Jerry Coyne is confused:

I’m surprised that accommodationists and the National Center for Science Education don’t criticize [other] evolutionists for describing the evolution and natural selection as “purely natural and materialistic processes,” for that steps on the toes of the faithful just as hard as saying that evolution is “unguided and purposeless”. In both cases divine intervention is explicitly ruled out.

Not sure why he omitted the word “other,” but the first sentence doesn’t make sense without it.

That he would find this confusing is simply further evidence that Coyne does not understand the point of view he’s investing such effort arguing against. And also that he doesn’t understand key issues in the relevant philosophy of science. Winter is cold, the sky is blue, etc. This is a standard creationist claim (also), and I’m sure Coyne has seen someone addressing it at some point on his way to becoming an “internationally famous defender of evolution against … intelligent design.” Maybe he’s even had to address it himself. The links above to the Index of Creationist Claims give you the framework to address this bad argument on your own, but here’s a more detailed reply to Coyne’s angle specifically.

Natural selection is a purely natural and materialistic process. It doesn’t invoke supernatural causation. All the steps involved in its description are natural and material. Saying that it is a purely natural and material process is a simple description, not a judgement about teleology or metaphysical inputs into the universe. Evolution more broadly can also be described using entirely natural and non-metaphysical processes: biological reproduction, descent with modification, natural selection, mutation, neutral drift, gene flow, recombination, etc.. The same can be said of any other scientific process, because science can (for reasons we can return to if we must) only work with explanatory processes that are natural and material. Natural selection is, of course, “guided” in the sense that it is directional, and evolution is “guided” in the sense that natural selection and other natural laws give it somewhat predictable direction. But “unguided” in Coyne’s post is a point about metaphysical teleology.

Talking about teleology in the context of scientific explanations gets into a different set of questions. Going back to Aristotle, philosophers have distinguished proximate causes from ultimate causes, and it isn’t hard to recognize that there may be several gradations of increasing ultimateness starting with the most proximate explanation up through the most ultimate explanation.

A trivial example: A robber enters a store, shoots the clerk, and takes the money from the register. To explain why the clerk died, you can offer a highly proximate explanation involving the details of the bullet’s path, and the precise biological effects following from this severed nerve and that slashed blood vessel and the trauma to this or that organ. It’s a perfectly fine explanation, but we can go further. You can take it for granted that bullets fired into a body are often fatal, and can instead focus on the physics of a bullet being fired, the action-reaction dynamic that propels the bullet, the air currents and gravitational tugs that shift the bullet’s path, and the tumbling that follow initial impact between the bullet and a bone, which causes the bullet to fragment and dissipate its energy into tissue according to laws of conservation. Or you could go another way, and examine the evolutionary processes that make these sorts of injuries fatal to humans. Or you can pull back some more, and examine the psychology of the robber, why he decided to break into that store with that loaded gun, and why he decided to draw the gun and fire. This psychology, too, has an evolutionary history that we could choose to pursue. Or we can pull further back, and examine the economic forces that led that clerk to be in that store, and which kept the owner from installing bulletproof glass or hiring a guard, and which led to the robber seeing theft as his only economic option. And we can pull even further back to consider why we have that economic system rather than a different one, and so forth. A sufficiently determinist (and determined) observer might bring this explanatory framework back to the Big Bang, or we could choose to focus on the fatal effects of altering the ion balance across the membrane of a single damaged neuron. Each of these explanations is adequate for some purpose, and inadequate for another. Philosophers would say that these different levels of explanation supervene on one another, which we can also get back to if we must.

If we were theologically inclined, we could also ask why any omnipotent, omniscient deity would allow this clerk to be gunned down simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In that theological context, we might assume that the clerk died for some reason – these reasons tend to fall somewhere in this range: he was evil and deserved to die, he would do evil in the future and needed to be stopped, the good that the money did for the robber outweighed the harm done to the clerk and his family in any of various ways, the deity chooses not to interfere in such matters despite having the power to do so, the deity is evil and wants bad things to happen to good people, the deity has aims and means beyond our comprehension and beyond our explanatory power. Cosmic purpose and guidance come into all of these in various ways, but assuming a metaphysical direction does not require that the biological, psychological, economic, or physical explanations must have purpose or direction. Nor does it invalidate those natural, scientific explanations. It is just an explanation at a different level.

Which is to say that one can perfectly reasonably say that evolution and natural selection are natural and material processes which are not, in a scientific sense, guided or purposeful, while still holding that they are processes used and manipulated towards some metaphysical purpose – that evolution is scientifically not teleological while still being metaphysically teleological. Gravity is not teleological, but baseball players and rocket scientists and even gun-toting robbers still manage to use that non-teleological causal process to achieve a fixed purposes, plant and animal breeders have imposed directionality onto evolutionary processes for millenia, and that doesn’t change whether evolution is guided in the scientific sense.

Coyne, as an atheist, is not inclined to think there’s some supernatural intelligence guiding the universe. He doesn’t think that such an intelligence intervenes through miracles, and he doesn’t think it manipulates natural processes to accomplish specified goals. That’s fine. There are thoughtful scientists including Simon Conway-Morris and Ken Miller who would argue for a different conclusion, with Conway-Morris arguing that evolutionary processes and the laws of the universe are such that life would inevitably converge on something like humans possessing something like human intelligence. This strikes me as implausible, but to the extent he is arguing on a purely theological level, I don’t know what evidence could possibly refute or validate the claim; nor do I know what evidence could possibly refute or validate the claim that there is no such metaphysical directionality. As an apathist agnostic, I neither think the claim is testable, nor that it’s either interesting or relevant.

