Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Since you asked: A response to Professor Coyne

Over at WEIT, Professor Jerry Coyne has put up three interesting posts during the past few days, with questions for his readers relating to free will, the irrationality of belief in Divine revelation, and climate skepticism. I’d like to briefly respond to his questions. Free will In a post titled, Once again with free will: a question for readers (August 16, 2016), Professor Coyne laments the persistence of popular belief in libertarian free will – the view that whenever I make a choice, I could have chosen otherwise, otherwise my choice would not be free. Professor Coyne contrasts this view (which he calls view A) with the hard determinist view (called view B), which he espouses. On this view, the Read More ›

Tool-making crows are just acting naturally

According to a report in New Scientist, the tool-making behavior of New Caledonian crows may be simply part of their natural repertoire. If this finding turns out to be true, it would cast doubt on claims that the birds are intelligent. A crow that astonished the world by bending a straight piece of wire was simply acting out behaviour in her species’ natural repertoire. Betty bent a straight piece of garden wire into a neat hook to lift a food-baited bucket from a vertical tube in a laboratory at the University of Oxford in 2002. At the time, it was known that New Caledonian crows manufacture tools from twigs in the wild, but it seemed highly unlikely that this involved Read More ›

James Clerk Maxwell’s bright line

In my last post, I cited 31 great scientists who made scientific arguments for the supernatural, and in so doing, flouted the tenets of methodological naturalism. One of these was the Scottish physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, who propounded the theory of electromagnetism. I was surprised that Maxwell’s violation of methodological naturalism generated so little comment among commenters on my last post, so I have decided to re-post it. The interesting thing is that Maxwell himself had a firm conception of the kinds of questions that science should and shouldn’t concern itself with – only his conception was quite different from ours. And the bright line he drew between science and non-science didn’t rule out talk of a Creator; it merely Read More ›

Methodological naturalism? 31 great scientists who made scientific arguments for the supernatural

It is often claimed that methodological naturalism is a principle which defines the scope of the scientific enterprise. Today’s post is about thirty-one famous scientists throughout history who openly flouted this principle, in their scientific writings, by putting forward arguments for a supernatural Deity. The term “methodological naturalism” is defined variously in the literature. All authorities agree, however, that if you put forward scientific arguments for the existence of a supernatural Deity, then you are violating the principle of methodological naturalism. The 31 scientists whom I’ve listed below all did just that. I’ve supplied copious documentation, to satisfy the inquiries of skeptical readers. My own researches have led me to the conclusion that the principle of methodological naturalism is not Read More ›

Animals, abstraction, arithmetic and language

During the past two weeks, over at Evolution News and Views, Professor Michael Egnor has been arguing that it is the capacity for abstract thought which distinguishes humans from other animals, and that human language arises from this capacity. While I share Dr. Egnor’s belief in human uniqueness, I have to take issue with his claim that abstraction is what separates man from the beasts. Why the distinction between humans and other animals is real, but hard to express I have written over a dozen articles in the past, arguing that there is a real, qualitative difference between the minds of humans and other animals. As I’ve argued here, there appear to be several traits which are unique to human Read More ›

Straight talk from Searle on free will

John Searle, who is currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of the world’s most highly respected philosophers. In a recent nine-minute interview with Closer To Truth host Robert Lawrence Kuhn, Searle succinctly defined the problem of free will, in laypersons’ language. Although Searle finds it difficult (as a materialist) to see how human beings could possibly possess free will, he also realizes that it’s impossible for us not to believe that we have it. If it is an illusion, then it’s one we can never hope to escape from. At the same time, Searle is withering in his criticism of “compatibilist” philosophers, who assert that even if our actions are fully determined, Read More ›

The man who mistook himself for a fish

Over at Pharyngula, PZ Myers (who is a cladist) has written an entertaining but misguided post titled, Yes, you are a fish. In today’s post, I’ll argue that the key to classifying organisms correctly isn’t phylogeny, anatomy or genetics; it’s embryology. Only embryology can tell us something specific about an organism’s past and present characteristics, as well as resolving disputes about taxonomic categories. The importance of taxonomy to biology cannot be overstated. To put it bluntly: you cannot hope to understand organisms properly unless you know how to classify them. During the past few decades, there has been a move away from the traditional approach (favored by Linnaeus and later by Richard Owen) of classifying living creatures on the basis Read More ›

Why a rabbit is not like a can of Coke: PZ Myers’ own goal

PZ Myers is incensed at the publication of a Bible tract by Ray Comfort, who argues that it’s just as absurd to believe that the human body evolved by chance as it is to believe that chance processes could generate a can of Coke, such as the one pictured above (public domain image, courtesy of Wikipedia). Over at Pharyngula, Myers wastes no time in demolishing this argument: The thing is, we know how coke cans (and bible tracts) are made: these are objects that are constructed by human beings. They do not have an independent capability to replicate. We also know that that is not how biological organisms are made. If we see something like, say, a rabbit, we know Read More ›

