Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Brian Leiter’s rampage against Thomas Nagel

. By any accounts, Thomas Nagel has proven himself a more nimble philosopher than the hamfisted Brian Leiter. That’s perhaps why Leiter simply can’t get over that Nagel liked Stephen Meyer’s SIGNATURE IN THE CELL (reported at UD here). For Leiter, when scholars of Nagel’s stature endorse books coming out of the rogue Discovery Institute, that endorsement itself constitutes an attack on liberal democracy, cultured discourse, science, etc. Leiter simply can’t let this go. Here are the posts to date on his blog: leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2009/12/nagels-nonreply.html leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2009/12/more-comments-from-philosophers-on-thomas-nagels-shameful-stunt.html leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2009/12/thomas-nagel-jumps-the-shark.html leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2008/09/nagel-wins-ba-3.html

Toothless birds: Deprogramming from Darwinism

We are informed in this New Scientist article that “Early birds may have dropped teeth to get airborne.” (Colin Barras, 08 December 2009) If true, it would be no surprise. It’s the same reason airports impose luggage weight restrictions on passengers. Not clear why this is even a story. Apparently, four extinct groups of birds all lost their teeth independently. That theory is “as good as any other”, says Mike Benton at the University of Bristol, UK, though he remains sceptical. “Losing teeth wouldn’t make a huge difference to balance in the air.” Essentially, the big problem for birds isn’t losing their teeth, it is replacing them. The birds needed a whole digestive system that substitutes small stones and grit, Read More ›

Deconstructing Avida

Back in 2003 NATURE (vol 423, pp 139-144) published an article by Richard Lenski, Charles Ofria, Robert Pennock, and Christoph Adami titled “The Evolutionary Origin of Complex Features.” The abstract reads: A long-standing challenge to evolutionary theory has been whether it can explain the origin of complex organismal features. We examined this issue using digital organisms—computer programs that self-replicate, mutate, compete and evolve. Populations of digital organisms often evolved the ability to perform complex logic functions requiring the coordinated execution of many genomic instructions. Complex functions evolved by building on simpler functions that had evolved earlier, provided that these were also selectively favoured. However, no particular intermediate stage was essential for evolving complex functions. The first genotypes able to perform Read More ›

The End of Natural Selection

Playing off the title of Dr. Dembski’s new book, I’m going to cite three articles that are summarized at PhysOrg.com just this past week. I don’t have access to any of them, but let’s just take a look at what these summaries report. I think it’s quite interesting.

First, there is this article, DNA study sheds new light on horse evolution, that informs us that ancient species of zebras and horses are actually much more related to the modern day versions than previously thought. Here’s what they say:

The study used bones from caves to identify new horse species in Eurasia and South America, and reveal that the Cape zebra, an extinct giant species from South Africa, were simply large variants of the modern Plains zebra. The Cape zebra weighed up to 400 kilograms and stood up to 150 centimetres at the shoulder blades.

“The Plains zebra group once included the famous extinct quagga, so our results confirm that this group was highly variable in both coat colour and size.”

while concluding that:

“Overall, the new genetic results suggest that we have under-estimated how much a single species can vary over time and space, and mistakenly assumed more diversity among extinct species of megafauna,” Professor Cooper says.

This now means that the already tiny portion of “intermediate forms” that RM + NS produces in reduced in size. And perhaps greatly. This weakens what Darwin would call the “principle of divergence” and weakens the notion of gradualism that is implicit in his theory.

Next, there is this article: Introns: A mystery renewed.

Here we read:

“Remarkably, we have found many cases of parallel intron gains at essentially the same sites in independent genotypes,” Lynch said. “This strongly argues against the common assumption that when two species share introns at the same site, it is always due to inheritance from a common ancestor.”

which now calls into question prior notions of “proof” of common descent, and, I would think, requires a new look at how transposons operate.

Read More ›

MercatorNet: Can evolution explain religion?