As long as Conway-Morris doesn’t claim his conclusions are science and deserve to be taught as science, I don’t see anything wrong with him holding that view and arguing for it. Nor do I see anything wrong with Coyne holding his view and arguing for it, again so long as he doesn’t attempt to pass nonscientific metaphysical claims off as if they were science. That sort of abuse of science is what gets me fired up against creationists, and I can’t effectively argue against that behavior from creationists if I were to tolerate it from non-creationists. If a scientific group or a textbook makes the broad claim that evolution is metaphysically unguided, I think that goes too far, just as it goes too far to say that evolution is metaphysically guided.

Comments

  1. #1 FUG
    February 24, 2011

    I would disagree mildly, here, only in that science has an ontology, and therefore a metaphysics. Again, to use supervenience (which I thought it was cool that you brought up), their is a distinction which Heidegger makes between the Ontic and the Ontological. The Ontological is more general than the Ontic, and the metaphysical picture which science presents would be within the realm of the Ontic. If I’m reading Heidegger correctly, the Ontological would supervene on the Ontic, and I think it would be fair to present the picture of the world from the scientific perspective as comparatively a-teleological to the cultural standard by which this term is known (i.e. the Protestant notion of a Purpose within life which God has given us — meant as a descriptive rather than evaluative statement — which would also likely be found in the Ontic, but could still supervene on the scientific Ontic, in a logical sense).

  2. #2 Russell
    February 24, 2011

    I would disagree for a different reason, to wit, that there is no well-defined distinction between the natural and the supernatural. If gods or angels or devils exist, they are as natural as people and photons. They get labeled as supernatural only because they exist, as far as we can tell, only in myth. Like Kerberos and Merlin.

  3. #3 Nick Matzke
    February 24, 2011

    “entirely natural and metaphysical processes” –> I think you meant “entirely natural and non-metaphysical processes”

    Otherwise, hear, hear! What I tried to argue on Coyne’s blog, only better!

  4. #4 Rokkaku
    February 25, 2011

    Josh, this reads a lot like NOMA, and I think it fails for the same reason that NOMA does. A claim of “metaphysical teleology” *requires* recourse to “scientific teleology”, in that if the natural means were not working towards an end we’d have no way to judge their metaphysical meaning. To take your robber example, there would be no dispute over the metaphysical meaning of the dead clerk if the clerk was not dead. Teleology *must* be both metaphysical and “real” (scientific) in order for us to even comprehend it. Your argument can be rejected for the same reason that NOMA can be rejected – namely that a world in which there is a telos would be very different from one (such as ours) without one.

  5. #5 Anthony McCarthy
    February 25, 2011

    Very good. You might point out that with the enormously long time that evolution has been in operation and with the enormous number of organisms which have resulted in the present, the huge variations of what we’d classify as species and populations of species, the variations in body sizes and structures, the differences in behavior, the different and changing situations in behavior and the environment in which every one of that incomprehensible myriad of individual organisms lived and reproduced, the which is almost entirely unavailable for study, that evolution, the most documented fact of science is also bound to be one of the most incompletely known. I’ve always thought it was pretty odd that an evolutionary biologist would confidently assert that they had a handle on its most basic forces and trends given the enormous mass of the unknown and unknowable.

    The fact that science properly deals only with the physical evidence available to it precludes any aspect of evolution for which there is no physical evidence becoming part of science. But that doesn’t only cover religion, that covers ideologies, ideological materialism and naturalism as well as supernaturalism. In the Darwinian fundamentalists the, perhaps, too flexible metaphor of natural selection has become more ideological than is useful for science. It often seems that they have passed beyond using the idea of natural selection to describe physical evidence into the business of creating a simulation of evidence by applying natural selection as an ideology. I’d thought that Coyne might have not been one of those doing that but it seems he’s willing to use anything in his ideological crusade against people who disagree with him outside of science. His formal writing has been so good it must be quite difficult for someone as febrile in his ideological warfare to keep it contained. Maybe that’s why he’s always going overboard in attributing violation of the necessity of keeping extraneous ideas out of formal science and its teaching.

    Considering that there is a legal basis for keeping religion out of science classrooms in public schools but there isn’t any legal way to prevent other forms of ideological impurities in the effort, it’s a rather bizarre obcession.

  6. #6 Anthony McCarthy
    February 25, 2011

    How much of the stuff that is said about why the clerk died is based in physical evidence, how much of it isn’t. If you can’t base it in physical evidence it isn’t part of science, is it?

    Science does what it can do very, very well. What it can’t do, it can’t do at all.

    This is where I usually ask for science that supports the separation of church and state or due process under the law. Most of life isn’t susceptible to the methods of science, its legal protection as in the Dover case, is one example of that.

  7. #7 Rokkaku
    February 25, 2011

    @6 No, it’s not “part of” science, but again a metaphysical claim about a physical event must *refer to* that physical event in order to be coherent. It must also use the language of cause and effect, which, it goes without saying, is equally materialistic. The lack of reference to physical evidence doesn’t negate the fact that it makes a claim about physical reality – it makes no odds whether or not the claim is verifiable or not. The fact that it’s “not science” doesn’t mean that Coyne etc. have to simply ignore it. They are well within their rights to agree that it’s not science, and then argue why making these kinds of claims about matters open to science is a bad idea generally… which is what Coyne does.

    “This store clerk was shot due to a reason that we cannot and should not attempt to detect” is basically what a metaphysical teleological claim comes down to. To say it’s not science is just a fatuous truism: to point out why it’s outright nonsense is, I think, perfectly within the remit of a scientist.