The amazing placenta: A reply to Dr. Ann Gauger

Dr. Ann Gauger argues that the hypothesis of common descent fails to account for the origin of the mammalian placenta, in an ENV article titled, The Placenta Problem (June 17, 2016). As we’ll see, the evidence she puts forward proves precisely the opposite: common descent is the only hypothesis which explains the facts, without resorting to ad hoc suppositions. I’d like to begin with a confession. When I read Dr. Gauger’s article on the origin of the placenta, my first reaction was: “Whoa.” It appeared that Dr. Gauger had made a very strong case against the hypothesis of common descent. But then I did some more reading, and after looking at the evidence which Professor Joshua Swamidass kindly forwarded to Read More ›

Consider the opossum: the evidence for common descent

Remarkably, the recent spate of articles over at Evolution News and Views (see here, here and here) attacking the claim that vitellogenin pseudogenes in humans provide scientific evidence for common descent, all missed the point that Professor Dennis Venema was making, which was not about the existence of pseudogenes, but about the spatial pattern in the genes. The pattern is strikingly clear if we compare chickens with opossums. And since humans belong to the same class as opossums (namely, mammals), any scientific evidence that chickens and opossums have a common ancestor also counts as strong prima facie evidence that chickens and humans have one. I’d like to acknowledge at the outset the kind assistance given to me by Professor S. Read More ›

Leading thinker on human evolution admits: we’re more than just an ape

Dr. Ajit Varki is Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Cellular & Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. He is a confirmed evolutionist, but at the same time, interestingly, an ardent believer in human exceptionalism. Last April, Professor Varki and Professor S. Joshua Swamidass gave a presentation at the university, organized by the Veritas Forum, called, Common Ground in Science: A Conversation Between a Christian and an Evolutionist. Professor Swamidass has written a blog article about Dr. Varki’s presentation, in a recent post titled, More than just apes. Professor Varki highlighted two unique human traits during his talk: First (at 6:10), humans are the only known species that has out-competed all other sibling species (e.g. Neanderthals and Denisovans) Read More ›

Sex and phlogiston: an essay on intellectual crimes

The philosopher Plato wrote in his work, Phaedrus, that successful theories should “carve nature at its joints.” Scientists have a special obligation to abide by this maxim, since the stated aim of science is to systematically describe Nature, as she really is. The worst kind of intellectual crime I can conceive of would be the imposition on the populace of a conceptual system which fails to carve Nature at its joints. When people are deceived into believing a false proposition, their error can be corrected by simply pointing out the truth; but when people are forced to adopt a totally wrong way of slicing and dicing reality, the very fabric of their thinking is warped, and intellectual progress is retarded. Read More ›

Baker’s dozen: Thirteen questions for Dr. Hunter

The purpose of today’s post is to ask Dr. Hunter thirteen questions regarding his views on human origins. I hope he will be gracious enough to respond. Without further ado, here they are. 1. Dr. Hunter, in your original article over at Darwin’s God, you put forward eleven arguments against the hypothesis that humans and chimps had a common ancestor, before going on to critique Professor S. Joshua Swamidass’s evidence for human evolution as “just another worthless argument,” which was “not about science,” but about metaphysics, and for that reason, “unfalsifiable.” Why did you subsequently revise your post, by deleting a key premise from your very first argument, and then deleting eight paragraphs which contained your sixth and seventh arguments? Read More ›

In defense of Swamidass

After reading Dr. Cornelius Hunter’s panning of Professor S. Joshua Swamidass’s recent article, Evidence and Evolution, I figured the professor must have written a truly awful piece. Nevertheless, I decided to go back and have a look at his article. And I’m very glad I did. Swamidass’s article was irenic in tone, easy to follow, deeply learned, and absolutely right. Professor Swamidass’s olive branch What Professor Swamidass was attempting to do in his article was to extend an olive branch to creationists. Nowhere in the article did he belittle or ridicule his opponents, and there was not a trace of the smug superiority which many scientists display, when talking to creationists. Indeed, he bent over backwards to be accommodating: If Read More ›

Jimmy Kimmel vs. Sarah Palin on climate change: my take

Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel has attacked former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for questioning the existence of a scientific consensus on global warming and for promoting a documentary called Climate Hustle, whose aim is to expose the myths about global warming. Climatologist Judith Curry has written a review of the film, which she found to be “pretty entertaining and even interesting, especially the narratives developed around silly alarmist statements made by scientists and politicians.” Dr. Curry vouched that “there were no goofy or incredible statements about the science” in the movie, but she went on to add: “The perspective in Climate Hustle is arguably a minority perspective, at least in terms of world governments and a select group of scientists.” Read More ›