Here’s my MercatorNet column (10 December 2009), Evolutionary psychologists offer two contradictory explanations for the existence of religion. They can’t both be right, but they can both be wrong. In a recent issue of the leading journal Science , Elizabeth Culotta offers a variety of speculations in an article titled “On the Origin of Religion.” Explaining religion without God is quite the growth industry these days among evolutionary psychologists. Some argue that religion exists because it increases evolutionary fitness (survival of the fittest). Others argue that it makes no difference to fitness. It is merely a glitch in our thinking that doesn’t kill us off. They can’t both be right, but they could both be wrong. Let’s see. For the Read More ›

Gravity is Bringing Me Down

Al Gore in Slate responding to climategate: “The physical relationship between CO2 molecules and the atmosphere and the trapping of heat is as well-established as gravity, for God’s sakes. It’s not some mystery.…” Now where have I heard the “as well established as gravity” mantra before?  Hmm.  It’ll come to me in a moment.

Intellectual freedom: The difference the blogosphere makes

In “Bloggers peer review a scientific ‘consensus,'” Gordon Crovitz writes (Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2009),

Unlike Watergate, Climategate didn’t come to light because investigative journalists ferreted out the truth. Instead, this story so far has played itself out largely on blogs, often run by the same scientists who had a hard time getting printed in the scientific journals. Climategate has provided a voice to the scientists who had been frozen out of the debate.

This may be how information-based scandals play out in the future: A leak from a whistleblower directly onto the Web. Expert bloggers then assess what the disclosures mean—a Web version of peer review.

Yes, precisely. Today’s scandals do not usually involve conventional stuff like pricey hotsie totsie dancers at the lab holiday party, on the tax tab. No, it’s more like this:

Blogging scientists have been busy reviewing the 15,000 lines of code by programmers that were included in the “Documents” folder of the leaked materials. The latest twist is hidden notations in the data from programmers that indicate where they had manipulated results. The programmers expressed frustration when the numbers didn’t fit the case for global warming.

Comments in the code include “These will be artificially adjusted to look closer to the real temperatures,” referring to an effort to suppress data showing that the Middle Ages were warmer than today. Comments inside the code also described an “adjustment” as follows: “Apply a VERY ARTIFICIAL correction for decline!!” Another notation indicated when a “fudge factor” had been added.

Read the rest here. You will be amazed at the nonsense and sloppiness – for example, locating weather stations near heating vents, etc. That would be like me forecasting the weather standing beside the vent from the dryers in a nearby apartment building’s laundry room. No wonder it would be Florida to me and a frozen waste to you.

Why this matters: There are probably a number of areas where fudge is factored, but we don’t know which ones, do we?

Expect pushback against independent media from non-transparent legacy sources. Read More ›

Coffee!! First morning cuppa, an interview with me: What makes O’Leary tic – but those Word Guild people have ways of making me toc

Here is an interview with me at Hot Apple Cider, an anthology of writing in various genres by Canadians who are devout Christians. I have an article in there, on neuroscience, faith, and health. If you think HAC  is mostly amateur devotionals,  jeremiads, and hellfire tracts, you will be very surprised. That sort of thing bores us silly, so we don’t pass it on. Also, for whatever reason (a desire to take a year end loss for some complex corporate tax reason?), Amazon is selling Hot Apple Cider for US$5.71. A good gift for literature students and essential for anyone whose pursuit of Canadian Studies comprises a bit more than the usual 20 minutes in Grade Seven. Or whatever.

Darwinism and popular culture: Socrates, the employment line forms out back, eight blocks from here, in front of a boarded-up door …

A philosopher recently wrote to some friends, including me, with the following problem: He was tired of the stupidity that passes for discussion over at certain Darwinist blogs that we will leave unnamed at present. He proposed to engage the bloggers and commenters in discussion.

Well, he certainly isn’t the only person who has proposed this idea to me recently, and I offer no advice, only an observation: Nearly eighty percent of evolutionary biologists are pure naturalists = no God and no free will. My valiant friend intended confronting the Internet entities that are attracted to these key Darwinists, who help them out by pouring abuse on anyone who disputes the Law given on Mount Improbable.

He tells me, “… this is the strategy of the skunks. We need to let them stink alone and turn our attention elsewhere.” Sensing I should say something in reply, I responded,

Read More ›

A De Novo Gene: Unlikely and Very Unlikely

If you scramble about 90% of a protein sequence—randomly replacing amino acids with different ones—would the protein still work? That is what evolutionists are implying in order to make sense of their theory. The problem is that evolution’s explanations for de novo genes are unlikely and very unlikely. In the case of the T-urf13 de novo gene, the two choices seem to be (i) a one in ten million shot that protein coding sequences just happened to be lying around waiting for use or (ii) only about 10% of the T-urf13 sequence really matters and you can scramble the rest with no effect.  Read more

How much attention should we pay to pundit predictions?

