Friday, July 6, 2012

Darwin and Maxwell




Commentor oleg on Maxwell and Darwin:

Egnor: "You'd think, bach, that after 150 years you guys would finally figure out what your Victorian "theory" really means. Besides survivors survive."

[oleg] That's a pathetic response, Mike. You cannot argue on substance, so you poo-poo the time period. Well, you know what? Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism is also a "Victorian theory." It was formulated about the same time as Darwin's. No shame about the timing.

The contrast between Maxwell's theory and Darwin's is very instructive.

Maxwell's theory is perhaps the most powerful and beautiful in science. It is mathematically elegant, precise, comprehensive, and astonishingly heuristic (eg it demonstrated that light is a form of electromagnetism, and it served an a basis for Einstein's work on special relativity). Maxwell himself was an uncommonly passionate Christian (like most great scientists who created modern science), and understood his work as the exploration of God's creation.

Darwin's theory is a banal tautology and a non-sequitor.

Banal: there is heritable variation in living things

Tautology: living things that are reproductively successful (survivors) are more effective at passing their traits to their young (survive). Survivors survive.

Non-sequitor: this trivial observation explains the origin of species, is indispensable to biology, is the best idea anybody ever had, yada, yada.

Bottom line:

Maxwell's work is an example of the best in science.

Darwin's work is an example of the best in using a banal "theory" to market fashionable ideology (atheism).




88 comments:

  1. Michael,

    I didn't make this comment, although I do agree with the comment's sentiment.

    I take it this is just an inadvertent mistake on your part this time, instead of your common straighout lies, as when you deliberately fabricated a quote, even putting it in quotation marks, as coming from me.

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    Replies
    1. bach,

      You're right. Sorry for the error.

      When did I deliberately fabricate a quote?

      Delete
    2. Michael,

      You fabricated a quote when I noted from reading Chris Mooney's book 'the Republican Brain' that conservatives tend to score low on 'openness' in the OCEAN personality scales and tend to score highly in 'conscientiousness' whereas liberals tend to score highly in 'openness' and tend to score lowly in conscientiousness.

      'Openness' refers to the ability to accept new ideas, see the world in shades of grey, instead of black and white, to have a nuanced view of the world.

      The conservative isn't inferior to the liberal brain. It just does better in some situations, worse in others.

      Neville Chamberlain was liberal in attempting to see Hitler's point of view. Churchill was conservative in immediately recognizing that Hitler was a great danger, no nuances.

      The conservative was 100% right.

      I'd then said that what fascinates me about your blog is how an intelligent person could hold such stupid opinions. Reading Chris Mooney's book provides the answer. Therefore, I don't need to read your blog anymore.

      And you promptly started another thread with something like (I don't have the time to go back to find the thread, it's way back in March, I think) "I won't read your blog because you're closed-minded". In inverted commas - quotation marks - mind you, as if I actually wrote it, which I didn't. Being low in openness to new ideas isn't the same as being closed-minded.

      I didn't write it, so you can't fabricate a quote, even if you think that that's what I meant. If a liberal journalist did the same thing, invented a quote, or even taking a quote out of context (which is something you seem to love to do, looking at some of your quotes to the right) you'd be calling for his hide.

      I comment on the gist of this thread tomorrow when I have time.

      Delete
    3. It was April 14th.

      http://egnorance.blogspot.com/2012/04/global-warming-is-about-slavery.html?showComment=1334473436049#c6885764679407853244

      "And you promptly started another thread with something like (I don't have the time to go back to find the thread, it's way back in March, I think) 'I won't read your blog because you're closed-minded'. In inverted commas - quotation marks - mind you, as if I actually wrote it, which I didn't."

      Here's the other post: http://egnorance.blogspot.com/2012/04/im-not-listening-to-you-anymore-because.html

      It was in the title. I think he was using the quotation marks as means of poking fun at your tantrum, Bachfiend.

      I didn't get the idea that you said those exact words. That's kind of how I define the word misleading--if I'm misled by it, it's misleading. He did, however, sum up your sentiments. Did he not?

      Here's what I said at the time: "But in the end, he closed his mind to the close-minded Egnor and his blog. Too bad. Example number 3,234,114 of why we should never call liberals 'liberal.' They aren't."

      And that's really the crux of the matter. Leftists talk about open-mindedness but demonstrate mostly close-mindedness. They talk about tolerance but practice intolerance. They talk about inclusiveness but practice exclusion. None of the supposed values that they hold dear do they actually demonstrate. Lots of preaching, no practicing.

      Having a conversation with a true liberal--an endangered species these days--is a delightful experience of give and take. A true liberal has valuable, thought-provoking things to say, and also listens with a genuine desire to learn something. "Liberals" these days compare all disagreement to the Holocaust, slavery (see Egnor's original post), and Jim Crow, then call you a moron, throw food, and get you fired from your job. Then they lecture you about civility.

      By the way, Bachfiend, were you the one who said you don't hate Christians, you just hate Christianity?

      TRISH

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    4. @TRISH:

      I think the difference between a liberal and a "liberal" is that liberals try to have a good debate, while "liberals" try to shut down debate.

      Also, "liberals" are acrimonious.

      Little John

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    5. I thought Bachfiend likes to have a good debate. I said so.

      "Honestly, I thought most of Bachfiend's comments added to the conversation, even if I didn't agree with them. He wasn't simply a contrarian like some of the other commenters on her. I also noticed that he would actually delve into the science of global warming, rather than resorting to the tried and true, 'But ALL scientists believe in it!'"

