds and convergence only shows that things that fly often have wings. (And we would expect flying alien animals to be no more like a bird or a fly than either is like the other.) On the other hand if he’s counting them as his “birds evolved 2-4 times” then he’s redefining “bird” so broadly that finding “birds” on other planets wouldn’t be surprising at all, if it just means “animal with wings that flies”. By that definition a moth is a “bird”.

  39. #39 Sven DiMilo
    February 15, 2009

    Did you know eyes can detect single photons…?
    I’d heard that one myself and was struck with wonder at the idea. Until, that is, I asked a Fermilab staff physicist about it and he said he didn’t see how that would be possible since photons are quite a bit smaller than the atoms that make up your eye, so the possibility of an eye’s detecting a single photon is quite remote.

    That’s what you get for asking a physicist instead of a physiologist. While most photons that reach the retina are not transduced (which seems to be your Fermian’s point), the fact is that a single photon in the right spot (i.e. absorbed by a molecule of retinene) begins an amplifying cascade of reactions that can indeed result in a perceivable electrical response. (That same cascade explains why visual strangeness is a side-effect of Viagra, btw.)

  40. #40 Blake Stacey
    February 15, 2009

    From the comment by Richard Dawkins provided by Coel (#2):

    In this bird passage, he almost certainly is advancing the thesis that the following statement is false: “Birds are a true clade in that all birds are descended from a single ancestor, and that ancestor would itself have been classified as a bird.” There were several groups of feathered dinosaurs. Majority opinion says that only one of these groups has any descendants surviving today, and we call them birds. CM is advancing the interestingly heterodox thesis that some of today’s birds are descended from one of those groups of feathered dinosaurs, while others of today’s birds are descended from a different group of feathered dinosaurs. He is suggesting that the most recent common ancestor of all today’s birds would not have been classified as a bird.

    I’ll leave it to a palaeontologist to judge Conway Morris’s thesis, but doesn’t it seem a little sketchy to advance one’s own heterodox idea as the established truth?

    Did you know eyes can detect single photons and our noses single molecules? Evolution has reached the limits of what is possible on planet Earth. In particular our doors of perception can only be extended by scientific instrument, enabling a panorama from the big bang to DNA.

    We humans could have night vision like a cat’s or detect the polarization of light like a bee. If our noses can detect single molecules, why can’t we track scents as well as a bloodhound? (Maybe the story of sense perception is more complicated than Conway Morris is letting on, and the sensitivity of a particular receptor in a particular organ is not the be-all and end-all of the affair. . .) What gives?

  41. #41 Colugo
    February 15, 2009

    Simon Conway Morris makes Ken Miller look like Richard Dawkins.

    Conway Morris is sloppy in discussing covergence and has serious teleological blinders. In the latter he is an heir to Alfred Russel Wallace.

    Speaking of Wallace, he is now being championed as a teleologically acceptable alternative to Darwin and a founder of Intelligent Design by the Uncommon Descent crew. A curious fate for the man who coined the term Darwinism and wrote a book with that title.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/book-on-alfred-russel-wallace-now-available/

  42. #42 Monado
    February 15, 2009

    Evolution is both predictable and random. LotStreetWiz was asking the other day about the limits of convergence vs the randomness of evolution, e.g. why were there “marsupial wolves” if evolution is random. I explained that there is pressure towards certain functions or niches. You will get fish that feed at the surface and fish that feed in deeper waters, but they will probably both be countershaded–dark on top, light on the bottom to baffle an eye’s ability to pick out their rounded shape.

    You’ll get browsing animals, but in Australia they are kangaroos and in the rest of the world deer or goats.

    In New Zealand, the kiwi takes on the nocturnal, grub-eating role that is filled in England by the badger or perhaps the hedgehog.

    If you have a basal clade with filamental insulation, one group might develop feathers and another fur. You won’t be able to predict which, but in either case it they are keeping warm.

  43. #43 Paguroidea
    February 15, 2009

    I really love PZ’s vivid response to the comments by Morris about a funeral with a coffin marked atheism. Now I can’t get that image out of my head.

    “The corpse is awfully lively, dancing about the room, courting all the pretty young boys and girls, thumbing its nose at the stuffy preacher, and jeering at the morose and inarticulate creationist standing in the corner with his shiny, unused shovel. Need I mention that we’ve buried a succession of gods? Apollo is gone, Zeus is no more, Thor is neglected, Dionysius is scarcely remembered (although I’m sure his wake was to die for), and almost all the gods people have ever worshipped are extinct.”

  44. #44 Blake Stacey
    February 15, 2009

    Oh, yuck.

    To reiterate: when physicists speak of not only a strange universe, but one even stranger than we can possibly imagine, they articulate a sense of unfinished business that most neo-Darwinians don’t even want to think about.

    It sometimes seems that the imagination of the universe is more subtle than our own; on reflection, this implies that the answers to those grand questions of cosmic import probably have little to do with Bronze Age folk tales, which were stories imagined by human beings in the first place.

  45. #45 Sven DiMilo
    February 15, 2009

    If you have a basal clade with filamental insulation

    Which you emphatically do not–did not–in this case, but the point stands that “convergence” is scale-relative, subjective, and unsurprising.

  46. #46 Blake Stacey
    February 15, 2009

    RBH (#21):

    I bet even Alvin Plantinga looks both ways before crossing the street.

  47. #47 Owlmirror
    February 15, 2009

    I bet even Alvin Plantinga looks both ways before crossing the street.

    Yes, but he probably says “Thank the ontologically necessary God I have true justified belief in the divine gift of my reliable senses!” when doing so.

    Theologians, pfaugh.

  48. #48 ice9
    February 15, 2009

    I’m fascinated by the sentence structure. Tempted to toss it all off to carelessness, but there is a certain…design? Simple declarative sentences tend to keep claims and evidence in close relationship even when two or more steps are needed to establish the link. The shape and feel of simple sentences creates a sense of directness and purpose, which can add to a writer’s sense of control, and therefore the persuasive ethos. But it’s impossible to manage complex subjects without the use of complex sentences. When it’s time for the complex sentence(by which I mean compound, compound/complex, of course) careful writers signal early so readers are prepared when the dependent clauses or second or third independent clauses roll around. For example, PZ wrote:
    “No one with any sense argues that the outcomes of the evolutionary process are at all predictable ? there are just too many possibilities, chance and history play too great a role, and results are always dependent on local conditions, which change.”
    The long hyphen, like the colon or the semicolon, is an effective way to signal that multiple assertions are on the way. This shows a kind of confidence (often lacking in young writers) that the several concepts can be presented and then kept in order within the single sentence. But it isn’t simple; you have to choose one or the other. Morris wants it both ways: the punch of the simple and direct, and the nuance of the complex. He lines things up behind commas (or even without them) in a mishmash–what PZ meant by his delightful ax murderer analogy. So we have this gem:
    “Isn’t it curious how evolution is regarded by some as a total, universe-embracing explanation, although those who treat it as a religion might protest and sometimes not gently.”
    The distinction between explanation and religion is elided. We are begged to accept evolution as a religion partly through the usual fallacy of slipping a premise in as a conclusion, but also because the sentence itself unscrolls ‘explanation’ and ‘religion’ in an undifferentiated order, eliding the two into equivalence the mysterious ‘some’ accept (though he does not). The sentence opens with an ironic ornament, and ends with a hyperbaton-like word-order trick carrying another new notion (that the Darwinianists are unfairly nasty, I suppose) but the ‘points’ are stewed together indiscriminately.
    I’m going to keep reading. I think my high school students could benefit from some autopsy work.

    Ice

  49. #49 miller
    February 15, 2009

    Wow, he tried to use Plantinga’s argument that evolution contradicts naturalism. When I first saw that argument, it single-handedly convinced me that “sophisticated” apologetics is exactly as much rubbish as the atheists here would claim.

    As the argument goes, if we believe in evolution and naturalism, then there is no reason to think that we would have evolved a reliable way of determining knowledge. For example, why would a man believe that tigers will eat him, when it’s equally adaptive to believe that they are playing a game of hide and seek with tigers?) So how could we reliably determine that evolution is true?

    There are so many things wrong with this. First of all, it seems much more likely that evolution would simply give us rationality rather than give us a long list of beliefs which are wrong but adaptive. Second of all, we are aware of many human cognitive biases, and scientific methods are designed specifically to navigate around them. One might even say that these cognitive biases are a large cause of religious belief.

  50. #50 Stephen Wells
    February 15, 2009

    I think all the hominids who thought they were playing hide-and-seek with the tigers didn’t survive to have a second go. Or, of course, they saw someone get eaten by a tiger.

  51. #51 'Tis Himself
    February 15, 2009

    Conway Morris wrote:

    In fact, paradoxically the sheer prevalence of convergence strongly indicates that the choices are far more limited, but when they do emerge the product is superb.

    The product is not necessarily superb. Workable will suffice.

  52. #52 Kel
    February 15, 2009

    At least the mind is slightly more relevant to humanity than a bacteria flagella. Creationists who harp on about that are really struggling to find anything of any relevance at all for their godbotting.

  53. #53 Thad Peters
    February 15, 2009

    Bad writing, combined with the belief that God is the end point of evolution; is it possible that Simon Conway Morris is the reincarnation of Pere Teilhard deChardin?

    It certainly is a good example of convergence.

    Small minds given the ability to spout horrible prose think themselves at a summit, though they are in an abyss.

    Nice work PJ as a starting point to dissect this tome, please read Sir Peter Medawar on Teilhard. Click link below.

    http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Medawar/phenomenon-of-man.html

  54. #54 llewelly
    February 15, 2009

    Simon Conway Morris:

    Please join me beside the coffin marked Atheism. I fear, however, there will be very few mourners.

    Perhaps because the coffin remains empty.

  55. #55 Braids
    February 15, 2009

    That was quite possibly the worst article I’ve ever (tried to) read. Morris’s that is.

    “But there is more. How to explain mind? Darwin fumbled it. Could he trust his thoughts any more than those of a dog?”

    Do they teach writing in college anymore?

  56. #56 Kel
    February 15, 2009

    Of course our brains are a product of evolution, but does anybody seriously believe consciousness itself is material?

    Given that loss of consciousness can result from physical trauma to the brain, yes I seriously believe that consciousness itself is a product of a material mind.

  57. #57 Sclerophanax
    February 15, 2009

    I’m no paleontologist – so correct me if I’m wrong – but I’m pretty sure the idea of birds arising twice to four times from independent maniraptoran ancestors and then processing to develop all the derived features used to define Neornithes along the way is about as likely as primates and xenarthrans having evolved from completely separate non-placental ancestors.

  58. #58 Facilis
    February 15, 2009

    There are so many things wrong with this. First of all, it seems much more likely that evolution would simply give us rationality rather than give us a long list of beliefs which are wrong but adaptive.

    But for every survival behavior, there are millions of false beliefs. For the tiger example he could believe he was playing hide and seek ,having a race….
    Bu there is only one set of true beliefs. It is way more likely he would encounter a false belief.

    Second of all, we are aware of many human cognitive biases, and scientific methods are designed specifically to navigate around them.

    But the trouble is that you believe those methods were designed by the same unreliable cognitive faculties so you are just question begging.

    Plantinga is a philosopher of religion and epistemology, not an apologist btw.

  59. #59 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 15, 2009

    Facilis the Fallacious Fool back with more inanities. Sigh. One of these days he will wise up and realize he has no logic, he has no reason, and it is all because he is deluded by his belief in imaginary beings.

  60. #60 Kel
    February 15, 2009

    I’ve spent the weekend jetting halfway across the world. Has [sic]fail acknowledged yet that one can use logic without it being accounted for?

  61. #61 Monado
    February 15, 2009

    Actually, it’s not evolution that explains everything, but physics. If we had a science as religion, it would have to be physics. You need physics for chemistry, chemistry for biochemistry, for life, for ecologies, for evolution.

    Sven de Milo, thanks for clarifying. I didn’t know if fur and feathers had a common origin but it seemed possible.

    Creationists are now touting examples of convergent evolution as proof that god is directing it. For example, in the fishes of the Rift Valley lakes, if two different lakes have two similar habitats with light-bellied, rust-colored fish, they claim it shows that God is guiding evolution and not that two populations of fish developed cryptic coloring for a rust-colored background.

  62. #62 Valor Phoenix
    February 15, 2009

    Evolutionary reason for an advanced mind capable of logic and creativity?

    [5yr-old] Bio-logical impair-a-tiv? For smart brain? Work smarter, not harder! He’s not working smarter!

    Yay! I win evolutions![/5yr-old]

    Mhmm, seems a reasonably effective counter argument. Reminds me of the article on Shane Battier, “The No-Stats All-Star”, working smarter, not harder.

    Like the convergence to creationism point too, that’s funny. Wonder if he’s not far enough gone yet to be offended by the idea.

  63. #63 ThirtyFiveUp
    February 15, 2009

    Paguroidea #43

    When I read that, I shouted “HAPPY MONKEY DAY”.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/12/the_official_theme_song_for_ha.php

  64. #64 Facilis
    February 15, 2009

    Has [sic]facils acknowledged yet that one can use logic without it being accounted for?

    I acknowledge that you can use it but it would be intellectually dishonest to use logic while denying the existence of the necessary precondition of logic and reason. Using logic and reason is like driving a car you’ve stolen from the theist’s worldview since you cannot account for itin your own.

  65. #65 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 15, 2009

    Facilis the Fallacious Fool. Still as retarded as ever. His god is imaginary, existing only between his ears, and the bible is a work of fiction. To date, he has present no evidence, but only made inane allegations, to the contrary. What a boring fool.

  66. #66 MadScientist
    February 15, 2009

    Ugh. I can’t even read Morris’ article without thinking “where did he pull that one from”? I guess he’s smoking whatever Thomas Aquinas was smoking when he wrote those awful volumes denying nature and rambling over hundreds of pages that there must be a god because there is a god.

    There are just so many unsubstantiated claims – for example:

    “but one of the puzzles of evolution is the sheer versatility of many molecules, being employed in a myriad of different capacities. Indeed it is now legitimate to talk of a logic to biology”

    Well, what are these molecules and how are they used in different ways? Oh! I know! Water is used as a solvent, as a solvent, and also as a solvent. Sometimes it even provides a hydrogen ion and sometimes a hydroxyl ion and ultimately an oxygen ion. Oooo – spooky stuff – there MUST be a god! Is there a logic to biology? I certainly hope so! Otherwise we must cast all biologists into the same circle of hell as the creationists. If Morris means that a mangy spook must control how biological organisms function or evolve then he’s just another Idiot Design salesman. Let me rephrase that: Simon Conway Morris IS an Idiot Design salesman.

  67. #67 MikeG
    February 15, 2009

    Facilis,
    Do you really believe that the scientific method was just farted out by some possessor of unreliable cognitive faculties and never tested? One person who knows how long ago with who knows what biases and mental failings just spouted it out and no one after even thought about it?

    Science is a tool, and a damn fine one at that. The method has been refined over hundreds of generations specifically to avoid and correct for our personal known cognitive failings. It employs the hive mind of people from all backgrounds to poke holes in any proposed mechanism in order to iteratively come closer to reality.

    I doubt that you will come to any comprehension of the process and tools available through and because of science. Your comments here have led my to agree with Nerd, though I don’t agree with him that you will ever see that you have no logic nor reason. Your mind has been irretrievably crippled.

    It’s sad.

  68. #68 Peter McKellar
    February 15, 2009

    Miller @49

    “One might even say that these cognitive biases are a large cause of religious belief.”

    One is being polite ;) These cognitive biases are the dark corners of the mind where religion is spawned and festers. It lurks with demons and ghosts, our worst fears and nightmares.

    Ice9 #48 remarks on the use of language in the article. I too object to the way he makes one false assertion, claims it as fact and then maligns atheists as a (broken) causal consequence. Very sloppy, but I suspect many readers will swallow the lot.

    But CM’s diatribe turns to a FAIL. Scientific method is the refining element that allows us to draw reason from chaos. To separate the true from the wishful, the shallow fears from deep cold logic. His apologetics collapse on themselves when he equates human reasoning with dog logic, something that imho is far closer (via convergent evolution) than the chasm between “revealed” fictitious brain farts and scientific, peer accepted evidence.

    Ultimately I see the lame arguments presented as coming down to “God exists because things don’t fall up” fallacy – that things are “too perfect”. His evidence is that of a bug collector with pretty specimens arranged by colour or size and any that were ugly have been rejected. It is the indexer unfamiliar with what is being indexed, the book collector than doesn’t get past the art on the dustcover.

  69. #69 Glen Davidson
    February 15, 2009

    In his early evolutionary writings, Darwin was a theist, or at least a deist. So I don’t think that bad thinking/writing is inevitable from a god-believer.

    What I’d say, though, is that PZ shouldn’t have just compared Morris to creationists, rather to the appalling Egnor himself. Someone needs to slip both of them some acid, so they can see how consciousness is affected by “material” substances. Of course consciousness itself isn’t material, it’s energy configured by matter and other energy.

    Then he says evolution isn’t predictable, while droning on about convergence. The latter of which demonstrates that, given certain environments and niches, it damn well is predictable–within limits, of course.

    He’s obviously straining to save god, even writing abominations reminiscent of Ben Stein: “Isn’t it curious how evolution is regarded by some as a total, universe-embracing explanation,…” I’m sure he doesn’t mean to say that evolution is supposed to account for gravity and thermodynamics, my point being that he’s working so hard to fault the evil atheists that he writes nearly what the egregious Stein said.

    The best I can say for him is that he didn’t give as his opinion the idea that science leads to killing people.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  70. #70 MikeG
    February 15, 2009

    Damn, s/led my/led me/

  71. #71 Monador
    February 15, 2009

    Ice9 said

    But it’s impossible to manage complex subjects without the use of complex sentences.

    I beg to differ. Einstein’s book, Relativity, is a marvel of clear, direct writing.

    Earlier authors managed long, complex sentences with use of parallel structure (well-signalled, as someone said).

    It’s my job to convey complex ideas simply, and there are many others with the same goal. Legislation in Sweden must pass a plain-language test before it can be voted on. Pharmaceutical companies writing labels for medicine and anyone writing for the general public aim for a comprehension level of about Grade 5, e.g. they turn “Medication must be administered on a daily basis” into “Take one pill each day.”

  72. #72 Kel
    February 15, 2009

    I acknowledge that you can use it but it would be intellectually dishonest to use logic while denying the existence of the necessary precondition of logic and reason. Using logic and reason is like driving a car you’ve stolen from the theist’s worldview since you cannot account for itin your own.

    What a way to weasel out of acknowledging it. I even demonstrated that logic can be derived from the universe and thus needs no further necessity. Logic is part of the universe, deal with it. What you are saying is akin to “I acknowledge that you can use energy but it would be intellectually dishonest to use energy while denying the existence of the necessary precondition of where energy came from. Using energy is like driving a car you’ve stolen from the theist’s worldview since you cannot account for itin your own.”

    You are the first theist I’ve come across in the 20 years or so I’ve been using logic to say that logic is a precondition of your worldview. I didn’t steal anything, you are being intellectually dishonest by saying that one must account an object in order to use it. But that goes without saying, you are an extremely intellectually dishonest person. You spent dozens of posts weaselling out of having to face up to the fact that your position is circular by simply waving it off with “how can you use logic without accounting for it?” The fact remains that your worldview doesn’t satisfy logic as a precondition because your worldview is circular and therefore illogical.

  73. #73 Blake Stacey
    February 15, 2009

    Isn’t it curious how evolution is regarded by some as a total, universe-embracing explanation, although those who treat it as a religion might protest and sometimes not gently.

    You know what I first thought of when I read this? Ben Stein. Remember: “Assuming it all did happen by Random Mutation and Natural Selection, where did the laws of gravity come from?”

    The people who treat evolution “as a religion” are creationists, people whose conception of truth is grounded in revelation, prophecy and personal authority. These are the people who think it reasonable to attack evolution by trying to smear Charles Darwin’s character. Now, saying that evolution didn’t happen because Darwin was a racist is akin to saying that because Isaac Newton was a jerk, we’re all going to start falling up — except that Newton was arrogant and quarrelsome, while Darwin was an exemplar of tolerance for his time.

    Conway Morris indulges in the sleazy sophistical trick of conflating scientific confidence and secular concern for human well-being with religious fervour.

  74. #74 JDP
    February 15, 2009

    Quoting PZ

    He’s the go-to guy for Cambrian paleontology, and he’s definitely qualified and smart

    I would not assume that.

  75. #75 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    February 15, 2009

    I acknowledge that you can use it but it would be intellectually dishonest to use logic while denying the existence of the necessary precondition of logic and reason.

    And it would be intellectually dishonest to keep repeating that you have established that a god is a necessary precondition of logic and reason when you have not.

  76. #76 Knockgoats
    February 15, 2009

    Hmm, do I detect in SCM’s article a tinge of Darwin envy? (“Darwin fumbled it” – unlike the great SCM of course.) It’s not unknown for a good scientist to be spitefully jealous of a great one.

    It’s interesting that Dawkins, as he notes himself, is almost as keen on convergence as SCM; as Dawkins says, convergence does not imply God. I was surprised at SCM’s example of the eye, however (maybe this is another attempt to take that insufferable non-Christian Darwin down a peg or two). It’s surely known to most here, given that this blog is among other things a cephalopod fan club, that the cephalopod eye is far superior to the vertebrate in at least one respect: the sensory neurons run from the back of the retina, not the front, so there is no blind spot.

  77. #77 Owlmirror
    February 15, 2009

    SIWOTI.

    I acknowledge that you can use it but it would be intellectually dishonest to use logic while denying the existence of the necessary precondition of logic and reason.

    The axioms of empirical logic have no necessary precondition, being self-evident.

    Using logic and reason is like driving a car you’ve stolen from the theist’s worldview since you cannot account for itin your own.

    No, the theist worldview is the worldview of the thief, since it is stolen from the self-evident worldview. The theist cannot account for the axioms of empirical logic being self-evident.

  78. #78 Brett
    February 15, 2009

    Conway Morris strikes me as a poster boy for cognitive dissonance. On one hand, he’s a biologist who believes in God, probably for emotional/subjective reasons, which makes him a very, very tiny minority. On the other hand, he’s got this field that he does research in where many Christian beliefs, if taken literally, are nonsense.

    So what is our friend to do? Abandoning his religious beliefs would be too painful, emotionally speaking – they’re too much a part of who he is. So instead he distorts all manner of physical evidence to crutch his beliefs.

  79. #79 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    Nihilism doesn’t have to be “bleak”, although the loss of a lifetime of absolutes can have an emotional impact and require a period of adjustment. What kind of atheist is not a nihilist?

  80. #80 Lurkbot
    February 15, 2009

    Like most people, I suppose, I first became aware of Conway Morris from reading Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life. Gould praised him enormously for his unraveling and description of some of the wild and wonderful animals from the Burgess Shale.

    So I happily read Crucible of Creation and was dismayed by his ungrateful reaction to Gould’s book and his desperate efforts to shoehorn all these animals belonging to obviously extinct phyla into existing phyla. I’ve read further since, and this seems to be a general movement. Why are people so determined to prove that no phylum has ever gone extinct, and that while the diversity of life has increased, what Gould called the “disparity” of life was much larger in the Cambrian, and has since settled on a few standard designs chosen largely by chance?

    As for convergent evolution, I love the example of the squid eye vs. the human eye. Of course there’s always the difference that in the squid eye the rods and cones are pointing towards the fucking light and don’t have the connecting nerves draped in front of them! (Where do I sign up to get a squid eye transplant by the way?)

    PZ, or anybody knowledgeable in the subject: Can this be attributed to the fact that Mollusks are protostomes and we’re deuterostomes, that is, literally ass-backwards from the get-go?

  81. #81 Tony Sidaway
    February 15, 2009

    I wrote a backgrounder on Simon Conway Morris (click the link).

  82. #82 uncle frogy
    February 15, 2009

    I guess even someone who is a scientist is subject to the wish that there must be more to than that. So there must be some other “logic” making it all work. How could it all happen “by itself”?
    sounds to me like those who that claim that atheism implies “bleak nihilism” are the ones who have deep seated doubts and are struggling with feelings of pointlessness, so they make themselves the point of everything.
    On the other hand at least it is a step away from YEC, which in itself can’t be all bad

  83. #83 Lurkbot
    February 15, 2009

    Crap! Knockgoats beat me to the squid eye thing. Must type faster!

  84. #84 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    “sounds to me like those who that claim that atheism implies “bleak nihilism” are the ones who have deep seated doubts and are struggling with feelings of pointlessness”

    Existentialists for instance.

  85. #85 Tulse
    February 15, 2009

    being a product of evolution gives no warrant at all that what we perceive as rationality, and indeed one that science and mathematics employ with almost dizzying success, has as its basis anything more than sheer whimsy

    I like how this passage is self-contradictory: if rationality is employed “with almost dizzying success”, that is precisely the warrant we have that it isn’t just whimsy.

