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Uncommon Descent Contest

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

This contest has been judged . Go here for winner.

Well, it certainly sounds like debunking to me. According to the evolutionary psychologists, either compassion is a useful gene or it somehow spreads our selfish genes or it is an accidental “spandrel” in our makeup. Or whatever. It’s not a choice, and it’s not identification with another human being derived from the independent reality of a mind thinking today. Humans do it the way ants might do something else.

Evolutionary psychologists never feel the need to debunk rage or deceit, for example, so why compassion?

Here, I reference Robert (“Non-Zero”) Wright’s effort to explain the evolution of compassion. See also Clive Hayden here and Steve Pinker here.

Darwinists and materialists in general keep scratching this itch. Why? What is the threat? Also, how convincing are their claims that society will be better off if we accept their version?

So, for a free copy of The Spiritual Brain: a neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, Harper One 2007): Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion? What’s in it for them?

(Note: For the record, compassion is not necessarily a virtue. The social worker who inappropriately identifies with an abusive mom, as opposed to the child she is employed by the government to protect, is showing misdirected compassion that can end in the child’s death. Compassion must be allied with reason and virtue in order to count as reasonable or virtuous.)

Here are the contest rules. Four hundred words or less. Winners receive a certificate verifying their win as well as the prize. Winners must provide me with a valid postal address, though it need not be theirs. A winner’s name is never added to a mailing list. Have fun!

Notes on compassion that may be of interest: Read More ›

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

So, for a free copy of the The Spiritual Brain, which argues for non-materialist neuroscience, provide the best answer to this question: Are materialist atheists really smarter than other people? By what measure would we know? What difference does social privilege - such as tenure at a tax-funded institution and general acceptance in popular media make in determining who is smart? Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 14: Is backwards or forwards time travel really possible?

For a free copy of the Privileged Planet DVD, about the unique position of Earth, provide the clearest answer to this second question: Is backwards or forwards time travel really possible, even for particles? Why or why not? What are the consequences if it is true? Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Question 12: Can Darwinism Beat the odds – winner

For Uncommon Descent Question 12: Can Darwinism beat the odds?, we have declared a winner, and it is Philip W at 11.

Philip W must provide me with a valid postal address* via oleary@sympatico.ca, in order to receive the prize, a free copy of the Privileged Planet DVD.

Philip W tells me that he is a pilot, and I liked his analysis of issues around flight:

Darwinian evolution can not possibly explain the life which we find on this planet. Let’s explore one of these methods by asking the question “How, and why, did flight originate?” Before any creature took to the air there was nothing there to eat and so why would any creature, even an intelligent creature, want to fly. There could have been no powerful survival benefit in flight beyond perhaps escaping a predator to recommend it. Also, there are many other and far simpler ways to escape a predator. Flight is perhaps the most complicated and sophisticated activity that any creature possesses which means that it would have taken an extraordinary number of attempts by random evolutionary methods to make it a reality. There is another and even more fundamental question which underlies biological flight. Did nature, completely unguided by intelligence, just somehow know that flight was even possible or achievable? Humans, with their intelligence, were able to make gliders and toy airplanes long ago but they had an objective and they also had the model of the birds to follow. Even at that it took a long time to achieve human flight despite the huge cost in time, effort, and treasure which they were willing to expend. No amount of tinkering, especially without a conscious objective, could possibly account for biological flight. There are simply too many things which would have had to happen all at once for that to be possible. Remember that nature had no way of knowing that flight was possible and it certainly had no previous conception of flight. Without having an objective how can random tinkering achieve anything?

Even now, with considerable human intelligence, we have limits. Science does not try to achieve anything, on a serious level, which cannot be demonstrated to be achievable. Once we find clues that give us a ray of hope the situation changes drastically; and at that point we feel certain enough of eventual success to justify pouring money and effort into a project. Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Question 11 – can biotechnology bring back extinct animals – winners announced

For Uncommon Descent Question 11: Can biotechnology bring back extinct animals?, we have declared a winner, and it is binary! Twins!

Aussie ID and Nakashima.

I loved Aussie ID’s information about the specifics of attempts to restore the thylacine – he calls it a Tasmanian tiger. Possibly due to culture issues, I am more familiar with hearing the animal called a Tasmanian wolf. But anyone interested should review his information.

I’d love to know what a staked out* sled pack in northern Canada would make of the marsupial Tasmanian. He doesn’t look to me like he has three coats of hair, so he might need to work in the office.

I also appreciated Nakashima’s thoughtful reflections on the question of how behaviour might not follow the physical recreation of an animal. I suspect he’s right; it’s an open question indeed.

Each of you must provide me with a valid postal address** in order to receive the prize, a free copy of Steven Meyer’s Signature in the Cell (Harper One, 2009). Write to oleary@sympatico.ca**

If you go here, you will get a bit of background on the contest, and read many interesting contributions, but for now, here is the skinny:

This one’s a bit of fun, but there is a serious purpose behind it.

In “A Life of Its Own: Where will synthetic biology lead us?” (September 28, 2009 New Yorker mag), Michael Specter reports, “If the science truly succeeds, it will make it possible to supplant the world created by Darwinian evolution with one created by us.”

Jurassic Park, anyone?

Additional notes on interesting posts: Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 12: Can Darwinism beat the odds?

But here's the question that this and other questionable lottery stories leaves me with: The intelligent design theorists emphasize probability issues. Their chief knock against Darwinism is that it appears improbable. In the same way, an accidental origin of the fine-tuned values of our universe appears improbable. If I understand the matter correctly, the universe is assumed to be over 13 billion years old, or so, and Earth over 4 billion years old. (I assume these values for convenience as I believe them to be generally accepted.) So we can assume a basis for computing probability. Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 8: Do the “new atheists” help or hurt the cause of Darwinism? Winner announcement

Recently, we asked Uncommon Descent Contest Question 8: Do the “new atheists” help or hurt the cause of Darwinism?

The new atheists’ impact in general is often debated. What exactly have they contributed to atheism? Many traditional atheists or their sympathizers think not much.

Bryon R. McCane, Professor of Religion at Wofford College, asks,

Has something gone wrong with the new atheism? For awhile, it was really on a roll. Several best-selling books aggressively attacked religion, calling it a “delusion” (Richard Dawkins), and a “spell” (Daniel Dennett) that “poisons everything” (Christopher Hitchens). Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous” warned that humankind must get rid of religion or die. New atheism looked like the wave of the future. But not anymore. “Religulous” got mixed reviews and disappeared quickly. Rebuttals to Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens have appeared, culminating with Karen Armstrong’s new book, The Case for God. Sales of atheist books have fallen off the charts, literally. Months have gone by since one appeared on the best-seller list.

To me, the key problem was that they had a new level of hate, not a new idea. I wrote about that here.

Winner announcement: Jerry at 91. I especially enjoyed this observation:

There is an old maxim in marketing. Nothing kills a bad product faster than extensive advertising and good distribution. The faster people realize how bad a product is, the quicker it is rejected. The new atheist movement has accelerated the communication and distribution of their product but in the process open themselves up for intense scrutiny.

I must arrange for more prizes, as I would have liked to offer StephenB and Adel DiBagno a prize for their entertaining and useful discussion; however, I have only five copies of Meyer’s Signature in the Cell (Harper One, 2009), hardcover, and if I burn through 60% of them in one contest, the publisher might not be very anxious to help me restock.

Jerry, I need a snail address for you, at oleary@sympatico.ca.

I am a bit behind, judging contests, due to unrelated uproars. But here are the entries that seemed, to me at least, to shed light: Read More ›