      TRISH

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    6. TRISH,

      Thank you for finding the thread. But if something is in quotation marks, it's a quote. Something actually said or written. If Michael wants to put across the idea that he thinks that I meant something else by the words I used then he should express it in another way, without the quotation marks, and provide a link so that readers can go back and check that Michael has got the gist right.

      Stephen Meyer attempted to do the right thing in his retracted review article in 'Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington' in 2004 (the only explicit ID journal article so far, and retracted) where he 'summarised' what a scientist wrote (not a quote), and provide a link to the endnote at the end of the review (many many pages later) giving the source, which actually often turned out to be an accurate account of what the scientist wrote instead of what he wished the scientist wrote).

      I did write that I don't hate Christians. I just hate Christianity. In the same way that Christians say that they hate the sin, love the sinner.

      Delete
    7. All right. He shouldn't have used quotation marks.

      It's good to know that you hate Christianity. Most anti-theists aren't that honest. Because if we understood that their motivation is rooted in hate of our religion, we might see their ulterior motives through their bullcrap smokescreens.

      TRISH

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    8. TRISH,

      I wouldn't hate Christianity if it only produced good things. Bach's B minor mass or the St Matthew's Passion. Handel's 'Messiah'. The numerous glorious preligious paintings. The many magnificent cathedrals. The good deeds done by Christians who feel that it's their duty (my good deeds are done because I think it's my duty as a humanist).

      I hate Christianity because of the irrationality it produces in some of its adherents. Such as Senator Inhofe who denies AGW not based on the science but based on his belief that God had promised that humans will not be destroyed by Flood again (I think he means rising sea levels).

      If the irrationality wasn't present in people of power, I wouldn't mind. I like a good joke too.

      Delete
    9. Make works of art and cathedrals. We like those. But please don't disbelieve our junk science. It kind of makes me wonder what value you see in our works of art and cathedrals. Are they just pretty stained glass with flying buttresses? Do you understand that they have meaning that can't be divorced from their artistic value?

      It really sounds as if you harbor a bitterness that you need to address. The problem is not our religion but your reaction to it. I'm sorry if someone you knew turned you off. Plenty of atheists have turned me off too--with their arrogance, entitlement, and broad generalizations.

      What exactly did Inhofe say about the great flood? I've never heard this before. Let me know.

      Atheism only ever produces good things. Like...Pol Pot?

      This is getting absolutely absurd. Christianity is responsible for everything any Christian has ever done, but atheism is never responsible for anything. Christians are monolithic but atheists are always independent actors.

      I'm also glad to know that you hate Christianity. That's more honesty than I've heard lately. So, would it naturally follow that you'd like a future devoid of my religion? Are you trying to snuff us out?

      The Torch

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    10. "If the irrationality wasn't present in people of power, I wouldn't mind."

      Let me translate that for you. Christians are irrational. And that's fine, as long as they stay far away from public office, the voting booth, or societal institutions. They can change policy in those those positions, so they must not be allowed to be there.

      But Bachfiend has no problem with Christians.

      Christians are fine as long as they shut up, sit down, and don't vote.

      The Torch

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    11. "I wouldn't hate Christianity if it only produced good things."

      You must hate everything because there's nothing in the world that produces only good things. No ideology, philosophy, worldview, or religion produces only good things. Least of all atheism.

      The Torch

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    12. >>If the irrationality wasn't present in people of power, I wouldn't mind.<<

      Breathtaking. If we "irrational" Christians get anywhere near power, that's a problem. Does that have the ring of religious tests for public office?

      Such is the arrogance of some nonbelievers. Believing in silly mythology is fine. Just don't participate in the political process. Any other groups you'd like to exclude from the positions of power? Blacks, perhaps? Jews? People who aren't blond haired blue eyed Aryans? Aborigines?

      You want us silenced and sidelined. That's discrimination. I hope you don't consider yourself a proponent of a pluralistic society.

      JQ

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    13. Y'all,

      Inshore uses the Bible to 'disprove' AGW. I can't find the one I've seen on YouTube, but if you go there and put Inhofe global warming into the search box you'll find plenty of videos of him saying much the same thing, including one where he quotes Genesis 8:22.

      I don't have any trouble with religious people being in power. But I do have a problem with politicians deciding their policies on science based issues on Scriptural grounds.

      At least, when there were fears about the H5N1 swine 'flu, Bush was announcing measures to counter it, not stating that it was designed by God to kill humans.

      Delete
    14. Oops,

      Spell check strikes again. INHOFE!

      Delete
    15. What the hell are you talking about? When the swine flu struck, the president was Obama.

      I can't make sense out of your comment. So you can't find the video of Inhofe quoting scripture to debunk global warming, but if I go to Youtube I can find plenty of videos of Inhofe citing scripture to debunk global warming.

      Dude, are you off your meds again?

      Do they usually say "y'all" in Australia, or do think you'll get points for being folksy if you use that word?

      Ben

      Delete
    16. Ben,

      Swine 'flu H5N1 was in 2006. That was during Bush's term. The YouTube I was after was Inhofe referring to the Genesis Flood. I agree he uses a lot of scripture in criticizing AGW. That's the point. AGW is a science question. He should be using science, not scripture, if he wants to debunk it.

      Delete
    17. "Swine 'flu H5N1 was in 2006."

      I thought you were talking about H1N1. I looked up H5N1 on Wiki. It calls that one the bird flu. Yes, I remember the bird flu epidemic with all of the pictures of people in China wearing surgical masks to protect themselves. I think you're confusing the names. As far as I can tell, H1N1 = swine flu, H5N1 = avian flu. Then again, I'm no flu expert.