  8. #8 Anthony McCarthy
    February 25, 2011

    Science doesn’t own the entire physical universe, it wouldn’t know what to do with large parts of it, such as much of history or the law. I think that the ideology of scientism is a far greater danger to science than overt insertion of religion is, it’s there now and flourishing, accounting for the creation of huge parts of the social sciences which seem to successfully have established a colony in biology and is staking a claim on political life and economics and philosophy. In the process, the practice of telling stories that “must be that way” which has no physical confirmation and, in many cases, never can have confirmation, has become mistaken for what some of us were taught was the methodology of science. I’d imagine that many of the most well known figures supposedly representing science have created careers out of exactly that kind of story telling, becoming both socially and professionally influential within science, which I’d think was a far greater danger to real science than a clumsy attempt to put God into a paper. In order to insert religion into science, it has to be obvious, inserting scientism into it can be far more subtle.

  9. #9 bob koepp
    February 25, 2011

    “Natural selection is a purely natural and materialistic process.”

    Natural, yes. Materialistic, not so clear. It’s certainly true that a strictly material system can instantiate a natural selective process. But if Dennett is right about natural selection being “substrate neutral,” then if there were such things as immaterial entities (I’m not saying there are such…), and if they showed heritable variation, and if those variations influenced the rate of their reproduction, those immaterial entities would also be subject to entirely natural selection. My point is that the theory of natural selection does not itself entail materialism, or idealism, or neutral monism or any other of the various metaphysical isms.

  10. #10 Rokkaku
    February 25, 2011

    @8 Anthony, I’m not going to debate your thoughts on scientism. I’m familiar with them from reading them elsewhere (e.g. another prominent blog) and they’re really not interesting. The comparisons to history and law don’t have anything to do with what we’re discussing, either.

    What I am debating is that attempting to cite a metaphysical “cause” for a physical event and then denying that this can be rejected on physical grounds is having one’s cake and eating it. It is the NOMA fallacy, in which any given metaphysical claim is phrased in an attempt to avoid the obvious: that it *is* making a claim about a physical event. It is evasive – it’s hiding a claim behind a shield that isn’t actually there – and dishonest.

    Face it: if the claim “God made this clerk die” has no empirical verification methods available to it, it doesn’t mean that a scientist needs to simply sit down and shut up. What the scientist can – and should – say is that making these claims within the language of cause and effect without meaning it is meaningless; and that making these claims within the language of cause and effect means that we can, in theory at least, treat them as falsifiable.

  11. #11 Russell
    February 25, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    The fact that science properly deals only with the physical evidence available to it precludes any aspect of evolution for which there is no physical evidence becoming part of science.

    There is no telling what the physical evidence is until one goes out and investigates.

    But that doesn’t only cover religion, that covers ideologies…

    There is no physical evidence for ideologies?! Or religions? I have on my shelf a copy of Atlas Shrugged. And a Bible or two. There is plenty of physical evidence for both religions and ideologies.

    This is where I usually ask for science that supports the separation of church and state or due process under the law.

    Hume correctly pointed out that there is no purely factual bridge to the prescriptive. That divide doesn’t distinguish academic fields as much as it cuts across them. A historian could carefully trace, as a matter of fact, the history of those notions. Just as an physical anthropologist could trace the prehistorical development of spears. The facts thus revealed won’t by themselves constitute an argument for due process. Or for hunting. The fact that our universities house anthropologists with biologists, but put historians on the other side of campus, has more to do with how our universities developed than with any epistemological divide between history and anthropology.

  12. #12 Jon
    February 25, 2011

    Just read this book recently, “Continental philosophy: a very short introduction”:

    http://www.amazon.com/Continental-Philosophy-Short-Introduction-Introductions/dp/0192853597/

    Reading it was like recounting every debate with a new atheist I have ever had. The two cultures, the peculiarities of Anglophone intellectuals vs. others, Hume vs. Kant and his continental descendants, scientism, controversies over atheism, empiricism vs. straight reason, complaints from atheists that “we shouldn’t need to know Max Weber or this or that obscure philosopher/theologian”–it’s all in here.

    Before I had kind of pieced a lot of this together on my own, but this book recounts the important debates in the history of philosophy… It brings it all together in under 150 pages.

    The key is that these arguments occur over questions of *wisdom* (the fact that that word sounds archaic tells you something)–not just knowledge and empirical fact.

  13. #13 Anthony McCarthy
    February 25, 2011

    – There is no telling what the physical evidence is until one goes out and investigates. Russell

    Yes, there is no telling what’s not known or what of that is speculated is real, though that hasn’t kept it from becoming wedged into what gets called science. You don’t even know if what you imagine is there, which might tend to be extremely convenient, is real or not.

    Russell, the entire sentence you next cut off reads:

    “But that doesn’t only cover religion, that covers ideologies, ideological materialism and naturalism as well as supernaturalism.”

    You distorted my meaning.

    When “materialism” and “naturalism” are used in an exclusive, ideological sense then they can’t become part of science, not without changing science into something else and damaging its value.

    I think you misunderstand my point, the reliability of the information of the physical universe that science produces is due to its narrow focus on what that physical evidence produces. On its theoretical side, until that evidence is produced it’s of unknowable reliability. Though that distinction doesn’t seem to be fashionable, perhaps due to a glut of folks on the theoretical side needing to publish something. Though I’d guess some of physics has run up against a hard barrier to finding confirmation of some of the hottest theories, which seems to lead some of them to seek a dispensation against having to consult the physical universe, eventually.

    Science has to be a very narrowly focused, highly controlled effort that excludes information that can’t be processed by its methods and practices. It CAN’T include considerations such as ideology or its reliability is diminished or destroyed.