    Of course, that doesn’t tell us that it is “True”, but I find that whenever a creationist claims that evolution cannot provide True beliefs, only beliefs that are adaptive, they inevitably fail to further demonstrate that there is such a thing as “Truth”, separate from our experience.

  86. #86 Damian
    February 15, 2009

    Come on guys, the absolute most that you can achieve by arguing with Facilis is that you can say that you’ve won an argument with an idiot. It ain’t much to brag about, now is it?

    And unless Facilis can refute Michael Martin’s TANG (which he conspicuously ignored in a thread a few weeks ago), he can no longer claim that logic is contingent on the existence of God. If he doesn’t refute that argument, he is tacitly admitting that it is in fact himself that is intellectually dishonest.

    By the way, Darrin from Debunking Christianity has set up a formal debate with a particularly slippery presuppositionalist called Sye (who trolled Stephen Law’s blog a few months ago, and unsurprisingly ignored Martin’s TANG, as well), here.

    They haven’t actually started, but Darrin is pretty intelligent, so it will be interesting to see how he approaches it.

  87. #87 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    “they inevitably fail to further demonstrate that there is such a thing as “Truth”, separate from our experience.”

    Why should they succeed where all of western philosophy has failed?

  88. #88 robotaholic
    February 15, 2009

    here’s my Richard Dawkins post:
    I wish people who believe in two mutually exclusive world views would spell out exactly what they think happened…how we got here-
    like how to reconcile the ADAM/EVE story and yet still share a common ancestor with the other great apes. How can the Adam/Eve story be allegorical and yet still necessitate the propitiatory sacrifice of jesus thousands of years later. (which obviously Dawkins and Hitchens have expounded upon in their books) They wont go out on a limb and express their dogma(doctrin) because then they’re exposed as retards. How did we get here Mr. Morris’

  89. #89 Marshall Nelson
    February 15, 2009

    “Common descent tangles the interpretation of convergence hopelessly. I recommend an article in this week’s Nature by Shubin, Tabin, and Carroll that argues for an important concept of deep homology. We do see similar structures, such as limbs in insects and invertebrates, that are not at all homologous on a morphological level, but when we examine their molecular genetics, we find similar substrates for both. This is the central idea of deep homology, that we have shared primitives, a set of regulatory networks, that see reuse over and over again in evolution. So while limbs arose independently in insects and vertebrates, when we look more deeply, we find that both use the distal-less developmental pathway. We see convergence because there are common functional demands that channel the solutions of selection, but there are also shared molecular constraints that limit the range of likely solutions.”

    “The wonderful lesson to come out of biology in the last five years is the same genes, the same parts, turn up again and again, from one species to another,” she said. “The important lesson to realize is that we’re all made of the same fabric, we’re part of the same web, and there is some humility in the idea that is appropriate.” – Victoria Foe
    http://tinyurl.com/aspjrv
    (NYT Aug 10, 1993)

  90. #90 Knockgoats
    February 15, 2009

    What kind of atheist is not a nihilist?http://www.thefreedictionary.com/nihilist) gives the following:

    1. Philosophy
    a. An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.
    b. A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
    2. Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
    3. The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.
    4. also Nihilism A diffuse, revolutionary movement of mid 19th-century Russia that scorned authority and tradition and believed in reason, materialism, and radical change in society and government through terrorism and assassination.
    5. Psychiatry A delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one’s mind, body, or self does not exist.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nihilist has an overlapping but nonidentical set of meanings:
    1. total rejection of established laws and institutions.
    2. anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity.
    3. total and absolute destructiveness, esp. toward the world at large and including oneself: the power-mad nihilism that marked Hitler’s last years.
    4. Philosophy.
    a. an extreme form of skepticism: the denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth.
    b. nothingness or nonexistence.
    5. (sometimes initial capital letter) the principles of a Russian revolutionary group, active in the latter half of the 19th century, holding that existing social and political institutions must be destroyed in order to clear the way for a new state of society and employing extreme measures, including terrorism and assassination.
    6. annihilation of the self, or the individual consciousness, esp. as an aspect of mystical experience.

    Wikipedia says:
    “Nihilism (from the Latin nihil, nothing) is a philosophical position that argues that existence is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Nihilism can be seen as an extreme form of skepticism in which all knowledge is denied, as well as the possibility of one ever possessing knowledge. Going further, nihilism can be said to deny existence itself. Nihilists generally assert that objective morality does not exist, and subsequently there are no objective moral values with which to uphold a rule or to logically prefer one action over another. Nihilists who argue that there is no objective morality may claim that existence has no intrinsic higher meaning or goal. They often claim there is no proof or reasonable argument for the existence of a higher ruler or creator (or that even if higher rulers or creators do exist, humanity has no obligation to worship them).

    The term nihilism is sometimes used synonymously with anomie to denote a general mood of despair at the pointlessness of existence.”

    I would be a nihilist by some of the Wikipedia definitions, but no others maong those I’ve listed. I guess the same is true of most atheists.

  91. #91 genesgalore
    February 15, 2009

    i like the convergence on the faces of kitty cats and screech owls…. and one predictable thing about evolution is that wherever energy can flow it will try to get there….rocks, hills and plains..chimpanzees orangutans..repeat the sounding joy.

  92. #92 Knockgoats
    February 15, 2009

    Africangenesis,

    At last your rejection of science is explained! You don’t believe there is any distinction between truth and falsehood! However, I’ve news for you: there is such a distinction. Both are properties of statements or claims, which are true if and only if they are in correspondence with the facts – the way things actually are; and false, if and only if they are not. Of course there are many cases where we cannot be sure (one can even argue that nothing should be regarded as absolutely certain), or when a statement or claim is vague, and so cannot be assigned either truth or falsehood; and there are odd cases like “This statement is false”. The trick is to start by thinking about statements that clearly are true (“2+2=4″, “The Earth is smaller than the sun”); and those which are clearly false (“Dogs can be appointed as Bishops in the Church of England”, “The set of prime numbers has a largest member”).

  93. #93 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    Thanx for the research Knockgoats. The conclusion of western philosophy corresponds with the wikipedia quote. I leave out the part that doesn’t generally apply in requoting it below. Western philosophy generally doesn’t give up on knowledge or existance, just the metaphysics:

    “Nihilism (from the Latin nihil, nothing) is a philosophical position that argues that existence is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. … Nihilists generally assert that objective morality does not exist, and subsequently there are no objective moral values with which to uphold a rule or to logically prefer one action over another. Nihilists who argue that there is no objective morality may claim that existence has no intrinsic higher meaning or goal. They often claim there is no proof or reasonable argument for the existence of a higher ruler or creator (or that even if higher rulers or creators do exist, humanity has no obligation to worship them).”

  94. #94 Peter McKellar
    February 15, 2009

    What kind of atheist is not a nihilist?

    The kind of atheist that has emerged over the last decade or two. Being alone does not strip the self of meaning. Recognising the need for societies, law and innovation has nothing to do with nihilism. To be nihilist is actually to accept a theistic value system without the governance provided by a god as supreme commander. A deist in essence, pissed off with being of no consequence or worth to their so-called creator. They are destroyers, not builders.

    Atheists are builders. Just because life has no “purpose” does not make it empty or flat. No faerie-policeman on the shoulder doesn’t give licence to commit atrocity (certainly not in a secular society) – instead it produces law.

    We have to do it ourselves, just as we always have, but this time with the help of other humans, in hope and some growing wisdom, not blind faith and paranoid fears. Go forth and replicate, be good to others, create beauty – nihilism, violence and anarchy are not our way.

    – the thoughts expressed above are not necessarily those of other atheists, they can (and do) speak for themselves.

  95. #95 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    “At last your rejection of science is explained! You don’t believe there is any distinction between truth and falsehood!”

    No, I don’t go that far. I think evidence based empiricism makes the best sense of experience, and does the best job of predicting future experience. I don’t find the human dependence upon senses to for information about reality particularly troubling, given the consistency and order within that information.

  96. #96 windy
    February 15, 2009

    evolution is simply the search engine that in leading to sentience and consciousness allows us to discover the fundamental architecture of the universe

    and

    Of course our brains are a product of evolution, but does anybody seriously believe consciousness itself is material?

    OK, how can evolution “search for” consciousness, if it’s non-material? *scratches head*

  97. #97 Stephen Wells
    February 15, 2009

    Of course car engines are made of metal, but does anybody seriously believe that “4000rpm” is made of metal? Therefore god exists :)

  98. #98 Knockgoats
    February 15, 2009

    The conclusion of western philosophy corresponds with the wikipedia quote. – Africangenesis

    Well, I hadn’t realised such universal agreement among western philosophers had been reached. Where can I find the statement to that effect which they have all put their names to?

    In the sense of the wikipedia article I’m (possibly) a nihilist – the statement isn’t really all that clear; but since the term has so many other meanings, it’s not one I find useful.

    My quibbles with the statement are:
    1) What is meant by “intrinsic”? I would say that many things have intrinsic value, to me and to others – that is, people value some things for themselves, not for some extrinsic purpose they serve.
    2) The fact that there is no objective morality does not mean we cannot rationally criticise moral systems or precepts: they can be criticised on the grounds of internal inconsistency, or on the grounds that adopting them would have particular consequences – often, ones which those advocating them have not recognised.

  99. #99 Sam C
    February 15, 2009

    Pity you, but I woke up with my radio gently chattering away this morning to discover on BBC Radio 4 (our main domestic speech radio channel, it used to be called the Home Service):

    08:10
    Sunday Worship
    15 February 2009

    Simon Conway-Morris, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at Cambridge University, reflects on the compatibility of faith and science. From St John’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

    Oh yes. He gets everywhere! So I listened to the first few minutes while my brain charged up to 12V, and Conway Morris’s line was something like this “Darwin was an excellent guy, but the poor chap didn’t really understand philosophy so he got the god angle wrong”. And there must be something more in the world. I went to put the kettle on when the next hymn started so I don’t know if he got to say much more.

    That said, I’d rather have my Christians trying to reconcile their faith with evolution (even perhaps at the expense of a bit of bending of evolution) than to have them proclaiming God’s Only Truth from their totally perfect book. Better our trimmers than your nutters.

  100. #100 Hauntedchippy
    February 15, 2009

    Thank you PZ.
    Since reading SCM’s piece I have been waiting for someone to pen the words I couldn’t find to express my frustration. Without breaking a sweat you’ve exposed SCM for the simplistic god-of-gaps-complexity-creationist that he is.

    Your writing here is the perfect example of why your blog is so popular; witty, succinct and devastatingly accurate.
    Apologies for the sycophancy.

  101. #101 Peter McKellar
    February 15, 2009

    Rejecting the false premise of god does not inherently lead to nihilism. Existing in and of itself should be enough and is for most life. Get to breeding age, nurture the offspring, pick up survival skills (or inherit them), build survival infrastructure (eg houses) with redundancy (eg societies). Pass the memes to offspring to enhance their survival (and thereby your own genes and memes).

    Finally, develop more tools, hone them and test them for fitness (science, logic). If eating to survive, why eat alone? Getting from point A to B does not mean you can’t stop to smell the roses – and only a loser thinks the rose is the thorn and suicides in transit. Natural selection in action? Music can make me smile, raise goosebumps or conjure the scent of a lost lovers perfume and is not diminished by the physiological explanation of the process or cause. A sunset is still beautiful for being a refractive phenomenon. No supernatural un-embodied soul required. Materialistic reality is not nihilistic or amoral.

  102. #102 Bryson Brown
    February 15, 2009

    When Morris claims that, if the mind just evolved, we have no reason to trust it, I think I smell the influence of Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga is a well-known analytic philosopher with a history of disgracefully ignorant remarks about evolution (he thinks the scientific evidence suggests strongly that life isn’t the product of evolution). Plantinga has argued that believing in evolution leads to skepticism about science at length, and utterly unconvincingly (it’s a long exercise in question-begging and silly philosopher’s tricks; a friend once heard two conservative Dutch theologians commenting after Plantinga had spoken, saying roughly, ‘if that’s the kind of argument we need to use, we’re in terrible trouble’). To make Plantinga’s argument go at all you need to assume that the content of beliefs is fixed independently of their role in behaviour (just the sort of thing a non-physical mind might be capable of, but utterly absurd if we think of mental talk as a linguistic development emerging from social organisms speaking a public language). Very, very silly.

  103. #103 ArchangelChuck
    February 15, 2009

    He seems to regard the English language as an axe murderer would a corpse: as an awkward obect that must be hacked into fragments, and the ragged chunks tossed into a rusty oil drum he calls an article.

    Best analogy ever!

  104. #104 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    “2) The fact that there is no objective morality does not mean we cannot rationally criticise moral systems or precepts: they can be criticised on the grounds of internal inconsistency, or on the grounds that adopting them would have particular consequences – often, ones which those advocating them have not recognised.”

    We’d have to share values and reasoning for this to work. Without them we might not agree that internal consistency was important, that the consequences are possible, or whether the consequences are relevant, negative or desirable. Fortunately we share enough to communicate, and to agree on some ends and a few means.

  105. #105 Knockgoats
    February 15, 2009

    Africangenesis@95,
    It seems that on this point we agree – accepting truth as a property of factual claims, while rejecting “Truth-with-a-capital-T” as a thing – though given your predilection for gnomic utterances, and grand pronouncements about western philosophy, I’m far from sure.

  106. #106 Phoenix Woman
    February 15, 2009

    Interesting. SCM plays a sort of shell game with words, switching unrelated factoids in and out of his arguments, switching arguments in mid-stream, and treating unsupported assertions as ironclad facts, all the while no doubt chuckling to himself at his supposed cleverness: “Ooooh, look at me, pissing off the other scientists with my clever concern trolling! And in a real newspaper, too!”

    Meanwhile, Dawkins and PZ, in clear, concise prose, cut through his baroque blather like Alexander the Great’s sword cut through the Gordian Knot. Game, set, and match to the materialists.

  107. #107 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    “if the mind just evolved, we have no reason to trust it”

    There are good reasons to trust it. It got our ancestors this far, which is evidence of empirical success. We don’t have much choice but to trust it. But of course, we can’t trust it completely. It’s statistical inferences are unreliable without the aid of mathmatical discipline. It is prone to infer agency even in inanimate forces, it is prone “see” false positives for danger in noisey data, etc. But it is far enough along that it can be aware of, and compensate for its limitations, with discipline.

  108. #108 Facilis
    February 15, 2009

    @MikeG

    Do you really believe that the scientific method was just farted out by some possessor of unreliable cognitive faculties and never tested?

    But whoever was doing the testing would have unreliable faculties too.

    I don’t agree with him that you will ever see that you have no logic nor reason. Your mind has been irretrievably crippled.

    Redhead is just upset because I challenged atheists here to account for logic and reason

    @Kel
    Where is this demonstration? Please demonstrate it again. Explain how you account for the laws of logic and reason.

    @Damian
    Martin said for TANG to work you have to refute TAG first. So please refute TAG before proposing another argument.

    @Rev Big Dumb Chimp
    I clearly demonstrated that God was the necessary precondition for logic and reason by the impossibility of the contrary in my other threads.

  109. #109 MartinH
    February 15, 2009

    I wonder what Conway Morris thinks is better evidence for God? Our ability to understand the universe…

    Of course, Darwin told us how to get there and by what mechanism, but neither why it is in the first place, nor how on earth we actually understand it.

    …or our inability to imagine its fabric…

    To reiterate: when physicists speak of not only a strange universe, but one even stranger than we can possibly imagine, they articulate a sense of unfinished business that most neo-Darwinians don’t even want to think about.

  110. #110 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    “though given your predilection for gnomic utterances, and grand pronouncements about western philosophy, I’m far from sure.”

    My statements about western philosophy are pretty safe, if someone had successfully constructed objective standards of morality, meaning and beauty that could withstand criticism, then we would have heard about it. My assessment can be proven wrong by producing just such work. Now if we want to get into the semantics of whether nihilism really means more in western philosophy than my statement, well it probably has for a few, just as there have been a few solipcists.

  111. #111 Nibien
    February 15, 2009

    Facilis IS a poe, right?

  112. #112 Ryogam
    February 15, 2009

    A=B

    A=C

    Therefore:

    B=C

    I would think this would be a true statement regardless of whether The Fancy Pink Unicorn existed or not.

    Apparently, I am not a Deep Thinker.

  113. #113 mothwentbad
    February 15, 2009

    Yeah, I’ll throw my chip in the nihilist pile, if we’re using the “no intrinsic purpose or value” definition, whatever that was supposed to mean in the first place. I seriously doubt that there would be any formal, experimentally detectible difference between a “purposeful, meaningful” world and a “purposeless, meaningless” one.

  114. #114 Kel
    February 15, 2009

    Where is this demonstration? Please demonstrate it again. Explain how you account for the laws of logic and reason.

    You mean that every single time someone said your position was circular, you didn’t actually read what they said?
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/01/im_in_good_company.php

    Again, I DO NOT need to account for logic and reason to use it any more than I need to account for energy in order to be able to digest food. I have no fucking clue how energy could possibly exist, and I don’t pretend to know either. It’s an entirely irrelevant proposition. I don’t know how a car works (beyond a basic level) yet I can still drive one. I have no idea how to make a coffee mug, yet here I am drinking hot chocolate out of one. And for that matter, I don’t know how the hot chocolate is manufactured.

    So how do I account for logic? I say it’s self-evident. As I showed in other threads, you can empirically demonstrate the laws of logic. 2+2=4, if you think that is wrong prove otherwise. Since they are empirically demonstrative, that to me suggests that they are an inherent property of the universe and thus require no further explanation. This has a much better explanatory power than yours, because we know that the universe exists and the laws of mathematics are able to be derived from it. You haven’t shown that God exists, and to say that God is a giver of logic as well as satisfying the requirements for logic is a circular argument.

  115. #115 mothwentbad
    February 15, 2009

    I think “intrinsic purpose” and “intrinsic meaning” are as vague and ungrounded in evidence as any god is, and that their tentative rejection until such time as they can be defined and substantiated is the default logically just as much as atheism is.

  116. #116 Stanton
    February 15, 2009

    Redhead is just upset because I challenged atheists here to account for logic and reason

    How, when and where was this?

    I clearly demonstrated that God was the necessary precondition for logic and reason by the impossibility of the contrary in my other threads.

    Do you have a link for this?

  117. #117 Kel
    February 15, 2009

    Facilis IS a poe, right?

    Sadly (for him), no. He’s the real thing, it’s quite tragic.

  118. #118 Jadehawk
    February 15, 2009

    Redhead is just upset because I challenged atheists here to account for logic and reason somehow I doubt that the Redhead gets upset at anything the Nerd does on this forum, hehe

  119. #119 Wowbagger
    February 15, 2009

    facilis,

    I clearly demonstrated repeatedly cut-and-pasted my baseless assertion that God something that I claimed, without evidence, could only be the Judeo-Christian god but can just as easily be any other god or Sideshow Bob was the necessary precondition for logic and reason by the impossibility of the contrary in my other threads and then ignored the fact that a number of posters showed, time and time again, that this was faulty reasoning and useless as an argument.

    Fixed it for you. No, no – that’s okay. You’re welcome.

  120. #120 Jadehawk
    February 15, 2009

    why the bloody hell am I completely incapable of getting my quotes right today!?

    Redhead is just upset because I challenged atheists here to account for logic and reason

    somehow I doubt that the Redhead gets upset at anything the Nerd does on this forum, hehe

  121. #121 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 15, 2009

    Facilis the fallacious fool. I am upset because you falsely claim reason and logic, but then show absolutely no reason and logic in your posts. We have shown time after time that your imaginary deity is not needed for reason and logic, but you refuse to acknowledge the truth. You are a delusion person with god only existing between your ears. Until you face that fact, we will disagree.

  122. #122 Libbie, the Bird Overlord
    February 15, 2009

    I think Simon is a bit confused about birds. There are many, many examples of convergent evolution in the class Aves. There are also many species of birds that seem to have “stalled” with very primitive, dinosaur-like physiology while other birds sharing their environment have become more modern over time. For example, lapwings–very common birds in South America–have “spurs” (really vestigial claws) on their wrists. A bird’s wrist is that part of the wing that points toward the head when the wing is folded. A lapwing’s spur is like the claw on the upper part of a bat’s wing, although it’s not opposable like a bat’s digit. There are a small handful of other birds in South America with vestigial wrist digits, but they are apparently unrelated to lapwings and do not share a similar habitat or feeding niche.

    Owls and other raptors evolved separately–they are practically unrelated on a genetic scale–but evolved many of the same characteristics for the same hunting niche: Hypersensitive hearing, acute sight, larger size of the female (unusual among birds), gripping prey with the feet and squeezing it to death; even their nesting habits are similar to many other raptors. But based on their genetics (and their foot anatomy) they are more closely related to frogmouths and nighthawks, which are members of the swallow family, than they are to hawks and falcons.

    So while Simon is correct in that there is a lot of funky evolution to be seen in Aves, much of it convergent, I don’t know what he means when he says that birds evolved separately four different times. That just doesn’t make any sense, and it gives away his poor understanding for what he’s talking about here.

  123. #123 Lurkbot
    February 15, 2009

    Facilis @ 108:

    @Rev Big Dumb Chimp
    I clearly demonstrated that God was the necessary precondition for logic and reason by the impossibility of the contrary in my other threads.

    No, you idiot: it’s been demonstrated to you ad nauseum that mathematics was abstracted from millennia of observation of the behavior of real objects and that logic was abstracted from centuries of observation of the behavior of mathematical objects.

    Russell and Whitehead tried in a back-asswards manner to derive mathematics from logic, and had their heads handed to them by Gödel with his Incompleteness Theorems. Your God, who’s supposed to be the basis of logic and reason, can’t even make grade-school arithmetic consistent without making some theorems impossible to prove. You’re a moron.

  124. #124 Dave Godfrey
    February 15, 2009

    Lurkbot:

    Like most people, I suppose, I first became aware of Conway Morris from reading Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life. Gould praised him enormously for his unraveling and description of some of the wild and wonderful animals from the Burgess Shale.

    So I happily read Crucible of Creation and was dismayed by his ungrateful reaction to Gould’s book and his desperate efforts to shoehorn all these animals belonging to obviously extinct phyla into existing phyla. I’ve read further since, and this seems to be a general movement. Why are people so determined to prove that no phylum has ever gone extinct, and that while the diversity of life has increased, what Gould called the “disparity” of life was much larger in the Cambrian, and has since settled on a few standard designs chosen largely by chance?

    The movement has occurred because it turns out the “disparity” hasn’t decreased. Most of these animals really are members of existing phyla- Odontogriphus was recently identified as being a primitive mollusc. Its an odd mollusc, and certainly can’t be fitted into any modern group- but it possesses key features that mean it is closer to molluscs than to any other group.

    There is nothing particularly special about phyla, no more so than species- and if you went back far enough you would find the species that gave rise to both echinoderms and vertebrates- two very different phyla, but you’d have no way of telling how different its descendants would eventually become. The idea that there was some special “phyla generating engine” in the Cambrian is now generally discredited.

    The application of cladistics has also affected how these animals have been studied. Looking at each individual you might pick out features that make them weird, noticeable and distinct (Opabinia‘s five eyes, Anomalocaris‘s “great appendages”, etc) and yet when you look at many characters together you find that the differences aren’t so great after all, and the weird arthropods aren’t as weird as we once supposed- they still don’t entirely fit into the four well recognised groups, but fall as individual branches on the stem leading to the modern groups.

    The sad thing about Crucible of Creation was that Conway Morris attacked Gould for espousing a view he no longer agreed with. (On first seeing Odontogriphus Conway Morris’s first reaction was “Oh fuck, not another phylum).

  125. #125 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 15, 2009

    I’ve now heard two talks by Conway Morris* about this kind of topic: once at the zoology meeting in Paris at the end of August, and once last week at the Darwin-Bernissart meeting in Brussels. Both times he mentioned the frequent evolution of saber-toothed animals as an example of rampant convergence. Both times I got to explain that I think this is a matter of starting points — let an animal with discernible canine teeth become a top predator, and you’ll end up with a saber-toothed animal; let an animal without them become a top predator, and you’ll end up with something else, like your average archosaur (sorta kinda a dentition that consists only saber teeth), the marsupial lions, or phorusrhacids. Both times I got a very long-winded answer that departed far from the topic, so far that, in the end, I think it didn’t really answer the question; that is Conway Morris’s general way of speaking and apparently, judging from the above, writing. He jumps from one association to the next and the next and the next…

    * Apparently that’s a surname with a space and a weird capital letter in the middle: Conway%20Morris. Don’t ask me why he doesn’t use a hyphen.

    Is there any good evidence at all that extant birds are polyphyletic?

    To the contrary. But he didn’t explicitly talk about extant birds.

    Even if we include fossil birds acknowledged as such, is it really possible that “birds” evolved convergently under any meaningful definition of “birds”???