      "AGW is a science question. He should be using science, not scripture, if he wants to debunk it."

      I agree. And I still don't know what his comment was or in what context, so I can't tell you if I think he's way out in left field. At any rate, I'm not a global warming alarmist. It started to seem like a cult to me when Al Gore came out with his movie, which made me very suspicious. The rhetoric of the alarmists is what really turned me off. I had never seen a group of people more averse to having a discussion in my life. 'These people are scientists?' I thought. Isn't debate the bedrock of science? How does science advance over time if the consensus can't be challenged? It really made me think they were hiding something, and then Climategate broke and I found out that my hunch was correct.

      Still, the Biblical flood has nothing at all to do with it.

      Ben

      Delete
    18. Ben,

      Yes you're right. It was called 'avian'. Although with the 'flu, the problem is with bird 'flu and 'swine flu combining in the same host (such as a pig on a mixed farm and combining genes to create a 'flu strain capable of causing a human pandemic. There's cross-species mixing going on all the time.

      The Inhofe video I was trying to find was worryingly from a Senate committee hearing.

      I regard Climategate as a blowup job, an exaggeration. I'm not worried about the statistical methods used to condense a large number of temperature recordings from global weather stations or the proxies used to assess past temperatures.

      I'm concerned about the well known and well understood physical properties of greenhouse gasses in trapping heat, and the way we are dumping large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

      In one of my comments below, I noted that the last mass extinction, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum 55 MYA, was due to a similar amount of carbon being dumped in the atmosphere as we are doing now, but in thousands, not hundreds, of years.

      Delete
  2. Guess who wrote this:

    In the case of living beings, however, the generation of individuals is always going on, each individual differing more or less from its parent. Each individual during its whole life is undergoing modification, and it either survives and propagates its species, or dies early, accordingly as it is more or less adapted to the circumstances of its environment. Hence, it has been found possible to frame a theory of the distribution of organisms into species by means of generation, variation, and discriminative destruction.

    Darwin, or Maxwell?

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  3. Here is a good debunking of creationist lies about Maxwell:

    Link

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  4. Yet, James Clerk Maxwell had these words inscribe at the entrance of the Cavendish Laboratory:

    Magna opera Domini exquisita in omnes voluntates ejus.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, he was a christian but he didn't seem to have a problem with evolution and an old earth. Unlike the deranged creationists that like to portray him as one of them.

      Delete
  5. Darwin's theory isn't a tautology. It posits that different species had a common ancestor in the past. More specifically, it predicts that clades form a nested hierarchy. That of course can be, and has been, tested by several independent means, so it is at the very least falsifiable in principle.

    Try to argue with that.

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    Replies
    1. His argument: God snapped his fingers and everything appeared!

      Delete
    2. The amusing thing here is that by labeling it a tautology, Egnor is stating that the theory of evolution by natural selection is, by necessity, true.

      It seems that his only objection to the theory is that it doesn't incorporate magic like he would like it to.

      Delete
  6. Darwinian evolution is true, and shows there is no Adam and Eve, no original sin, and no need for Jesus. There is no Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, or Christian God. Oh well, grow up and get over it.

    -KW

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    1. Egnor:

      Darwin's theory is a banal tautology and a non-sequitor.

      Of course Egnor knows this is not true. Evolutionary theory is a body of mathematical models that has been quite successful at explaining the observed biodiversity.

      As usual, Egnor is lying because he doesn't like that science contradicts his favorite fairy tales. Egnor is a typical conservative pathological liar. If the facts contradict your beliefs, just deny the facts. Par for the course.

      Delete
  7. Michael,

    This will probably take me a number of separate comments.

    As is usual in a Christian blog, no matter what the topic, eventually the comments turn to the 'evil' Charles Darwin (and I use the quote marks to indicate that I don't think he was evil, not that someone has used the word with reference to him. I'm not ascribing the word to any commentator. Understand?)

    And once again you bring up your summary of evolutionary biology as 'survivors survive'. This is a ridiculous travesty of a summary. Individuals don't survive. They all die eventually. Success in an evolutionary sense is living long enough to have offspring, who in turn live long enough to have offspring too.

    A profound summary would have been 'surviving species survive', which is absolutely true. Species are the only unique entity that is potentially immortal.

    And I noted that individuals don't evolve. Species evolve. Which prompted your comment at the start of this thread. But it's true. It's always been about the species. Darwin wrote 'On the Origin of Species' not 'On the Origin of Individuals', remember?

    Darwin's theory consists of common ancestry, descent with modification, natural variation within populations (actually incipient new species, since most speciation is allopatric - separate non-interbreeding populations) and mechanism(s) for changing the relative frequency of variations within populations.

    It's the 4th one that's the important one. It's the one that deals with evolution within species. Darwin came up with natural selection and sexual selection. He also suggested something that sounds very suggestive of neutral drift. But he didn't know of Mendel's work, which is a pity. It would have been a great help.

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  8. Michael,

    ... (continued) And then in another comment, I noted that Darwin predicted that evolution is slow and gradual. And predictably, you countered with Punctuated Equilibrium as disproving Darwin.

    Actually, Punctuated Evolution doesn't disprove Darwin's idea that evolution is slow and gradual. It's actually very easily explained. If anything is banal, then it's Punctuated Equilibrium, because all its doing is giving a new name to a previous observation (similar to Michael Behe claiming credit for 'irreducible complexity' which Herman Muller had discussed under a different name decades earlier - and noted not to be a problem for evolutionary biology).

