Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Jathink? Guy says materialism “not the most viable philosophy” and keeps job …

Computational physicist Vlatko Vedral reviews Paul Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen’s new collection of essays at physicsworld.com in “An inordinate fondness for bits” (Jan 11, 2011). In Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press 2010), he says,

Each article explores the hypothesis that information is at the root of everything. And I mean everything – from atoms to, perhaps, a deity.

Well, that last’ll get attention.

Hmmm. Are the contributors trying to mock the intelligent design guys, but they lost the plot somewhere? Well,

The collection starts with historical essays by philosopher of science Ernan McMullin and philosopher-theologian Philip Clayton, who write about materialism (the worldview that states that the only thing that really exists is matter and that all other phenomena are just interactions between different pieces of matter) and its receding hold on philosophy. The stage being set, Davies and fellow physicist Seth Lloyd then present a physics perspective on information. Davies is without a doubt one of the best popular-science writers in the world, and his article demonstrates why. In it, he explains why, in light of modern physics discoveries, materialism is not the most viable philosophy. Lloyd then expands on this idea by introducing the notion that the universe is a giant information-processing device. This is a view that has emerged from my own field of research – quantum computation – and Lloyd is one of its most prominent advocates.

Hold that thought. Materialism is “not the most viable philosophy”?

Well, why did Baptist U Baylor shut down Dembski and Gordon’s Polanyi Center in 2002 for sponsoring a conference where lots of learned folk said substantially the same thing? Why was it big time heresy among … the Baptists when atheist Vedral is okay with it?

Alas, theo-weirdness soon kicks in:
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Darwin: Too Important To Be Wrong

Given the economic problems lately, a lot of you have probably heard the term “Too Big To Fail” – the idea that, roughly, a given entity in the economy is so important, so vital, that they need special consideration from the government. It’s not that such an entity can’t fail – it’s that they won’t be allowed to fail, if it’s at all avoidable.

Think of it in smaller terms. Say your small town is hosting a beauty pageant. And let’s say one of the entries into this pageant is the daughter of a very wealthy out-of-town businessman, who is considering moving a factory to your town – a factory that will supply jobs the locals and the local economy very desperately needs. And let’s say she’s… not the most aesthetically gifted of all the contestants. If you can understand why chances are the businessman’s daughter shall somehow manage to win over the judges in the beauty contest – that the daughter is, in a way, too big to fail – you know enough about the too-big-to-fail concept. At least for the purposes of this post.

Well, there’s another area where a Too Big To Fail attitude shows up. And to see an interesting iteration of it, we only have to look back a few months to a paper on evolution which led to an interesting meltdown by an NCSE member.

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Exoplanets: Aren’t we at risk of running out of gee whiz adjectives?

From “Rocky exoplanet milestone in hunt for Earth-like worlds” (Jason Palmer, BBC News, 10 January 11), we learn, Astronomers have discovered the smallest planet outside our Solar System, and the first that is undoubtedly rocky like Earth. Measurements of unprecedented precision have shown that the planet, Kepler 10b, has a diameter 1.4 times that of Earth, and a mass 4.6 times higher. However, because it orbits its host star so closely, the planet could not harbour life. The discovery has been hailed as “among the most profound in human history”. One can’t help wondering why, actually. Well, because “We want to know if we’re alone in the galaxy, simply put – and this is one link in the chain toward Read More ›

Rev. Michael Dowd Does Not Allow The Discussion Of Evolution To Evolve.

This past Christmas, there was nothing new under the sun. The folks below, who make evolution their singular mantra, have not evolved the discussion of evolution to include and invite Intelligent Design advocates to the table to discuss science, evolution, or Christianity. I would’ve thought that, since the argument is always made by ID opponents (who are normally apologists for evolution) that ID is creation in a cheap lab coat, in other words, a thin cover for Christianity, ID advocates would’ve at least been invited to discuss Christianity. This co-option of evolution into Christianity reminds me of the co-option of Eugenics into Christianity in the early part of last century, a bad idea that will pass.

This Christmas, Christianity evolves

• Rev. Michael Dowd convenes diverse Christian leaders who see science as sacred
• EvolutionaryChristianity.com to host free podcasts and seminars

DECEMBER 22, 2010 – This Christmas season, bestselling author and evolutionary evangelist Rev. Michael Dowd is having an online revival of sorts, and pitching what may be the biggest tent yet for fellow Christians who embrace evolution and honor science: EvolutionaryChristianity.com.

