Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

WWND? (What Would Nietzsche Do?)

 In an earlier post I commented on Alasdair Cochrane’s efforts to jettison “inherent dignity” as a criterion for determining whether it is moral to treat certain classes of humans as objects.  Cochrane is impatient with the “dignity criterion,” because it prevents actions that he deems beneficial, for example medical experiments on human guinea pigs that might lead to advances in medicine.  As I thought more about Cochrane’s thesis, it became clear to me that our old friend Nietzsche was lurking just beneath the surface of his arguments.  Nietzsche had no use for what he called “slave morality.”  For Nietzsche, “good” does not mean adherence to a moral standard.  Instead, it is more or less a synonym for “strong.”  Thus, the Read More ›

$5000 Video Contest at GodorNot.com: “Why do you believe that God is good?”

As part of the promotion for my book THE END OF CHRISTIANITY, the publisher has arranged a $5000 video contest in which participants upload an up-to-2-minute video explaining why they believe that God is good. The contest has just started and the deadline for submissions is April 5, 2010. The contest is operated by Memelabs, which allows online voters to judge the contest. Go to GodorNot.com for details. Interestingly, THE END OF CHRISTIANITY is receiving most of its criticism not from atheistic and theistic evolutionists but from young-earth creationists (e.g., Johnny Helms’ blog here). As I comment at that blog, “What I’m trying to do is preserve Christian orthodoxy within an old-earth perspective…. BOTTOM LINE: The only way my book Read More ›


B & H Publishing Group, publisher of Dr. Dembski’s excellent new theodicy The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World, is sponsoring a video contest at www.godornot.com. C. S. Lewis wrote in his journal, after the passing of his wife Joy Davidman Gresham from cancer, “Sooner or later I must face the question in plain language. What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we can conceive, ‘good’?” The journal entries written during his mourning were later to become the book A Grief Observed, which he initially published under the pseudonym N. W. Clerk. The publisher believes that the above quote from Lewis is the central question Read More ›

Calling Dr. Mengele, Calling Dr. Mengele

Alasdair Cochrane works at an organization called the Centre for the Study of Human Rights in the UK.  The journal Bioethics has just published Cochrane’s article “Undignified Bioethics” (subscription required), in which he argues that the concept of inherent human dignity should be rejected. Cochrane correctly notes that treating all humans as though they possess inherent dignity merely by virtue of the fact that they are human gets in the way of the really nifty medical experiments we could perform on the defenseless among us if we were to jettison that notion: This conception of dignity as inherent moral worth certainly seems coherent enough as an idea. Indeed, we can also see why this conception of dignity is employed in Read More ›

Joe Carter Takes on David B. Hart

In UD Contest 19 Denyse asked readers to identify the several errors in a passage from David B. Hart’s blurb about the “problems with ID.”  Over at First Things Joe Carter also goes after Hart (here).

DEBATE: William Dembski vs. Lewis Wolpert at UNBELIEVABLE

. Lewis Wolpert and I had an audio debate a few weeks ago, which is now available online as a podcast: go here (there’s about three minutes of stage-setting by the interviewer Justin Brierly before the actual discussion with Wolpert begins). The debate is part of a program series called UNBELIEVABLE. Other debates available there include one between Denis Alexander and PZ Myers and also one between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox.

Throwing down the gauntlet to Dr. Denis Alexander

I had a chapter in the recently published (IVP UK) “Should Christians Embrace Evolution?”, a negative response to those – in particular Dr. Denis Alexander – who say that we must. Well, Dr. Alexander has now read that response. The question going forward  is whether he wants to interact with it. My own personal opinion is that his books and writings show more interest in a propaganda effort to win a PR battle amongst the masses than they do in serious and responsible interaction with “the other side”. Dr. Alexander and I both whole-heartedly profess our own love to Jesus Christ and belief that an evangelical position is the only one that does justice to reality. That shared basis gives Read More ›

Music, Evolutionary Cheesecake And The Designer Brain

A Review Of Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music

ISBN: 978-0-452-28852-2

Physicist Emerson Pugh once quipped, “if the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t” [1]. In his book This Is Your Brain On Music neuroscientist Daniel Levitin notes how the number of ways that brain neurons can connect is so vast that we will never fully comprehend all the thought processes that we are capable of.

In recent years, mapping techniques have revealed a lot about the functional regions of the brain. Wernicke’s area is responsible for language processing, the motor cortex for physical movement and frontal lobes for generating personalities. Both encephalography and MRI have given us key spatial-temporal data about brain function in these regions. But we also find that activities such as listening to music contravene such a simplistic compartmentalization.

In fact the perception of pitch, tempo, the emotions invoked by a piece of music and the lyrics of a song all use different parts of the brain albeit simultaneously. Levitin repeatedly emphasizes the multi-faceted aspects of the music ‘experience’ noting how a, “precision choreography of neurochemical release and uptake” leads to our appreciation of music [p.188]. The brain is thus a massively parallel device, capable of carrying out several different tasks at once.