    Most of life, including religion and philosophy or even ideological assertions, can include everything that science produces or what it needs from science but it isn’t restricted to just that information, it can draw on other sources. It lacks the specific reliability of science due to its broader base of information and its, often, less rigorous methods but it can legitimately comment on larger areas of life and experience. Though it would be foolish to discount what science can tell us about the physical universe, discounting that will only lessen the likelihood that religion or philosophy or politics or history will approach a higher level of reliability.

    Science is highly restricted in its considerations and the farther from physical evidence, strictly analyzed, the less reliable it will be. You can look at the social sciences for the quintessential example of that, the invasion of psychology into biology isn’t likely to make its product more reliable.

    I think it was at Orac’s blog that I read that a lot of anthropologists were coming clean about the non-scientific nature of a lot of what gets published as anthropology. That upset the devotees of scientism but I thought it was refreshingly honest. I’d think that being honest about the nature of your field is more likely to enhance reliability than pretending that it is what it isn’t.

    Rokkaku, you don’t have to look farther than the fact that there are large numbers of successful scientists, some of the as good as they come, who believe in religion to refute NOMA. These scientists don’t use a second mind to do their science with than the one they use when they believe in religion. There isn’t any non-overlapping anything in their minds, and minds are the only place where science exists. That they can exclude religious content from their science is the product of a conscious choice just as Coyne has, up till now, been able to avoid having his rabidly held ideology out of his formal writing.

    A. S. Eddington pointed out that a lot of businessmen are religious and some might believe their good fortune is the result of divine favor but they’d never put that into their balance sheet and would be appalled if it was suggested to them that they do it. He called it a “certain tidiness of the mind” that prevented that kind of thing from happening. Which is a lot more calm and considered than the fevered ideological positions in the present day war between the fundamentalisms we see now.

  14. #14 FUG
    February 25, 2011

    @2: I agree that there is no good distinction between the natural and the super-natural, but for different reasons. Namely, to say “Physicalism” isn’t to say anything except “That which science says” — at least given everything I’ve come across so far. The term, sans-science, is difficult to define. And, if one is trying to ground science metaphysically, one can not refer to science to ground that metaphysic. This is one of the reasons I prefer to formulate science “ontically” — there is no methodological/metaphysical distinction to be made, because there is no clearly grounded metaphysic of physicalism. Instead, if one states that science presents a picture of the world with its own set of metaphysical propositions, rather than trying to ground the metaphysics of science philosophically, then science can be understood as one of the approaches one can take to understand the world. Of course, this also gives a structure in which NOMA becomes defensible (though not necessary).

    @4: In what way would our world differ?

    @7: “Cause and Effect” is used by persons with metaphysical constructs that are not materialistic. Therefore, if one uses “Cause and Effect” then it is not the case that one will be using materialistic presuppositions.

    @10 . . . “What I am debating is that attempting to cite a metaphysical “cause” for a physical event and then denying that this can be rejected on physical grounds is having one’s cake and eating it. It is the NOMA fallacy, in which any given metaphysical claim is phrased in an attempt to avoid the obvious: that it *is* making a claim about a physical event.”

    Can you explain how “physical” is different from “metaphysical” in this paragraph? As I read it, you’re making a metaphysical claim here, but giving priority to physicalism in such a way that it’s not metaphysical. But that does not seem to follow.

  15. #15 Russell
    February 25, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Science has to be a very narrowly focused, highly controlled effort that excludes information that can’t be processed by its methods and practices. It CAN’T include considerations such as ideology or its reliability is diminished or destroyed.

    The problem I have with the phrasing above is that it doesn’t make clear whether the exclusion is based on methodology or on alleged subject matter. To use the religious example, if your claim is that science cannot investigate anything labeled “god,” then I think that is nonsense. It’s simply an arbitrary exclusion based on ontological assumption. If, on the other hand, your claim is that there is no room for incorporating faith into science, then I agree. Or to use an example from politics, we shouldn’t exclude electoral mechanics from scientific investigation just because it is political, but yes, reasoning about that shouldn’t rely on political choices, such as the good of democracy.

  16. #16 Anthony McCarthy
    February 25, 2011

    Russel, the exclusion is based on practical ability.

    My reservation about attempting a would-be scientific assessment of “electoral mechanics” is that it wouldn’t include practical considerations that it couldn’t identify or define in order to process them with science. It reminds me of the idea floated by one of the heroes of scientism to replace trial by jury with cog-sci, complete with fMRIs and whatever current ideology was in fashion. I doubt it would be more reliable and can imagine all kinds of problems like the ones when Dr Death was inserting his kind of “science” into death penalty cases in Texas.

    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/2631572.html

    As for faith being inserted into science, of course it can’t be legitimately. Though ideology has been squeezed in from time immemorial, for example, racial and ethnic ideology, with horrible results both for people and for the reliability and reputation of science.

  17. #17 Russell
    February 25, 2011

    There is a useful distinction between “brute fact” and “social fact.” That goes to the examples of electoral mechanics and jury trials. But the border between the two is fuzzier than people want to admit.

  18. #18 Matti K.
    February 25, 2011

    Mr. Roseanau:

    “There are thoughtful scientists including Simon Conway-Morris and Ken Miller who would argue for a different conclusion, with Conway-Morris arguing that evolutionary processes and the laws of the universe are such that life would inevitably converge on something like humans possessing something like human intelligence.”

    These thoughtful scientists do not really “argue” for such a scenario. They just believe in it, without a shred of evidence. On the other hand, many well demonstrated facts of nature (like probability) and the nature of mutations speak against such a scenario.

    What should a scientist do in such a situation? Go where the evidence brings you or resort to wishful thinking? Why is it OK for a scientist to make non-scientific speculations about natural processes? After all, Conway-Morris is speaking about inevitable “laws of universe” guiding evolution, not unique sporadic miracles provided by an intelligent and omnipotent designer.