    In Brussels, he (very, very briefly) mentioned Microraptor as, I think, one such separate evolution. But it’s much more likely that flight evolved only once among dinosaurs and was then lost several times.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t get an opportunity to speak with him for a longer time that day, and the next day he was gone, apparently to Austin (see comment 7).

    BTW, Conway Morris made lots and lots of remarks about how the next thing he was going to say would make him immensely unpopular, and he talked about “neodarwinists” and “Oxford” in a way that clearly amounted to Dawkins-bashing, but which, off-topic as it was, must have been completely obscure to most of the audience.

    By the way, this is straight-up creationist thinking. Compare Morris’ complaint that an evolved mind must be “untrustworthy” to a notorious creationist’s statement on the same subject:

    Hovind and Plantinga evidently have no idea about evolutionary epistemology. I’m surprised that Conway Morris seems to suffer from the same ignorance. That’s all the more surprising because (see comment 21) it’s so dead easy: those whose thoughts about reality were not trustworthy enough have already died out — natural selection.

    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t trilobites swim in a way that is quite different from both fish *and* squid?

    Sure, but the topic here is very fast swimming, seen only in tunas, swordfish, some sharks, dolphins, and ichthyosaurs.

    Bad writing, combined with the belief that God is the end point of evolution; is it possible that Simon Conway Morris is the reincarnation of P[è]re Teilhard de[ ]Chardin?

    LOL!

    It certainly is a good example of convergence.

    ROTFL!!!

    So I happily read Crucible of Creation and was dismayed by his ungrateful reaction to Gould’s book and his desperate efforts to shoehorn all these animals belonging to obviously extinct phyla into existing phyla. I’ve read further since, and this seems to be a general movement. Why are people so determined to prove that no phylum has ever gone extinct, and that while the diversity of life has increased, what Gould called the “disparity” of life was much larger in the Cambrian, and has since settled on a few standard designs chosen largely by chance?

    There is no such thing as a phylum.

    Like all other ranks, the rank of phylum does not exist in nature. It’s a pure invention.

    It’s true that Gould overdid it — though that wasn’t his own fault. For example, Hallucigenia is considerably less hallucinogenic than Gould thought in 1988, because its “seven tentacles” are its fourteen legs, the “head” is a product of squashing (the Burgess fossils aren’t preserved in 3D, after all), front is back, up is down, and what Gould still thought were odd stiff legs are the fourteen spines on the back. It’s closely related to the arthropods, Microdictyon and the like.

    But let’s return to nomenclature. Not only is the term “phylum” not defined, terms like “Arthropoda” are not defined either. Thus, whether Anomalocaris belongs to a phylum of its own or is “just” a “boring” arthropod depends on how you like it better.

    Can this be attributed to the fact that Mollusks are protostomes and we’re deuterostomes, that is, literally ass-backwards from the get-go?

    No, because:
    – It’s still not clear whether we actually are ass-backwards. Common descent from a more symmetrical ancestor is also a possibility; remember that flatworms have the mouth more or less in the middle and have eight equidistant longitudinal nerve cords.
    – Mollusk eyes are invaginations of the skin. Vertebrate eyes are evaginations of the brain, which is itself an invagination of the skin. When our light receptors were still directly in the brain, everything was the right way around…
    – The earliest vertebrates seem to have been quite small animals — and for those, ass-backward eyes are actually an advantage: the eyeball can be used to stuff blood vessels and nerves into, as opposed to being useless empty space like in a cephalopod. I wonder if this is connected to the fact that, AFAIK, there are no very small adult cephalopods, while there are lots of vertebrates in that size range.

  126. #126 Sastra
    February 15, 2009

    “If, however, the universe is actually the product of a rational Mind and evolution is simply the search engine that in leading to sentience and consciousness allows us to discover the fundamental architecture of the universe – a point many mathematicians intuitively sense when they speak of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics – then things not only start to make much better sense, but they are also much more interesting.”

    No, things do not start to get more “interesting” if the universe is “the product of a rational Mind.” They get more plebian, and the explanations get more empty.

    Where does mind come from? This is so simple. It comes from a Giant Mind! It’s a Mind Force! Which works by Mind Power! And it’s made out of nothing! And it just happens to exist for no reason, and never got to be the way it was — but look how it solves all sorts of problems at once! Most particularly, it solves the problem of resolving, to our satisfaction, that we are loved and special. It also solves logic.

    Why does the universe contain regularities? Because the Giant Disembodied Mind Force prevented it from remaining in its natural, normal, expected state of extreme chaos and irregularity. Left to themselves, no thing is what it is. Instead everything is what it isn’t at all. This, after all, is the senseless state of affairs which good sense informs us ought to be the case — if nature was just allowed to take its course. God must exist, in order to prevent that.

    No, Facilis, God is not the necessary precondition for reason and logic. Reason and logic are necessary preconditions for God. If you disagree, then try to argue for the existence of God — but without using either reason, or logic. No fair stealing them to make a point that depends on them, while denying them as preconditions.

  127. #127 Dave Godfrey
    February 15, 2009

    Gah! HTMLFail the first two paragraphs of comment #124 are supposed to be in italics- I’m quoting Lurkbot at #80

  128. #128 rickflick
    February 15, 2009

    I remember in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, he speculated about evolution on other planets. He suggested evolution might bring about very different kinds of locomotion. On Jupiter, he suggested creatures that floated in the atmosphere like jellyfish do in the sea. A Jovian bird of sorts.

  129. #129 genesgalore
    February 15, 2009

    hey everybody, check you poop. it’s proof that god doesn’t exist.

  130. #130 Libbie
    February 15, 2009

    “hey everybody, check you poop. it’s proof that god doesn’t exist.”

    Ah. Insightful.

  131. #131 Sastra
    February 15, 2009

    David Marjanovic #125 wrote:

    I’ve now heard two talks by Conway Morris* about this kind of topic … Both times he mentioned the frequent evolution of saber-toothed animals as an example of rampant convergence. Both times I got to explain that I think this is a matter of starting points — let an animal with discernible canine teeth become a top predator, and you’ll end up with a saber-toothed animal; let an animal without them become a top predator, and you’ll end up with something else..

    Ah, but there is, of course, an alternate theory, one recently set forth by one of PZ Myer’s correspondents:

    The sabor toothed tiger was just a freak of nature. It was just a few tigers that had extra long teeth because they were borned that way.

    So there.

  132. #132 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 15, 2009

    Owls and other raptors evolved separately–they are practically unrelated on a genetic scale

    No. In a remarkable contradiction to traditional hypotheses based on a small number of morphological characters of extant owls and other raptors, both genetics and paleontology now find them as sister-groups.

    Except that, based on molecular data, the falcons may actually be far away from the accipitrid-Sagittarius-strigiform-cathartid grouping…

    It’s all very confusing. :-)

    gripping prey with the feet and squeezing it to death

    What? Not simply stabbing it?

    frogmouths and nighthawks, which are members of the swallow family

    Not swallows! Swifts and hummingbirds! Swallows are ordinary passeriforms convergent on swifts!

    Finally, I wrote:

    It’s true that Gould overdid it — though that wasn’t his own fault.

    Well, believing that the rank of phylum denotes something that exists in nature was (largely) his own fault. It was also the biggest mistake of his entire career.

  133. #133 Julian
    February 15, 2009

    “…a point many mathematicians intuitively sense when they speak of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics…”

    This bit in particular annoys me. The reason math is useful is because of the work of thousands of mathematicians over thousands of years which has produced, through trial, error, and deduction, a vast body of general principles. He’s putting the cart before the horse, implying that people just stumbled across math, free range, wandering the hills of Greece and Arabia. Pythagoras was not worshiped as a god by his followers because, through his piousness, he managed to wrangle the vicious Ionian Triangle; he was deified because the Pythagorean Theory is so damn useful! It revolutionized construction, map-making, art, all manner of engineering and design, and formed the basis of ballistic studies. It’s so useful in fact, that the benefits of it have become pervasive; most people don’t even realize or recognize the applications of it that surround them.

    Those who feel math is intelligently designed are right; WE designed it!

  134. #134 Aquaria
    February 15, 2009

    I saw this shit smorgasbord passing as an article over at Dawkins’ site, and wondered, “what’s this fool on?” Then I remembered that this is what happens when your brain is hopped up on religion.

    IANAEB, but it would seem to me that, if there were a prime creator who created each species individually, that life wouldn’t have so many common parts, the types of parts that seem to get reused over and over again. I think there would be a lot more variety. Is the faulty leg really the best that chump can do for land locomotion? Why not that sign of intelligence, the wheel? Why did it take man to figure out the damned wheel?

  135. #135 Damian
    February 15, 2009

    Martin said for TANG to work you have to refute TAG first. So please refute TAG before proposing another argument.

    Facilis, you have no idea what you are talking about. TANG refutes TAG:

    If TANG is a sound argument, then obviously TAG is not, for it is logically impossible that there be two sound arguments with contradictory conclusions. On the other hand, if TANG is unsound, it does not follow that TAG is sound. After all, both arguments could be unsound. Perhaps, logic, science, and objective morality are possible given either a Christian or a nonChristian world view. In any case, the presentation of TANG will provide an indirect challenge to TAG and force its advocates to defend their position. The burden will be on them to refute TANG. Unless they do, TAG is doomed.

    As is often the case with religious believers (some, certainly not all), they completely ignore everything that refutes their argument, and then restate it as if nothing had happened.

    So, you either need to argue that TANG is unsound (and then defend TAG), or drop the claim that logic is contingent on God. It really is that simple.

  136. #136 Julian
    February 15, 2009

    Libbie: Actually, in a way it is. If our bodies were perfectly designed by a perfect intelligence with a clear concept of what it was creating “in its own image”, then one can assume that this intelligence would do the job perfectly. However, we excrete, and that excrement is the perfect evidence for arguing that our guts are not 100% efficient.

    As a result, one can conclude (among other things) that either 1) the utility of our guts is not in their perfection but in their “good-enough-ness”, which does not imply a perfect and benevolent creator, or 2) if we had a creator, making us in its image, then its body must also have produced excrement, in which case it did not have a perfectly efficient gut, and so was imperfect, and not god.

    Another example along these lines would be taste-buds. If we were designed by a perfect being, then why do salt and sugar taste good to us, even when we are consuming them in quantities that will cause us harm? In a similar way, why don’t greens and vegetables taste good to our taste buds when we most need their nutrients; during childhood. Our evolutionary history as arboreal gathers-turned wide-ranging hunters provides a straight forward and elegant explanation for this, but the only solution intelligent design can offer is malice.

  137. #137 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 15, 2009

    TANG refutes TAG

    Great site, except that it’s not quite true that “to make sense of science one must assume that there are no miracles”; it’s enough to assume that miracles are, at most, very rare. Not much would change if all laws of physics came with “in 99.99999995 % of all cases” attached to them.

  138. #138 Azkyroth
    February 15, 2009

    I think, for a sufficiently loose definition of “bird,” birds, bats, pterosaurs, and flying fish might be the four groups he has in mind.

  139. #139 raven
    February 15, 2009

    Peter being stupid:

    What kind of atheist is not a nihilist?

    Oh great cthulhu, that is dumb. The real Nihilists in our society are the fundie Death Cult xians. The name Death Cult says it all.

    The Rapture Monkey kooks like Sarah Palin are just waiting for god to show up and kill 6.7 billion people and destroy the world. This is supposed to be a good thing.

    The only way the fundie cults could get any more destructive is if we discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Then they can hope god kills all of them too.

    While waiting for the happy day of Armageddon, they indulge in destructive activities like assassinating MDs, burning down family planning clinics, death threats to scientists. As well as their political arm, the Theothuglicans destroying the US and world economies while leaving piles of bodies in a pointless war in the middle east.

    For pure nihiliistic evil, nothing in our society comes close to fundie xians.

    Scientists build rather than destroy. While most aren’t atheists, many are. The results are all around us, the defining feature of our civilization. Lifespans increased 30 years in the last century and the 21st century looks a lot different from the 1st century.

    So Peter, who is on your To Kill list? All fundies have one. In the event you are too mentally slow to remember it, just borrow Hagee’s or Palin’s. Everyone is perfectly acceptable to the cultists.

  140. #140 H.H.
    February 15, 2009

    Sastra wrote:

    If you disagree, then try to argue for the existence of God — but without using either reason, or logic.

    Hasn’t Facilis been doing that all along?

  141. #141 Paper Hand
    February 15, 2009

    I don’t understand what relevance the alleged polyphyly of aves has to do with anything. Even if it were true that birds evolved from multiple groups of feathered dinosaurs – I don’t know much about avian phylogeny but my impression is that this is most definitely NOT the consensus – they would still have evolved from similar creatures with similar pre-adaptations.

  142. #142 RBH
    February 15, 2009

    David Marjanovi?, OM wrote

    Hovind and Plantinga evidently have no idea about evolutionary epistemology. I’m surprised that Conway Morris seems to suffer from the same ignorance. That’s all the more surprising because (see comment 21) it’s so dead easy: those whose thoughts about reality were not trustworthy enough have already died out — natural selection.

    I like the way I put it better:

    …critters whose perceptual/cognitive apparatus gives them unreliable representations of the world end up as lunch for those with more reliable apparatus, yielding populations whose representations of (relevant aspects of) their world become more and more reliable,…

    Them’s the real consequences. :)

  143. #143 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    Raven,

    “pure nihilistic evil”

    You seem to be taking nihilism as a pejorative, rather than an epistomological conclusion. If you believe in “evil” then you aren’t a nihilist, if you are an atheist, yet believe in an objective evil, then what is your basis for this belief? Is it something you assume on faith? Eo you know it when you see it?

  144. #144 Fernando Magyar
    February 15, 2009

    Sastra @ 126,

    Where does mind come from? This is so simple. It comes from a Giant Mind! It’s a Mind Force! Which works by Mind Power! And it’s made out of nothing! And it just happens to exist for no reason, and never got to be the way it was — but look how it solves all sorts of problems at once! Most particularly, it solves the problem of resolving, to our satisfaction, that we are loved and special. It also solves logic.

    My mind is either playing tricks on me or I’m losing it, (my mind that is) but try as I might to read these words I can’t. I keep having having this auditory hallucination of George Carlin’s voice saying the words.

  145. #145 RBH
    February 15, 2009

    Jerry Coyne has Steve Pinker’s take on Conway Morris’ argument. Succinct and to the point.

  146. #146 Greta Christina
    February 15, 2009

    So here are the two questions I want to ask Morris, and any other advocate of theistic evolution.

    A: If an intelligent God deliberately guided the process of evolution, why did he cock up the job so badly? Backwards- wired eyes, vagus nerves and vas deferenses wandering all over hell and gone, bad knees, bad backs, brains that can’t figure out probability without an advanced degree in the subject — not to mention birth defects, pediatric cancer, etc. — what the hell was he thinking? If God is powerful enough to intervene invisibly in evolution, why didn’t he do a better job of it?

    2: What kind of research would he propose doing to investigate this claim? And what kind of evidence would he accept as falsifying it?

    Without answers to these questions, I see no reason whatsoever to take this seriously.

  147. #147 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    “More rudimentary moral sentiments that may have evolved ? sympathy, trust, retribution, gratitude, guilt ? are stable strategies in cooperation games, and emerge in computer simulations.”

    I wonder Pinker has done something more compreshensive elsewhere. Fairness and punishment are missing for instance.

  148. #148 Robert Morane
    February 15, 2009

    To Facilis,

    Remove existence, and your god disappears. Remove your god, and you still have existence. In fact, it is illogical to posit God’s existence without positing existence first. But you can logically posit existence while positing that God does not exist. This means that your god cannot account for existence, for existence is a precondition without which your god cannot exist.

    Reality is logical. Logic dictates, via the laws of identity (A must be A – A cannot be Not-A), that the illogical cannot be; therefore, existence must be existent, for a non-existent existence would be a contradiction. That’s why there is existence. It’s a logical requirement.

    Also, logic cannot have a cause, for such a cause would need to exist in order to cause anything; but to exist means to have an identity. And for a cause to produce an effect, you need causality. But since both identity and causality are logic-based, the minute you have a cause and an effect, you’re already in the presence of logic. So positing a cause for logic can only lead to nonsense.

    Logic is the ultimate cause. And since logic leads to existence, and existence is required for any object or being to exist, then any such object or being is conditional to both existence and logic. Therefore, your god cannot account for existence or logic. Also, this means that your god, if he existed, would be a contingent being and so, by definition, he wouldn’t be a god. (I wrote a blogpost where I explained that the concept of necessary being is logically flawed – it is self-defeating.)

    So saying that logic comes from god is nonsensical, for in order to say that, you must posit that god has an identity (without which he cannot exist) and that there is causality (for logic to be a consequence of god); but since both identity and causality are logic-based, such a claim is illogical. Check mate.

    My worldview can account for both existence and logic. Yours can account for neither.

    How ’bout that?

    Robert M.

    PS: This is just the gist of my argument. If anyone is interested in reading more, you’re welcome to visit my blog.

  149. #149 Your Mighty Overload
    February 15, 2009

    I have to wonder, if Dr Conway-Morris wants to believe that consciousness is not an emergent property of the brain, quite how he would feel about an experiment where we drill lumps out of his skull in order to test his hypothesis. I doubt it will make much difference to the coherency of his arguments.

  150. #150 Libbie
    February 15, 2009

    @ Julian, #13something

    MAYBE GOD JUST LIKES POO, DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT?!

    Okay, so you have a point. Poop disproves God. Man, that is a great argument.

  151. #151 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    Robert Morane#148,

    Reality isn’t quite so logical at the quantum level. Logic has no mass, it doesn’t physically exist. Logic is a tool, like mathmatics. The order was there in reality to be discovered, but at the same time that order, like all order is a subjective construct of the mind. Disordered states are just as unique as ordered states, they just were not as important to to humans during their evolution so humans don’t perceive thir order. I doubt logic is a cause of anything.

  152. #152 Steve Caldwell
    February 15, 2009

    llewelly wrote:February 15, 2009 3:53 PM
    “Simon Conway Morris:
    “Please join me beside the coffin marked Atheism. I fear, however, there will be very few mourners.”

    Perhaps because the coffin remains empty.”

    You do know a story ending with an empty tomb or coffin may lead to resurrection stories (e.g. Mark 16:1-8).

    We can add to the story that although Morris writes about a coffin, we saw Atheism was still alive. There is precedent for this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_16

    :^)

  153. #153 Jim Bob
    February 15, 2009

    I think the argument they use, that “the way these things are organized makes sense, therefore someone made it!” is just hilarious. 1) Because they think it’s irrefutable, and 2) It’s offensively unimaginative.

    Just because things make sense to us doesn’t mean they make sense everywhere. Why won’t they consider the possibility that biological organization makes sense to them only because that’s how they themselves are organized? If we evolved on another planet according to different rules entirely (why does physics have to be the same everywhere? So boring), we would say earth organisms were totally nonsensical. So planet-centric of us.

  154. #154 Peter McKellar
    February 15, 2009

    Raven @139

    I was refuting the claim made by Africangenesis. Please re-read my comments. I am arguing that atheists are NOT nihilists.

  155. #155 Peter McKellar
    February 15, 2009

    I can see I will need to work out blockquotes to remove ambiguity ;)

  156. #156 Allin Cottrell
    February 15, 2009

    #147: I guess you mean, you wonder if Pinker has done something more comprehensive elsewhere. Well, he’s basically reporting other people’s research, but for sure, more comprehensive work has been done.

    If reasonably rational agents are to reap the advantages of social cooperation, the Selfish Bastard strategy has to be made not to pay. “Fairness” is an ideology that deprecates the Selfish Bastard strategy; but to the extent that deprecation doesn’t work, the SBs have to be whacked. We’re evolved (well, most of us) to be willing to expend resources in doing that whacking.

  157. #157 mas528
    February 15, 2009

    I call False Authority Syndrome on Conway Morris.

    He may be THE expert in cambrian paleontology.

    That does NOT make him an expert in evolution.

    He is overreaching, unless he states that it is personal opinion, and not science as I do believe that Richard Dawkins did in “The God Delusion”. I’m not sure that Dawkins did, and I don’t have my copy in front of me. Dawkins did back up most of what he said with rational arguments, not an argument from ignorance as did Conway Morris.

    His feelings on evolution are literally no more valid than Joe the Plumber’s, or mine.

    If was a script writer for a movie about the cambrian, I would go to Conway Morris for the actual state of the cambrian, I would go to Dawkins for evolution, and I would possibly go to Mr. Myers for the biology of evolution.

    Of course that is a fiction. No sciptwriter would look for facts!

    Disclaimer: I love computers, recorded music, the pipe organ, and the internet.

    In addition my life has been saved by scientists, biologists, MD’s, snd surgeons four times that are obvious, probably more if you include inoculations for diseases.

    So I am completely indebted to science.

  158. #158 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    Peter,

    “Materialistic reality is not nihilistic or amoral”

    Music and “beautiful” sunsets are not a refutation. Atheists that are NOT nihilists must have something they believe is right or good or beautiful, that they refuse to admit is subjective, or culturally relative, or a mere property of the human mind.

  159. #159 Jafafa Hots
    February 15, 2009

    “It’s ridiculous to say birds evolved four times if you are talking about the evolution of flight, and yet, I can’t help thinking this must be what he’s talking about (insects, pterosaurs, birds, and bats).”

    That’s nothing. Look how many times walking and legs evolved. Praise Jeebus!

  160. #160 conelrad
    February 15, 2009

    With regard to the woof-woof theory:
    this has a brief list of bumper-sticker labels
    for various theories of language origin. I think
    Conway Morris was trying to say ‘Bow-wow’.

  161. #161 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    Allin Cotrell,

    “I guess you mean, you wonder if Pinker has done something more comprehensive elsewhere. Well, he’s basically reporting other people’s research, but for sure, more comprehensive work has been done.”

    Pinker’s works are often well communicated summaries of the work of others.

  162. #162 Aquaria
    February 15, 2009

    Oh FFS, Africangenesis, have you ever read Stephen Pinker? He addresses why we find beauty in art and music in “How the Mind Works.” Hint: No deity required. In this and other books, he explains how we evolved the ability to make distinctions between “good” and “bad” in behavior and tastes.

    Read him, and you won’t come across as such a moron.

  163. #163 Peter McKellar
    February 15, 2009

    Africangenesis @158,

    I disagree. How about survival for no benefit other than survival for replication (and all the social aspects that enhance this prospect)? At this point, independent, non-godcentric morality becomes possible. I am not claiming survival is intrinsically “good” or “right”, just of prime importance to me (benefits me or kind – “good”, threat, danger – “bad”.)

    You can then leverage more complex morality off – “What benefits humanity and through that, my chances for success”. Sure, these could be considered a product of the mind (but I definitely do not regard it as a “property” of mind).

    I think the combination of sensations I experience have a reality all their own that I equate with love or beauty (or other emotions). If you cut me down in a forest and no-one hears me scream will I not bleed? That existentialist crap is like “free will” – distracting twaddle. Do not mistake the products of brain routines as hallucinations. My reactions may vary from someone else’s, but that doesn’t follow that either or both is false.

    Lack of one thing (god) does not mean that nothing exists. For a “new atheist” lack of god infers a need for a higher moral standard, not none at all.

  164. #164 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    Peter,

    “For a “new atheist” lack of god infers a need for a higher moral standard, not none at all.”

    Humans may feel a need for a higher standard, but one doesn’t exist. The best we can do is to try to work within our understanding of of the vulnerabilities and limitations of human nature without the rose colored glasses.

  165. #165 Alan Kellogg
    February 15, 2009

    P=S-lw

    Where P is Philosophy, S is Science, and lw is lab work.

  166. #166 John Phillips, FCD
    February 15, 2009

    I gave up after the first paragraph as it reminded me more than anything of the kind of crap spouted when really stoned while thinking it is ‘way deep man’. Though saying that, I don’t think I ever dropped to that level of incoherent tarditude however stoned I got.

  167. #167 Damian
    February 15, 2009

    David Marjanovi?, OM said:

    Great site, except that it’s not quite true that “to make sense of science one must assume that there are no miracles”; it’s enough to assume that miracles are, at most, very rare. Not much would change if all laws of physics came with “in 99.99999995 % of all cases” attached to them.

    Yeah, I noticed that too, and that has been used to argue against TANG (that particular aspect, anyway). But I do think that it is sound to argue that, “science assumes that insofar as an event has an explanation at all, it has a scientific explanation ? one that does not presuppose God.”

    For instance, TAG states that science presupposes the existence of God, or at least that science is dependent on God. By implication, God’s non-existence would mean that we couldn’t use science to explain anything about the natural world. But since God’s only intervention in the natural world is through miracles, which are by definition not explainable by science, it’s reasonable to conclude that this aspect of the Christian “worldview” is incompatible with science, and that therefore, TAG is false.

    That’s enough to render the argument that science presupposes God as unsound, in my opinion.