While it is through a lifetime of exposure that our brains become used to the note scales and music styles of our culture, it is during childhood that we are most receptive to learning music rules and note sequences. The finding that children’s tastes in music are heavily influenced by the music heard during prenatal development, has forced a shift in the way we think about childhood memory.

We now know for example that the cerebellum has the capacity to recall with precision accuracy the rhythm of a music piece long after it has been heard while the brain stem and dorsal cochlear nucleus are able to distinguish between consonant (harmonious) and dissonant sounds. In fact our brains are able to group sounds without any conscious effort from ourselves. Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Contest 18 Ancient reptile brain explains human psychology? – winner announced

Here’s the contest.

The question arose from my longstanding puzzlement over claims that reptile behaviour could be sharply demarcated from bird or mammal behaviour, according to a tri-partite brain organization. The evidence did not seem to support that. For example, if we use a crude, obvious measure like looking after young, well, many crocodilians (including the Mississippi alligator) are pretty good at it.

Perhaps most reptiles are not. I do not myself plan to conduct a household census among snapping turtles and vipers. But if any species of reptile can do it, the simple three-part claim about the brain seems suspect.

“Aidan” at 3 is the winner, and needs to be in touch with me at oleary@sympatico.ca, to receive his prize.

My only comment is this: If I were a member of a jury that had to decide whether to convict someone of a criminal offence, I would be on my guard immediately when I heard anything about the “reptile brain.” So far as I know, if a reptile did it, the reptile’s keeper could get a fine for keeping a dangerous animal. That is way less serious than what happens if you are considered morally responsible, instead of unfit to plead, stupid, or something similar.

Meanwhile, I appreciated Collin’s comments at 1 and : 2. Re 1: I fear the boy probably did lose his hand/arm or else the use of it, and my purpose in linking to the video was to disadvise foolish stunts with crocodilians. This is unrelated to claims about the “reptile brain” – I would say the same about bears, tigers, or chimpanzees, all of which have inflicted unexpected injuries for no apparent reason. Why risk serious disability to find out that an animal can be unpredictable?

Re 2, it sounds like Collin’s in-law is a wise man.

Now here is Aidan’s post, a couple of comments interspersed: Read More ›

The Altenberg 16 — coming to a bookstore near you February 9th

< This book takes a look at the rivalry in science today surrounding attempts to discover the elusive process of evolution. In one camp are the faithful followers of the long-standing theory of natural selection promulgated by Charles Darwin more than 150 years ago. This “survival of the fittest” theory, according to author Suzan Mazur, is no longer the scientific cornerstone of biology and has been challenged for decades. In the other camp are those challengers who want to steer evolutionary science in a more honest, scientifically accurate direction. However, the Darwinian theory has become a political powerhouse brand that is hard to unseat because of the money and power associated with it. The Altenberg 16 is about a group Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 17: Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion? Winner announced

Here, we asked, as per the title, why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion?

That’s always been a puzzle for me because … why indeed? Only if one is a slave to basically stupid ideas like “the selfish gene,” would debunking compassion, which is widely noted in my local society – and most working societies – seem a worthwhile project. Yet that project generates many useless research papers and other goofy projects.

You’d think more people would be interested in sponsoring compassion than debunking it. But hey.

Anyway, the winner here is Aidan at 6 for this entry (and Aidan needs to get in touch with me at oleary@sympatico.ca with an address to which I can mail the prize):

Proponents of neo-Darwinian orthodoxy are instinctively aware of certain awkward anomalies they need to undermine and contradictions they must cover up if their Big Picture View is to appear to trump all others. In the case of compassion, they are required to show that, whatever else it may be, it isn’t *really* compassion. Compassion as it is – in its raw, undebunked state – is particularly threatening to the materialist worldview because it is a universally accessible and entirely tangible demonstration of the reality of higher orders of being.

True selflessness lies not in the exclusion of oneself but in seeing another person *as* oneself. This is essentially ennobling not only because it rises above self-interest but because, in spirit (and in action), it lifts the other to the precisely same degree as ourselves, to the point where their interests and ours are seen as united within a much greater context. The existentially elevated ground upon which both are then able to stand – ground upon which neither could have stood alone – transcends both the material arrangements of the situation and the confines of each one’s personal mentality. Compassion has the power to free us from ourselves and thereby set us upon a very different road.

It is not sympathy, where you suffer along with the person in the hope that this will make them feel better; neither is it pity, where you look down on the person and feel sorry for them from the position of your own safety. As a form of understanding – of oneself, other people and life generally – true compassion is astonishingly rich in content. It is intellectual and spiritual rather than emotional in nature, possessing a power to transform the character beyond recognition. On such a foundation, there is a sense of resonance and alignment with far higher orders, the contours of which we can hardly begin to discern, along with intimations of universal laws profoundly unlike those proposed by materialist observers yet plainly in harmonious accord with laws long since codified by spiritual tradition.

For ideological reasons, materialists and Darwinians cannot allow anything to be in this world that is not of it. If they can show that every instance of compassion fits the grim calculations of one survival strategy or another, they can dismiss every spiritual teaching without further examination. Then they win!