    Even before 1859, geologists had noted that the geological column of sedimentary rocks can be divided into layers solely on the basis of the contained fossils. A common widespread fossil appears abruptly, persists unchanged throughout the layer, and then disappears equally suddenly to be replaced by a different common widespread fossil, without transition.

    When it became possible to date the sedimentary layers, it became apparent that certain fossilized species appeared to appear suddenly, persist unchanged (morphologically - it doesn't indicate that they didn't change biochemically for example) for millions of years, and then disappear equally suddenly.

    Darwin was aware that there weren't fossils showing a transition between discrete species. And he came up with two explanations. The pertinent fossils showing the transition haven't been found yet. And the evolution into new species occurs more when the climate is changing, with sea levels rising or falling - and at these times fewer fossils form.

    He was basically right - but also wrong for very interesting reasons.

    Geologists had noted the abrupt change in fossils, and wondered if that meant that there had been floods prior to the last Flood described in Genesis? And when they got up to 17 or so floods, they abandoned that idea.

    But it's due to greater or lesser catastrophes occurring periodically producing climate change. Such as the Chicxulub impact doing in the non-avian dinosaurs at the time of the K-T event 65 MYA (if it wasn't the Indian Deccan traps supervolcano).

    A common successful widespread species suddenly finds its environment to have changed too much, and promptly goes extinct. A similar less successful species clinging by its claws (actually better expressed as clinging by the edge of its shell) to a perilous existence in a localized area suddenly finds that its environment has now changed to its liking, and proliferates becoming the new widespread common species.

    And, voila! Punctuated equilibrium! Evolution has actually been occurring silently in the localized uncommon species between catastrophes, which aren't found as fossils because they're uncommon.

    And Punctuated Equilibrium is demonstrated in small marine invertebrates with shells, because they live in large numbers, and also die in large numbers, in conditions favoring formation of large numbers of fossils, with marine sediments covering and protecting the dead.

    You wouldn't be so excited about Punctuated Equilibrium if it applied to only small marine invertebrates with shells. You think it means that if God creates small marine invertebrates with shells suddenly, then it also means He creates hominids, including Homo sapiens too, suddenly too.

    Your co-religionist, Ken Miller, describes Intelligent Design as not only bad science, but also bad religion, because it makes God not only a serial creator, but also a serial incompetent creator, making a species, allowing it to go extinct, and then creating a new very similar species to replace it.

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  9. Michael,

    ... (continued). The last mass extinction was at the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum 55 MYA, thought to be due to suboceanic volcanic activity releasing methane from deposits of methane clathrates layed down by bacteria within oceanic sediments, dumping a similar amount of carbon into the atmosphere, as we're now doing with our burning of fossil fuels. But it took thousands of years instead of the hundreds of years we are now taking.

    Fortunately, it was mainly a marine mass extinction. Terrestrial species were largely unscathed, because they were able to migrate and find a climate more to their liking. But that doesn't mean that individual animals didn't find the going extremely tough.

    You don't want to live through a mass extinction. Your species might survive (and humans will definitely survive any possible mass extinction due to AGW. We're too numerous and widespread to be made extinct. But it won't be a fun experience.

    And AGW is happening. Just the well known and well understood physics of greenhouse gasses indicate that it's happening.

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  10. Michael,

    ... (continued). And in another comment, Oleg noted that Darwin effectively predicted the existence of a discrete hereditary molecule, such as DNA.

    And you claimed, that since most traits are determined by multiple genes, that means inheritance is 'blending' not visible to natural selection and thus of no use to evolution.

    But you're using 'blending' in a manner different to that used in Darwin's day. People thought that inheritance was blended. If a 'purple' person had children with a 'green' person, then the offspring would be a mixture of purple and green. A common objection at the time was that if a superior 'purple' person was shipwrecked on an island with inferior 'green' natives (it was actually expressed in the obnoxious terminology of race - which doesn't exist anyway - of the day), then the superior 'purple' traits would be rapidly diluted and bred out by the inferior 'green' traits.

    But genes are discrete. Their action is all or nothing. If they're in the genome, then they have an effect, regardless of whether it's large or small.

    Darwin had an inkling of this, because he wrote in a letter than since time immemorial males and females have been having offspring who are either male or female - never a mix.

    I then noted that there are no good or bad genes on their own. Genes are good or bad in their environment. Which includes all the other genes in the individual's genome. All the other individuals in its local species population. All the other species in its locality, competitors, predators and prey. The prevailing climate.

    And then you promptly retorted that I'm claiming that genes exist in isolation, their environment is the void.

    Richard Dawkins has a nice analogy in 'the Selfish Gene' comparing an organism with its genes to a rowing team. If you were a ruthless rowing coach and wanted to form the fastest 4-member rowing team from 8 available rowers then you'd try out all the combinations of 4 against the others to find the fastest combination in actual competition.

    And then you'd clone the fastest combination to form multiple fast teams. That's what evolution does.

    To continue the analogy to ridiculous limits, if there was a neighboring equally ruthless rowing coach who'd cloned his fastest rowing team and wanted to take over your area in open competition by staging races - with the losers retiring permanently - then if your teams are faster, your survive. And if your teams are faster because they're used to the climate - their competitors like it 5 degrees hotter - and the climate changes to the competitors' liking, then they win, and Punctuated Equilibrium.

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  11. I wonder how many people who think Darwin was a great thinker would admit that he was a teleologist? bachfiend? Oleg? Are you aware of this simple fact? Does it bother you? It shouldn't.