  168. #168 Africangenesis
    February 15, 2009

    Aquaria,

    “Read him, and you won’t come across as such a moron.”

    Are you one of Peter’s “new atheists”? Something besides rationality is operating in you. Is it mob behavior against outgroups? Is it the ugly human behavior that comes out in anonymity? You forgot to mention that Pinker usually warns about that side of humanity as well. Yes, I’ve read him, I just haven’t purchased his last book, but I have watched his talks on booktv and the internet.

  169. #169 Monado
    February 15, 2009

    Damian, thanks for the link to TANG; I was comparing it to Larry Niven’s “tanj” and tentatively translated it as “There Ain’t No God.”

    About designing perfect animals. Even before Darwin it had been noticed that, in the fossil record, species were replaced by other species that closely resembled them. Darwin noted that if God had designed a perfect cave animal, it should be found in caves all over the world; but, instead, in each place the cave animals resembled the creatures that lived on the surface, with predictable adaptations for cave life such as reduced eyes.

  170. #170 Peter McKellar
    February 15, 2009

    Africangenesis,

    Are you maybe confusing lack of god mandated “purpose” with nihilism? Again, this does not follow. As I have asserted before: “nihilism” must either be based in a rejection of god (but in the belief that god does exist) or else nihilism is some convoluted logic that ends with a mire of absolutist crap with us all being a dream in your head.

    When there is no god to reject then “purpose” disappears, not the whole planet or those people on it. Maybe I am a figment of your imagination, but I have other proofs (figments?) and peer reviewed work over thousands of years. Yeah, maybe in your “castles in the air/your mind”, a philosophy supported by circular logic, everything is nothing, but that is a pretty silly way to look at it. Maybe you don’t exist Africangenesis? (and where would I be then?)

    I may have no purpose, but I have goals and I see solutions to these as being favourable or not. Some (like nihilistic apathy) I see as counter-productive or others as just plain threatening. eg – Bad guy trying to kill me. I will call that “wrong”. To the bad guy it may be “right”. Morally relativistic? maybe, but the law is a collection of “rights” and “wrongs” (morals) developed for the common progress and survival of the group. Morality can both exist without god and be essential for societies to function. This isn’t religion either, it’s just a way to steer a path through the chaos that is a cold, uncaring reality.

    Do I care about nudity or what gender you copulate with? no, this is outrider suppression by a society. Hijacking real survival strategies and attaching a “morality” is what has lead to the world’s current problems. We make moral judgements daily and most of the time, they have little real value. “Good” morals must be viewed as memes that support the group without the need to persecute outriders. This is the “higher morality” I advocate.

    Religious morality has nothing to do with group survival (although it *may* have in the past) and everything to do with the survival of the religious meme itself. It is a true parasite that cares nothing for the host. Nihilism assumes loss of purpose where none existed in the first place.

  171. #171 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Peter McKeller,

    Western philosophy wasn’t just concerned about the existence of God, but good, or evil or beauty or the dialectic or historical determinism or purpose in any absolute or provable sense. See #93 above where Knockgoats and I were discussing the nihilistic result of western philosophy.

  172. #172 raven
    February 16, 2009

    Raven @139

    I was refuting the claim made by Africangenesis. Please re-read my comments. I am arguing that atheists are NOT nihilists.

    Oops!!! I noticed after I launched my cruise missile that the aim was a little bit off.

    We do though have a fleet of destructive ideologues gnawing away at our society. With some success as the schools spiral downward while the economy collapses and unemployment rises. It isn’t a total wipeout like their god would do. But, if the fundies do manage to kill 6.7 billion people and destroy the earth, then what reason does god have to even exist?

    It also tells anyone where morality and ethics come from. Atheists are at least as moral as the general population. The American Nihilistic Taliban would give the Moslem Taliban or Khymer Rouge a run for their money in evilness except that we so far, don’t let them run around lose with armies and heavy weapons. So much for the god theory.

  173. #173 Norman Doering
    February 16, 2009

    Peter McKellar wrote:

    Some (like nihilistic apathy) I see as counter-productive or others as just plain threatening. eg – Bad guy trying to kill me. I will call that “wrong”. To the bad guy it may be “right”. Morally relativistic? maybe, but the law is a collection of “rights” and “wrongs” (morals) developed for the common progress and survival of the group. Morality can both exist without god and be essential for societies to function. This isn’t religion either, it’s just a way to steer a path through the chaos that is a cold, uncaring reality.

    A case might be made that religious belief holds back a few socio-psychopathic monsters who might be inclined to torture and kill if they weren’t afraid of hell. Perhaps a few Christians are such monsters? After all, they’ve made a god of an imaginary entity they believe will torture us for eternity. If people make gods in their own image…

  174. #174 Eric
    February 16, 2009

    “It’s a non-starter for several reasons, among them that those who deploy the argument waffle between “reliable” knowledge and “true beliefs.” The former, of course, is achieved by natural selection: critters whose perceptual/cognitive apparatus gives them unreliable representations of the world end up as lunch for those with more reliable apparatus, yielding populations whose representations of (relevant aspects of) their world become more and more reliable”

    First, let me note that you’re actually in trouble right from the start here: reliable knowledge must be true, since you can’t coherently be said to know something that’s false; and most conceptions of knowledge posit ‘belief’ as a necessary element, since it seems absurd to claim to know something you have no beliefs about. Hence, ‘reliable knowledge’ and ‘true belief’ can more easily be identified than disstinguished.

    Second, Plantinga doesn’t ‘waffle’ here; he’s quite clear that a distinction between knowledge and beliefs (or whatever) that may not be true but that cause beneficial behavior is central to his argument. Evolution ultimately acts on our behavior, not on the semiotic content (or lack thereof, depending on your conception of ‘beliefs’ given naturalism) of our beliefs.

    Third, you must not lose sight of the emphasis Plantinga places on the possible relationships between beliefs and behavior, given naturalism and evolution: no relationship (epiphenomenalism); a relationship that’s dependent on brain states, but not on the semiotic content of our beliefs (semantic epiphenomenalism); a maladaptive relationship; and an adaptive relationship. His point is that given these possibilities — even the fourth one — the conditional probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low or inscrutable, and that we therefore have a defeater for naturalism (since it is itself a product of our cognitive faculties). In short, the argument concludes that naturalism is self refuting. It’s a much stronger argument, imho, than most people think. Perhaps this is because — as the quote above shows — many people simply don’t understand the argument, and therefore present criticisms that completely miss the point.

  175. #175 Tulse
    February 16, 2009

    His point is that given these possibilities — even the fourth one — the conditional probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low or inscrutable

    Which is just arrant nonsense. Generally speaking, a cognitive system that did not produce reliable beliefs would die out.

  176. #176 raven
    February 16, 2009

    Glad I didn’t pay much attention to philosophy in college.

    Various philosophers have been able to prove that:
    1. I have no free will

    2. I’m going to hell even though I have no free will

    3. It won’t matter because consciousness is an illusion

    4. and hell doesn’t exist anyway, since all belief systems are equal

    5. But none of this matters because the organic computer in my skull doesn’t work very well so who knows what is going on.

    Well whatever. I’m a conscious individual with free will capable of figuring things out. This is why we don’t live in the stone age and have space travel and the internet.

  177. #177 Peter McKellar
    February 16, 2009

    raven @172,

    no worries :) I have also mis-fired a few shots on other threads and I offer apologies to those involved, if I didn’t at the time.

    I have problems with Africangenesis, although I concede he is technically correct in some formal, externally defined concept of “nihilism”, the arguments don’t hold up in real life and by that definition, nihilism is flawed.

    (switching to addressing africangenesis.) We put brakes and a throttle on cars. The nihilist approach would be to ignore these, roll the vehicle to the bottom of the hill and then set it on fire. Someone else’s attitude that it makes no difference to anything is fallacious. It matters to me, the owner and to others that I drive around (or share the road with).

    We have hard wired pleasure and response centres, fear routines and many, many more. Does pulling away from pain make no difference? Nihilism may have a philosophical argument, but it just doesn’t hold up to analysis that doesn’t immediately beg us to commit suicide. This is the fundamental reason for many to take up religion and underlies religions’ intrinsic evil. It is Plato’s argument: that it doesn’t matter what people believe, just that they believe something.

    I had this nihilistic philosophy attributed to me about 1 month ago when I mentioned to a muslim that I was an atheist and was told (not asked) “So, you believe in NOTHING??. I was stunned and mumbled “I believe in science” (rather than my normal response: people). It does highlight the perception problem others have dealing with atheists and is a flawed line of reasoning that inevitably leads to the argument that Stalin and Mao committed their crimes BECAUSE they were (nihilistic) atheists. Again, clearly flawed reasoning.

    The arguments @93 are just splitting hairs. The definition leads to allowing a deistic god, I would argue it insists on a deistic god in the same way that white demands black or full demands empty. It’s just more empty rhetoric.

    Our existence does not demand purpose. Evolution may have no goal (other than survival in a changing environment) but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t flee from a predator or lust after a mate. A rock falling in gravity will break or bounce depending on its composition, physics and other factors. If I pick it up and use the chipped edge to butcher an animal it sates my appetite and I pass on the knowledge to others. I don’t need the fiction that god intended it to break at my feet for it to have some purpose for me to use it for MY own (self-generated) purpose. I am just happy that I can fill my belly again.

    For the bigger battle to be won (ie the eradication of religion) a value system must be grafted over the cesspit of superstition that is theism. Our responsibility should be to provide one for those incapable of providing their own (typically through the corruption of reasoned thought caused by religious indoctrination).

    We need to convey our healthy values to those without, and nihilism is not a suitable replacement. Society shares many common values, irrespective of god. We should be lauding these, not throwing our hands up in the air and wailing that nothing matters now we know there is no god. My life has more (self-guided) purpose than that.

    If things are that bleak, concentrate on your next meal or when you may get laid. Suicide puts you in the “not fit to survive” category. A homeless drunk has more motivation than a nihilist and true nihilists are as common as Shakers.

    I’ve juggled with this quandary for years. If we take away peoples’ gods, we must provide something of similar or better value to put in their emotional void. To claim that nothing can take gods place is really an argument FOR god. Further, it is an argument that says we exist, therefore god must exist also. Nihilism is a theistic concept, not an atheist concept. Worship the food chain if you really need something, its just pretty shallow.

    A free ride doesn’t mean you should get off the roller-coaster.

  178. #178 Anton Mates
    February 16, 2009

    Eric,

    Second, Plantinga doesn’t ‘waffle’ here; he’s quite clear that a distinction between knowledge and beliefs (or whatever) that may not be true but that cause beneficial behavior is central to his argument. Evolution ultimately acts on our behavior, not on the semiotic content (or lack thereof, depending on your conception of ‘beliefs’ given naturalism) of our beliefs.

    Belief influences behavior in more ways than Plantinga recognizes, however.

    “The tiger intends to eat me” and “The tiger would like to play a game of tag” do not result in the same behavior, even if they result in the same conscious choice of action. In the second case, I am running away. In the first case, I am running away terrified. The emotion of fear has physical consequences–I breathe faster, my pupils dilate, blood shifts to my muscles. This makes me a better runner. Natural selection notices this.

    Likewise, “Tigers like to eat people” and “If a species’ common English name has a prime number of letters, a prime number of vowels and a prime number of consonants, it likes to eat people,” do not result in the same behavior. Both beliefs result in me running away from tigers, but the second belief requires me to sit down and do some quick calculations first. Natural selection notices this.

    Plantinga’s suggestions for false-but-adaptive beliefs focus purely on correct choice of action, ignoring both emotional content and parsimony. And parsimony’s the big one. Without it, we have no reason to believe that the systematically false beliefs proposed by Plantinga (for instance, that every object is a transformed witch) are false.

    His point is that given these possibilities — even the fourth one — the conditional probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low or inscrutable, and that we therefore have a defeater for naturalism (since it is itself a product of our cognitive faculties).

    If it’s merely inscrutable, the argument fails anyway. The conditional probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable given the theory of relativity is inscrutable, but that doesn’t defeat the theory of relativity. We could have other grounds for believing that our cognitive faculties are reliable–grounds drawn from neurology or psychology or first principles or non-propositional beliefs.

    And, of course, one can easily argue for a similar inscrutability given theism. What is the probability that an arbitrary deity would choose to grant us reliable cognitive faculties? Plantinga seems to think it follows from us being “created in God’s image,” but that’s an ad hoc assumption with no clear consequences. God clearly didn’t make us enough like him to attain 100% cognitive reliability…why should we believe that he granted us 50% or above?

  179. #179 MartinM
    February 16, 2009

    “The tiger intends to eat me” and “The tiger would like to play a game of tag” do not result in the same behavior, even if they result in the same conscious choice of action. In the second case, I am running away. In the first case, I am running away terrified. The emotion of fear has physical consequences–I breathe faster, my pupils dilate, blood shifts to my muscles. This makes me a better runner. Natural selection notices this.

    Well, you could always modify it to “The tiger would like to engage in an in-depth discussion of Libertarianism,” which would produce much the same results.

    I’m more interested in what happens if you possess no tiger-related information whatsoever. In that case, you have to use what you do know to choose a course of action. It’s one thing to claim that false beliefs can be adaptive; it’s quite another to claim that the thought processes which lead to false beliefs are just as likely to produce adaptive ones as those which lead to true beliefs.

  180. #180 Kel
    February 16, 2009

    Well, you could always modify it to “The tiger would like to engage in an in-depth discussion of Libertarianism,” which would produce much the same results.

    that’s more horrifying than thinking the tiger would eat me.

  181. #181 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Glad I didn’t pay much attention to philosophy in college.

    Perhaps, then, you’re not an authority on what philosophers have proved, or on free will. You as much have free will as you have a soul; both are notions that science, not philosophy, have shown to be superfluous. In fact, while souls are, like god, merely unnecessary, the scientific evidence actually contradicts free will.

  182. #182 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    “The tiger intends to eat me” and “The tiger would like to play a game of tag” do not result in the same behavior, even if they result in the same conscious choice of action. In the second case, I am running away. In the first case, I am running away terrified. The emotion of fear has physical consequences–I breathe faster, my pupils dilate, blood shifts to my muscles. This makes me a better runner.

    I would be terrified of being mauled by a tiger regardless of what I believe about the tiger’s intent or motivation for pursuing me. The only reason to run faster in the “eat” case is that the threat is greater. This is a rather ordinary way of our beliefs affecting our behavior.

    Plantinga’s suggestions for false-but-adaptive beliefs focus purely on correct choice of action, ignoring both emotional content and parsimony.

    More generally, “choice of action” treats all actions with the same description as being equivalent, e.g., “run from tiger” or, say, “eat raw fish”, which could apply to either Eskimos with no other food source or people choosing to dine at a Japanese restaurant. One needs to attend to the entire context of the action.

  183. #183 Anton Mates
    February 16, 2009

    MartinM,

    Well, you could always modify it to “The tiger would like to engage in an in-depth discussion of Libertarianism,” which would produce much the same results.

    You know by saying that you’re summoning them, right? Especially if you say it five times while looking in the mirror.

    It’s one thing to claim that false beliefs can be adaptive; it’s quite another to claim that the thought processes which lead to false beliefs are just as likely to produce adaptive ones as those which lead to true beliefs.

    Plantinga attempts to support the latter claim by proposing thought processes that could systematically produce false-yet-adaptive beliefs. For instance, that every object is actually a transformed witch with all the properties of that object. A person with this sort of cognitive machinery believes that witch-koalas eat witch-leaves from witch-eucalyptus trees, and so on.

    Of course, this runs bang into the parsimony problem. Whatever “witch” actually means in this context–which is not terribly clear–you’re wasting time and calories thinking about it. Natural selection will tend to favor the person who doesn’t spend their time cogitating about undetectable ubiquitous witches.

  184. #184 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Peter and Raven,

    Just because a religious person calls you a nihilist doesn’t mean its a bad thing that you have to run from. If you’re an atheist but not a philosophical nihilist, it just means you have some indefensible faith based beliefs that you haven’t purged yourself of yet. You still have your values, at least the ones you want to retain. You may be no more likelty to kill than your cocker spaniel. Your life, and loved ones may be more precious to you than ever. You have no “true” social obligations, just the ones you choose to acknowledge or that others presume to impose upon you. You get to decide your own “purpose”, unless someone decides to use you for cannon fodder or some other purpose of their own.

    The interesting part is what kind of social interaction or cooperation you want to have with others or mass society. Given a choice of mass societies, which you would choose. With an opportunity to work for change in a mass society, what direction you might want to change it. It is interesting because human nature is complex and didn’t evolve in mass societies, yet seems vulnerable to mass psychology. There have been mass societies where hatred and racism and genocide were socially acceptable and not considered negative. So it may not be safe to assume that humanist values which seem so reasonable in western culture, will reliably continue to be predominate. Societies based on terror can unfortunately also be effective and stable. Consider Stalin’s defeat of Hitler despite wanton disregard for the lives of troops and factory workers, motivating them by terror and appeals to defense of the homeland. Western culture “good” does not necessarily defeat western culture “evil”.

  185. #185 Anton Mates
    February 16, 2009

    nothing’s sacred

    I would be terrified of being mauled by a tiger regardless of what I believe about the tiger’s intent or motivation for pursuing me.

    I doubt it. If you believed that the tiger was an inoffensive herbivore, for instance, you might not expect it to pursue you at all. And if it did approach you, you might think it was simply trying to get to that tasty coconut palm behind you before the T-Rex finished all the nuts off.

    Or, to use another Plantinga example, you want to be eaten, but you don’t think this tiger will eat you, so you run off looking for another. Again, you probably wouldn’t be terrified in this scenario, at least unless some auxiliary beliefs are involved. (Exactly why finding another tiger involves running directly away from this one is unclear, but hey! Thought experiment.)

    More generally, “choice of action” treats all actions with the same description as being equivalent, e.g., “run from tiger” or, say, “eat raw fish”, which could apply to either Eskimos with no other food source or people choosing to dine at a Japanese restaurant. One needs to attend to the entire context of the action.

    At core, I suspect, Plantinga refuses to do this because he can’t really countenance the possibility of physicalist explanations of mind. As far as he’s concerned, your beliefs don’t live in a world with Japanese restaurants and igloos, they live in some higher plane where they occasionally hand down messages to your body via the miracle of free will. Physical context just can’t matter that much.

  186. #186 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    It’s a much stronger argument, imho, than most people think. Perhaps this is because — as the quote above shows — many people simply don’t understand the argument, and therefore present criticisms that completely miss the point.

    Plantinga’s argument is weak because it doesn’t even come close to proving what it purports to; see
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_argument_against_naturalism#Responses_by_critics

    notably,

    even though Plantinga may be correct that natural selection only “cares” about behaviour and not about the truth or falsity of beliefs, it still does not follow that true and false beliefs are equally likely to evolve.

    and

    while in a Cartesian mind beliefs can be identified with no reference to the environmental factors that caused them, in a pragmatic mind they are identifiable only with reference to those factors

    I would go beyond that to say that there really are no beliefs, only behavioral dispositions (including, of course, dispositions toward making statements that we interpret as indicative of having a certain belief). The standard naturalist explanations apply to the formation of these behavioral dispositions that are (fallibly, but generally reliably) registered to the actual facts about the world because they are a consequence of those facts.

    Unless Plantinga has rock solid refutations of these objections, his argument fails, but again, what he offers doesn’t even come close.

  187. #187 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Peter McKellar,

    “Stalin and Mao committed their crimes BECAUSE they were (nihilistic) atheists.”

    If they were “nihilistic” atheists, then they were truly duplicitious, because they expected every on around them to be TRUE BELIEVERS, in nationalism, in the marxist eschatology of historical determinism, in a mass consensus that the middle and upper class were exploitive demons, in equality. These guys were about as far from nihilists as you can get unless they were faking it for the personal power they enjoyed. They were idealogues, which is another kind of indefensible religious belief, just without God.

    “”So, you believe in NOTHING??. I was stunned and mumbled “I believe in science” (rather than my normal response: people).”

    You probably should have two or three canned answers prepared to this one. You believe in plenty of things that you have evidence for their existance and probably value some of them. Perhaps you have an appreciation for the uniqueness and irreplacableness of this transitory existence, not just yours but that of others also. Of course, you don’t believe in nothing, there would be no point in that, it would be a waste of time.

  188. #188 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    I doubt it. If you believed that the tiger was an inoffensive herbivore, for instance, you might not expect it to pursue you at all.

    There’s a miscommunication here. I wasn’t saying that I would generally be terrified of tigers; I was specifically referring to the tiger wanting to play tag with me, which I expect to likely result in my being mauled — or at least swiped at with a sharp claw. Running is probably a poor strategy in that case, but that was the stated “choice of action”.

    your beliefs don’t live in a world with Japanese restaurants and igloos, they live in some higher plane where they occasionally hand down messages to your body via the miracle of free will. Physical context just can’t matter that much.

    Quite; see the comment above about Cartesian vs. pragmatic minds.

  189. #189 windy
    February 16, 2009

    Evolution ultimately acts on our behavior, not on the semiotic content (or lack thereof, depending on your conception of ‘beliefs’ given naturalism) of our beliefs.

    No. Selection acts proximately on behavior. That’s not by itself evolution. For that you have to have hereditary tendencies to behave in a certain way, either instinctively or through learning. Plantinga conveniently skips over this in his examples: he should actually be talking about a genetic variant that makes you more likely to acquire the belief that everything is witches, or to want to be eaten by a tiger, or whatever. He can’t just assume that these are as likely to be adaptive as the alternatives.

  190. #190 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Natural selection will tend to favor the person who doesn’t spend their time cogitating about undetectable ubiquitous witches.

    Unless it serves some social function — look at all the energy and resources that humanity has poured into god-related activities.

    In any case, I don’t think it’s a matter of natural selection but rather that there’s simply no reason to expect such witch-belief to arise. Here is where the junkyard 747 argument really does apply — of course there is some chance that such a systematic belief system might arise, but the chances are incredibly remote. This is a sort of parsimony, but it’s operational, not conceptual — we can expect evolution to produce cognitive systems that have relatively simple, rather than complex, relationships with reality because they are easier to reach in the design space. Where they aren’t reliable, it’s because of “excess” simplicity, resulting in heuristic shortcuts. This explains the cognitive errors we know about, such as change blindness, confirmation bias, notoriously unreliable evaluation of conditional probability, etc.

  191. #191 Anton Mates
    February 16, 2009

    There’s a miscommunication here. I wasn’t saying that I would generally be terrified of tigers; I was specifically referring to the tiger wanting to play tag with me, which I expect to likely result in my being mauled — or at least swiped at with a sharp claw.

    Ah, I understand.

  192. #192 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    No. Selection acts proximately on behavior. That’s not by itself evolution.

    Aye. What happened to the RM in RM+NS? RM acts on the genome, and the genome builds the brain that has that semiotic content. The notion that the functioning of the brain is “ultimately” invisible to evolution is ridiculous — the phenotype is not a black box!

  193. #193 Drosera
    February 16, 2009

    #125:

    For example, Hallucigenia is considerably less hallucinogenic than Gould thought in 1988, because its “seven tentacles” are its fourteen legs, the “head” is a product of squashing (the Burgess fossils aren’t preserved in 3D, after all), front is back, up is down, and what Gould still thought were odd stiff legs are the fourteen spines on the back.

    The faulty interpretation of Hallucigenia is due to Simon Conway Morris, not to Gould. So perhaps SCM is not even the ?go-to guy for Cambrian paleontology? (PZ Meyers). I still occasionally scold myself for buying his book The Crucible of Creation, as if the title should not have been sufficient warning.

  194. #194 Peter Ashby
    February 16, 2009

    I agree that Crucible of Creation is a good book, the loopiness is largely concentrated at the end and can safely be ignored.

  195. #195 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    His point is that given these possibilities — even the fourth one — the conditional probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low or inscrutable, and that we therefore have a defeater for naturalism (since it is itself a product of our cognitive faculties).

    How is this inference possibly valid? Even if our cognitive faculties are so unreliable that some of us have no correct beliefs and the rest have only one, that one might be naturalism.

  196. #196 Anton Mates
    February 16, 2009
    Natural selection will tend to favor the person who doesn’t spend their time cogitating about undetectable ubiquitous witches.

    Unless it serves some social function — look at all the energy and resources that humanity has poured into god-related activities.

    True, but in that case, the witch-beliefs are not actually resulting in identical behavior even in the “choice of action” sense; our guy is starting up the First Church of Omnipresent Witchery, whereas someone without witch-beliefs would not do so. So it doesn’t work as an example for Plantinga even by his definition of behavior.

    To help him out and make sure these beliefs have no empirical consequences, we have to layer on extra beliefs like “I must never speak of my beliefs about witches to anybody.” This violates parsimony even more severely and further distorts the person’s observable behavior, since now he’s curled up in the corner sweating and obsessing about all these damn witches he can’t ever tell us about.