  19. #19 Rokkaku
    February 25, 2011

    FUG, I’ll reply to your points over the weekend. They are good questions and I want to devote a proper level of time to them.

    At the other end of the scale, Anthony:

    “Rokkaku, you don’t have to look farther than the fact that there are large numbers of successful scientists, some of the as good as they come, who believe in religion to refute NOMA. These scientists don’t use a second mind to do their science with than the one they use when they believe in religion. There isn’t any non-overlapping anything in their minds, and minds are the only place where science exists. That they can exclude religious content from their science is the product of a conscious choice just as Coyne has, up till now, been able to avoid having his rabidly held ideology out of his formal writing.”

    The point of NOMA isn’t so much about religious claims creeping into science: it’s the latter. It’s the wall thrown up around religion’s claims to shield them from scrutiny. In this instance we see some claims perfectly admissible to the realm of empiricism and experimentation held up as something apart.

    This is getting away from the topic a bit, though. NOMA isn’t precisely the argument that Joshua is putting forward – but it’s related, and comes down to the same key problem. That problem is that simply saying something cannot be examined, or shouldn’t be commented upon as if it is, doesn’t make it true.

  20. #20 Anthony McCarthy
    February 25, 2011

    Rokkaku, since Gould was an atheist and a scientist, I think he was probably more interested in shielding science from religion and in trying to end the strife that distracted from doing his work. It would be in keeping with his objections to sociobiology and evo-psy and ideology, like that which he wrote about in The Mismeasure of Man.

    I don’t think there’s any need for anything but a high level of review to keep science in its formal content and the wall of separation to protect public school science classrooms from creationism. Though I don’t know how you’re going to protect biology classes from the ideological strife surrounding misunderstandings about genetic inheritance of intelligence and rigid gender stereotyping.

    If peer review doesn’t do the job, a major part of science is broken in a pretty bad way.

  21. #21 Matti K.
    February 26, 2011

    “As long as Conway-Morris doesn’t claim his conclusions are science and deserve to be taught as science, I don’t see anything wrong with him holding that view and arguing for it.”

    Well, there is nothing wrong in arguing against those conclusions, as well.

    Do you consider the bulleted points in the following as science? They were presented during academic lectures (University of Edinburgh):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Conway_Morris#Evolution.2C_science_and_religion

    Why should those points not be regarded as scientific hypotheses? When Conway-Morris opens his mouth, how do we know that he is speaking about his personal religious beliefs, not speculating in a scientific way?

    I personally think Dr. Conway-Morris is as serious with his speculations as f. ex. cosmologists and physicists in their hypotheses about structures and phenomena for which there is (yet) no direct experimental evidence (f.ex. multiverse and many-worlds-interpretation). When Dr. Conway-Morris is speculating about the inevitabilities of evolution, he is definitely wearing the hat of a scientist. Therefore his speculations are free game for scientific scrutiny.

  22. #22 Anthony McCarthy
    February 26, 2011

    It’s necessary to distinguish between speculations that might have some verification at some date during the life span of human beings and speculations for which the necessary verification is never going to be available. You’re never going to be able to observe the behavior of our remote ancestors, everything you say about it is invented narrative and you are never going to have the verification that your invented behavior ever existed or, if it did in some form, what the reproductive results of that behavior actually were.

    Then there are those things which, to the best of our ability to know, are not going to have verification within the lives of any of the people today or ever, such as M-theory and multi-universes or the speculations about “other life” – As an aside, everything I read in “exobiology” makes me wonder if physicists generally appreciate how complex even the setting and physical structure of life on our planet are, they seem to think it’s as relatively simple as the physics of inert matter, when, as my research biologist, sister-in-law, likes to say, it’s a lot harder than rocket science.

    The only way we know that any part of mathematics and logic are valid is by reference to what we know from our experience, physics at the atomic and smaller scales are only known to even make sense by either direct or implied reference to our experience of what we can sense. They receive their validation by comparison with our experience using the tools that we developed from our experience. It’s that level of reality that can be known to be reliable from our experience, when, today, the faith of materialist fundamentalism has it back way round.

    Without reference to what’s really there, there isn’t any way to know if what you come up with is reliably true instead of an illusion based on wishful thinking, professional advantage or the product of applying tools that don’t work. It’s possible that some kind of mathematics that hasn’t been invented yet is needed to get down that far in physical reality or that there are mechanisms of evolution that we don’t know which would prevent the speculations of evo-psy from even making sense. I can’t remember who said that the universe is the final court of appeals in science. You don’t know it until you know it.

  23. #23 Matti K.
    February 26, 2011

    Mr. McCarthy:

    “It’s necessary to distinguish between speculations that might have some verification at some date during the life span of human beings and speculations for which the necessary verification is never going to be available.”

    So that, IYHO, is the difference between scientific and religious speculation? Well, if so, how can one make up one’s mind beforehand, unless one is a clairvoyant?

    In the following, Dr. Conway-Morris is making plenty of scientific statements and provides no religious disclaimers:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2009/feb/12/simon-conway-morris-darwin

    Why should his statements not be judged according to what we know about science? Because Dr. Conway-Morris believes in God, should his speculative mix of religion and science be regarded as a personal religious belief and therefore left unchallenged? I’m glad that (at least) Dr. Coyne does not think so:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/02/14/simon-conway-morris-becomes-a-creationist/

    The accommodationists here seem to think that the speculations of Dr. Conway-Morris are religious in nature, hence his opponents should use kids gloves and particularily not include science in the counterarguments. Is this because

    a) the freedom of religion of Dr. C-M is to be respected?

    or

    b) “bashing” Dr. Conway-Morris harms the project of selling evolution to the believers?

