Thursday, August 4, 2011

Butterfly on Feser's wheel: Jason Rosenhouse

Jason Rosenhouse has mixed it up with Ed Feser on the cosmological arguments.

Bad idea.

Rosenhouse, one of the marginally better educated Darwinists, finds himself utterly outclassed by Feser. Feser is a superb philosopher and is the most lucid writer I have read on Aquinas and the arguments for God's existence. He is a former atheist-turned-Catholic (a man after my own heart). He treats atheism with the disdain it deserves.

I'll try to post quite a bit on this exchange. I'll start now with Rosenhouse's synopsis of his 'dismissal' of the cosmological arguments:

As for the cosmological argument itself, I make no apology for being dismissive.
He should apologize.

First, there is no 'cosmological argument', but rather cosmological arguments. 


Cosmological arguments are a series of deductive demonstrations of the impossibility of infinite regress in a  series of essentially ordered causes. Aquinas' First Way, Second Way, and Third Way are each a cosmological argument.  


Rosenhouse dismisses them because he is ignorant of them, and he's too dumb/lazy/dishonest to learn what the arguments really are. 
Depending on what version you are considering, you can expect to find concepts like causality or probability being used in domains where they do not clearly apply

Cosmological arguments are deductive, not inductive. Probability arguments are not used at all in cosmological arguments.

Probability arguments are used in the teleological argument (Aquinas' Fifth Way). The teleological argument is not one of the cosmological arguments.

Rosenhouse is an idiot.

The argument that 'causality is used in an inappropriate domain' is wrong as well. There is no break or "inappropriate domain" (whatever he means) in the chain of causality in the argument.
... or dubious arguments for why an actual infinity cannot exist,
The argument that an actual infinity of essentially ordered causes cannot exist is not "dubious". The argument is logical, straightforward, and irrefutable (here, about halfway down the post).
...or highly questionable premises about the beginnings of the universe
Aarrghh...! The cosmological argument has nothing to do with the beginning of the universe.

Allow me to repeat, in case I wasn't clear:

The cosmological argument has nothing to do with the beginning of the universe.

Oh, let me put it all in bold:

The cosmological argument has nothing to do with the beginning of the universe.

Aquinas (and Aristotle) presumed an eternal universe. Aquinas (and Aristotle) presumed a universe without beginning. The arguments demonstrate the need for a Prime Mover/First Cause/Necessary Being at every moment in time. Whether time has a beginning or not is irrelevant to the cosmological arguments. They all refer to order of causation in priority, not in time. Cosmological arguments demonstrate the need for a cause here and now, at every moment. The cosmological argument has nothing to do with the Big Bang. (see here again for a more detailed explanation)
or about how everything that began to exist must have had a cause,
That's the conclusion, not the premise, of one of the cosmological arguments, which has never been successfully refuted.

or groundless invocations of the principle of sufficient reason.
The invocations of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) are not groundless. The PSR-- that anything that happens, happens for a reason-- is the foundation for all reasoning. If things happen without reason, then there is no reason to do science. Why study the evolutionary history of vertebrates if vertebrates could emerge without any reason at all. Just happened. The ultimate Occam's Razor.

Why do any systematic investigation of nature at all, when it's so much simpler to say that nature just happens. Gravity? Gravity just happens. No gravitons, no space time, no non-Euclidean geometry or  Reimann curvature tensor. No need for any reason for gravity. Gravity just happens, whenever, whatever.

Contra Rosenhouse, no invocation of the principle of sufficient reason is "groundless". The intelligibility of nature depends on the PSR. If the PSR can be suspended for the universe, it can be suspended for anything in the universe.

'Oh', you say, 'we have evidence that there are reasons for things in nature'.

No, I reply. If something can happen without reason, then the whole chain of inference falls apart. You can't establish deductive or inductive casual relations if the chain can include 'happened without reason'. Even if you don't know the reason, it is necessary to presume that there is a reason or the causal chain is not a chain. Denial of the PSR is denial of reason. All reason.

The only reason to abandon the PSR is if you're an atheist and logical arguments for God's existence are irrefutable.