    In any case, I don’t think it’s a matter of natural selection but rather that there’s simply no reason to expect such witch-belief to arise. Here is where the junkyard 747 argument really does apply — of course there is some chance that such a systematic belief system might arise, but the chances are incredibly remote. This is a sort of parsimony, but it’s operational, not conceptual — we can expect evolution to produce cognitive systems that have relatively simple, rather than complex, relationships with reality because they are easier to reach in the design space.

    That’s quite plausible as well, certainly. It takes a weirder, bigger, more unlikely brain to come up with systematic yet undetectable errors.

  197. #197 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    I like Pinker’s point that we have some quite generalised, evolved, cognitive abilities involving things like concepts of number, causation and so on, which are adaptive, and it’s not only humans that have them, and then the really advanced stuff like science is based on thousands of years of culture and decades of training which leverages those basic evolved capacities to achieve something rather more reliable. One obvious point here is that we would expect an evolved cognitive capacity to have some biases which have favoured survival and practicality over total realism- which is in fact what we find in the human mind. Bacon called them the Idols of the Tribe- he’s the first scientific figure I’ve encountered to specifically point out that there are typical cognitive errors associated with _being human_ and that we need to watch out for them.

  198. #198 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    @195: that’s a good point. Even if you conceded that only a deity could (though why should it?) give us reliable cognition, this does not suffice to show that this has in fact happened; and if the theist responds by arguing that, if we didn’t have reliable cognition, we would notice because the world wouldn’t behave the way we thought it would, then they’ve just conceded the mechanism by which nature can lead to reliable (enough) cognition.

  199. #199 Peter McKellar
    February 16, 2009

    Africangenesis,

    I am not running from nihilism, I just don’t see it as holding much. It is for the same reason you mentioned at the end of post #187 – believing in nothing makes no sense. That was the first time I encountered that particular accusation, and yes I will need to get a few pre-canned responses. I normally encounter: “Why don’t you believe in god?”

    Ultimately I see nihilism as denying our hardware. Our emotions are wired into the brain. Sceptical discipline and developing control mechanisms are important and lead to our values and morals. That the system doesn’t always work is a justification for hope that we can improve them and make them work better.

    My references to Stalin and Mao were not as presented in your response. I will take blame for not explaining it properly. I did not say that they were (nihilistic) atheists, just that the two concepts will be linked to these despots. If non-atheists begin to view nihilism and atheism as the same thing, then the next charge will be that atheists just want to burn the world and commit mass murder. It doesn’t even matter that nihilism doesn’t mean what will be claimed. The very word “nihilism” projects negative connotations. Using the word “sceptic” has similar derogatory overtones, though more widespread usage has been changing this. Maybe its just marketing :)

    Without going all touchy-feely I think we need to be constantly projecting the positive aspects of an atheist future.

    I’m going to turn in but will revisit the thread tomorrow.

  200. #200 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    @198: If we have unreliable cognition, then all bets are off as to what we would notice. Plantinga’s whole argument is predicated on the notion that natural selection + naturalism can lead to cognition that is epistemically unreliable but nonetheless fitness-wise reliable, in which case a failure to notice that we’re systematically wrong about the world is neither here nor there — we still get along just fine. If Plantinga is right, then we might be systematically deluded — that’s regrettable perhaps, but it has no metaphysical implications. We might prefer a world with god + true beliefs over no god + false beliefs, but that has no bearing on what actually is. In order to argue against naturalism, Plantinga must show that (given natural selection + naturalism) naturalism is necessarily among our false beliefs, but there’s no basis for such an inference.

  201. #201 Lycosid
    February 16, 2009

    PZ, I’m glad you mentioned Dionysus’ wake; Dr. Morris’ writing seems to be a product of it.

  202. #202 raven
    February 16, 2009

    Glad I didn’t pay much attention to philosophy in college.

    Perhaps, then, you’re not an authority on what philosophers have proved, or on free will. You as much have free will as you have a soul; both are notions that science, not philosophy, have shown to be superfluous. In fact, while souls are, like god, merely unnecessary, the scientific evidence actually contradicts free will.

    Well, you have made my point. You are a souless, enslaved, nonconscious meat robot by your own admission. Or maybe a software human imitation program.

    So why should I or anyone care what a mindless programmed robot or computer program thinks or says.

    I don’t. The no free will, no conscious minds, and no objective reality crowd are every bit as much crackpots as any cold fusion, UFO, or Rapture Monkey fanatic.

    My time is valuable to me. No point in being compelled by lack of free will to nonconsciously not think about an objective reality which doesn’t exist.

    You as much have free will as you have a soul; both are notions that science, not philosophy, have shown to be superfluous.

    This is just wrong. Science says nothing one way or the other about souls or god(s). This is outside the scope of methodological naturalism. No one has been able to prove the existence of gods or souls. Or disprove them either.

  203. #203 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    @200: yes, I agree. I think I over-compressed my post 198. I meant that Plantinga is stuck with a dilemma. If there’s no way to know if we have epistemically reliable cognition or only fitness-reliable cognition, then there’s no reason to suppose that we -do_ have epistemically reliable cognition, and hence Plantinga can’t infer a deity, as you point out. But if on the other hand there is some way to know that we have epistemically reliable cognition- if such a thing has _any observable consequence_- then naturalism can get there.

  204. #204 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    http://video.rationalresponders.com/video/Refutation-of-Alvin-Plantingas

    Basically, if evolution+naturalism is true, then we cannot rationally accept Plantinga’s argument, because it implies that our cognitive faculties are unreliable. So, in order to rationally accept Plantinga’s argument, we must assume that evolution+naturalism is false, which is the conclusion of his argument. Therefore, it’s circular.

    BTW, my #195 is incorrect; by a defeater of naturalism, Plantinga means that the belief in naturalism is irrational, not that naturalism is false.

  205. #205 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    @202: if you are a robot then you don’t have a choice what to care about, do you? :)

    Dennett argues rather interestingly in “Freedom evolves” that the historical/psychological concept of free will is orthogonal to the question of physical determinism or randomness, that it makes sense to ascribe all the features describable as “free will” even to an entity in a fully deterministic universe, unless of course “free will” means “magic powers”.

  206. #206 Thoughtful Guy
    February 16, 2009

    You post some of the most interesting links Dr. Myers. The internet would be boring if not for all the banter over evolution. In the end, its the diversity of ideas surrounding evolution that make it an interesting topic for discussion.

  207. #207 Facilis
    February 16, 2009

    If there’s no way to know if we have epistemically reliable cognition or only fitness-reliable cognition, then there’s no reason to suppose that we -do_ have epistemically reliable cognition, and hence Plantinga can’t infer a deity, as you point out.

    Plantinga’ point is that if we do have epistemically unreliable cognition , that provides an epistemic defeater for all beliefs arising from such cognition. That includes your belief in naturalism. It is not an argument for God , but it says that if naturalism is rue , you have a strong epistemic defeater for it.

  208. #208 Facilis
    February 16, 2009

    To date, he has present no evidence, but only made inane allegations, to the contrary.

    No matter hw much you deny it Redhead I have provided he evidence of your ability to reason.

  209. #209 Facilis
    February 16, 2009

    @Kel

    You are the first theist I’ve come across in the 20 years or so I’ve been using logic to say that logic is a precondition of your worldview. I didn’t steal anything, you are being intellectually dishonest by saying that one must account an object in order to use it.

    Imagine your friend driving a car and denying the existence of engineers and of machinery. Or someone breathing while denying the existence of air. You would say in either case both people are being idiots.
    But that is what you are doing here Kel. You are reasoning right now and denying the existence of the one who gave you the ability to reason Kel. Its sad.

    And Kel please provide you demonsration of how a aterialist universe (made of matter ,chance and time) can produce absolute invariant ,universal ,immaterial laws of logic and reason.

  210. #210 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    Since Plantinga provides no particular reason to suppose that naturally-evolved cognition is particularly unreliable, his entire argument is moot. To have a point, he’d have to show that the capacity for rational thought is systematically disadvantageous. Good luck with that.

  211. #211 Steve_C
    February 16, 2009

    All you have provided facilis is evidence that you’re clueless. You can’t reason and are unfamiliar with logic.

  212. #212 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Facilis, imagine yourself not posting here. We can, and we would find that very refreshing, very logical, and very reasonable. Your continued posts will be the paradigm of illogic, unreason, and laughter at the total package.

  213. #213 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    Since we are (a) reasoning and (b) not denying the existence of reason, there is no problem. Now imagine someone opening their Christmas presents but denying the existence of Santa Claus. How can this possibly be?

  214. #214 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    February 16, 2009

    No matter hw much you deny it Redhead I have provided he evidence of your ability to reason.

    No you have not. You have asserted that logic has to come from a god, in particular your god, but you have not established this as fact. You have been shown that this is a ridiculous stance to take many times yet you keep repeating the above idea without any merit what so ever.

  215. #215 Facilis
    February 16, 2009

    @Kel

    As I showed in other threads, you can empirically demonstrate the laws of logic.

    Pleasee demonstrate them then if they can be demonstrate. Please avoid begging the question in favour of
    1)The logic and reason with which you interpret the empirical data
    2)The reliability of your senses with which you observed this empirical data.

    they are an inherent property of the universe and thus require no further explanation.

    You implied before that you were a materialist. Please explain to me how a materialist universe (made up of matter, time ,chance and physical processes) can produce absolute immaterial ,invariant, objective laws of logic and reason.

  216. #216 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Facilis, your are the one with the burden of proof, which you trying to avoid. Your avoidance tells us everything we need to know. You are not a truthteller, or you wouldn’t be avoiding a formal proof of your assertions.

  217. #217 Stu
    February 16, 2009

    Please explain to me how a materialist universe (made up of matter, time ,chance and physical processes) can produce absolute immaterial ,invariant, objective laws of logic and reason.

    Well, for starters, because it did?

    Or, to put it another way, where does it require a sky-fairy to do so?

  218. #218 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Yeah, I noticed that too, and that has been used to argue against TANG (that particular aspect, anyway). But I do think that it is sound to argue that, “science assumes that insofar as an event has an explanation at all, it has a scientific explanation ? one that does not presuppose God.”
    [?]
    That’s enough to render the argument that science presupposes God as unsound, in my opinion.

    Agreed.

    reliable knowledge must be true

    For what value of “true”?

    It has to be reasonably congruent with reality, but that’s all, and I’m using my distinction of “reality” and “truth” here. I think that’s a distinction that Plantinga, surprisingly, doesn’t consistently make.

    See also comments 178, 183, 189, 195, 197 and (perhaps most devastatingly) 185, 198, and 200.

  219. #219 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    A universe of physical processes has regularities. Any intelligent entity in that universe will obtain an advantage from being able to understand the regularities. This capacity is called “reason”.

  220. #220 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    Oh, and also Plantinga is guilty of a false dichotomy: Apparently cognition must either be totally reliable or totally unreliable. He doesn’t allow for the possibility of evolved rationality being imperfect, but still good enough to handle some rational arguments. Indeed our rationality _is_ imperfect (we’re rather bad at probability estimates and we personalise unknown causes) but good enough to handle some rational arguments (for example, we can recognise Plantinga’s argument for the steaming heap of apologetics that they are).

  221. #221 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Need I mention that we’ve buried a succession of gods?

    Starting with this event, where Saint Boniface demonstrated the nonexistence of Donar by outright scientific means.

    (?Never mind his logical fallacy of believing there are exactly two sides to every question, of course.)

  222. #222 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 16, 2009

    It is not an argument for God , but it says that if naturalism is rue , you have a strong epistemic defeater for it.

    But who cares if naturalism is true?

    Science isn’t about truth. It’s merely about reality. Truth is inaccessible anyway, so why bother. :-|

    But that is what you are doing here[,] Kel. You are reasoning right now and denying the existence of the one who gave you the ability to reason[,] Kel. Its sad.

    I can demonstrate the existence of engineers and mechanics. I can demonstrate the existence of air. I cannot demonstrate the existence of anyone who’s supposed to have given anyone the ability to reason.

    Can you?

    Note that by “demonstrate” I do not mean “simply assert”. An important feature of science is to take nothing, especially one’s own expectations of what seems logical, for granted.

    See also comment 213, which rightly mocks your tacit preconception.

    a [m]aterialist universe (made of matter ,chance and time)

    Made of energy*, spacetime, and the laws of physics.

    Chance belongs to the laws of physics. Reason is not a thing, it’s an activity of brains.

    * Of which matter is but one form. Already forgot E = mc2? Shame.

    steaming heap of apologetics

    B-)

  223. #223 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    The no free will, no conscious minds, and no objective reality crowd

    These are three very different claims; I only made the first one.

    are every bit as much crackpots as any cold fusion, UFO, or Rapture Monkey fanatic.

    Sure, the entire neuroscience community are crackpots on your say-so.

  224. #224 heliobates
    February 16, 2009

    @ Facilis

    And Kel please provide you demonsration of how a aterialist universe (made of matter ,chance and time) can produce absolute invariant ,universal ,immaterial laws of logic and reason.

    I’ll do it. Once you demonstrate that these laws exist in an absolute, invariant, universal, immaterial form, by providing access to their full explication (full formal treatment).

    If these laws exist, how do you know? If you’re using them to reason, how do you know you’re using them correctly?

    You continue to insist that these laws exist and you (and SyeT) continue to flee from any request to provide access to them.

    You haven’t proven anything by asserting the Impossibility of the Contrary. Without access to your sytem’s axioms and rules for inference no one can agree that anything you say is “proof” of anything.

    Imagine your friend driving a car and denying the existence of engineers and of machinery. Or someone breathing while denying the existence of air. You would say in either case both people are being idiots.

    How did Aristotle “steal” the intellectual capital of a god of whose existence he was unaware, and from a religious movement that wouldn’t exist for another 400 years?

    If the UULL are discernable because of god’s common grace, how can anyone “steal” what is given freely?

    Logic: u r not even rong.

  225. #225 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    This is just wrong. Science says nothing one way or the other about souls or god(s). This is outside the scope of methodological naturalism. No one has been able to prove the existence of gods or souls. Or disprove them either.

    Yeesh, what a git. I said that science shows that they are explanatorily superfluous, not that it can prove or disprove them. Only free will is contra the evidence (and by free will I mean the “libertarian” sort that ignoramuses like you believe in, not Dennett’s compatibilist notion).

  226. #226 Knockgoats
    February 16, 2009

    My statements about western philosophy are pretty safe, if someone had successfully constructed objective standards of morality, meaning and beauty that could withstand criticism, then we would have heard about it. My assessment can be proven wrong by producing just such work. – africangenesis

    Your claim appeared to be that western philosophy had reached the conclusion that this could not be done – not just that it had not been done yet. No mathematician has yet constructed a proof of the P /= NP hypothesis; that does not imply that mathematics has concluded that it is impossible to do so. In mathematics, of course, it is sometimes possible to prove that something cannot be proved, or constructed, in a way which is accepted by all competent mathematicians; whether something equivalent can ever be done in philosophy (outside logic), I doubt – because one is always at liberty to question the initial assumptions on which such an impossibility proof must be based.

  227. #227 Eric
    February 16, 2009

    “Which is just arrant nonsense. Generally speaking, a cognitive system that did not produce reliable beliefs would die out.”

    When Plantinga speaks about the reliability of our cognitive faculties, he’s (obviously) talking about whether they produce true beliefs, not about whether they produce ‘reliable beliefs.’ Beliefs can be reliable, adaptive, and false.

    “Plantinga’s suggestions for false-but-adaptive beliefs focus purely on correct choice of action, ignoring both emotional content and parsimony.”

    This is easily remedied: imagine a possible world in which intelligent beings fear losing a game of tag with a tiger as much as they fear being eaten alive. With a little imagination and effort, one could come up with sundry examples that are simple, consistent and beneficial. Note, however, that Plantinga argues that even if the conditional probability that adaptive beliefs are true is high, the overall conditional probability (given the additional belief/behavior possibilities of epiphenomenalism, semantic epiphenomenalism, and maladaptivity) that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low (or inscrutable).

    “If it’s merely inscrutable, the argument fails anyway. The conditional probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable given the theory of relativity is inscrutable, but that doesn’t defeat the theory of relativity. We could have other grounds for believing that our cognitive faculties are reliable–grounds drawn from neurology or psychology or first principles or non-propositional beliefs.”

    I think you’re confusing inscrutability with relevance. There’s a difference between claiming that the probability of x given y is inscrutable because x and y have no relevant relationship (as with your relativity example), and the probability of x given y is inscrutable because of their relevant relationship (as with Plantinga’s argument).

    “Whatever “witch” actually means in this context–which is not terribly clear–you’re wasting time and calories thinking about it. Natural selection will tend to favor the person who doesn’t spend their time cogitating about undetectable ubiquitous witches.”

    I don’t think this is obvious at all. You’d certainly have to produce a much stronger argument to support it than to claim that it wastes time and calories. To put this in perspective, think about all the ‘time and calories’ that have been ‘wasted’ by extremely effective (in terms of survival) long-term societies (both past, e.g. Egypt, and present). They have thought in terms much, much more complicated than ‘everything is a witch': they have tried to understand the somewhat fickle divine purpose in multifarious phenomena.

    “In order to argue against naturalism, Plantinga must show that (given natural selection + naturalism) naturalism is necessarily among our false beliefs, but there’s no basis for such an inference.”

    No he doesn’t: undercutting defeaters can do the job almost as well as rebutting defeaters. If he shows that naturalism and evolution give us good grounds for doubting the reliability of our cognitive faculties (i.e. that p(r)/n&e < .5) — which he claims to have done — then he’s provided a defeater for the belief that naturalism is true. This would be an instance of an undercutting defeater, not of a rebutting defeater.

    “I meant that Plantinga is stuck with a dilemma. If there’s no way to know if we have epistemically reliable cognition or only fitness-reliable cognition, then there’s no reason to suppose that we -do_ have epistemically reliable cognition, and hence Plantinga can’t infer a deity, as you point out.”

    No, you’ve missed the point of the argument. Plantinga isn’t out to show us that our cognitive facultuies are unreliable simpliciter; he’s arguing that given naturalism and evolution, they’re unreliable. Think of his argument as akin to a reductio (though more like a reductio ad absurdum than a reductio ad impossible).

    “Basically, if evolution+naturalism is true, then we cannot rationally accept Plantinga’s argument, because it implies that our cognitive faculties are unreliable. So, in order to rationally accept Plantinga’s argument, we must assume that evolution+naturalism is false, which is the conclusion of his argument. Therefore, it’s circular.”

    Circular? If this were even a remotely plausible criticism, it would rule reductios (and all related strategies) entirely.

  228. #228 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Plantinga’ point is that if we do have epistemically unreliable cognition , that provides an epistemic defeater for all beliefs arising from such cognition.

    That’s not much of a point; it’s the rest of the argument that matters.

    That includes your belief in naturalism. It is not an argument for God , but it says that if naturalism is rue , you have a strong epistemic defeater for it.

    Plantinga argues — fallaciously — that if naturalism + evolution, then there’s a defeater for naturalism. Even if his argument from N&E weren’t fallacious, this argument fails in a couple of ways. First, there’s a defeater for N only under the assumption that N is true — but it is always rational to accept a given; if N&E is true, then N is true, regardless of how faulty our cognition is. Second, since unreliable cognition is a defeater for all beliefs, it’s a defeater for accepting Plantinga’s argument. By Plantinga’s logic, if N&E, then the claim that there’s a defeater for N is defeated, and so we have no reason to reject N&E.

  229. #229 Eric
    February 16, 2009

    Let me repost a section of 227 that I screwed up on:

    “In order to argue against naturalism, Plantinga must show that (given natural selection + naturalism) naturalism is necessarily among our false beliefs, but there’s no basis for such an inference.”

    No he doesn’t: undercutting defeaters can do the job almost as well as rebutting defeaters. If he shows that naturalism and evolution give us good grounds for doubting the reliability of our cognitive faculties (i.e. that p(r)/n&e < .5), then he’s provided us with an undercutting defeater (not a rebutting defeater) for naturalism, since it is itself a product of our cognitive faculties. He also argues that you can’t attempt to counter his argument merely by bringing in ‘independent evidence’ without begging the question (for obvious reasons).

  230. #230 Tulse
    February 16, 2009

    if we do have epistemically unreliable cognition , that provides an epistemic defeater for all beliefs arising from such cognition. That includes your belief in naturalism.

    That also would include your belief in God, no? Nothing’s sacred’s post already pointed out how Plantinga’s argument is self-defeating. Disregarding its details, Plantinga’s argument is a claim against the reliability of reason, but that would include Plantinga’s own argument. The only way out is to assume that reason is reliable, presumably because of God, but that’s simply asserting the conclusion that Plantinga is trying to reach.

  231. #231 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    @Eric: firstly, Plantinga only proves that given naturalism, our faculties _might_ be unreliable, not that they _have_ to be, so the existence of rationality is not a reductio against naturalism. Secondly, he gives no reason to suppose that the rationality we have is the perfect kind he thinks God provides. Thirdly, he gives no reason to suppose that a god _would_ provide reliable rationality even if it existed and were capable of it.

    As I said, it’s apologetics, not logic; the argument has no force unless you start out believing in it. Contrast with, say, a rpoof of the irrationality of root 2, which is compelling even if you don’t like the answer.

  232. #232 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Circular? If this were even a remotely plausible criticism, it would rule reductios (and all related strategies) entirely.

    I fail to discern a refutation of the given argument. In fact, you are radically and obviously incorrect — it doesn’t rule out all reductios, only those rare ones like Plantinga’s that depend on undermining our very cognitive powers, thereby undermining the very argument itself. Plantinga argues that if, N&E is true, then N is defeated, but, if he is correct, then if N&E is true, “if N&E is true then N is defeated” is also defeated, and thus we are left without any reason to reject N.

  233. #233 Eric
    February 16, 2009

    Damn, it did it again! Let me try it this way (the notation I’ve been using must be leaving out the rest of my paragraph after n&e):

    “In order to argue against naturalism, Plantinga must show that (given natural selection + naturalism) naturalism is necessarily among our false beliefs, but there’s no basis for such an inference.”

    No he doesn’t: undercutting defeaters can do the job almost as well as rebutting defeaters. If he shows that naturalism and evolution give us good grounds for doubting the reliability of our cognitive faculties (i.e. that p(r)/n&e is less than .5), then he’s provided an undercutting defeater — not a rebutting defeater — for any product of those faculties, such as the belief that naturalism is true. It’s a pretty straightforward attempt to show that naturalism if self defeating by arguing that if naturalism is true, we don’t have good grounds for believing the truth of the proposition, ‘Naturalism is true.’

  234. #234 raven
    February 16, 2009

    Nothing sacred the meat robot:

    Yeesh, what a git. I said that science shows that they are explanatorily superfluous, not that it can prove or disprove them. Only free will is contra the evidence (and by free will I mean the “libertarian” sort that ignoramuses like you believe in, not Dennett’s compatibilist notion).

    That is just what your program says when it runs out of options. It also isn’t a very good program, must be Chinese knockoff of something from Microsoft.

    Check your settings for “libertarian detected” and look for a software patch. Oh that’s right. You have no free will so you are stuck running an old version and can’t upgrade.

    I think most libertarians are kooks. They may have had a point once and there might be something worthwhile in their ideas, but most of them have become tiresome and boring fanatics whose babble is disconnected from reality.

  235. #235 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Plantinga only proves that given naturalism, our faculties _might_ be unreliable

    It’s tautological that they might be unreliable. Plantinga purports to prove that they probably are unreliable, but as discussed at length above by Anton, windy, et. al., he fails to do so.

  236. #236 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    I think most libertarians are kooks.

    The “libertarian” of “libertarian free will” does not refer to the political ideology, you ridiculous ignoramus, so proud not to have studied subjects on which you now stupidly pontificate.

  237. #237 Marshall Nelson
    February 16, 2009


    “I recommend an article in this week’s Nature by Shubin, Tabin, and Carroll that argues for an important concept of deep homology. We do see similar structures, such as limbs in insects and invertebrates, that are not at all homologous on a morphological level, but when we examine their molecular genetics, we find similar substrates for both.”

    The abstract:

    “Do new anatomical structures arise de novo, or do they evolve from pre-existing structures? Advances in developmental genetics, palaeontology and evolutionary developmental biology have recently shed light on the origins of some of the structures that most intrigued Charles Darwin, including animal eyes, tetrapod limbs and giant beetle horns. In each case, structures arose by the modification of pre-existing genetic regulatory circuits established in early metazoans. The deep homology of generative processes and cell-type specification mechanisms in animal development has provided the foundation for the independent evolution of a great variety of structures.”

    Ah ! An infinite regress of pre-existing structures.

    So ir is “turtles all the way down”

  238. #238 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    Plantinga’s “unreliable” is undefined anyway. He needs to show that basic reasoning abilities are systematically maladaptive, which he can’t. None of the stuff about beliefs regarding tigers is even relevant.