As a sequel to his breakthrough book Thank God for Evolution (Viking/Plume), Rev. Dowd is hosting and producing a living library of free podcasts and live panels with preeminent Christians on the leading edge of science and religion, where mythic beliefs and measurable reality collide.

» View schedule and bios
» View live panel schedule
» View speakers grouped by affiliation

“The New Atheists and scriptural literalists are not the only games in town,” says Dowd. “In contrast to Richard Dawkins’ God-less universe, tens of millions of us in the middle celebrate both Jesus and Darwin. For us, religious faith is strengthened by what God is revealing through science.”

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They said it: NCSE endorses the “design is re-labelled creationism” slander

In the short term, a smear campaign can be very successful, and will poison the atmosphere, perhaps even poisoning the general public’s perception of your opponents. Usually, it works by using what may be called for convenience the trifecta fallacy, unfortunately — and as we shall shortly see — a now habitual pattern of all too many evolutionary materialism advocates when they deal with Intelligent Design. Specifically:

i: use a smelly red herring distractor to pull attention away from the real issues and arguments

ii: lead it away to a strawman caricature of the issues and arguments of the opponent

iii: soak it in inflammatory innuendos, guilt by invidious association or outright demonising attacks to the man (ad hominems) and ignite through snide or incendiary rhetoric.

The typical result of such an uncivil, disrespectful rhetorical tactic when used on a naive or trusting public is that it distracts attention, clouds, confuses, polarises and poisons the atmosphere for discussion. Especially when false accusations are used, it can seriously damage reputations and careers. So, the trifecta is at minimum a violation of duties of care and respect. At worst, it is a cynically calculated propagandistic deception that through clouding the atmosphere with a poisonous, polarising cloud, divides the public and points their attention to an imaginary threat elsewhere, so that an agenda that plainly cannot stand on its own merits can gain power in the community.

But what happens when the smear begins to unravel as more and more people begin to understand that you have failed to be fair or truthful, in the face of abundant evidence and opportunity to the contrary?

Let us see, by examining the NCSE-hosted (thus, again, endorsed) page for the ironically named New Mexico Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education. Excerpting:

Science deals with natural explanations for natural phenomena. Creationism or intelligent design, if allowed, would change this to promote supernatural explanations for natural phenomena — a contradiction in terms with regard to science. Intelligent design is also sterile as far as science is concerned. To be considered as real science, it must be able to explain and predict natural phenomena. Intelligent design proponents simply say that life is too complex to have arisen naturally. Therefore, an intelligent being (God) must have directly intervened whenever it chose to cause the diversity of the species. This explains everything and it explains nothing; it is not science.

The creationist groups attempt to masquerade their ideas as science simply by calling the concept “intelligent design theory”. No testable hypotheses or any form of scientific research has been presented to support their attempts to insert religion into science. Furthermore, it is suspected that the aim of these religiously motivated people is to redefine the meaning of science; if they were successful, science would become useless as a method for learning about the natural world. CESE decries the very usage of science terminology where there is no sound use of science. CESE also decries any political attempt to discredit the Theory of Evolution. Creationists present false statements concerning the validity of observed evidence for evolution such as: “there is no fossil evidence for evolution,” “it is impossible to obtain higher complexity systems from lower complexity systems,” etc. They call into question the motives and beliefs of scientists with claims such as, “if you believe in evolution, you are an atheist,” etc. They have even invented an imaginary scientific “controversy” to argue their agenda . . .

This needs to be exposed and corrected in steps, and it is worth the while to immediately pause and look at the Dissent from Darwin list to see that: yes, Virginia, there is a real controversy on scientific matters tied to Darwinism.  Also, let us list links to the series so far: background, and “They said it . . . ” 1, 2, 3.