    Anyway, there is also an interesting debate about the nature of fitness in the theory of natural selection.

    There is the position that fitness is a causal disposition or propensity. This make it out to be something that is irreducibly teleological in Aristotelian sense.

    And then there is the position that it is merely an acausal statistical effect.

    So the hardcore Darwinists that are under the impression that Darwin somehow refuted teleology are between a rock and a hard place. Either fitness is an irreducibly teleological feature of natural selection theory and they admit Darwin wa a teleologist, or they admit that fitness and natural selection are acausal.

    Watching the cognitive dissonance after Darwinists start to realize this is quite entertaining really :D.

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    Replies
    1. Techne,

      No one is talking about teleology in this thread. Go back to Telic Thoughts.

      Delete
    2. Hey Techne,

      I have no idea what the heck you just said. Speaking English might be a good start. That's the language of choice on this blog.

      Ben

      Delete
    3. Techne,

      Welcome! Excellent point.

      And, with respect to oleg's dismissal of teleology, this blog is very much about teleology.

      Mike

      Delete
    4. Michael,

      Would you care to explain in your own words exactly what you think Techne was trying to express?

      On second thoughts, perhaps you'd better not try. You managed to think that Philip Kitcher was saying the exact opposite of what he was actually saying in his essay on scientism.

      Delete
    5. Oleg, I am talking about teleology, got a problem?

      Does it bother you that Darwin was a teleologist?

      Or are you just not very fond of talking about the concept?

      Anyway, bachfiend and anonymous, apart from the bad grammar, what is it that needs explaining?

      Delete
    6. You're in the wrong thread, Techne. This one is about Egnor's claim that Darwin's theory of evolution is a tautology. Read the opening post.

      Delete
    7. No cognitive dissonance here my friend.

      No matter what Darwin’s faith lead him to believe, he understood the atheistic implications of his theory. Darwin was a religious man who sat on his work for decades precisely because he understood his theory would be controversial and a justification for atheism. He also feared the possibly of upsetting the social order that afforded him a place of privilege and respect. He knew that some people who would demonize him, and indeed they still are.

      Random mutations are indeed random, but they are not mysterious. We are familiar with the mechanisms that cause mutations and can observe the frequency of mutations in various genes. So while random, they are predictable bases on well known phenomena and solid observations. There’s no acausality here. Nor is acausality evident in any of the other mechanisms that contribute to evolution.

      Natural selection is not entirely random or acausal and that’s the whole point. It has been shown time and again that changes resulting in very small fitness advantages will spread in the population. Of course there’s always the chance that an individual that has a mutation or combination of genes that would otherwise result in increased fitness will have the misfortune of being eaten before it can reproduce, so yes, chance has a role, but it’s the non-random results that are illustrated by the history of evolution.

      Teleology is an illusion resulting from life’s origin in its simplest forms. Bound by a wall of minimum complexity overall greater average complexity is the only avenue open. That doesn’t mean that all creatures become more complex over the course of evolutionary history, far from it, by some estimates three out of four animal species are parasites; almost all of which are simplified versions of non-parasite ancestral forms. Our perspective from near the extreme of great complexity, our unique mental abilities, and our penchant for looking for purpose and meaning have warped our perception.

      -KW

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    8. Oleg, ever since Darwin and Wallace came up with the idea of natural selection there was the problem of it turning into a tautology.

      The problem lies in providing a proper definition of fitness. If you define fitness in terms of survival and reproduction then it can become a useless tautology. For example, when asking “why did an organism survive” the answer may be “because it is fit”. And when asking “why is something fit” the answer may be “because it survived”. It’s a simple and useless tautology. Rosenberg and Bouchard realize this and discuss it in their paper “Matthen and Ariew’s obituary for fitness: reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated”.
      So, the idea that fitness is a probabilistic propensity solved this problem. Any talk of “propensity”, potentiality, disposition (see talkorigins’ piece on this http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/tautology.html) etc. makes fitness an irreducibly teleological feature.
      This is not the only interpretation of fitness as there are some proponents that view it as merely a non-causal statistical description.

      So natural selection is either:
      1) A tautology
      2) Irreducibly teleological
      3) An acausal statistical description

      Rock, a hard place or… concrete? Pick your pick.

      Delete
    9. KW, mutations are not random. At best you can perhaps argue they are indeterminate. And you don't appear to understand the concept of teleology. it looks like you are confusing it with Paley's idea of complexity and design.

      Delete
    10. bach and oleg,

      It seems that Techne's obvious point about teleology and natural selection makes you very uncomfortable. As well it should.

      If natural selection means 'survivors survive', it is a tautology. Worthless.

      If natural selection means merely the statistical effect-- certain traits correlate statistically with certain influences on reproductive success, without a causal relationship between the trait and success, then natural selection is an acausal statistical correlation, and not a 'mechanism' with explanatory power.

      If natural selection has causal agency-- if certain traits cause changes in reproductive success, then natural selection is teleological-- it is a process that is directed to an end-- the end is the effect that it causes.

      As Techne said, either natural selection is a tautology, or it is acasual and doesn't 'do' anything, or it is teleological and thus stands in need of an explanation for the directedness of its teleology.

      Rock and a hard place, my atheist friends. I see why you want to change the subject.

      Delete
    11. I have nothing against teleology. I view it as harmless mental masturbation. Great fun, I am sure. As long as Techne practices it in the privacy of his own blog, I have no objections. I don't feel like doing it myself.