    Anyway, since an omnipotent deity can fool our reason in whatever fashion it pleases, the existence of such a being undercuts all rational arguments including any which purport to prove the existence of such a being :)

  239. #239 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Eric: I noted back @204 that my claim that you’re responding to was mistaken, due to an undercut/rebut confusion that you’re pointing out. But, “straightforward” or not, his argument is fallacious.

  240. #240 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    @237: you seem to have confused an infinite regress of constant complexity (turtles) with a finite regress to decreasing complexity (the very complex regulatory networks patterning limbs are derived from simpler regulatory networks). The former is a fallacy, the latter is an explanation.

  241. #241 SC, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Yup. Something eerily familiar on this thread, too.

  242. #242 Tulse
    February 16, 2009

    since an omnipotent deity can fool our reason in whatever fashion it pleases, the existence of such a being undercuts all rational arguments including any which purport to prove the existence of such a being :)

    So God could make us believe He doesn’t exist?

  243. #243 Eric
    February 16, 2009

    nothing’s sacred: “Basically, if evolution+naturalism is true, then we cannot rationally accept Plantinga’s argument, because it implies that our cognitive faculties are unreliable. So, in order to rationally accept Plantinga’s argument, we must assume that evolution+naturalism is false, which is the conclusion of his argument. Therefore, it’s circular.”

    Eric: “Circular? If this were even a remotely plausible criticism, it would rule reductios (and all related strategies) entirely.

    nothing’s sacred: “I fail to discern a refutation of the given argument. In fact, you are radically and obviously incorrect — it doesn’t rule out all reductios, only those rare ones like Plantinga’s that depend on undermining our very cognitive powers, thereby undermining the very argument itself. Plantinga argues that if, N&E is true, then N is defeated, but, if he is correct, then if N&E is true, “if N&E is true then N is defeated” is also defeated, and thus we are left without any reason to reject N.”

    Read this again and apply any substition instance to your argument. The counterexamples should be plentiful enough to demonstrate how ‘radically and obviously’ incorrect you are here.

    “Plantinga argues that if, N&E is true, then N is defeated,”

    (1) x&y –> ~x

    “but, if he is correct, then if N&E is true, “if N&E is true then N is defeated” is also defeated,”

    (2) (1) –> (x&y –> ~(1))

    “thus we are left without any reason to reject N.”

    .
    (3).. ~ (1)

  244. #244 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Peter McKellar#199,

    “If non-atheists begin to view nihilism and atheism as the same thing, then the next charge will be that atheists just want to burn the world and commit mass murder. It doesn’t even matter that nihilism doesn’t mean what will be claimed. The very word “nihilism” projects negative connotations.”

    Mao and Stalin are far more associated with “atheistic marxism”, than “nihilistic atheism”. I’m not suggesting that you self identify as a nihilist, that is a subtlety reserved for more academic discussions, with a couple of centuries of western philosophy backing you up. In my point about it not making sense to believe in nothing, the emphasis I intended was on the “believe” as an activity that might required an expendature of energy. “Believing” in nothing is actually “not believing”.

    But it is here that what you say raises concerns:

    “Ultimately I see nihilism as denying our hardware. Our emotions are wired into the brain. Sceptical discipline and developing control mechanisms are important and lead to our values and morals. That the system doesn’t always work is a justification for hope that we can improve them and make them work better.”

    Our emotions are an unreliable source of moral information. We are not as domesticated as certain breeds of our dogs. Our domestication is cultural, with hatred, racism, and intolerance dominating some western cultures as recently as two generations ago, and still dominating some other cultures today with very little selective pressure to have bred it out. Emotional partisanship with mocking dehumanizing personal attacks and vitriol is still part of our culture today, and so accepted that some even openly argue that it is “justified”.

  245. #245 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    That also would include your belief in God, no?

    Only if naturalism + evolution is correct, not if his belief in God is correct.

    Nothing’s sacred’s post already pointed out how Plantinga’s argument is self-defeating. Disregarding its details, Plantinga’s argument is a claim against the reliability of reason, but that would include Plantinga’s own argument.

    Right, but only under Plantinga’s reductio N&E premise.

    The only way out is to assume that reason is reliable, presumably because of God, but that’s simply asserting the conclusion that Plantinga is trying to reach.

    If Plantinga were right, then the reliability of reason would imply God, not be because of God. Presumably he assumes it because the alternative is distasteful. The rest of us can infer it from the parsimony of adaptive evolution.

  246. #246 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Stephen Wells,

    “the really advanced stuff like science is based on thousands of years of culture and decades of training which leverages those basic evolved capacities to achieve something rather more reliable.”

    This part tends to get overstated. Most of our technology arguable only leverages two or three centuries of advances. Just because we have thousands of years of culture behind us doesn’t mean that those cultures should be credited with what we have. Most of those years may well have been blocking or stifling us. Archimedes did not have to stand on thousands of shoulders and had a disciplined intelligence that impresses us across the intervening millenia. The reasons our advances in science and technology had to wait all these centuries to actually put our reasonably good human minds to good use, are cultural and are not a story of continual progress building upon earlier shoulders, but of decadence, darkness and delay. So little progress was made that as recently as two centuries ago a “renaisance man” was able to know basically everything known in technology and science, and a century later could still make contributions in disparate disciplines. We only have a century of less of an inheritance so great that focused specialization is required for advances.

  247. #247 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Please explain to me how a materialist universe (made up of matter, time ,chance and physical processes) can produce absolute immaterial ,invariant, objective laws of logic and reason.

    Analytical truths aren’t the results of specific universes — they hold across all possible worlds. The reason they hold is because they are formulaic symbol transformations, not claims. e.g.,
    P
    P implies Q
    therefore Q

    isn’t true because of some supernatural magic, it simply formalizes “implies”.

  248. #248 Sastra
    February 16, 2009

    Stephen Wells #238 wrote:

    Plantinga’s “unreliable” is undefined anyway. He needs to show that basic reasoning abilities are systematically maladaptive, which he can’t. None of the stuff about beliefs regarding tigers is even relevant.

    I think this is an important point. Plantinga seems to be sliding between different meanings of the term “unreliable” — less than perfectly reliable, and completely unreliable. If evolution entails that our reasoning ability is less than optimally reliable, then that’s a point in evolution’s favor. Perfection would be difficult to account for, under naturalism.

    Which is probably why Plantinga doesn’t like naturalism, since there would be no way to account for a perfectly reliable sensus divinus to allow a person to know, with 100% accuracy, that they’re not making a mistake about sensing God.

    I also have another problem. From what I’ve seen, Plantinga’s examples of false but adaptive behaviors all involve high level human-type imagination skills, where sophisticated social motivations are grossly misattributed. But reasoning ability itself didn’t start out with the sorts of high level abilities which would be needed to interpret tigers as crafty game players. Stephen Pinker once defined intelligence as “the ability to achieve goals despite obstacles.” The basic ability of animals to reason began with mindless stimulus-response activity and single-celled organisms. Human ancestors wouldn’t have evolved elaborate and unnecessarily complex ‘false beliefs,’ and we would not have inherited them.

  249. #249 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Read this again and apply any substition instance to your argument. The counterexamples should be plentiful enough to demonstrate how ‘radically and obviously’ incorrect you are here.

    Again, I discern no refutation. “If you try it you’ll see I’m right” is not an argument.

    “but, if he is correct, then if N&E is true, “if N&E is true then N is defeated” is also defeated,”

    (2) (1) –> (x&y –> ~(1))

    Ahem. I repeatedly made the point unreliable cognition implies that all claims are untrustworthy, not just Platinga’s target N, and that’s the point of the above, which you copied without any attempt to comprehend. So that should be

    (x&y –> ForAll P ~P) –> (x&y –> ~(1))

    which is obviously true. We’re in really big trouble if a tautology refutes all reductio arguments, but of course nothing of the sort is the case. A simple proof has been given that Plantinga’s argument is circular, and it doesn’t generalize to all reductio’s.

  250. #250 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Plantinga seems to be sliding between different meanings of the term “unreliable” — less than perfectly reliable, and completely unreliable.

    That particular complaint is not valid. The claim, per Eric, is “the conditional probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low or inscrutable”. “low” is not “completely”, nor is it merely less than perfect. Plantinga’s position is that it isn’t rational to trust claims derived from such cognitive faculties.

  251. #251 Anri
    February 16, 2009

    Greetings!

    Am I seeing something very odd about the concept of invariant laws of logic existing with an omnipotent god?

    Surely, if the laws of logic are invariant, god cannot change them and is therefore less than all-powerful.

    Alternately, if god is all-powerful, he can change logical laws, and they are therefore not of necessity invariant.

    Or, to put it another way, unchangable things cannot be changed, and things that can be changed (including changing from a state of non-existance to existance) cannot be accurately said to be unchangable.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks!

  252. #252 Sastra
    February 16, 2009

    nothing’s sacred #250 wrote:

    The claim, per Eric, is “the conditional probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low or inscrutable”. “low” is not “completely”, nor is it merely less than perfect. Plantinga’s position is that it isn’t rational to trust claims derived from such cognitive faculties.

    Does Plantinga make a distinction between the unchecked reasoning of any particular person, musing from his armchair, and the systematic cross-checking of conclusions by multiple persons measured against the environment? If he lumps them all together, under the indistinct term “our cognitive faculties,” I suspect he’s being too sloppy there.

  253. #253 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    “thus we are left without any reason to reject N.”

    (3).. ~ (1)

    Where did you get that? I didn’t say anything about (1) being refuted. Here’s the argument:

    Plantinga’s reductio argument is

    (P) (N&E –> ForAll X ~X –> ~N –> ~(N&E))

    but, if N&E and N&E -> ForAll X ~X, then ~(R is sound). So R can only be sound if ~(N&E), which is what it purports to prove. There’s no reason to accept the conclusion of a circular argument.

  254. #254 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Does Plantinga make a distinction between the unchecked reasoning of any particular person, musing from his armchair, and the systematic cross-checking of conclusions by multiple persons measured against the environment? If he lumps them all together, under the indistinct term “our cognitive faculties,” I suspect he’s being too sloppy there.

    Oh, he’s at least that sloppy. His claim that the conditional probability of our cognitive faculties are reliable is low or inscrutable is absurd in light of how evolution actually builds cognitive abilities, gradually building up interpreters that translate sensed signals into adaptive behavior. Plantinga’s argument hinges on the ridiculous notion that any cognitive mechanism, no matter how ad hoc, that produces the same adaptive behavior will do. But as miller said @49, “it seems much more likely that evolution would simply give us rationality rather than give us a long list of beliefs which are wrong but adaptive”. And, on your point, “we are aware of many human cognitive biases, and scientific methods are designed specifically to navigate around them”.

  255. #255 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    @253 Oops, I changed labels mid edit; make that

    Plantinga’s reductio argument is

    (P) (N&E –> ForAll X ~X –> ~N –> ~(N&E))

    but, if N&E and N&E -> ForAll X ~X, then ~(P is sound). So P can only be sound if ~(N&E), which is what it purports to prove. There’s no reason to accept the conclusion of a circular argument.

  256. #256 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 16, 2009

    When Plantinga speaks about the reliability of our cognitive faculties, he’s (obviously) talking about whether they produce true beliefs, not about whether they produce ‘reliable beliefs.’ Beliefs can be reliable, adaptive, and false.

    Eh? what reason is there to suppose that any of our beliefs are congruent with truth (as opposed to just reality)? To be reliable and adaptive, beliefs have to be reasonably congruent with reality, but truth is simply a different matter.

    Ah ! An infinite regress of pre-existing structures.

    So ir is “turtles all the way down”

    You have overlooked gene duplication and mutation, Charlie the Banned. I give you FtsZ on the one hand and both ?- and ?-tubulin on the other; or, more to the point, the families of families of Hox and para-Hox genes, all of which can be traced back to a single gene.

    Does Plantinga make a distinction between the unchecked reasoning of any particular person, musing from his armchair, and the systematic cross-checking of conclusions by multiple persons measured against the environment?

    I’m tempted to say “no, he’s a philosopher, he doesn’t know the environment exists”?

  257. #257 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Alternately, if god is all-powerful, he can change logical laws, and they are therefore not of necessity invariant.

    Sure, but why is that a problem? They would be invariant at god’s whim, not necessarily so. Although it’s darn hard to see how, say, P = P could be false sometimes, since that’s simply what “=” means.

  258. #258 windy
    February 16, 2009

    “Plantinga’s suggestions for false-but-adaptive beliefs focus purely on correct choice of action, ignoring both emotional content and parsimony.”
    This is easily remedied: imagine a possible world in which intelligent beings fear losing a game of tag with a tiger as much as they fear being eaten alive. With a little imagination and effort, one could come up with sundry examples that are simple, consistent and beneficial.

    No, damn it. It’s not enough to come up with a mere logical possibility when you are talking about how evolution affects beliefs. Evolution does not actually produce beliefs. It produces beings that may be disposed to believe in a certain way given certain environmental inputs. So you would need to show how a disposition to acquire the belief that one should play tag with tigers but be terrified of losing (whew!) would be as likely to be selected for as the alternatives!

    “Whatever “witch” actually means in this context–which is not terribly clear–you’re wasting time and calories thinking about it. Natural selection will tend to favor the person who doesn’t spend their time cogitating about undetectable ubiquitous witches.”
    I don’t think this is obvious at all. You’d certainly have to produce a much stronger argument to support it than to claim that it wastes time and calories. To put this in perspective, think about all the ‘time and calories’ that have been ‘wasted’ by extremely effective (in terms of survival) long-term societies (both past, e.g. Egypt, and present). They have thought in terms much, much more complicated than ‘everything is a witch': they have tried to understand the somewhat fickle divine purpose in multifarious phenomena.

    Wait a minute – now you are saying that many people do have the kind of unreliable ‘everything is a witch’ cognitive faculties that Plantinga says would be expected under naturalism, but not under theism??

    It’s very unlikely that ancient Egyptians were genetically on the average more predisposed to believe in their particular complex belief system than we, or any other people, are. So if Plantinga would agree with your claim that animism, polytheism etc. is more or less the equivalent of ‘everything is a witch’, he is in big trouble because we do have the same evolved cognitive faculties as the ancient Egyptians. He appears to have shown that his own cognitive faculties are unreliable, regardless of whether theism or naturalism is true.

    Raised under the right circumstances all or at least most people could come to believe in animism, the ancient Egyptian religion, Christianity, and even naturalism. These beliefs come from learning rather than evolution. It seems that Plantinga actually has a defeater for learning – if our beliefs are learned, and a person could be taught a false belief like ‘everything is witches’ just as well as a true one, we have no reason to trust our beliefs…

  259. #259 marcus
    February 16, 2009

    What do you mean “… we buried Thor”? Not the Thunder God! Damn you aThorists. You guys are cruising for a smiting with his mighty Hammer. Scared yet? You just wait.

  260. #260 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Although it’s darn hard to see how, say, P = P could be false sometimes, since that’s simply what “=” means.

    Or rather, how “=” is defined. 1 + 1 = 2 is an eternal, invariant truth, because that’s how “1”, “+”, “=”, and “2” are defined; it’s by definition true.

  261. #261 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    The “beliefs” are really mental models and maps. They aren’t selected for, but the model and map building mechanism is what is being selected for, and apparently part of the mechanism that may also be under selective pressure is map and model correcting mechanism in response to detected errors, and more detailed local information.

    The beliefs in the tiger example are more at the level of meta beliefs that are being used for planning and motivation. In order for the model making mechanism to persist in not correcting the tiger scenerio belief it has to be getting a lot of model making correct, e.g., the planning of runs through the forest, and instaneous temporary refinement of the models to place the feet in places that won’t caused a turned ankle, the studying of tiger behavior so as to avoid getting eaten by a below standard tiger. Sensations of hunger, and pain, observations of people carelessly getting eaten by the wrong tigers all are inputs that might cause corrections in the models and maps. The complexity of the high level belief about the tiger motivations is obfuscation about trustworthyness that already must be robust and self correcting at a lower level to sustain the high level belief. Plus that the wanting to be eaten belief, would have to overcome a strong selectively reinforced heritage on ancesters that were successful, because they at lower levels avoided being eaten, and were selected to find being close to being eaten painful (wounded), and at higher levels found increased their fitness by being able to learn from others being eaten and to protect their offspring from being eaten.

  262. #262 Stephen Wells
    February 16, 2009

    True; Plantinga is effectively asking us to believe that the _inability_ to think rationally and learn is superior, in survival terms, to the ability to think rationally and learn. This gets worse the more you look at it.

  263. #263 Alan Kellogg
    February 16, 2009

    nothing’s sacred,

    Describe free will. I’d like to know where you’re coming from.

  264. #264 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Or rather, how “=” is defined.

    We generally define things according to what they mean. I actually went back and forth on whether to write “defined” or “means”, but decided that “means” is the deeper concept. OTOH, @247, I went for “formalizes”, which I think is more precise for these operations which, when you get down to it, are just syntactic rewrite rules.

  265. #265 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Plantinga may have missed an opportunity. “Free will” might be the illusion, the incorrect model, the belief that the modern human brain is susceptible to, which although false, has survival value. The concept doesn’t have to get the web of causality that actually is responsible for the illusion correct, in order for free will to work. Holding other actors “responsible” for their actions rather than excusing them as mere pawns of causality appears to result in better functioning societies. Individuals that act as if they are reponsible, and as if forethought can make a difference also make greater contributions to their own well-being and the well-being of others. What does modern scientific “understanding” of the “will” tell us about “responsibility”? Treating others as if they are responsible changes behavior and has benefits. Perhaps the modern understanding has us holding individuals responsible with less conviction however.

  266. #266 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Describe free will. I’d like to know where you’re coming from.

    See
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/
    particularly

    3.3 Do We Have Free Will?

    A recent trend is to suppose that agent causation accounts capture, as well as possible, our prereflective idea of responsible, free action. But the failure of philosophers to work the account out in a fully satisfactory and intelligible form reveals that the very idea of free will (and so of responsibility) is incoherent (Strawson 1986) or at least inconsistent with a world very much like our own (Pereboom 2001). Smilansky (2000) takes a more complicated position, on which there are two ?levels? on which we may assess freedom, ?compatibilist? and ?ultimate?. On the ultimate level of evaluation, free will is indeed incoherent. (Strawson, Pereboom, and Smilansky all provide concise defenses of their positions in Kane 2002.)

    The will has also recently become a target of empirical study in neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Benjamin Libet (2002) conducted experiments designed to determine the timing of conscious willings or decisions to act in relation to brain activity associated with the physical initiation of behavior. Interpretation of the results is highly controversial. Libet himself concludes that the studies provide strong evidence that actions are already underway shortly before the agent wills to do it. As a result, we do not consciously initiate our actions, though he suggests that we might nonetheless retain the ability to veto actions that are initiated by unconscious psychological structures. Wegner (2002) masses a much range of studies (including those of Libet) to argue that the notion that human actions are ever initiated by their own conscious willings is simply a deeply-entrenched illusion and proceeds to offer an hypothesis concerning the reason this illusion is generated within our cognitive systems. O’Connor (forthcoming) argues that the data adduced by Libet and Wegner wholly fail to support their revisionary conclusions.

    Wegner’s book is available at http://www.amazon.com/Illusion-Conscious-Will-Bradford-Books/dp/0262731622

  267. #267 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Holding other actors “responsible” for their actions rather than excusing them as mere pawns of causality

    False dichotomy. We no more need to excuse people than we do tigers, which we are happy to train, cage, shoot, or otherwise control their behavior.

    What does modern scientific “understanding” of the “will” tell us about “responsibility”?

    See naturalism.org

  268. #268 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 16, 2009

    We generally define things according to what they mean.

    The symbol “=” doesn’t have any inherent meaning. It only has a meaning by convention, and that’s my point.

  269. #269 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 16, 2009

    We no more need to excuse people than we do tigers, which we are happy to train, cage, shoot, or otherwise control their behavior.

    But? I don’t want any of that done to me. The easiest way to convince people they shouldn’t do any of that to me is to convince them they shouldn’t do it to each other, means, any of (at least) their conspecifics, except in immediate self-defense.

    See? Human rights and morality in general out of my own long-term self-interest. And that’s even ignoring innate (inherited, evolved) empathy.

  270. #270 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    The symbol “=” doesn’t have any inherent meaning.

    Nor does the symbol “symbol” nor any other symbol.

    It only has a meaning by convention, and that’s my point.

    When I wrote “that’s what it means”, I of course meant “that’s what it means by convention” — how else could meanings be associated with symbols other than by convention?

  271. #271 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    But? I don’t want any of that done to me.

    You’re missing the point and the context, which is that we do those things to people as a consequence of holding them morally responsible for bad acts, but we do them to tigers despite not holding them morally responsible for bad acts, so holding people morally responsible isn’t required in order not to “excuse” bad behavior.

    The easiest way to convince people they shouldn’t do any of that to me

    The easiest way is to not commit the sorts of hostile acts that bring on that sort of response from society.

  272. #272 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    When I wrote “that’s what it means”, I of course meant “that’s what it means by convention”

    To put it another way, “X means Y” is synonymous with “by X we mean Y” — “means” is always in the context of the set of conventions held among the relevant community of communicators.

  273. #273 jose
    February 16, 2009

    Jesus is only 2,000 years old. Egyptian god Ra lived for 3,000 years. Christians tend to think the other gods were not good enough to survive and that’s why Jesus is the true one, but there are a lot of gods who did survive for a lot more years than theirs.

  274. #274 Tulse
    February 16, 2009

    If Plantinga were right, then the reliability of reason would imply God

    But the central problem is that we use reason to assess its reliability. There is no independent verification of reason’s reliability outside of reason itself. If our reason is faulty, but without any consequences that expose it to selection pressures, then there is no way to determine that.

  275. #275 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Nothing’s Sacred,

    “The easiest way is to not commit the sorts of hostile acts that bring on that sort of response from society.”

    Society’s responses are automatically justified, or perhaps are acts of nature? Something is apparently “sacred”, or at least unquestioned in your all too brief dismissal of that point.

  276. #276 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    “If our reason is faulty, but without any consequences that expose it to selection pressures, then there is no way to determine that.”

    There is no reason we couldn’t contruct automatic theorem provers or mental disciplines from the bottom up that would expose the faults. It has to have some consequences, even if orthogonal to fitness benefit or detriment, or it simply doesn’t exist.

  277. #277 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    But the central problem is that we use reason to assess its reliability.

    You seem to have lost the context; I was only talking about the structure of his argument, not its validity.

  278. #278 nothing's sacred
    February 16, 2009

    Society’s responses are automatically justified

    Did I say anything about justification? No, obviously I didn’t.

    or perhaps are acts of nature?

    Yes, of course they are acts of nature — nature is all there is. And this whole discussion was in the context of my denial of free will; society and its actions are mechanical.

    Something is apparently “sacred”, or at least unquestioned in your all too brief dismissal of that point.

    Any such appearance is due to your severe misunderstanding. In particular, you cannot infer from the fact that I hold a view — even if you find it radically wrong — that it is unquestioned.

    After reading numerous of your other posts, I concluded that it was best to avoid an interaction; I think I’ll go back to that.

  279. #279 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Nothing’s Sacred,

    “In particular, you cannot infer from the fact that I hold a view — even if you find it radically wrong — that it is unquestioned.”

    Perhaps I should have said you stated it without qualification, or sympathy for those who might commit unpopular acts, such as acting jewish or homosexual.

    “After reading numerous of your other posts, I concluded that it was best to avoid an interaction; I think I’ll go back to that.”

    Hmmm.

  280. #280 SC, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Holding other actors “responsible” for their actions rather than excusing them as mere pawns of causality appears to result in better functioning societies. Individuals that act as if they are reponsible, and as if forethought can make a difference also make greater contributions to their own well-being and the well-being of others. What does modern scientific “understanding” of the “will” tell us about “responsibility”? Treating others as if they are responsible changes behavior and has benefits.

    Bullshit. People being able to be responsible – in the sense of making effective decisions about their own future, political and economic – is what’s beneficial.

    What modern scientific understanding teaches us is that our human capacity is developed socially, that our moral capacity has evolved in us as social animals, and that we share responsibility for one another and for our planet.

    The practice of responsibility, and of freedom, is indeed the basis of both. But it must be real – based in participatory democracy in all of the important realms of life rather than “treating” people as though they were “responsible” or “holding” them “responsible” (who is to do that, anyway – our corporate overlords? “We’re stealing your water to sell it back to you and we’ll kill you for resisting – now accept your responsibility!”). This was recognized by the great philosopher of human freedom and responsibility, Camus, who was very (and increasingly) close to anarchism.

    If you think you’re going to rope Western philosophy to your propertarian agenda you’ve got another think coming, Africangenesis.

  281. #281 SC, OM
    February 16, 2009

    After reading numerous of your other posts, I concluded that it was best to avoid an interaction; I think I’ll go back to that.