  24. #24 Anthony McCarthy
    February 26, 2011

    – So that, IYHO, is the difference between scientific and religious speculation? Well, if so, how can one make up one’s mind beforehand, unless one is a clairvoyant? Matti K

    Most of the fans of M-theory and multiverses and evo-psy and exobiological topics believe them because they choose to, I’d imagine that for easily more than half it is based entirely on preference and faith. In that they have a disadvantage to many who believe in religion based on their personal experience, no one has a personal experience of anything in that list of faith holdings. I’d say that makes them far more a leap of faith than much of religious belief. Of course, anyone who believes in the literal truth of Genesis believes it on the same basis.

    While I have no interest in getting into the endless battlefields of the Darwin Wars, I doubt that human minds can be the subject of evolutionary biology, not least of which for the reasons I pointed out in my first comment here. Too much of evolution is lost for all time. If behaviors which can, at least, be observed are lost when not observed and recorded, thoughts which are entirely invisible and which can only be known through self-reporting are even less available for science. A lot of the effort is based in discrepancies in what is asserted in natural selection — read the excellent essay by Marilynne Robinson, ”
    The Strange History of Altruism”, or listen to it

    http://www.yale.edu/terrylecture/robinson

    I’d think that the, frankly, dishonest and presumptuous characterization of unselfish action, the tangible results of which are notably different from selfish action, even with untestable equations, in order to fit it into the idea of natural selection hasn’t led to evolutionary biology’s greatest hours. It seems to be that it’s far easier to come to the conclusion that our minds are not governed by their formulation of natural selection, at least that it isn’t solely governed by it.

    The idea that our minds are controlled by the action of selfish genes or memes should lead to the logical conclusion that none of our ideas are an actual and direct reflection of reality. Why shouldn’t the idea of natural selection be considered anything but a self-serving illusion as they regard unselfishness to be. Why shouldn’t all our concepts be as deceptive and unreliable on that basis? We can see the difference in result when a huaman action is selfish or unselfish, you can’t see the assertions of evo-psy or test them. I’m always interested in the exceptions for their ideas that these folks assume.

    By the way, evolutionary biology has moved on in the c 130 years since Darwin died, leaving a lot of baggage that is useful for the enemies of science education behind him. It’s time to leave him behind and concentrate on more relevant and contemporary science to convince people of the reality of evolution. He’s a brand name whose usefulness has been damaged past the point of usefulness.

  25. #25 Rokkaku
    February 26, 2011

    FUG, you asked me three questions, which I’ll number according to the posts addressed:

    4. It would simply differ in that actions would tend towards fulfilling this telos. No such telos exists and thus actions don’t tend towards it. It really is that simple.

    7. Actually the language of cause and effect is contingent on a material understanding. I side with Hume here: I don’t think other readings of causality are valid, but I’m open to argument.

    10. I’m not making a metaphysical claim directly here. You can say my recourse to materialism to describe causation is *ultimately* metaphysical, but the difference, once established, between the physical and metaphysical surely doesn’t warrant any more explanation than that?

  26. #26 TB
    February 27, 2011

    @23

    The answer is C) Coyne assumes that there is nothing more than what science can discover and Conway-Morris interprets what we know to see evidence of god. Neither are scientific ideas, and as long as neither claim they are or want to teach their positions in public school science class they can be respected.

    Unless you desire to not respect anyone who holds any religious ideas of any kind. Which is kind of irrational, IMO.

  27. #27 Matti K.
    February 27, 2011

    @26: What do you exactly understand by “respecting” an idea? Is criticizing written text by written text an act of disrespect?

    Dr. Conway-Morris does not just say “I believe in God”. No, he uses scientific facts and attempts logic to make his case. Is it disrespect to show publicly where the logic fails? It’s no NOMA when a scientist uses science to make a religious point, is it?

    Once you use science in any arguments, you are free game for scientific criticism, IMHO. If f.ex. Drs. Giberson and Miller mix science and religion in their own books, Dr. Coyne is not the least bit disrespectful when he writes the following:

    http://www.tnr.com/article/books/seeing-and-believing

  28. #28 Anthony McCarthy
    February 27, 2011

    It’s no NOMA when a scientist uses science to make a religious point, is it? Matti K

    Goodness, I’d have thought that a materialist would be happy to have religion consulting science in its thinking. Maybe it’s the slippery slope into the valley of disbelief.

    Religion is free to consult science to make its arguments so long as they aren’t presented as part of science, there is no formal restriction on religion consulting science anymore than cookery or politics or history are prohibited from doing that.

    Science has to be formally restricted in its information base. It loses reliability when it doesn’t. Science is a trade off of restricted scope for increased power of discernment about its subject matter. Religion has no such formal restriction, it can, actually, benefit from the inclusion of what science can tell.

    If evolutionary biology had to give up Christians as Coyne seems to want it to, it would lose most of the people who accept it, including some of the major figures in its history. Asa Gray (who Darwin was quite happy to have on his side) to Francis Collins. But Coyne isn’t the boss of evolutionary science and no matter how much he might want to black ball them, they’re not required to leave the clubhouse.

  29. #29 TB
    February 27, 2011

    Mattik: “@26: What do you exactly understand by “respecting” an idea? Is criticizing written text by written text an act of disrespect?”
    Well, what do you mean? What exactly are you trying to justify here? That old Coyne article? “Bashing” people for holding religious ideas?

    “Dr. Conway-Morris does not just say “I believe in God”. No, he uses scientific facts and attempts logic to make his case.”
    He’s not allowed to use logic? He’s not allowed to make his religious ideas agree with the science? He’s not allowed to interpret things that are not science through his religious lense?