Think of what Rosenhouse is doing here: he is trapped by the logic of the cosmological arguments, and needs to deny reason to extricate himself.
You inevitably come so perilously close to assuming what you are trying to prove that you may as well just assume God exists and be done with it.
The cosmological arguments assume only three things:

1) Logic
2) Genuine understanding of the arguments
3) Integrity of individuals critiquing the arguments.

Rosenhouse fails on all three.

40 comments:

  1. Michael,

    Sorry, you're not making any sense. I've read your post and also the links, one of which is a thread you wrote for UncommonDescent, which doesn't make much sense either.

    Could you reiterate your argument. You state that the cosmological arguments rely on deductive reasoning. In which case, there should be an initial premise followed by a number of logical steps leading to a logical conclusion.

    If the initial premise is true and all the logical steps are valid then the conclusion may be true. You haven't provided any information as to what you mean.

    I actually only know of one cosmological argument, and that's Kalam's.

    Isn't it a little disrespectful to call someone an idiot, when it's not true. One can make idiotic arguments, and be criticized for the arguments, as some Nobel Prize winners have done talking about things outside their area of expertise, but ad hominem attacks should be avoided.

    What is this thing about everything having a reason for coming into existence? That's not true. Everything that comes into existence has a cause. That's the only definite thing you can say. It's only an ID proponent who can make the claim that everything has a reason. So you need to make the case for ID. Lots of luck ...

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  2. I think Doctor Egnor is talking about older cosmological arguments. Look around you will find more and more cosmological arguments. Aquinas, Aristoteles, Leibniz...

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  3. Here is what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says about the cosmological argument:

    The cosmological argument is less a particular argument than an argument type. It uses a general pattern of argumentation (logos) that makes an inference from certain alleged facts about the world (cosmos) to the existence of a unique being, generally identified with or referred to as God. Among these initial facts are that the world came into being, that the world is contingent in that it could have been other than it is, or that certain beings or events in the world are causally dependent or contingent. From these facts philosophers infer either deductively or inductively that a first cause, a necessary being, an unmoved mover, or a personal being (God) exists. The cosmological argument is part of classical natural theology, whose goal has been to provide some evidence for the claim that God exists.

    So, Rosenhouse is quite correct to refer to the cosmological argument. It is an accepted term and Rosenhouse uses it in its conventional meaning. And furthermore, both deductive and inductive arguments are used.

    Egnorance in action.

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  4. Oleg and bachfiend:

    All cosmological arguments depend on the impossibility of infinite regress in an essentially ordered series. They derive from Aristotle's Prime Mover argument, which is the paradigm of cosmological arguments. Cosmological arguments have nothing to do with the beginning of the universe. They have to do with the cause of the universe at every moment, and apply equally well to eternal universes.

    Both defenders and critics of the cosmological arguments who claim that the arguments address the Big Bang are wrong, and should be ignored.

    I am putting together a series of posts on each of Aquinas' Five Ways, and will discuss this in considerably more detail.

    I've posted on the topic before, if you're eager to get to the meat of it. (http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09/jerry_coyne_and_aquinas_first024951.html)

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  5. @bachfiend:

    [Sorry, you're not making any sense. I've read your post and also the links, one of which is a thread you wrote for UncommonDescent, which doesn't make much sense either.]

    The argument is 2500 years old, first formulated by Aristotle, and it makes an enormous amount of "sense".

    To understand it, it needs to be engaged, thoughtfully and meticulously, until you see the point.

    You can disagree with it, of course, but disagreement presupposes understanding. If you don't understand it, you can't disagree with it.

    If my post on ENV wasn't helpful, Feser's Aquinas has a whole section on it. Very lucid.

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  6. While you're at it, Mike, give my regards to our good friend Heisenberg.

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  7. @oleg:

    A brilliant man, who understood the vintage of his science.

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  8. 7 comments, and not a one of them asserts "Courtier's Reply!"

    That's refreshing.

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  9. Mike: Both defenders and critics of the cosmological arguments who claim that the arguments address the Big Bang are wrong, and should be ignored.

    Mike, if you read the Stanford Encyclopedia entry, to which I linked above, you will see this:

    "4.3 The Big Bang Theory of Cosmic Origins

    Craig's a posteriori argument for premise 2 invokes recent cosmology and the Big Bang theory of cosmic origins."

    Are you saying that we should ignore William Lane Craig?