So now, correcting in steps: Read More ›

Libertarians Against Darwin

I was a big fan of Robert J. Ringer in the 1970s (author of the runaway bestseller WINNING THROUGH INTIMIDATION — which was not about learning to intimidate others but about preventing others from intimidating you — good information if you have to deal with Darwinists). In the 1980s Ringer became a champion of libertarianism, which he has continued to the present, especially through his blog. In the last few years I’ve corresponded with him and learned that he too is a Darwin doubter. At his request, I wrote a short piece for his blog titled “Saving Our Freedoms from Darwin”: [EXCERPT:] Paternalists have always been infatuated with Darwin. Yet, having embraced Darwinism as a tool for social control, they became loath to Read More ›

Coffee!! Pop science flexes its flab: “Christians” vs “science” on … spanking

What happens when pop science usurps reason in the public sphere? Not always what you would expect. Here’s a great example, courtesy Jewish Canadian civil rights lawyer and publisher Ezra Levant: “Liberal Senator thinks spanking is the cause of all violence” (January 4, 2011)

“I’m not even kidding,” he begins.

Ez, no fear you’d be kidding. A fellow Norther, I accept that any lunacy may phosphoresce suddenly from our unelected Senate (a gravy heaven for past-their-sell-date partisans).

And, like, what hoo-hoo this time?

So she wants to make it a crime to spank your kids. That’s right: get a criminal record for it. And mandatory, government parenting classes.

Read her nutty speech here. My favourite part is when she cites an animal biologist to say no animals are naturally violent – it’s taught.

As if carnivores in nature would naturally negotiate with their dinner-to-be, as opposed to hunting them.

Wowza, Ez. Wonder what other animal biologists will say – never mind fans of Taylor Mitchell (folk singer killed by coyote attack). What restrains a wild animal from gratuitous violence is the need to fill the belly quickly and move on.

Now, what about Christians, Ez? Where we come in?

He goes on:
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Influential atheist cosmologists, and why they might not matter

On a recent list of the 25 most influential atheists, three key cosmologists come up.

# 5 Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is one of the world’s great theoretical physicists. His trade-press book A Brief History of Time took the world by storm in the late 1980s. In it he raised the prospect of a self-creating universe, which he has since developed at length. The theme he keeps pounding is the extraneousness of the God hypothesis.

Wrote a bit about him. With his new take on a God-free M-theory, he is now mainly famous for staying famous. But that’s still pretty famous. Read More ›

Why this universe? Good question. (Part Two of a reply to Professor Keith Parsons)

In my previous post, I drew readers’ attention to an online essay by Keith Parsons, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston-Clear-Lake, in which he outlined his reasons for rejecting the case for a Divine Creator. I thought Parsons’ essay, entitled No Creator Need Apply: A Reply to Roy Abraham Varghese (2006), merited special comment, because it’s one of the most thoughtful critiques of the cosmological argument that I’ve ever read. I was even more impressed by Professor Paul Herrick’s brilliant rebuttal, entitled, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe – A Reply to Keith Parsons (2009). I then announced that I would be addressing a few issues that Herrick did not have time to discuss in depth in his rebuttal of Parsons’ essay.

The topic of my last post, was the question, “Why isn’t the moon made of green cheese?” which Parsons put forward as an example of a ridiculous question. I argued that this question is in fact a perfectly reasonable one, and I proposed no less than three scientific answers to this question, each suited to a different level of understanding. In this post, I examine the question, “Why this universe?” or putting it another way, “Why doesn’t some other universe exist?” As we will see, Professor Parsons’ attempt to demonstrate that this question is an unreasonable one, fails.
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They said it: NCSE endorses the teaching of evolution as “fact”

We may add the NCSE-endorsed declaration of the North Carolina Math and Science Education Network to the list of declarations that “evolution” is to be taught as “fact.” (I freely say, endorsed, as NCSE hosts the declaration, and does so without disclaimer.) Let us excerpt: The primary goal of science teaching is to produce a scientifically competent citizenry, one which knows how to distinguish between theories substantiated with sound evidence and theories which cannot be substantiated through evidence. Evolution is identified as being the central unifying role in the biological sciences. If we teach our students that the theory of evolution is not accepted fact, we also put into question scientific advancement in chemistry, physics, astronomy, and all other related Read More ›

They said it: “Evolution is a Fact!”