      Delete
    12. As to changing the subject, Mike, you are the one who has avoided answering my question. The prediction of the universal tree of life is not a tautology. It is a claim that can be falsified. That alone makes Darwin's theory non-banal. In fact, that is why Christian conservatives like you hate it and want to get rid of it.

      Delete
    13. Techne: For example, when asking “why did an organism survive” the answer may be “because it is fit”.

      That's not a scientific question, Techne. Science does not answer why questions, it answers how questions. Write that down.

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    14. It cracks me up when armchair (and sometimes professional) philosophers declare scientific concepts tautological. The fitness brouhaha is but one example of that. They keep searching for some deep philosophical meaning and involvement of agency where none is meant. Science is descriptive, not prescriptive.

      A larger number of surviving offspring means that this particular phenotype is going to have an easier time spreading throughout the population. But if that were a tautology then alleles with higher fitness would be guaranteed to take over the population. Trivially so (hey, it's a tautology). But guess what? it's no guarantee! Genetic drift can get in the way. And it does, in small populations. So you're out of luck, guys. Fitness is no tautology. Tautologies are trivially true. There is no guarantee that fitter organisms will win over their less fit brethren.

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    15. Oleg, think what you want about teleology (didn't expect anything else from you quite frankly), but if you want a coherent and consistent non-teleological/ateleological view of reality I suggest you read Rosenberg's "The Atheist's Guise to Reality".

      Oleg: That's not a scientific question, Techne. Science does not answer why questions, it answers how questions. Write that down.

      Really, was this empirically verified or is this one of those metaphysical foundations of science you don't wish to discuss because you think metaphysics is "mental masturbation"?

      Anyway, if "why" is a problem for you, consider Rosenberg's take on it:
      "Define fitness as some biologists implicitly do, in terms of actual survival and reproduction, and the principle of natural selection turns into an empty tautology: those organisms which survive and reproduce in larger numbers, survive and reproduce in larger numbers."

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    16. I didn't say metaphysics was mental masturbation. I said teleology was.

      But to answer your question, Techne, indeed it has been empirically verified that sticking with how questions is a more fruitful approach in science.

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    17. oleg: Science is descriptive, not prescriptive.

      Ok, another metaphysical/philosophical claim. So, what do you think can give prescriptive explanations of reality?

      For a guy that thinks metaphysics is "mental masturbation", you sure like to... err... masturbate mentally.

      Come on oleg, even you can appreciate the irony in that.

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    18. Techne, your reading comprehension today is not up to snuff.

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    19. oleg: I didn't say metaphysics was mental masturbation. I said teleology was.

      So, just the teleology part of metaphysics is mental masturbation? It's no secret that you don't think much of metaphysics either.

      oleg: But to answer your question, Techne, indeed it has been empirically verified that sticking with how questions is a more fruitful approach in science.

      Even if it is more fruitful, this does not imply that science does not answer "why" questions. That is simply a philosophical/metaphysical assumption. I.e., it is not empirically verifiable. Unless you have some experiment to test whether science does not answer "why" questions :D.

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    20. oleg: Techne, your reading comprehension today is not up to snuff.

      As soon as you start with the ad hominems fallacies then it is time to move on. Here is a nice site
      http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/.

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    21. Techne,

      Again, as is clear from the preceding discussion, my point is not that there is some higher principle that prohibits science from answering why questions. It's just our experience that it succeeds by sticking with how. Maybe one day it will change, but that day has surely not arrived.

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    22. That wasn't an ad hominem argument, Techne. I didn't say that your inattention to what I write invalidates your point. I merely pointed out that you don't pay attention.

      So pay attention. :)

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    23. I wouldn't say that Darwin was a teleologist. To Darwin, fitness was simply number of offspring.

      I think it was the philosopher Elliot Sober who came up with the "propensity" definition of fitness. It has nothing to do with teleology.

      Fitness is usually assigned to a genotype or a phenotype, but there are other options like groups. I'll stick to genotypes here. Genotype A has higher fitness than genotype B if individuals with genotype A leave, on average, more descendents than individuals with genotype B. Note the "on average". That means an *individual* with genotype A has a *propensity* to leave more descendents than an individual with genotype B. There's no guarantee because stochastic factors come into play. I think that's what Sober's propensity definition boils down to, and it has nothing to do with teleology.

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    24. Oleg, before claiming others don't pay attention to what you say, consider the fact that what you say may be interpreted differently to what you intended. Apply the principle of charity chap, or try to be more precise in what you are trying to say ;).

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    25. troy, anything with a propensity or a disposition or a potentiality towards some end (e.g. propensity to have x number of offspring) is irredcibly teleological in the Aristotelian sense.

      Also, here are two papers describing why Darwin was a teleologist.
      http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/jbeatty/LennoxDarTeleo.pdfhttp://www.missouri.edu/~ariewa/Teleology.pdf

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    26. Techne,

      I don't think there was any ambiguity in what I wrote. May I suggest that you not try to read between the lines? We will have fewer communication problems then.

      At any rate, I don't care all that much what philosophers think about science. (But you knew that already.) They find lots of things objectionable. It's not just biology that they accuse of using circular logic. Even Newtonian mechanics is not up to their standards! To which I say: Duh.

      Delete
    27. troy, anything with a propensity or a disposition or a potentiality towards some end (e.g. propensity to have x number of offspring) is irredcibly teleological in the Aristotelian sense.

      Consider an individual who is immune against some lethal disease. All else being equal, that individual is expected to leave more descendents than an individual without that immunity. That individual has a higher propensity-style fitness. But lightning could strike and that individual has no offspring at all.