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  10. I think Egnor and Oleg are talking about XD different arguments.

    Egnor is talking about about classical cosmological arguments and Oleg is talking about modern cosmological arguments.

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  11. @Edward:

    You're right. I am not a fan of modern cosmological arguments, such as those advocated by Craig. Of course I think that they are true, but the logical structure is weak.

    The classical arguments (by Aristotle and Aquinas) are meticulous and very strong, and have never been credibly refuted.

    I'm going to post a series on these arguments beginning Monday.

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  12. Mike,

    Whatever you think of the Kalām version of the cosmological argument, you have no reason to fault Jason Rosenhouse for not knowing what the cosmological argument is. Kalām is clearly part of it.

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  13. @oleg:

    Aquinas had a habit that I deeply admire: he always sought out the strongest form of his opponent's argument, and addressed the argument in its most convincing form.

    Rosenhouse is a mathematician who is quite capable of reading and understanding the rigorous classical versions of the cosmological arguments, which are very strong.

    My assertion that he's an idiot is charitable. I could assert that he's intentionally dishonest.

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  14. Well the Kalam Cosmological is sometimes explained along with the argument for no infinite regression.

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  15. Actually I think that Rosenhouse is just saying that the Iniverse is uncaused XD. Now that I think of some of his objections.

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  16. Mike,

    I am not sure whence you got the notion that Rosenhouse inveighs against the Kalām version of the cosmological argument only. In his post that you linked to he discusses the response of Le Poidevin to the cosmological argument in general. There is no doubt about that. He quotes from Le Poidevin's book:

    "There are, in fact, a number of cosmological arguments. What they have in common is an observation about some very general feature of the universe, and the assertion that something must be the ultimate cause, or at least the ultimate explanation, of that feature. The arguments we shall examine conclude that the existence of the universe itself must have a cause. This cause cannot be part of the universe itself, for otherwise there would be something that caused itself to exist, and this, we intuitively think, is impossible."

    And a little further down:

    "The basic cosmological argument:
    Anything that exists has a cause of its existence.
    Nothing can be the cause of its own existence.
    The universe exists.

    Therefore: The universe has a cause of its existence which lies outside the universe."

    Le Poidevin (not Rosenhouse!) uses the Big Bang in the book for illustrative purposes. His argument is not limited to the Kalām version, however.

    I understand that you want to call Jason Rosenhouse an idiot. You are free to do so if you wish. But your post shows that you did not even take time to understand what Rosenhouse is saying and you still started a rant against him. I can't help laughing at your shenanigans.

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  17. @oleg:

    oleg said...

    [Mike, if you read the Stanford Encyclopedia entry, to which I linked above, you will see this:

    "4.3 The Big Bang Theory of Cosmic Origins

    Craig's a posteriori argument for premise 2 invokes recent cosmology and the Big Bang theory of cosmic origins."

    Are you saying that we should ignore William Lane Craig?]

    Sort of. I have tremendous respect for Craig. He decimates any atheist he debates with. Dawkins is terrified of him.

    That said, I think that his arguments sometimes lack rigor. There are versions of the cosmological arguments that are airtight. They aren't the ones that Craig uses.

    Given that Craig is a very bright guy, it may be that he uses arguments that are readily presentable to audiences and comprehensible to most people. And if doesn't take much to defeat an atheist in debate.

    To argue along the lines of Aristotle and Aquinas requires a lot of very specialized terminology and some genuine comfort with hylemorphism, four causes, etc. I think that Craig understands all this stuff, but believes that it would not work in a typical pubic debate. He's probably right.

    And, as I said, defeating an atheist in a debate is not exactly a rigorous workout.

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  18. Michael,
    If you reckon Jason Rosenhouse is intentionally dishonest, how about Ed Feser? In the article of his you linked to, towards the end he quoted a paragraph in Richard Lewontin's review of Carl Sagan's book 'A Demon Haunted World' (which I have just read for the first time, and strongly recommend).

    The trouble is, is that the paragraph is taken out of context, and if you read the paragraph immediately before it, it completely reverses its meaning.

    I won't quote the two paragraphs in full because they're very long. Have a look at it and decide what your opinion of it is and then look at the two paragraphs
    together and decide again.