The opening of  the current version of the Wikipedia article, “Evolution as theory and fact,” (with links and references removed) reads: The statement “evolution is both a theory and a fact” is often seen in biological literature. Evolution is a “theory” in the scientific sense of the term “theory”; it is an established scientific model that explains observations and makes predictions through mechanisms such as natural selection. When scientists say “evolution is a fact”, they are using one of two meanings of the word “fact”. One meaning is empirical: evolution can be observed through changes in allele frequencies or traits of a population over successive generations. Another way “fact” is used is to refer to a certain kind of theory, Read More ›

New Atheists and Neuroatheists

UD blogger Denyse O’Leary just coined a term on her cognitive science blog (The Mindfulhack): “neuroatheists.” It’s a good term and precisely describes a significant segment of the new atheists. Here’s where she introduces the term: http://mindfulhack.blogspot.com/2011/01/influential-neuro-atheists-leading-race.html The list of “influential atheists” that inspired the term “neuroatheism” has some interesting non-neuroatheists. Have a look (see any familiar faces?): http://www.superscholar.org/features/influential-atheists

Sugars: About face! Left turn!

A friend observes this item from Science News Daily,

ScienceDaily (Jan. 7, 2011) — Certain molecules do exist in two forms which are symmetrical mirror images of each other: they are known as chiral molecules. On Earth, the chiral molecules of life, especially amino acids and sugars, exist in only one form, either left-handed or right-handed. Why is it that life has initially chosen one form over the other? [ … ]

…has for the first time obtained an excess of left-handed molecules (and then an excess of right-handedones) under conditions that reproduce those found in interstellar space. This result therefore supports the hypothesis that the asymmetry of biological molecules on Earth has a cosmic origin.

[ … ]

The excess, which was over 1.3%, is comparable to that measured in primitive meteorites. The researchers thus succeeded in producing, under interstellar conditions, asymmetrical molecules of life from a mixture that did not contain chiral substances. This is the first time that a scenario that explains the origin of this asymmetry has been demonstrated using an experiment that reproduces an entirely natural synthesis.

My friend sniffs, “the production of a small (1.3%) excess of one over the other ( and then the opposite result) is a crowning achievement in a field where any success of any kind is a towering feat.”

Caution is needed. One can get 1.3% in almost any direction, at least once, before the wheels fall off. Thoughts?

Other recent stories at Colliding Universes, my blog on competing theories of our universe: Read More ›

The Decline Effect & The Scientific Method

Given the recent posts about peer review on UD, I thought this recent article at The New Yorker would be of interest. An excerpt: The funnel graph visually captures the distortions of selective reporting. For instance, after Palmer plotted every study of fluctuating asymmetry, he noticed that the distribution of results with smaller sample sizes wasn’t random at all but instead skewed heavily toward positive results. Palmer has since documented a similar problem in several other contested subject areas. “Once I realized that selective reporting is everywhere in science, I got quite depressed,” Palmer told me. “As a researcher, you’re always aware that there might be some nonrandom patterns, but I had no idea how widespread it is.” In a Read More ›

Winds of change? Humanist deflates popcorn neuroscience

In “Mind in the Mirror,” Raymond Tallis reflects on V.S. Ramachandran’s The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human, “Neuroscience can explain many brain functions, but not the mystery of consciousness”:

The subtitle of V.S. Ramachandran’s latest book prompts a question: Why should “A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human” be of particular interest? The answer is obvious if you believe, as so many do, that humans are essentially their brains. When a brain scientist speaks, we should pay attention, for “What makes us human” then boils down to what makes our brains special, compared with those of other highly evolved creatures.


Dr. Ramachandran and many others, including prominent philosophers like Daniel Dennett and Patricia and Paul Churchland, promise that neuroscience will help us understand not only the mechanism of brain functions (such as those that coordinate movement or underpin speech) but also key features of human consciousness. As of yet, though, we have no neural explanation of even the most basic properties of consciousness, such as the unity of self, how it is rooted in an explicit past and explicit future, how experience is owned and referred to a self, and how we are, or feel that we are, voluntary agents. Neuroscience, in short, has no way of accommodating everyday first-person being.

No, and neuroscience is often invoked to explain things it doesn’t:

Here, as elsewhere, the intellectual audit trail connecting the neuroscience to the things he claims to explain is fragile. For a start, mirror neurons have been observed not just in monkeys and humans but also in swamp sparrows, enabling them to learn to sing the songs they hear. They are admirable birds, but their cultural achievements are modest. Moreover, the existence in humans of a distinct mirror neuron system with properties such as “mind-reading” is still contested. At any rate, the claim that mirror neurons are a “specialized circuitry for social cognition” in humans is a death-defying leap beyond the humble “Monkey see, Monkey do” function they were first observed to have.

Tallis describes himself, at his own site, as a humanist. Read More ›