      How is that teleological? Explain it to me in detail please, because I don't have a clue about Aristotle's meaning of teleology.

      Delete
    28. oleg, you first claimed "Science does not answer why questions, it answers how questions." and then said "my point is not that there is some higher principle that prohibits science from answering why questions. It's just our experience that it succeeds by sticking with how. Maybe one day it will change, but that day has surely not arrived."

      Next time be more clear then you don't have to explain yourself AND claim others do not pay attention.

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    29. "Consider an individual who is immune against some lethal disease. All else being equal, that individual is expected to leave more descendents than an individual without that immunity. That individual has a higher propensity-style fitness. But lightning could strike and that individual has no offspring at all.

      How is that teleological? Explain it to me in detail please, because I don't have a clue about Aristotle's meaning of teleology."

      Reply:
      Teleology: Every agents for an end.

      A natural end of that individual is immunity against some lethal disease. I.e., when that individual gets infected he has a natural tendency/propensity/potentiality/latency/power/disposition to be immune to it.

      The immune system of that individual qualifies as an agent (an accident inhering in a substance/individual - in Aristotelian terms) acting towards an end.. which is providing immunity to a certain disease.

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    30. Techne,

      No reason to be all pissy, we're all friends here. If something I say isn't quite clear, just ask. Here you asked and I replied with a clarification.

      My jab about you not paying attention was on a different occasion. In that case, you really didn't. It's OK, Techne. Don't sweat it.

      Delete
    31. Techne: A natural end of that individual is immunity against some lethal disease. I.e., when that individual gets infected he has a natural tendency/propensity/potentiality/latency/power/disposition to be immune to it.

      There goes this thread. Now Techne will bore us to death with this bullshit. Techne, how many natural endscan an individual have and are there any restrictions? Is it my natural end to tease teleologists? Is it your natural end to come in and hijack a discussion thread? Enquiring minds want to know.

      Delete
    32. A natural end of that individual is immunity against some lethal disease. I.e., when that individual gets infected he has a natural tendency/propensity/potentiality/latency/power/disposition to be immune to it.

      The immune system of that individual qualifies as an agent (an accident inhering in a substance/individual - in Aristotelian terms) acting towards an end.. which is providing immunity to a certain disease.


      That's great, but how does all that help me to understand what's going on?

      If I want to understand that kind of situation, I would set up a model that includes the relative survival probabilities of the immune and the not-immune and then I could try to calculate how the frequency of the immune type would change over time. It's no help at all to simply declare something teleological.

      It seems to me that you like to call things teleological because it makes you think your brand of religion (Catholic I presume) is on to something. But it has no bearing on science whatsoever.

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    33. It's a one-way street, troy. Philosophers can ruminate about any scientific theory but scientists receive no useful feedback.

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    34. It's a one-way street, troy. Philosophers can ruminate about any scientific theory but scientists receive no useful feedback.

      I would say that the vast majority of the traffic goes in one direction, so I would agree with you almost entirely. But I have actually published a paper together with a philosopher, and we have some more in the pipeline. It can be useful to talk to philosophers about conceptual issues.

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    35. oleg: Techne, how many natural endscan an individual have and are there any restrictions? Is it my natural end to tease teleologists? Is it your natural end to come in and hijack a discussion thread? Enquiring minds want to know.

      Reply: The natural ends of a substance are derived (or depend on) from what kind of thing it is, its nature. E.g. in humans like you and me, attempting to gain and understand truth is a natural end of our intellect. Nothing spectacular if you are a moderate realist.

      troy, empirical science is not natural philosophy and natural philosophy is not empirical science. Aristotelian natural philosophy has a specific view about teleology and it is perfectly compatible with empirical science,. Empirical science is not going to confirm or refute Aristotelian natural philosophy and an Aristotelian philosophy of nature won't necessarily help you with your probabilistic calculations related to immune function (try calculus).

      Like I pointed out above, if you are looking for a consistent and coherent ateleological philosophy of nature go read Rosenberg's "The Atheist's Guide to reality". You may argue it has no bearing on science., fine, but it will help you understand your own and other's metaphysical/philosophical differences.

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    36. To rephrase the last sentence. It will help you understand your own metaphysical/philosophical views about reality and will also help you understand how it may differ with other's metaphysical/philosophical views.

      It was fun, apologies for steering the conversation in this direction Mike. Chat later :).

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    37. troy, empirical science is not natural philosophy and natural philosophy is not empirical science. Aristotelian natural philosophy has a specific view about teleology and it is perfectly compatible with empirical science,. Empirical science is not going to confirm or refute Aristotelian natural philosophy and an Aristotelian philosophy of nature won't necessarily help you with your probabilistic calculations related to immune function (try calculus).

      Yeah, right. Granted, Aristotle was a genius, and a keen naturalist, but his philosophies were based on what he knew at the time, which is far less than what we know now. Do you think Aristotle would come up with the same philosophy if he lived today? I don't think so. It seems to me that you stick to his outdated ideas because your religious dogma requires you to do so. Open your eyes.

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    38. Techne:" ... apologies for steering the conversation in this direction Mike."

      No apology needed. It is a great discussion, and gets to the heart of the issue. Thank you!

      Delete
    39. Golly. A lot of comments overnight on teleology.

      OK. What's the 'final purpose' of the human genome? Stephen Meyer (and a lot of other ID proponents) argue that 'junk' DNA doesn't exist, that all of it will be shown to have a function.