    Furthermore, I'm not interested what long dead philosophers (Aristotle) or theologians (Aquinas) think because they had no idea as to the true nature of the Universe. If the questions they asked haven't been answered it's because the questions they asked have been found not worth answering.

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  19. hahhaha ... is there such thing as a question that is not worth answering XD ?

    I smell Positivism all arouuund hehehhe...

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  20. @oleg:

    [If the questions they asked haven't been answered it's because the questions they asked have been found not worth answering.]

    A certain sign that an atheist has found an argument he can't refute. So he asserts that the argument isn't worth refuting.

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  21. Hey Mike,

    Your friends and colleagues at Telic Thoughts are trying to put scholasticism to good use: fighting cancer. I am not kidding. A brief excerpt follows.

    Some Scholia on Causality

    If the emergence of cancer is a causal process and we want to know what causes cancer and we want to design something that causes cancer cells to die, I suppose a good way to start is to have a proper understanding of what a cause is in the first place.

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  22. If the questions they asked haven't been answered it's because the questions they asked have been found not worth answering.

    Kind of tells you all you need to know about the atheist mindset. They say don't like God, they say they have no desire for God, they say they have no interest in experiencing God, they say they have no interest in making a close and risky study of the best arguments for the existence of God.

    Fine. I believe them.

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  23. Oh, yes, guys, there are questions that are not worth answering. Here are some examples:

    * How many angels can dance on the point of a needle?
    * How much phlogiston is contained in one ounce of magnesium?
    * What is the color of an electron?

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  24. It seems to me that the only reason the uncaused cause is referred to as a “being” is to support theistic notions. There is absolutely no way for us to know the nature of this cause. It might just as well be that “nothing” can not exist, and that all mathematically consistent systems do in fact have an actual realization.

    The Abrahamic religions would have us believe that “nothing” is by necessity filled with their God, and only their God, and that this God, for some reason, looks like it evolved from an ape.

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  25. the third question XD is sort of fun to answer XD.

    Well but some questions seem out of context ... is there question inside some context that is not worth answering ????

    Damn my pragmatic mind ... I know somewhere out there someone can find a context fro angels in a needle XD... like in fiction books. Maybe the needle world chronicles. ANd angels live there, so in that context that question si worth asking muahhahaha !!!! XD

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  26. It seems to me that the only reason the uncaused cause is referred to as a “being” is to support theistic notions. There is absolutely no way for us to know the nature of this cause. It might just as well be that “nothing” can not exist, and that all mathematically consistent systems do in fact have an actual realization.

    The Abrahamic religions would have us believe that “nothing” is by necessity filled with their God, and only their God, and that this God, for some reason, looks like it evolved from an ape.

    _____________________________________

    Actually your mathematical systems are inpersonal ideas. they can't really produce anything and they just are there are far as we know.

    So the cause of the Universe has to be personal, and that matcches... God!

    Now funny enough... God is not anthropomorphized so God is not like a evolved APE, not monkey XD.

    Nothing is nothing dude... it can't be filled with something otherwise is something not nothing XD.

    Ggggg... that was a weird complaint ...

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  27. oleg said...

    [* How many angels can dance on the point of a needle?
    * How much phlogiston is contained in one ounce of magnesium?
    * What is the color of an electron?]

    Why stop there. Let's keep going:

    * Is selection at the level of the gene, the individual, the group, or the species?
    * What are the respective contributions of adaptationism and neutral drift in evolution?
    *How does one distinguish punctuated equilibrium from special creation in the fossil record?
    *Under what circumstances don't survivors survive?

    Darwinism has a lot in common with other outdated scientific fallacies.

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  28. “Now funny enough... God is not anthropomorphized so God is not like a evolved APE, not monkey XD.”

    My Mistake, for some reason I was under the impression that most Christians believed that man was created in God’s image. You yourself said, one sentence before the above, “So the cause of the Universe has to be personal”. Do you mean that God is like a person in some regard, or that God created the universe just for you?

    “Nothing is nothing dude... it can't be filled with something otherwise is something not nothing”

    I don’t think it’s possible to describe or envision a state of nothingness. The simple fact that there is something rather than nothing leads me to believe that nothingness can’t exist. Christians seem to agree, and replace nothingness with a necessary God. A God that, not being nothing, must have been some sort of universe unto itself. Did this pre-existing God universe have any physical laws governing its functioning, or is it all pure magic?