What I liked best about Aidan’s entry is that Aidan helpfully distinguishes compassion from mere sentiment – you know what I mean: Blubbing all over someone’s sofa about the awful time they are having.

Chances are, the afflicted person secretly wishes that “Blubber” would just go away. Almost any problem is easier to deal with than useless blubbing. Compassion transforms people; blubbing means that the upholsterer must be called in, for advice re the sofa.

Readers in general, in my view, “evolutionary” psychologists are generally poseurs. I respect the paleontologist who toils in the Badlands or Death Valley. But “evolutionary” psychologists are tax-funded intellectual parasites on a once Big Idea.

Other comments: Read More ›

A Question for Joe Felsenstein (and Everyone Else)

Joe Felsenstein, and most other evolutionists, tell us that science must be restricted to law-like causes and explanations. In a word, they require the scientific method to be restricted to naturalism. While this methodological naturalism seems like a reasonable way to do science, it is an incomplete instruction. There remains the question of what to do when methodological naturalism doesn’t work.  Read more

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 16: Are materialist atheists smarter than other types of believers? – winner announced

The title question here riffed off a study that claimed to prove such a point. I must also have been thinking of the “Brights” movement of materialist atheists.

The winner here is Barb at 2, who needs to provide me with a postal address at which she may receive a copy of The Spiritual Brain. Here is her entry appended, with a couple of comments interspersed:

“Are materialist atheists smarter than other people? How would we know?”

The short answer is no, not really. Paul Johnson wrote a fascinating book entitled Intellectuals, in which essays describe the life courses and contributions of men and women who are considered by most to be of at least above average intelligence. Johnson noted that while these people often did their own thing (so to speak), there is a kind of ‘herd mentality’ amongst intellectuals. It’s as if collective peer pressure stops them from truly speaking their minds. The materialist ‘new’ atheism espoused today is nothing more than the ‘old’ atheism with extra doses of rage and hatred towards anything remotely godlike or religious in nature.

[Re the book Intellectuals, I strongly recommend it, because I read it on the advice of a friend. Trust me, you would not want most current cultural icons as advisors. ]

Standardized IQ tests could be given, but this would not necessarily prove that materialist atheists are smarter than others, since Daniel Coleman asserts that there are other types of intelligence including emotional and social intelligence that could be used as measuring sticks.

[I think the book meant here is Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. All concepts of this sort run the risk of descending into fad, though that does not mean that their original insight cannot tell us anything. (For example, I just hope that the [fictional] woman who throws a tantrum at my New’ Year’s party and blubbers all over my living room doesn’t go away proclaiming that she is way smarter than the rest of us because she supposedly has “emotional intelligence.”)]

What about everyday life? Have the materialist atheists discovered true meaning in their lives? Viktor Frankl wrote that man’s search for meaning is the primary motivational force in one’s life. Or are they cogs in a machine, slaving away because their ARM adjusted again and now they’re underwater with respects to the mortgage on their house?

[Hard to say, no? My own problem isn’t with people who have discovered no meaning in their lives but with people who have discovered a meaning that sounds suspect. Usually, people who have found no meaning are just plain depressed. The others can be all too active in trying to force their “meaning” into reality. ]

If they truly are smarter than other people, then they’re not in credit card hell making minimum payments, they’re not victims of the financial collapse of Wall Street, and they’re not gorging on junk food, taking drugs, or engaging in any self-destructive behaviors.

[Well, if that is true of anyone, I am glad if they are not demanding that I give them a loan or tax funds. Unfortunately, that actually happens in some jurisdictions. I’d rather give charity. In some quarters, that is a dirty word, but at least it is a personal relationship. ]

Other comments: Read More ›

Happy New Year: Top ten Darwin and design stories I

From Dennis Wagner at Access Research Network:

We just released our annual review of the top Darwin and Design science news stories for 2009:


Its fun to reflect back on all that has happened this year.

We plan to release our top 10 ranking of these stories tomorrow with a press release.

We are also working on a top 10 cultural/public policy list and a top ten ID resource list to be released in the next week or two.

Interesting list. To me, the biggest story is the huge increase in ID-related news, requiring two separate lists, apart from their resources list – for a total of three lists now.

The problem is, so few journalists really want to cover this news. You can see why if you Google Denyse O’Leary + images. If you are not as scandalized as my family was, a number of lawyers must have advised their clients to expunge that stuff.

In an odd way, it mirrors the stories I often cover at the Post-Darwinist on intellectual freedom in Canada. (I hadn’t wanted to get drawn into this, but friends were under assault.)

We are making headway but unfortunately, legacy mainstream media (where the money and advancement are) have largely morphed into public relations agencies for government and its approved causes. I belong to a journalists’ list where complaints about the lack of serious investigative journalism are the day’s fishwrap.* That role has passed to the blogosphere, for better or worse. The blogo is our new fourth estate.

It’s easy to see why. Read More ›