Maybe not so much. Jonah Lehrer, contributing editor at Wired, and blogger at The Frontal Cortex writes,

In the early 1980s, Philip Tetlock at UC Berkeley picked two hundred and eighty-four people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends” and began asking them to make predictions about future events. He had a long list of pertinent questions. Would George Bush be re-elected? Would there be a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa? Would Quebec secede from Canada? Would the dot-com bubble burst? In each case, the pundits were asked to rate the probability of several possible outcomes. Tetlock then interrogated the pundits about their thought process, so that he could better understand how they made up their minds. By the end of the study, Tetlock had quantified 82,361 different predictions.

After Tetlock tallied up the data, the predictive failures of the pundits became obvious. Although they were paid for their keen insights into world affairs, they tended to perform worse than random chance. Most of Tetlock’s questions had three possible answers; the pundits, on average, selected the right answer less than 33 percent of the time. In other words, a dart-throwing chimp would have beaten the vast majority of professionals. Tetlock also found that the most famous pundits in Tetlock’s study tended to be the least accurate, consistently churning out overblown and overconfident forecasts. Eminence was a handicap.

Lehrer worries that bad expert advice can “reliably tamp down activity in brain regions” that monitor errors and mistakes.

Rest here.

For Tetlock, go here.

I am skeptical of the mechanistic, brain-based explanation Lehrer offers. People often believe things because the social rewards of belief are greater than the social rewards of disbelief.

For example, if I said that I didn’t believe that polar bear numbers are drastically decreasing (see also here), some people out there would assume that I enjoy torturing kittens on my break, and would not accept my view as a considered judgement. And if they can find a pundit to back them up, that is all they need. The problem is that they then vote for public policy that might not work out the way they hope.

Here is an example: Read More ›

New York Times: Science Not About Certainty

From this article: Science is about probability, not certainty. And the persisting uncertainties in climate science leave room for argument. What is a realistic estimate of how much temperatures will rise? How severe will the effects be? Are there tipping points beyond which the changes are uncontrollable? Does this mean we can wait for a retraction of all of the NYT’s “Evolution is a fact, fact fact!” histrionics?  I’m not holding my breath.

Coffee!!: What do polls mean?

Here, Barry offered some poll numbers re beliefs of Americans: Percentage of Americans who believe in angels: 55 Percentage of Americans who believe in evolution: 39 Percentage of Americans who believe in anthropogenic global warming: 36 Percentage of Americans who believe in ghosts: 34 Percentage of Americans who believe in UFOs: 34 Some commenters wanted to know how to interpret this: Before I get back to work, I will tell you how: Angels are a teaching of all the major ethical monotheist traditions, and most of the minor ones. So we should not be surprised that a much higher number of people believe in them than believe in, say, UFOs – which are not taught by any seriously regarded institution. Read More ›

Why Richard Dawkins won’t debate William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is not only one of the world’s leading Christian apologists but he has actually made outstanding original contributions to philosophy. Yes, Craig publishes popular-level books. Unlike Dawkins, however, who in 20-years plus has been purely a popularizer (of Darwinian evolution, materialist science, and atheism), Craig continues to publish at the highest levels of the academy addressing scholars of the highest caliber (and gaining their respect). Dawkins, by contrast, increasingly appeals to the lowest common denominator. It’s in this light that Dawkins glib dismissal of Craig should be viewed:

A Frightening Admission?

Peter J. Bowler published an article in Science (Jan. 9, 2009) titled “Darwin’s Originality.” While much of Bowler’s analysis is just plain wrong (e.g., Darwin’s theory being already “in the air” is NOT accurately premised largely upon Wallace co-discovery of natural selection as Bowler suggests but upon much deeper secularizing processes coextensive with skeptics like David Hume and positivists like Auguste Comte, both of whom deeply influenced Darwin, and ideas even predating them), but another of his comments is just plain frightening. Toward the end of his essay Bowler distances Darwinism from the racial hygiene of the Nazis but then writes the following: “But by proposing that evolution worked primarily through the elimination of useless variants, Darwin created an image that could all Read More ›