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  29. My Mistake, for some reason I was under the impression that most Christians believed that man was created in God’s image. You yourself said, one sentence before the above, “So the cause of the Universe has to be personal”. Do you mean that God is like a person in some regard, or that God created the universe just for you?
    ____________________________________

    We were made at the spiritual image of God. God is imaterial and absolute.

    Tell me how much have you read about the whole Christian doctrine until you reach your conclusion xP?

    Personal is a personal mind, like my and yours. Created the universe just for me ??? errrr what the heck are you thinking ?

    Trying to challenge that humans are special is that it ??? if so, I feel great for you XD I think.
    --------------------------------------

    I don’t think it’s possible to describe or envision a state of nothingness. The simple fact that there is something rather than nothing leads me to believe that nothingness can’t exist. Christians seem to agree, and replace nothingness with a necessary God. A God that, not being nothing, must have been some sort of universe unto itself. Did this pre-existing God universe have any physical laws governing its functioning, or is it all pure magic?

    __________________________________________

    Nothing can't be described because it is... nothing. Nothing is a very logical idea.

    Right so you think that something is necessary, or that our universe is necessary, but it 50-50. It can be contingent. I don't get why you think something is necessary just because it exist.

    ahhahahaha ... Dunno, maybe God is a misture of pure magic and rules XD why not, isn't God the greatest Entity, the Absolute ?

    Well some people especulate that we are part of God, or something like that, but deep down I think God doesn't really have parts like our world has parts. I mean I remember my friend telling that to be one with God you needto enhance you own existence. Something like to see the stars you need to get outside or something like that.

    Anyway I see you know less about theology than me man XD, wanna talk about something more Earth-like ?

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  30. Robert O'BrienAugust 4, 2011 at 10:33 PM

    "Furthermore, I'm not interested what long dead philosophers (Aristotle) or theologians (Aquinas) think because they had no idea as to the true nature of the Universe. If the questions they asked haven't been answered it's because the questions they asked have been found not worth answering."

    That's just nonsense. Are you trying to make some sense?

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  31. Robert O'BrienAugust 4, 2011 at 10:37 PM

    Although he often posts idiotic screeds, Jason Rosenhouse is not an idiot. The noxious mediocrities who tend to follow/comment on his blog, however, are a different story. (Most of them also follow Pharyngula, which tells you all you need to know, really.) They make Jason look like a philosopher-king by comparison.

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  32. Michael,

    Answers to your questions:

    Selection is at the gene, the group and the species. They're all just different ways at looking at the same thing.

    Adaptionism and random drift have varying importances depending upon the size of the population and the nature of the trait. Neutral drift won't happen with big populations or bad traits.
    Punctuated equilibrium and special creation are distinguished in the fossil record by getting more data. Punctuated equilibrium predicts that there will be a small limited population somewhere which underwent more rapid evolution and left fewer fossils. It's just a matter of finding them before they're eroded away.
    Under which survivors don't survive? What do you mean? Nothing survives forever. The best that happens is that an individual has plenty of grandchildren. I suppose you could be meaning that an individual could be the 'fittest' in its population but just by bad luck could die young, for example for a very fit Emperor Penguin could by sheer misfortune dive into the ocean next to a very hungry Leopard Seal.

    The point is, the answers are available or potentially ascertainable.

    Aristotle's and Aquinas' questions are just rhetoric, with no connection to reality.

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  33. ahhahaha ... they are just rhetoric... really ???

    funny why exaclty they are just rhetoric ??? I think you are about to say that they did no experimentation so they have no valid arguments... although that is a genetic fallacy... Actually your complaint was a Genetic fallacy XD

    ______________________________________

    Well ... about the Fossils... well wouldn't those transitions we saw already this population with rapid evolution ??? Haven't we found them already or parts of them at least.


    I think Dr Egnor is asking what are the parameters to Natural Selection... see... to kind of offer some ground to argument about... weeellll how things are selected.