    A wise decision, and one I have made several times. Curse you, SIWOTI Syndrome!

    PS, Africangenesis: Your remarks on the recent thread about “left anarchists” have me a bit concerned for your mental health.

  282. #282 Sven DiMilo
    February 16, 2009

    It’s a known fact that Hollywood is controlled by left anarchists. Also the international banking system. Plus, left anarchists blatantly stole the 2008 election and faked the 1969 moon landing. They are also responsible for both rap “music” and American Idol. Left anarchists pick their teeth in public and put ketchup on pork chops. They put mercury in vaccines and also Hitler was one.
    I rest my case.

  283. #283 BJ
    February 16, 2009

    “…when physicists speak of not only a strange universe, but one even stranger than we can possibly imagine…”

    Ouch! He can’t even get that right. The quote is, “My suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” and it was penned by a biologist, J. B. S. Haldane.

  284. #284 Freidenker
    February 16, 2009

    Conway Morris? Hell! His name was mentioned like a gazillion times in all of Dawkins’ oldest (Selfish Gene, Extended Phenotype, etc.) – I never thought he’d be such a confused and muddled scholar :-S

    It takes all sorts, I guess.
    What is it with paleontologists being weirdos? Gould was kinda eccentric, too (although not like CM)

  285. #285 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    SC,OM,

    “What modern scientific understanding teaches us is that our human capacity is developed socially, that our moral capacity has evolved in us as social animals, and that we share responsibility for one another and for our planet”

    Since you are appealling to the authority of science, I will have to ask for citations, especially that one about shared “responsibility for one another and for our planet”

    “rather than “treating” people as though they were “responsible” or “holding” them “responsible” (who is to do that, anyway – our corporate overlords?”

    Much of this is social democracy in action. We hold people responsible in the sense of trusting them or trading with them, or marrying them or not based on past behavior and reputation. We may leave an abusive or cheating spouse, despite the fact that they were mere pawns in causality. We choose the quality product at the better price, or refuse to purchase from the socially irreponsible manufacturer. Doesn’t that “corporate overlord” stuff get a bit strained? At least you have a choice of overlords, rather than the single overlord of a centrally planned economy, where you are a supplicant rather than a customer.

  286. #286 Menyambal
    February 16, 2009

    Here’s a scenario for the evolution of awareness and reason, for no particular reason.

    We evolved from critters with some powers of observation–those that didn’t observe, died. We evolved from critters with some powers of analysis, learning, understanding and prediction. Our ancestors were capable of watching a lion, and deciding whether or not it was going to try to eat them, or if it was just cruising by, safely out of range. Heck, antelopes do that, even now.

    Good observation and analysis was vital, improvements were advantageous. The better one could understand the behavior of another animal, the better one survived.

    My suggestion is that at some point in our evolution, some of our developing observation ability switched inward, into watching ourselves, so to speak.

    Instead of watching a lion and wondering why he did what he did, we started watching ourselves, and wondering what the heck was going on.

    As an possible example of what I mean, my current situation; “I’m not writing this very well, as I am currently upset with my daughter, and waiting for her to get off the phone.”

    Self-observation is self-awareness, and leads to consciousness, a conscience, delusions of gods, perhaps, and some confidence in our powers of reason. If we watch ourselves to see if we are making mistakes, we are using a million years worth of savanna skills.

    We can consider if our thoughts are correct, the same way that we would consider if our actions would be correct. Consciousness and reason can easily arise in evolution.

  287. #287 Anton Mates
    February 16, 2009

    Eric,

    “Plantinga’s suggestions for false-but-adaptive beliefs focus purely on correct choice of action, ignoring both emotional content and parsimony.”

    This is easily remedied: imagine a possible world in which intelligent beings fear losing a game of tag with a tiger as much as they fear being eaten alive.

    Nope, doesn’t work. Why would intelligent beings fear losing a game of tag with a tiger, even though they would not fear losing a game of tag with another human, and even though they do not believe that the tiger intends to hurt them? To explain this, you have to add additional beliefs about why tiger-tag in particular is a terrifying game that must be won at all costs. This is anything but simple.

    Think about it–why don’t we believe that tigers mean us no harm and only wish to play a game of tag which nonetheless always seems to end up with us being killed and eaten? Why does science pay no attention to this possibility? Because it’s not as parsimonious as the competing hypothesis that tigers do want to eat us.

    And natural selection values simplicity. A human who has to stand there and mentally thumb through his Manual of Emotional Significance of Games Played With Wildlife before running away is tiger chow. A human who thinks “Crap, it’s a tiger, it wants to eat me, run” has a far better chance of survival.

    With a little imagination and effort, one could come up with sundry examples that are simple, consistent and beneficial.

    I’m aware that Plantinga believes this. But so far, neither you nor he has come up with such an example.

    Note, however, that Plantinga argues that even if the conditional probability that adaptive beliefs are true is high, the overall conditional probability (given the additional belief/behavior possibilities of epiphenomenalism, semantic epiphenomenalism, and maladaptivity) that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low (or inscrutable).

    Then it’s naturalism plus epiphenomenalism which furnishes a defeater for itself. By Plantinga’s own argument, we should simply reject epiphenomenalism.

    (There is no need for naturalists to make a separate argument against maladaptivity, of course, since we are already arguing in favor of adaptivity.)

    I think you’re confusing inscrutability with relevance. There’s a difference between claiming that the probability of x given y is inscrutable because x and y have no relevant relationship (as with your relativity example), and the probability of x given y is inscrutable because of their relevant relationship (as with Plantinga’s argument).

    I fail to see the difference. How can y be “relevant” to x if the probability of x given y is inscrutable? Relevance means that if you know y, you know something about x.

    “Whatever “witch” actually means in this context–which is not terribly clear–you’re wasting time and calories thinking about it. Natural selection will tend to favor the person who doesn’t spend their time cogitating about undetectable ubiquitous witches.”

    I don’t think this is obvious at all. You’d certainly have to produce a much stronger argument to support it than to claim that it wastes time and calories. To put this in perspective, think about all the ‘time and calories’ that have been ‘wasted’ by extremely effective (in terms of survival) long-term societies (both past, e.g. Egypt, and present). They have thought in terms much, much more complicated than ‘everything is a witch': they have tried to understand the somewhat fickle divine purpose in multifarious phenomena.

    I don’t think you understand Plantinga’s intent here. He’s not talking about a witch-belief that could lead to religious worship of witches, or theological discussions of the nature of witches, or anything like that. He’s talking about a witch-belief which somehow leads to exactly the same behavior as exhibited by someone who doesn’t believe in witches. This is a person who believes in witches, yet never says a word about them to anyone else, never offers sacrifices or prayers to them, never modifies his behavior in any way to try to influence them. He just thinks about them, silently.

    That is a waste of time and calories by any standard.

    Real-world religions have nothing to do with this issue; the ancient Egyptians acted very differently than they would have acted if they were Christians, or atheists, or Buddhists. The history of religion offers no support for Plantinga’s attempt to decouple the content of a belief from its impact on behavior.

  288. #288 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 16, 2009

    What is it with paleontologists being weirdos?

    Statistics, please :-)

  289. #289 SC, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Since you are appealling to the authority of science, I will have to ask for citations, especially that one about shared “responsibility for one another and for our planet”

    I’m not appealing to anything. You asked:

    What does modern scientific “understanding” of the “will” tell us about “responsibility”?

    My answer is that, first, there is no such thing as “the will” (or the person, for that matter) abstracted from human social development and interaction. My appreciation of our shared responsibility for one another and the planet is based on both the understanding that our lives are not a gift from nor given importance or purpose by any god, nor can we justify them in terms of abstract projects or visions (as you do), so we are responsible for the effects of our actions, individual or collective. This is the moral weight of responsibility that this recognition brings us (or condemns us to). We share this small, interconnected planet and science is showing us that (and how) our actions increasingly have effects not only on those in our immediate vicinity but on other living things around the world, including those not yet born.

    It makes no sense to speak of responsibility at all if we don’t understand this as a responsibility to or for someone or something. What modern philosophy has done is to show us the bankruptcy of abstract understandings of responsibility and thrown us back on our material responsibility. We can’t simply deny the social and material conditions of this mutual responsibility. We can only seek to act and organize ourselves in ways that are the most ethical in terms of fulfilling it. No, science doesn’t provide us with moral systems, but it can help us to understand the conditions in which we’re developing our shared morality, the moral capacities we have evolved and how to encourage their development, and the consequences of our individual and collective acts.

    Much of this is social democracy in action. We hold people responsible in the sense of trusting them or trading with them, or marrying them or not based on past behavior and reputation. We may leave an abusive or cheating spouse, despite the fact that they were mere pawns in causality. We choose the quality product at the better price, or refuse to purchase from the socially irreponsible manufacturer.

    Much of what is social democracy in action? I see nothing – not one word – about democracy in practice in that little spiel. You don’t have a clue about democracy. That’s just more of your fantasyland nonsense in which real social and material constraints (of power, of resources) just don’t exist in shaping people’s lives. You’re frankly nuts. And your sort of abstract and future-oriented ideology is what philosophers like Camus revealed as bankrupt and dangerous in precisely the same way as Christianity or Stalinism.

    Doesn’t that “corporate overlord” stuff get a bit strained?

    Only for those like you who have no sense of the reality of global corporate power.

    At least you have a choice of overlords,

    Even if that were true, which it most definitely is NOT, it would be a pitiful sort of human “freedom.” Furthermore, your promotion of it (or failure to oppose it) stems from a set of abstract beliefs that in the contemporary world should go the way of all other religions, “spiritual” and political.

    rather than the single overlord of a centrally planned economy, where you are a supplicant rather than a customer.

    See, this is where I worry about your mental state. You have no idea what an anarchist (or social democrat, or liberal) is, and no matter how many times it’s been explained to you you cling to your delusions.

  290. #290 Polyester Mather D. D.
    February 16, 2009

    PZ before concluding that the poor pooch?s brain is unscrewed, consider that our Cambrian go-to guy may just be an Omega Pointing spaniel.

    The meme Morris inarticulates- universal consciousness as evolution?s teleological goal , is the brainchild of another paleontologist, the late Tielhard de Chardin , who seems well on his way to whatever you call the opposite of canonization for thinking more than a Jesuit ought about how gods could evolve .

    De Chardin?s Omega Point seems to have more lives than Schrodinger?s cat , having recently been re-invented by Ray Kurzweil, who styles the prospect of evolutionary feedback in artificial intelligence the ?singularity? . I don?t see that happening any more than you do , but the homology is interesting it is remarkable how many forks on the metaphysical road map can lead to the same dead ends

  291. #291 John Scanlon FCD
    February 16, 2009

    Glen D wrote:

    PZ shouldn’t have just compared Morris to creationists, rather to the appalling Egnor himself. Someone needs to slip both of them some acid, so they can see how consciousness is affected by “material” substances.

    But it was Simon Conway Morris himself who named Hallucigenia because it reminded him of something he saw on a trip – or maybe that a friend of his saw on a trip. Maybe saw it a lot of times, which could explain why his friend can hardly string two sentences together these days.

  292. #292 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    SC,OM,

    Those are beautiful feelings you have of taking reponsibility for your actions. I notice you speak of “we” and “shared” responsibilities. Who has agreed to share responsibility with you?

    I’m not sure what abstract beliefs I have that you are referring to. I just want to try to live in a less totalitarian way, much like Camus. However, your “responsibility” and “shared responsibility”, “collective responsibility”, the interconnectedness of the world and eschatology of evolving morality are pretty abstract and appear to be wishful imaginings or perhaps the beliefs of an ideology. That is why I ask about the “we”, because I worry that this might be a virulent ideology that seeks to impose itself upon others.

    The social democracy I was referring to in my post was the democracy of the market place where consumers individually and voluntarily determine which corporate and private servant enterprises florish or fail.

  293. #293 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 16, 2009

    My two cents (and they are an unpleasant pair of coppers):

    Having read ‘Life’s Solution’, I have to agree that in terms of style, Conway-Morris’s prose leaves much to be desired. He seems at times to write for an audience of precisely one, routinely confusing density of sentence structure with erudition. The following parody exaggerates but a little:

    To wit, a certain grandeur in some of the book’s baroque opacities melds an aside, however witty, with that which follows, which does not seem to.

    So, I can’t blame PZ for faulting C-W there. If anything, the Guardian article is in greater need of an editor.

    As for C-W playing coy about his beliefs, this is also true. Time and time again I attempted to get some sense of how C-W might’ve felt that the results that he ascribes to convergence might’ve been ‘built-in’ to the whole system. Other than brief riffs repudiating the obvious inadequacies of garden-variety creationism, C-W says nothing you can hang your hat on. Allusions to cosmic ‘fine-tuning’ arguments which could be interpreted as pointing towards a certain general outcome are ‘balanced’ by C-W’s repeated assertion that the initial conditions favoring the Metazoa are (unlike the prokaryotes) unlikely.

    Finally, I find it more than a little odd that any Darwinian would believe that the case for God’s demise is made one way or another by the observation that Darwin got some pretty important things right. The cutting remarks at the expense of folk like Richard Dawkins, which are also found in ‘Life’s Solution’, largely detract from whatever scientific merit C-W’s line of argument might otherwise carry. They rather smell of some mixture of professional envy and personal animus, as with C-W’s running feud with the late Stephen Jay Gould.

    To summarize, I find C-W’s prose style obnoxious and even deliberately obsfucatory, his rhetoric unhelpful and his general approach unsatisfying. PZ’s critique is a marvel of clarity and brutal honesty by comparison. But there is a point to be made here: namely, we simply don’t know enough about the probability of evolving systems to draw any particular conclusions about Gould’s ‘tape of life’. There is simply not enough evidence to conclude, as Gould did, that if we rerun that tape, we would get a completely different outcome. Nor is there enough evidence to go with C-W, who would have us believe that life, even intelligent life after our own fashion, is reasonably convergent given the appropriate initial conditions, albeit rare. With apologies to Huxley (who I am pretty sure would agree with me), I will remain agnostic on such propositions at the present time.

  294. #294 Bobber
    February 16, 2009

    Drive by interjection for Africangenesis:

    Who has agreed to share responsibility with you?

    You have. And everyone else who lives as part of a society. If you don’t want to share responsibility, you need to move to an island completely cut off from every other human being. Otherwise, if you live in the clubhouse, you abide by the clubhouse rules, and pay the club dues.

    Carry on.

  295. #295 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Scott Hatfield,OM,

    “There is simply not enough evidence to conclude, as Gould did, that if we rerun that tape, we would get a completely different outcome.”

    Huh? Random mutation and selective happenstance assure a different outcome. What more evidence do you need?

  296. #296 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Bobber#294,

    That is more like drive-by religion, and of course you run off. So you think there is shared responsibility, for whose actions? How much is the responsibility? When have the “obligations” been met? Who imputes the obligations? Are there any standards to be applied? Do the shared responsbilities vary from society to society? Your religion might be different from SC,OM’s since she is an anarchist. What is it you have in mind?

  297. #297 Bobber
    February 16, 2009

    Africangenesis:

    That is more like drive-by religion, and of course you run off.

    Oh please. You’re the one with the unfounded faith in a particular ideology, one that would see every human being as a completely autonomous individual, and yet you somehow believe that a functioning civilization will result. It doesn’t take faith to buy into what my tongue-in-cheek statement refers to. It simply takes a knowledge of history. I have no doubt that you could probably run rings around me in discussing politico-economic philosophies. But I have the evidence that comes from thousands of years of human civilization that shows that the greatest human advancements have come from collective action and shared costs/responsibilities. Individuals may provide the catalyst, but the chemical (read: social) reaction is what makes change. If there’s someone with an unfounded belief in a system that has never been demonstrated to work, it isn’t me.

    So you think there is shared responsibility, for whose actions? How much is the responsibility? When have the “obligations” been met? Who imputes the obligations? Are there any standards to be applied? Do the shared responsbilities vary from society to society?

    Society as a whole makes these decisions. Individuals may protest the decisions made by society. That is why I believe that the Founders were on the whole correct to provide for trying to maximize individual freedom and protect it from undue interference from the State. Where we would differ, I imagine, is what constitutes “undue interference”. As I have said before, my political philosophy is one of individual rights within a framework of social responsibility. You are saddled (or yoked, if you prefer) with specific duties simply by virtue of living within a civilized society. If you can point me to a culture where each individual has complete autonomy, and where that culture can even properly be defined as a culture, I’d be glad to re-examine my reading of human societies in history.

    Your religion might be different from SC,OM’s since she is an anarchist. What is it you have in mind?

    I can’t speak for SC. My own leanings are what would generally be regarded as leftist, democratic, socialistic, anti-corporate, and in some respects even slightly Jeffersonian (but that would be my pie-in-the-sky idealism). I believe that there is a personal good, and a common good, and that there must be a balance between the two to ensure the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

    And now I have put off sleep too long in order to answer that post. It’s late, and I’m the one who brings my daughter to school and feeds the farm animals early each morning. Good night.

  298. #298 Africangenesis
    February 16, 2009

    Bobber,

    “But I have the evidence that comes from thousands of years of human civilization that shows that the greatest human advancements have come from collective action and shared costs/responsibilities”

    Over those thousands of years, I assume that most of the evidence must be negative??? Archimedes? Euclid? Plato? Aristotle? Or are you thinking of the pyramids and the obligations of slaves? large building projects? Are you implying that because we don’t know who invented the wheel, the harness, Roman concrete, etc, that these get attributed to the collective? I don’t quite understand what you are saying?

  299. #299 Menyambal
    February 17, 2009

    I’m agreeing with Bobber, here, about the importance of society. I’m also suggesting that he may have found the solution to much of this discussion about morals–they were not evolved by individual people, but by societies.

    Think about it. An isolated individual has no need of morals. A king ape has no need of morals. And perhaps the ID guys are right–an internal moral sense cannot evolve.

    And for the sake of this train of thought, neither can evolution develop consciousness, logic or anything else in an individual. Instead, all these things are externally imposed–not by a god, but by a society (perhaps with the aid of a god meme).

    Consciousness is taught, just like language, by use of language, and is really just internal use of language. I argue that a person who was raised by wolves, or who was born deaf and blind, or just deaf, has consciousness of a different level or type than the members of a vocal society.

    Consciousness is the tricky one, but logic is more obviously taught, morals are imposed by the society. A continuous society develops/evolves manners, morals, customs, language, and passes them on to and through its people. Societies that do not have internal harmony die out, societies that do not have external strength get wiped out.

    People then do not have to evolve all those things internally, as individuals, but instead need to evolve a capacity to have those things imposed/taught from without. The situation is exactly that, in the case of language.

    See, problem solved! We didn’t evolve any of the stuff the ID guys say we can’t. Our societies evolved them.

  300. #300 windy
    February 17, 2009

    Anton Mates:

    Think about it–why don’t we believe that tigers mean us no harm and only wish to play a game of tag which nonetheless always seems to end up with us being killed and eaten? Why does science pay no attention to this possibility?

    And then there’s the evidence that primates might have an innate disposition to learn to fear snakes. But maybe when monkeys appear to be terrified, they are really just anxious to play tag with the snake! *sarcasm*

  301. #301 SC, OM
    February 17, 2009

    Those are beautiful feelings you have of taking reponsibility for your actions.

    And yet again, you misunderstand everything I write.

    I notice you speak of “we” and “shared” responsibilities. Who has agreed to share responsibility with you?

    None of us have agreed to it. It’s the human condition.

    I’m not sure what abstract beliefs I have that you are referring to.

    Chiefly your market faith and all associated blindness to the past and present reality of human social life, the demonstrated effects on people and other living creatures of your beloved politico-economic projects, and the concrete actions of your priests (see again Friedman/Hayek/Pinochet, for example). Abstracting to alleged impersonal economic processes does not give you the moral escape hatch you seek; you are responsible for your political acts (and failures to act), including what you’re posting on this forum.

    I just want to try to live in a less totalitarian way, much like Camus.

    Please. You’re making me sick. Camus tried (and of course didn’t always succeeed) to live in a moral and genuinely democratic way, which included active (collective) resistance to tyranny and the positive (collective) promotion of democratic social arrangements.

    However, your “responsibility” and “shared responsibility”, “collective responsibility”, the interconnectedness of the world and eschatology of evolving morality are pretty abstract and appear to be wishful imaginings or perhaps the beliefs of an ideology.

    First, it is dishonest to put in quotation marks words that I did not write. I didn’t say “collective responsibility.” I said “we are responsible for the effects of our actions, individual or collective,” meaning that this responsibility cannot be evaded simply because we’re acting as part of or on behalf of a group or organization. What I did say is “mutual responsibility,” which is the concrete result of the conditions of our existence. As to my alleged “eschatology of evolving morality,” our moral capacity has evolved among us as a social species. I don’t see what’s so difficult to understand about that.

    That is why I ask about the “we”, because I worry that this might be a virulent ideology that seeks to impose itself upon others.

    What is imposed upon us human beings is the fact of our living together on an interconnected planet in an indifferent universe. If you “ask about ‘we'” out of concern, then you should have started by asking yourself who in your framework is holding people responsible. Here’s your paragraph to which I was responding:

    Holding other actors “responsible” for their actions rather than excusing them as mere pawns of causality appears to result in better functioning societies…Treating others as if they are responsible changes behavior and has benefits. Perhaps the modern understanding has us holding individuals responsible with less conviction however. [my bold]

    (Note that it was you who raised the subject of individual responsibility, so the “your ‘responsibility'” above is disingenuous at best.) You, not so mysteriously, try to avoid any mention of human agents doing the holding and the treating. But you fail in the last sentence when you refer to “us.” What you imagine is a separate group of people and organizations that bear no weight of moral responsibility themselves but can nonetheless hold others responsible. No dice.

    The social democracy I was referring to in my post was the democracy of the market place where consumers individually and voluntarily determine which corporate and private servant [!!!] enterprises florish or fail.

    Again, there is zero that is social or democratic about that idea. And you don’t recognize that people face corporations not only as consumers (and only those with effective buying power would be citizens in your consumerist “democracy”) but as workers and as members of polities. Your vision of democracy is insane, but you don’t see that because your religion blinds you to social reality, leading you to act in profoundly immoral ways.

  302. #302 windy
    February 17, 2009

    Wow, I have been characterized as a ‘humorless PZ sycophant’! At least, my tireless service gets recognized. Do I get my own cyberpistol now?

  303. #303 melior
    February 17, 2009

    The most annoying, sleazy rhetorical trick that S.C. Morris uses here is his preposterous implied assumption that somehow natural selection (or “neo-Darwinism” as he calls it) is considered by anyone to be a complete substitute for everything that in Morris’ mind is explained by Godidit. He does this over and over in these excerpts.

    To reiterate: when physicists speak of not only a strange universe, but one even stranger than we can possibly imagine, they articulate a sense of unfinished business that most neo-Darwinians don’t even want to think about.

    First of all, it was a science fiction author, not a physicist who famously opined that. But the sort of “unfinished business” Morris gleefully claims scientists don’t want to think about is precisely what motivates physicists (and evolutionary biologists!) to do more research, more investigation, and more experiments. This is as far away as one could possibly get from a coherent argument for throwing up one’s hands as he does and concluding that “Godidit”.
    This man sorely needs a pie to the face.

  304. #304 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 17, 2009

    But it was Simon Conway Morris himself who named Hallucigenia because it reminded him of something he saw on a trip – or maybe that a friend of his saw on a trip. Maybe saw it a lot of times, which could explain why his friend can hardly string two sentences together these days.

    LOL! My day is saved. :-)

    Having read ‘Life’s Solution’, I have to agree that in terms of style, Conway-Morris’s prose leaves much to be desired. He seems at times to write for an audience of precisely one, routinely confusing density of sentence structure with erudition. The following parody exaggerates but a little:

    It is spot-on, and the scary thing is, he even speaks like that — not just in his talks, but also when he answers questions afterwards! It seems to me that, whenever he starts a thought, he gets a dozen associations at once, tries to follow them all, and gets lost in them almost as quickly as his audience does.

    BTW, if we reran Gould’s tape once, we almost certainly wouldn’t get humans again, but what if we reran it 67 million times? That’s a distinction Conway Morris seems not to make.

    None of us have agreed to it. It’s the human condition.

    I wouldn’t even say that. I’d say that it’s my own long-term self-interest: I profit from living in a society. I profit from not being considered an asshole. I even profit when nobody is poor — poor people are more likely to resort to (small-scale) criminality, and… who shall buy my products?

    I may or may not have a “responsibility” to, in Marxist terms, contributing to abolishing the proletariat. I have a vested egotistical interest in doing that. Whether you want to call that a responsibility is your business.

  305. #305 Bobber
    February 17, 2009

    Africangenesis:

    Over those thousands of years, I assume that most of the evidence must be negative??? Archimedes? Euclid? Plato? Aristotle?