    “Is it disrespect to show publicly where the logic fails?”
    It’s disrespectful – and ignorant – to say logic fails when it’s really a matter of disagreeing with their conclusions. There’s a difference, even if you don’t realize it.

  30. #30 FUG
    February 27, 2011

    @Rokkaku

    I’ll keep with the same numbering system for convenience.

    4. Suppose the following interpretation: A rock is dropped from the Eiffel tower in the attempt to kill a man. The rock kills the man. Therefore, it fulfilled its telos. The rock was in the world, it was dropped by a man with an end-goal in mind, and then that end-goal was accomplished. The event is even empirically verifiable.

    7. Other readings of cause-effect are certainly valid, even if you disagree with their soundness. There is nothing logically contradictory in stating that causes are efficient causes in the world, but that world is composed of, say, mind.

    Just out of curiosity: Do you think that cause-and-effect are part of the world?

    10. Materialism is not *ultimately* metaphysical. It is a theory that properly fits within the domain of metaphysics that states that the world is made of physical stuffs (whatever that means). It’s not like we’re talking about Law, or something, and stating, OK, ultimately this links back to metaphysics.

    So, I would think that if you’re going to use what is a metaphysical theory in a manner that is not metaphysical, then you’d have some support, or at least a distinction, for the way you’re using that word.

  31. #31 Matti K.
    February 28, 2011

    Mattik: “@26: What do you exactly understand by “respecting” an idea? Is criticizing written text by written text an act of disrespect?”
    TB (@29): Well, what do you mean? What exactly are you trying to justify here? That old Coyne article? “Bashing” people for holding religious ideas?

    I want to make sure we agree what “disrespect” is. I think that when science is used in theistic arguments, such arguments are free game for scientific criticism. For some reason unknown to me, many accommodationists see such critcism as “bashing”. Do you?

    He’s (Conway-Morris) not allowed to use logic? He’s not allowed to make his religious ideas agree with the science? He’s not allowed to interpret things that are not science through his religious lense?

    I think no one in this game has the power of allow or forbid free expression. My simple case is that science-based arguments are open to science-based critique. The latter is never religious bashing. Do we agree?

    “Is it disrespect to show publicly where the logic fails?”
    It’s disrespectful – and ignorant – to say logic fails when it’s really a matter of disagreeing with their conclusions. There’s a difference, even if you don’t realize it.

    I agree that the plain statement “your logic sucks” is not very helpful. Moreover, logic is useless in purely theistic statements. However, if the scientific door is opened, logic steps in and the discussion can proceed from just exchanging (“saying”) different opinions.

    If theists using scientific arguments can’t stand the heat (of scientific critique), they should stay away from the (scientific) kitchen, IMHO.

  32. #32 Rokkaku
    February 28, 2011

    4. But you can’t say that was the rock’s telos. You can say that the dropper’s telos that day was to kill the man, but not the rock’s. The rock’s telos may well have been, then, to be shattered into a thousand pieces after hitting the victim’s skull, or to be collected as evidence and placed in a plastic bag. But this is beside the point, as the case you describe here is clearly of the world and not (say) a supernatural, inscrutable event.

    7. I think that cause and effect are part of our understanding of the world. I can’t pretend to be any more specific than that.

    10. That’s what I meant – it fits within the domain of metaphysics. I still think that I explained myself sufficiently; either that or I don’t understand your objection (a real possibility.)

  33. #33 Anthony McCarthy
    February 28, 2011

    Matti, Rokkaku, etc. Your attempts to expel religious believers from science by logical contortions are definitively refuted by the facts:

    1. There are large numbers of religious believers who are successful working scientists. Clearly holding religious beliefs doesn’t prevent people from producing science. That is a hard fact of real life no matter what logical argument you try to construct to refute that. It is a hard fact that even among the most rigid religious fundamentalist that not all of science is rejected, even religious fundamentalists have had successful careers in science. The members of the very Abrahamic religions so fashionably despised by the new atheists are well represented in science. If, suddenly, only atheists could be scientists the numbers of scientists around the world would be far more than decimated.

    2. Modern science was invented and supported by societies which were AND ARE STILL overwhelmingly Christian. Christianity hasn’t hampered science, the fundamentalist objections to evolutionary biology hasn’t stopped the United States from being very supportive of research into evolutionary topics. It might be the country which has been the most supportive of science up until recently. Again, that is a hard fact, it can’t be changed by the construction of a logical argument against it, that history will not be overturned, explaining it is the only thing to be done.

    The dogma of materialist fundamentalism that religious belief is inevitably inimical to science is clearly false. The denial of that might be misinformed among the ignorant but for anyone with a knowledge of history who denies it is lying on behalf of their prejudice. About the closest analogy is those who deny that women or people of African heritage can do science. It is as simple as that. Coyne is clearly not stupid but he clearly is emotionally unable to face reality because of his extreme bigotry.

  34. #34 TB
    February 28, 2011

    Mattik: “@26: What do you exactly understand by “respecting” an idea? Is criticizing written text by written text an act of disrespect?”
    TB (@29): Well, what do you mean? What exactly are you trying to justify here? That old Coyne article? “Bashing” people for holding religious ideas?

    Mattik: “I want to make sure we agree what “disrespect” is. I think that when science is used in theistic arguments, such arguments are free game for scientific criticism. For some reason unknown to me, many accommodationists see such critcism as “bashing”. Do you?”

    That’s too general a statement for me to agree or disagree. Give me a specific, scientific claim as an example of what you mean.

    Mattik: “I think no one in this game has the power of allow or forbid free expression. My simple case is that science-based arguments are open to science-based critique. The latter is never religious bashing. Do we agree?”