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  34. Edward,

    Would you care to translate your last question into English? It's gibberish as phrased. Regarding fossils; a minority of individuals dying avoid being consumed by predators or scavengers. Of the dead which avoid this fate, they then have to be preserved long enough to be be fossilized and the rocks with the fossils then to eroded to reveal the fossils. And then someone has to come along and recognize the fossil before it's destroyed. So of all the individuals that have lived, a vanishingly small percentage yield fossils which are found. And the chances of being found are unequal. Marine species more likely than terrestrial, hard shelled or skeletalised species more than soft ones, widespread or long lasting species more likely than localized or short lasting species. Of all the species that have ever lived it's a certainty that fossils exist for only a very small percentage.

    It's not selection for fitness, it's selection for the number of offspring and grandchildren that's important. There are always tradeoffs involved. Being able to run faster to avoid predators might take energy from breeding. An individual doesn't need to run faster than its predator, it just needs to run faster than the slowest of its peers.

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  35. @Robert:

    [Although he often posts idiotic screeds, Jason Rosenhouse is not an idiot.]

    I agree, in the sense I think you mean. Rosenhouse is a more thoughtful commentor from the Darwinist perspective than most of the others.

    But I used the word "idiot", after hesitating to use it, because as a mathematician who is quite aware of the rigor necessary to evaluate mathematical proofs he utterly failed to apply the same rigor to the strongest versions of the cosmological arguments, which has much in common with mathematical proofs.

    Rosenhouse is certainly not an idiot in a broad sense. But his dismissal of the cosmological arguments without serious engagement is... well... idiotic.

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  36. Oleg,
    Your comments regarding 'Telic thoughts' made me think of this.
    Dr Axel Thomson, of the Edinburgh research team responsible for finding the 'puppet master' gene responsible for the development of prostate cancer cells:
    'This is basic scientific research. However, it was conducted on samples taken from patients; it was not something esoteric done on worms or flies.This is an area of tumour biology which is going to be important in the future.’ 
    Sounds very PROXIMATE to me. You? Unless by flies and worms you think the doctor is referring to spiritualism or holistic medicines? My guess is they are referring to evolutionary bunk....er biology.
    You can read the full article here

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  37. Would you care to translate your last question into English? It's gibberish as phrased.
    _________________________________

    As in punctuated equilibrium should present at least some transitional fossils. The rapid evolution you talked about right ?

    ---------------------------------

    Regarding fossils; a minority of individuals dying avoid being consumed by predators or scavengers. Of the dead which avoid this fate, they then have to be preserved long enough to be be fossilized and the rocks with the fossils then to eroded to reveal the fossils. And then someone has to come along and recognize the fossil before it's destroyed. So of all the individuals that have lived, a vanishingly small percentage yield fossils which are found.
    ___________________________________________

    So only a small percentage fossilized. Still we should have transitional forms, 1 for every connection between punctuated equilibriums, shouldn't we ??? Or the logic here is not valid for all transitions??

    -----------------------------------------------

    And the chances of being found are unequal. Marine species more likely than terrestrial, hard shelled or skeletalised species more than soft ones, widespread or long lasting species more likely than localized or short lasting species. Of all the species that have ever lived it's a certainty that fossils exist for only a very small percentage.

    _______________________________________

    Okay.

    ---------------------------------------

    It's not selection for fitness, it's selection for the number of offspring and grandchildren that's important. There are always tradeoffs involved. Being able to run faster to avoid predators might take energy from breeding. An individual doesn't need to run faster than its predator, it just needs to run faster than the slowest of its peers.

    _______________________________________

    Yeah but that logic only work for bands and fast moving beings. Like in the African Savana. But is not necessarily valid for all environments don't you agree?

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  38. Oleg, nice quote mine there from TT. You and Don seem to have missed the point though.

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  39. Techne,

    Maybe you can't get your point across. Or maybe you don't even have a point.

    You have opened three posts with the the word cancer in the first sentence. We have been waiting with a baited breath to see how scholasticism can be used to generate insights in the fight against cancer. How many more posts are we to expect before you even get to the point?

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  40. oleg,

    Both you and don just miss the point completely. The point of these posts was not to "generate insights in the fight against cancer" using Scholasticism. The point was to highlight Scholastic terms so that the emergence of cancer (somatic evolution of malignancy) can be explained in Scholastic terms. Whether this will "generate insights in the fight against cancer" is a separate issue. Hopefully you get the point so far...

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