    You’re falling into the trap of individual intellectual hubris. As I said, individuals can be a catalyst for societal change (good OR bad), but it takes cooperative action to make it happen. We are talking past each other here, however; I am talking about advancement in the context of society. What good is a great idea of no one ever learns of it? “If a philosopher has an idea, and he has no audience, does the idea have any relevance?” (My version of “If a tree falls in the woods…”)

    Or are you thinking of the pyramids and the obligations of slaves? large building projects? Are you implying that because we don’t know who invented the wheel, the harness, Roman concrete, etc, that these get attributed to the collective? I don’t quite understand what you are saying?

    What obligation does a slave have that the greater society around him or her impose upon that slave? The obligations of a slave do not derive from ONE PERSON – in this case, the Pharoah. Such arrangements are possible only when the society allows for them to be considered normal and good. Was slavery really evil until the preponderance of humanity believe it to be so? For example, Abraham Lincoln was not SOLELY responsible for the abolishment of slavery in the United States – would you not agree? The same for any movement toward advancing the lot of humanity. These advances only come through collective action, and you – as part of that collective – owe certain obligations to the greater society. As I have said, you enjoy the benefits of belonging to the club we call civilization; you owe that club its dues. And unlike a slave, you are part of a democratic polity that can MAKE THE RULES you live under. You are far freer than any slave, and you can make decisions that a slave cannot make. Such as, if you don’t agree to the rules of the club, you can leave the club – or try, through a (hopefully) peaceful and democratic method, to get the rules changed.

    Oh, and everything SC said, and all, too.

    Now, off to bring my daughter to kindergarten…

  306. #306 Hugh Troy
    February 17, 2009

    “God’s funeral? I don’t think so. Please join me beside the coffin marked Atheism. I fear, however, there will be very few mourners.”

    I’d call the above comment a delusional symptom of someone infected with mind bending religion.

    The only funeral that Conway Morris is attending is the demise of his own rationality.

  307. #307 Peter McKellar
    February 17, 2009

    Africangenesis,

    in response to your post @244: I agree re belief. It is a waste of time and effort. If I have been sloppy in terminology I apologise (and I haven’t bothered scrolling back to check). For clarity, I have no need for “belief” as it has been used. I work on evidence when available and when not, on any projections from that data, logic, occam’s razor and any other tools at my disposal.

    “Our emotions are an unreliable source of moral information. We are not as domesticated as certain breeds of our dogs. Our domestication is cultural, with hatred, racism, and intolerance dominating some western cultures…”

    agreed, assuming by “domesticated” you mean “at the sound of the bell”, master-slave level. I never said morals come from the brain. Others have far more eloquently covered this I noticed in the catch-up reading (man but threads are getting long these days – guess kudos PZ). It comes down to shared memes. Memes evolve far more rapidly than organisisms. Unfavourable ones wither and die. Good ones tend to proliferate. Some bad ones linger far too long, maybe flare up again a few times before dying out completely. Memes replicate themselves though and are not selected for or against with any regard necessarily for us, the host. Its a mix, and I never said it was sane or rational or in any sense “right” or “wrong”, just “good” (for me, my group) or “bad” (for me or my group). “good” for the group may even be “bad” for me personally (eg taxes) but good for the group.

    I stand by my view (opinion, not belief) that atheism requires a higher standard of morality than a theist lurching about like a blind man (watchmaker?). Let the meme-makers be rational people, not self-serving authority figures! Time to weed the woo garden.

    Its been a long day and a longer one is expected tomorrow. I’m worn out on this line of argument but will respond if need be (just maybe not for a day or so).

    Windy (aka ‘humorless PZ sycophant’),

    With Mark at your back, it doesn’t seem like you need a cyber-pistol. :) I read Greg’s blog now and then and generally enjoy it.

    I think your taunts however were pure evil (see discussion above re good and bad) :) Careful though, it is often difficult to see the forest for the treeosity. You syco you!

  308. #308 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 17, 2009

    This assumes the proper morality is altruism.

    Is there something to say against reciprocal altruism (higher egotism, that is)?

    Philosophy first with morality, and with most anything.

    Please supply the missing verb. I don’t understand anything here.

  309. #309 SC, OM
    February 17, 2009

    Who has agreed to share responsibility with you?

    I’ve answered this, but while we’re on the subject of agreement, when did I agree to respect the current distribution of “ownership” of resources (based on violence and coercion), capitalism, or property “rights”? People around the world are acting, electing others, and passing laws and constitutions to put people, participation, and the planet before property, corporations, and profits. These are choices being made democratically (to the extent possible in current conditions), and people have made them in the face of violence and the looming threat of more violence from the propertied classes.

    And you encourage this coercive violence with your fantasy screeds, because in your religion freedom does not mean the freedom to choose, in concert with others, the social-political-economic arrangements under which we live. People just don’t have freedom unless they have a specific brand of “economic freedom,” your preachers say, just as the religious claim that people can’t be happy or reasonable or moral without their particular brand of faith. And when your “economic freedom” brings suffering, coercion, and death for real people, you ignore or deny it, because you believe.

  310. #310 Africangenesis
    February 17, 2009

    SC,OM,

    “You’re making me sick. Camus tried (and of course didn’t always succeeed) to live in a moral and genuinely democratic way, which included active (collective) resistance to tyranny and the positive (collective) promotion of democratic social arrangements.”

    I’m definitely one of the more active members of my community and not just the neigborhood association, but marches and testimony on police abuse and the need for police oversight, as well as marijuana marches and political activism. And I’m certainly a corrective to a lot of the misinformation that would degrade the quality of this blog. If there is any fairness to the distribution of social obligation I’ve done more than my fair share, without even counting my contributions to the economy for which I am undercompensated.

    I guess one doesn’t have to recognize any social obligation to be a net contributer.

    Do you really think humanity is ready for left anarchism? If even a believing adherent such as you, fall easily into the outgroup demonization and vitriol how can you begin to think the general populace is even within a century of being morally disciplined enough to make the leap? They may be morally bankrupt enough to riot and destroy the seed corn of the economy, but when they see what they have done, they won’t accept responsibility, they will turn on each other and on you. Be careful with your rhetoric, it may actually influence someone.

  311. #311 SC, OM
    February 17, 2009

    And I’m certainly a corrective to a lot of the misinformation that would degrade the quality of this blog. If there is any fairness to the distribution of social obligation I’ve done more than my fair share, without even counting my contributions to the economy for which I am undercompensated.

    *snort*

    Do you really think humanity is ready for left anarchism?

    Indeed. Much of our lives is anarchistic even at present. Anarchistic social movements (self-identified as anarchist or not) are growing around the world. Social injustice and environmental degradation, moreover, demand a change in social relations if we are even to survive as a species, and technology makes such a transformation increasingly possible. (Of course, it would be nice to get a stronger positive feedback loop going.)

    If even a believing adherent such as you [nice try], fall easily into the outgroup demonization and vitriol

    No one is demonizing you. I and others have been remarkably patient with you given what an annoying, ill-informed git you are. And I am genuinely concerned about your mental health. (And pay attention: There is no in-group of anarchists here. It’s just me and I think a few others who don’t comment regularly.) I also believe vitriol can be a legitimate aspect of political debate, especially when reserved for those who promote repugnant philosophies and harmful political programs and continue to spout falsehoods even when they have been corrected.

    how can you begin to think the general populace is even within a century of being morally disciplined enough to make the leap?

    I don’t believe in an evolution of “moral discipline,” whatever the hell that creepy phrase is supposed to mean.

    They may be morally bankrupt enough to riot and destroy the seed corn of the economy, but when they see what they have done, they won’t accept responsibility, they will turn on each other and on you.

    You don’t have the vaguest semblance of an idea how anarchist movements operate or what anarchism is about. And you reveal more of your profound contempt for humanity. So much for your claim to be promoting human social freedom.

    Be careful with your rhetoric, it may actually influence someone.

    As I said, you’re nuts.

  312. #312 nothing's sacred
    February 17, 2009

    Plantinga argues that even if the conditional probability that adaptive beliefs are true is high, the overall conditional probability (given the additional belief/behavior possibilities of epiphenomenalism, semantic epiphenomenalism, and maladaptivity) that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low (or inscrutable).

    This is like saying that the conditional probability, considering his writings, that Plantinga is an intelligent human is high, but that the overall conditional probability that he’s intelligent, given the additional possibility that he’s a dressed up monkey who was lucky while randomly banging on a keyboard, is low (or inscrutable). It’s an absurd conclusion, based on vastly overestimating — or failing to scrutinize — the chances that Plantinga is a monkey — or the chances of epiphenomenalism, semantic epiphenomenalism, and maladaptivity.

  313. #313 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 17, 2009

    As I said, you’re nuts.

    Amen Sister.

  314. #314 Eric Saveau
    February 17, 2009

    And I’m certainly a corrective to a lot of the misinformation that would degrade the quality of this blog.

    The funniest goddamn thing I’ve read all day!!!!

  315. #315 Wowbagger
    February 17, 2009

    Africangenesis wrote:,

    Do you really think humanity is ready for left anarchism? If even a believing adherent such as you, fall easily into the outgroup demonization and vitriol how can you begin to think the general populace is even within a century of being morally disciplined enough to make the leap?

    Now this is the part I don’t get about you, Africangenesis. All I’d need do is change ‘left anarchism’ to ‘Libertarianism’ and the argument would be identical. That you don’t realise that your own political ideal is a fantastic* utopia even more impossible than any of the alternatives is evidence that your eyes are willfully closed by delusional adherence to the dogma of your cult.

    *By which I mean it has the qualities of fantasy – unreal or from the imagination.

  316. #316 Africangenesis
    February 17, 2009

    Wowbagger,

    Your substitution of libertarianism for left anarchism just doesn’t work. Libertarianism is just a few tweaks closer to the US constitutional system and perhaps a little bit beyond. Some reduction in the military and the beaurocracy and the deregulation of drugs and reduction in taxes commensurate with the smaller government and we are there. We’ve been nearly there before, but with an unfortunate culture that excluded minorities, so it would help to have an accompanying ethos of respect for individual rights. Given the lack of government in left anarchism, the ethos would presumably be much more critical, unless one assumes utopian consensus on all the “democratic” decisions.

  317. #317 Wowbagger
    February 17, 2009

    Libertarianism is just a few tweaks closer to the US constitutional system and perhaps a little bit beyond.

    Your criticism of left anarachism wasn’t about how close it is to being realised, it was about whether or not people would act in such a way to make it feasible. Both systems require a ‘moral discipline'; yours, I believe, more so.

  318. #318 Africangenesis
    February 17, 2009

    Wowbagger,

    “Both systems require a ‘moral discipline'; yours, I believe, more so.”

    How so? The US culture already has a respect for the law beyond what the current implementation of the law merits. A less intrusive government that merits the respect through accepting checks and standards, should be a positive reinforcement of this existing strain within the culture, and well within the size relative to an economy that has been stable before. Left anarchism has shown no ability to scale.

  319. #319 Wowbagger
    February 17, 2009

    How so? The US culture already has a respect for the law beyond what the current implementation of the law merits.

    Again, that you think that all it takes is ‘adherence to the law’ to allow Libertarianism to work* is evidence of your delusion.

    Admittedly, I don’t know much about Anarchism (Left or otherwise), but I will say that, based on what I’ve been reading over the last few months, I’m far more inclined to trust SC’s judgement than I am yours.

    *By which I mean work for the majority of society. Obviously, Libertarianism would be great for making the rich far richer and the poor far poorer. If Libertarians were honest about this being their goal then I’d be much less annoyed by them. I would, of course, hate them for being evil, cartoonish supervillains – but I’d respect their honesty about it.

  320. #320 Africangenesis
    February 17, 2009

    Wowbagger,

    There is no evidence that the poor get poorer, if anything their standard of living is above that of the middle class of the first half of the 20th century, with medical care (even just emergency), information access and entertainment beyond the possible of that time. All would likely have been richer with a little more commitment by the government to a free market.

  321. #321 Wowbagger
    February 17, 2009

    Africangenesis,

    I’m just extrapolating from the current situation. I can’t see how, in Libertarian Utopia, corporations wouldn’t become oligarchic monopolies paying workers a pittance and charging exorbitant prices for necessities like food and water.

    For those without inherited money or possessing one of the small set of skills the new society values, the next step would be providing these not for money, but in exchange for agreeing to a life of servitude – just like the feudal system.

    If you can’t see that as the inevitable result of your system then you’re blind; if you can see it but don’t mind because you’ll be amongst the ruling class then you’re a scumbag.

  322. #322 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 17, 2009

    If you can’t see that as the inevitable result of your system then you’re blind; if you can see it but don’t mind because you’ll be amongst the ruling class then you’re a scumbag.

    Amen Brother.

  323. #323 Africangenesis
    February 17, 2009

    Wowbagger and your cheerleader,

    “I’m just extrapolating from the current situation. I can’t see how, in Libertarian Utopia, corporations wouldn’t become oligarchic monopolies paying workers a pittance and charging exorbitant prices for necessities like food and water. ”

    Well that is easy, you are extrapolating in the wrong direction. There have been tremedous increases in productivity over the last two or three decades but very little of it has gone to labor. A big part of the reason is that the federal reserve, which is supposed to be neutral, is actually favoring giving those returns from productivity to capital rather than labor. It does this by considering increases is compensation to labor to be inflationary. Although I am not typical, most libertarians favor a hard currency that can’t be manipulated by the federal reserve in this manner. With just market forces at play, rather than the federal reserve clamping down whenever the market starts to increase returns to labor, labor would have been able to obtain more of its fair share.

    That is just one example of how a little economic understanding shows the emptiness of your baseless assertion.

    My reform which at least temporarily retains a fiat money system goes beyond eliminating the bias against labor to be frankly redistributive.

  324. #324 Wowbagger
    February 17, 2009

    Africangenesis,

    I made no claim of economic understanding beyond that of a layperson – albeit one with (as far I can tell) reasonable critical thinking skills. But I’m also aware of Dunning-Kruger, so I’m not going to spend too long blowing that particular trumpet.

    My opinion, based on what I do understand, is based less on economics and more about knowledge of psychology and – more importantly – history.

    But, your condescension aside, I doesn’t take a knowlege of economics to see that your blather about productivity and fiat currency failed to address my issues with the actions you and I both know corporations would take when given free reign over society. That you prefer a jargon-laden smokescreen says it all.

  325. #325 SC, OM
    February 17, 2009

    Admittedly, I don’t know much about Anarchism (Left or otherwise), but I will say that, based on what I’ve been reading over the last few months, I’m far more inclined to trust SC’s judgement than I am yours.

    Why, thank you!

    Please bear in mind that he is wholly ignorant of anarchism. While his thought process is too incoherent for me to attempt to engage with him on the subject, be assured that nothing he says about anarchism is anchored in any sort of reality. And now he appears to be in full-out propbotting mode. Ay.

    [Afgen is the only person I’ve ever seen use “left anarchist,” though I can’t be bothered to google it. He persists in using the term despite its having been shown to him that anarchism is a movement of the left and that there is no such thing in reality or even, consistently, in theory as an “anarcho-capitalist.” He also uses it to refer to all nonpropertarians, even those like Knockgoats that he’s absurdly accusing of statism. There’s no way he could simply be confused at this point, which does make me suspect, even more than I did before, a mental problem.)

  326. #326 Africangenesis
    February 18, 2009

    SC,OM,

    “Please bear in mind that he is wholly ignorant of anarchism. While his thought process is too incoherent for me to attempt to engage with him on the subject, be assured that nothing he says about anarchism is anchored in any sort of reality.”

    I must agree, I don’t fathom the mysteries of left anarchism. I’m a simple modern human who has not yet achieved clear status. Tell me, in left anarchism, will it work if only the leaders have achieved “clear” status and the others are just the “proper” sort of followers (perhaps indigo children), or does everybody have to be a “clear”.

    Note, that when I quote a phrase, it isn’t always you I’m quoting, I may be quoting myself, or I may be quoting for emphasis of the specific word or concept.

  327. #327 Africangenesis
    February 18, 2009

    Wowbagger,

    “failed to address my issues with the actions you and I both know corporations would take when given free reign over society.”

    Corporations tend to compete with each other, and products and services tend to also have substitutes, that is one of the checks available in a free society, that allow markets to compensate for the vulnerabilities and “vices” of modern humans with only minor tweaks and regulation. Markets work even in situations with ill advised government regulation, some times spiraling to destruction when distorted, so there is a wealth of practical real world experience informing our understanding of them. Perhaps there is some intelligence or equivilent of the “invisible hand”, at work in left anarchism that will guide the mass psychology involved in unrestrained democratic decision making to far seeing global optima, or is it the worshipped “central committee” that does the planning, and the masses just rubber stamp the decisions?

  328. #328 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 23, 2009

    Tell me, in left anarchism, will it work if only the leaders

    Anarchism, or leaders? Which is it?

    or is it the worshipped “central committee”

    Anarchism, or committee? Which is it?

    Corporations tend to compete with each other

    WTF. Competition is expensive, it’s a waste of resources. Therefore, unless they can easily achieve a monopoly, corporations always tend to reduce competition as far as they can possibly get away with. Leave the free market alone, and you’ll very soon get cartels and megamergers. The Gilded Age is the most prominent example, but “illegal price agreements” are discovered all the time.

    Competition is a completely artificial and highly unstable state of affairs. It needs to be artificially maintained by antitrust laws and the like. The greatest force for capitalism in the world is the EU Commission for Competition.

    Ironic, eh? Capitalism needs to be constantly protected from itself!

    But not actually surprising. In evolutionary ecology the same thing is observed: competition is selected against, which leads to specialization. Biodiversity is “the ghost of competition past”.

  329. #329 SC, OM
    February 23, 2009

    I must agree, I don’t fathom the mysteries of left anarchism. I’m a simple modern human who has not yet achieved clear status. Tell me, in left anarchism, will it work if only the leaders have achieved “clear” status and the others are just the “proper” sort of followers (perhaps indigo children), or does everybody have to be a “clear”.

    WTF? What “mysteries”? There are entire books about anarchism online, at your fingertips. I’ve linked to them on many occasions, including, I believe, specifically for you. You’re a total freakin’ nutbar.

    Therefore, unless they can easily achieve a monopoly, corporations always tend to reduce competition as far as they can possibly get away with. Leave the free market alone, and you’ll very soon get cartels and megamergers.

    Ah, but not in propertopia! Any such dynamics in the real world are caused, needless to say, by wreckers. We have to get them out of the way.

  330. #330 Knockgoats
    February 23, 2009

    Perhaps there is some intelligence or equivilent of the “invisible hand”, at work in left anarchism that will guide the mass psychology involved in unrestrained democratic decision making to far seeing global optima, or is it the worshipped “central committee” that does the planning – Africangenesis [my emphasis]

    Sometimes the depth of either your ignorance or your mendacity is truly unbelievable. An anarchist society with a worshipped central committee? This is exactly the same sort of crapola you get from creationists who believe (or claim to believe) that evolutionary biologists worship Darwin.

  331. #331 Knockgoats
    February 23, 2009

    Anyone noticed a truly remarkable example of convergence, of which this thread is an exemplar? Whatever its ostensible topic, any thread on Pharyngula that lasts long enough will be highjacked by “libertarians” to praise the glories of the market.

  332. #332 Africangenesis
    February 23, 2009

    Knockgoats,

    The subject was left anarchism, not libertarianism, and “the glories of the market” are not the exclusive province of libertarians, but rather are mainstream economics.

    I admit to being ignorant of now economic decisions will be made in a left anarchist economy, but I beleive that is because left anarchists are also ignorant of how they will be made. They are not entitled to keep their assumptions about human nature insulated from the evidence. Perhaps they don’t care about whether their economy will work, just whether it conforms to their peculiar sense of morality, no matter how much poverty, suffering and death results.

  333. #333 'Tis Himself
    February 23, 2009

    I admit to being ignorant of now economic decisions will be made in a left anarchist economy,

    Having read some of your bafflegab, AG, I can assure you that you’re ignorant about how economic decisions are made in any other economy. But that’s not surprising since, like most looneytarians, you’re ignorant about economics in general.

  334. #334 Africangenesis
    February 23, 2009

    Tis Himself,

    Your profound comments have enlightened us considerably. I now understand that in a left anarchist society, decisions will be made by the likes of you. I’ve already demonstrated more knowledge of the actual economics that is studied in universities today than most here at this blog. If is wishful thinking to label us all as “ignorant”. We can explain how the market works. But it seems only certain books of holy mystery can explain how a left anarchist economy will work, and noone who has read them will dare to present a translation into practical terms, fearing they might get it wrong.

    If your ideology seems silly and impractical when you try to map it to the real world, perhaps that means it is silly and impractical.

  335. #335 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 24, 2009

    SC has given you links to pages that you’d merely need to read, Africangenesis. But no, like Alan the Creationist (Titanoboa thread), you refuse to read them, and readily admit that this continues your ignorance, but then you just carry on arguing from the creationist position that everyone is just as ignorant as you!

    I, too, have no idea about how economic decisions would be made in an anarchistic society, and I, too, am way too lazy to read about it (I have to sleep occasionally?). The difference is that I know what ignorance means: I argue neither for nor against anarchism. I just stay out of that discussion. As soon as I entered it, I would have the responsibility to fucking know what I’m fucking talking about.

    Your attitude is called egnorance (correct spelling). Look it up.

  336. #336 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 24, 2009

    Sorry: Alan Clarke refuses to read how radiometric dating works and why Noah’s Flood would require millions upon millions of miracles. He does not, however, acknowledge his continued ignorance of these things. He just never mentions the pages we have linked to about 20 times now, and carries on with arguments from ignorance just so.

  337. #337 abb3w
    February 28, 2009

    Facilis: And Kel please provide you demonsration of how a aterialist universe (made of matter ,chance and time) can produce absolute invariant ,universal ,immaterial laws of logic and reason.

    Ah, that would be the problem. You’re working from assuming matter and time exist. They’re not assumptions; they are inferences, as are most of what people consider “laws of reason” such as the principle of cause-and-effect.

    Formally, propositional logic requires the assumption of Wolfram’s Axiom and definitons of other operators from NAND (although I prefer a modified Robbins approach via NOR). Predicate logic extends this via the definition of the existential quantifiers’s relation to the universal. Mathematics results (in the contemporary standard foundation) from assuming that the joint affirmation of the Zermelo-Fraenkel axioms (implicitly including the definition of the empty set, but explicitly independent of a position on the Axiom of Choice) is self consistent.

    These are all pure abstract priors to making inferences about the relation between Reality and Experience. In order to infer relationships within Experiences, we must (implictly or explicitly) assume that Reality and Experience are Relatable with a formal complexity no more than Recursively Enumerable. Otherwise, we have no means to determine when inference is formally possible within experience. One can assume the Refutation of such Relatability with equal validity as the Assertion. The difficulty is that under such Refutation one can no longer justify any inference about Reality from Experience, leaving Solipsism about the most sophisticated philosophy remaining.

    Or in other words, the philosophical reason for the absolutes is we assume that these absolutes exist to be found.

  338. #338 Kel, OM
    December 30, 2009

    Sorry to resurrect an old thread, but through a series of posts by Jerry Coyne, I stumbled back across this and found I didn’t answer that facile idiot in the jetlagged days following my return home from Finland.

    Imagine your friend driving a car and denying the existence of engineers and of machinery. Or someone breathing while denying the existence of air. You would say in either case both people are being idiots.
    But that is what you are doing here Kel. You are reasoning right now and denying the existence of the one who gave you the ability to reason Kel. Its sad.

    I am not denying the existence of engineers and of machinery. I just don’t think that logic is a product of a mind. Can God make a 7-sided triangle? If so, then the laws of logic are not absolute – they are arbitrary. This is the problem with your position. If God is needed for logic, then logic is arbitrary not absolute. You can’t have it both ways, yet this is what you pretend to do and call me out for not doing.

    And at no time have I denied the existence of absolute logic, I just deny that absolute logic necessitates Jesus dying on the cross.

    And Kel please provide you demonsration of how a aterialist universe (made of matter ,chance and time) can produce absolute invariant ,universal ,immaterial laws of logic and reason.

    I’ve stated before, they are self-evident. They aren’t any other way, they cannot be any other way. You seem to think that 2+2=4 only because God made it so, that’s not absolute – that is arbitrary. I don’t think the laws of logic can be any other way, you seem to think so though – well at least that’s where your “solution” takes you. 2+2=76.234. god said it, that settles it.

    I don’t think the laws of logic can be any other way, the laws of logic are just as they are because they can’t be any other way. In your view, a triangle only has 3 sides because God chose triangles to have three sides. That a sphere has a circumference of 2?r only because God chose that. That 2+2=4 is God’s aesthetic choice. That the law of identity would otherwise necessitate transient properties if not for the divine hand of the Jewish desert deity. Not that logic is just self-evident, that it can’t be any other way. But that it had to be God.

    Since I know you won’t take my word for it, here’s Bertrand Russell.

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