    What do you define as science? In spite of what you think the problem is, the problem I keep encountering is people extending the definition of science to encompass what they believe. Certainly it’s valid to assume there is no supernatural but it’s just as valid to assume that no supernatural forces interfere with our discovery of the natural world through science.

    Both assumptions allow for us to successfully apply the methodology of science. But neither assumption can itself be science, yet people do just that.

    Mattik: “Is it disrespect to show publicly where the logic fails?”
    TB: “It’s disrespectful – and ignorant – to say logic fails when it’s really a matter of disagreeing with their conclusions. There’s a difference, even if you don’t realize it.”

    Mattik: “I agree that the plain statement “your logic sucks” is not very helpful. Moreover, logic is useless in purely theistic statements.”

    And this goes to my previous statement about assumptions. Whether someone assumes the existence of god or not doesn’t mean they are unable to apply logic to their assumptions.

    Mattik: “If theists using scientific arguments can’t stand the heat (of scientific critique), they should stay away from the (scientific) kitchen, IMHO.”

    Quite a few stand the heat very well. Do you really think you’re a scientific match for people like Francis Collins or Ken Miller? That’s generally what leads some to simply say “your logic sucks” without refuting it.

    What would be more logical – and rational IMO, would be to agree to disagree in areas where there is no way of proving either assumption.

    That’s the problem I see between NAs and the so-called accommodationists. It went from “I disagree but we can still work together to promote good science” to “you’re an idiot and science and philosophical naturalism are the same thing.” Do you agree with either of those statements?

  35. #35 FUG
    February 28, 2011

    4. I’m trying to point out how the world may not differ in the slightest, and yet teleology may play a part in the world — even a teleology which does not make reference to a scientific one. As cause is a part of our understanding of the world, and teleology is a cause, one may construct their understanding such that teleology is a central part. Keeping with the dropped rock example, I can say that the rock had this telos. And, like persons, it could change its telos to serve as evidence for a crime later. It’s not scientific, but debates about NOMA are inherently not scientific. Obviously, if your ontology only references science then you’ll disagree with NOMA, but that does not then make NOMA a fallacy. It just means you disagree with it.

    7. M’kay. I was just curious, because I wasn’t sure how you were going about using cause.

    10. I’ll try again, then. From the paragraph I initially responded to:

    “What I am debating is that attempting to cite a metaphysical “cause” for a physical event and then denying that this can be rejected on physical grounds is having one’s cake and eating it. It is the NOMA fallacy, in which any given metaphysical claim is phrased in an attempt to avoid the obvious: that it *is* making a claim about a physical event.”

    Here, you seem to be presupposing that an event is physical, and giving priority to physicalism over any other metaphysical claim. Yet physicalism is a metaphysical claim. As such, it does not follow that NOMA is invalid, and therefore NOMA is not a fallacy. The weight you assign to physicalism would be your judgment on the soundness of physicalism. But others are still valid for judging the soundness of physicalism differently.

  36. #36 Matti K.
    February 28, 2011

    @ 34

    “That’s too general a statement for me to agree or disagree. Give me a specific, scientific claim as an example of what you mean.”

    Below Dr. Myers criticizes the specific claims of Dr. Conway-Morris, who uses science to sell his theistic ideas. Is Dr. Myers guilty of religious bashing?

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/04/simon_conway_morris_and_lifes.php

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/02/convergence_schmonvergence.php

  37. #37 TB
    February 28, 2011

    @MattiK

    OK, those are helpful links in terms of understanding that you’re conflating assumptions about what science has discovered with the science itself.

    Is it surprising that PZ disagrees with Conway-Morris’ assumptions? No, he’s free to do so. And it’s his blog and he can do so rudely. I’m free to consider that style of writing irrational because he hasn’t proven C-M wrong, he’s only shown that there’s a valid opposing view.

    Do either of them have science on their side in this fight? Not that I can see. C-M sees something that PZ doesn’t – two sides of the same coin. It seems to me what annoys you and PZ most is C-M’s work at making his faith agree with the science. .

    Now here’s what I want to know (and I don’t know the answers to these questions): Where is the science stopper in what C-M believes? What belief does he hold that – if it was widespread – would keep people from doing research, halt funding to labs, hold papers from peer-reviewed publication?

    What religious idea is he proposing to teach in public school science classes?

  38. #38 Anthony McCarthy
    February 28, 2011

    Is Dr. Myers guilty of religious bashing?

    I suspect that PZ would be deeply disappointed if someone accused him of not bashing religion.

    The idea that people are inevitable is an interesting, though unanswerable question. Evolution is what it has been, it’s history is what comprises evolution, in that sense every species that is alive today is inevitable because, up till now, we are what was produced in that history. That history is the only real thing about evolution, any suggested alternative possible development is a fantasy, it is as real as “evolution” that produces unicorns. So, in that sense the development of humans is inevitable.

    Is it possible that we might not have developed given a different scenario? That’s unknowable since that scenario isn’t the one that happened. Are we the result of intentionality by a controlling intelligence? Whatever the answer to that is, it’s not a question that science can answer.

  39. #39 Anthony McCarthy
    February 28, 2011

    I’ll believe in artificial intelligence when the commenting system intelligently edits my comments.

  40. #40 Watson
    February 28, 2011

    Just give me time.

  41. #41 Anthony McCarthy
    March 1, 2011

    It’ll take more than time.

    Don’t believe in the Turing test, I expect if it was possible for computers to be intelligence they would also have to have computer experience, which would be quite different from human experience and I doubt people could understand the ideas that would come from that, though we might be able to have a hunch that they were thinking things we didn’t get. Like dogs seem to.

    But I doubt that computers can think.