      But what about broken genes, which have acquired mutations so they no longer produce product? Like all mammals, humans have about 1,000 genes for olfactory receptors (they make up 3% of our genes). But about a third are broken, with mutations ( humans are a visually orientated species. Chimps, our nearest primate relative, have more functioning olfactory receptor genes, and whales have none, because their nose has become separated from their breathing, so smell is no longer possible).

      What's the teleological purpose of the 300 or so inactive olfactory receptor genes in the human genome?

      I think, if nothing else, the human genome is evidence that humans are the result of a blind process of accident and contingency, otherwise known as evolution. Humans weren't the target of a divine process.

      'Survivors survive' is a ridiculous summary of evolutionary biology (please read my four longish comments in this part of the thread and comment on them). Individuals don't survive; they all eventually die. The only units that are potentially immortal are genes and species.

      But genes aren't unique; the same gene is present over a wide range of species, from bacteria to humans. And almost all species eventually go extinct if they don't evolve.

      What's the teleological function of extinction?

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    40. bach,

      I'll reply to your 'survivors survive' comments in a post.

      On the question about what is the 'final purpose' of the genome and junk DNA, I point out that you misunderstand teleology. In matters of secondary causation (causation in nature) teleology does not refer to "final purpose' in the sense of a plan or a blueprint. Teleology means directedness to ends, a propensity to change in a certain way. DNA's teleology is to transmit genetic traits, via RNA, robosomes, etc. Junk DNA is defective DNA-- DNA that does not transmit genetic information as does transcribed DNA, but even junk DNA demonstrates teleology in rudimentary ways ( if has chemical bonds that act in specific ways, a clump of junk DNA falls to the floor if you drop it, etc).

      Teleology in nature (secondary causation) does not necessarily imply perfect ends nor complex ends. It is the propensity to something and not another.

      That propensity permeates nature, and naturally raises questions about its origin.

      Delete
    41. And don't forget to respond to this.

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    42. @oleg,
      Try to argue with that.

      Seems that your clades are on shaky grounds!

      Delete
    43. Pépé, you are clever by half. If you want to argue that the established hierarchy of clades is wrong, you have to first concede that the theory is falsifiable. If it were a tautology (as Egnor claims) it would be trivially true and thus unfalsifiable.

      You, guys, want to have your cake and eat it, too. That doesn't work.

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    44. oleg,

      [And don't forget to respond to this.]

      Already done. Scheduled Wednesday 6:00 am Eastern Time (I've got a queue into late July).

      I like to let the anticipation build.

      Delete
    45. Oh, knock me over with a feather!

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    46. @oleg,
      If it were a tautology (as Egnor claims) it would be trivially true and thus unfalsifiable.

      You are absolutely right!

      Darwinism is unfalsifiable because no amount of evidence will ever convince Darwinists that there are more holes in their theory than swiss cheese. The article in Nature will probably be withdrawn...

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    47. Pépé, you are so adorable in your babbling!

      The article in Nature will never be withdrawn. It's not a research paper, it's merely a news item. Furthermore, don't hold your breath waiting for the mammalian tree to topple. The microRNA method used by Peterson is a novel technique, so his results, as interesting as they are, have not yet been accepted. This story might turn out as well as the one about neutrinos breaking the speed limit.

      Stay tuned!

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    48. My babbling, as you say, is nothing compared to your hubris!

      Delete
    49. In case you wont click the link:

      Hubris (play /ˈhjuːbrɪs/), also hybris, means extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

      Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

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    50. Michael,

      I'll wait for your 'survivors survive' post before commenting again. Although there's no sign of directed purpose in nature.

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    51. ...there's no sign of directed purpose in nature

      Your comments are a good demonstration of that statement!

      :P

      PS: Just joking bach!

      Delete
  12. To help readers that may be baffled by all the story-telling comments about evolution in this thread, here are the conclusions of the paper Evolution (History and Scientific Foundation) from New Advent:

    1-The origin of life is unknown to science.

    2-The origin of the main organic types and their principal subdivisions are likewise unknown to science.

    3-There is no evidence in favour of an ascending evolution of organic forms.

    4-There is no trace of even a merely probable argument in favour of the animal origin of man. The earliest human fossils and the most ancient traces of culture refer to a true Homo sapiens as we know him today.

    5-Most of the so-called systematic species and genera were certainly not created as such, but originated by a process of either gradual or saltatory evolution. Changes which extend beyond the range of variation observed in the human species have thus far not been strictly demonstrated, either experimentally or historically.

    6-There is very little known as to the causes of evolution. The greatest difficulty is to explain the origin and constancy of "new" characters and the teleology of the process. Darwin's "natural selection" is a negative factor only. The moulding influence of the environment cannot be doubted; but at present we are unable to ascertain how far that influence may extend. Lamarck's "inheritance of acquired characters" is not yet exactly proved, nor is it evident that really new forms can arise by "mutation". In our opinion the principle of "Mendelian segregation", together with Darwin's natural selection and the moulding influence of environment, will probably be some of the chief constituents of future evolutionary theories.

    JG

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    Replies
    1. "To help readers that may be baffled by all the story-telling comments about evolution in this thread, here are the conclusions of the paper Evolution (History and Scientific Foundation) from New Advent:"

      Right. We'll take the word from a catholic website. Biased much?

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  13. In other words, the writers of this article understand nothing about evolutionary biology or paleontology. Why should anyone pay any attention to such babbling idiots?

    -- NA

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  14. @Mulder & NA
    If you are not happy with this blog and with the commentators that agree with it, why don't you go join the baboons at Pharygula or Why Evolution Is True?

    ReplyDelete