Intelligent Design

The Materialists Retreat

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Update:  There is a question at the end of this post.  After the first several comments, no one has addressed it, much less answered it.  I really am curious how our readers would answer.

In another thread Paul Giem made this statement:  “While some holes in a blanket assertion that a non-ID position can explain everything have closed, others appear to have opened up, the origin of life being one of them.”  Dr. Giem was responding to a common narrative among materialists:  “Materialist explanations always advance, and the number of phenomena susceptible to non-materialist explanations grows ever smaller.”

 

Let us consider this claim in the context of origin of life (OOL) and Neo-Darwinian Evolution (NDE).

 

NDE has a kind of first blush plausibility.  Taxonomic hierarchies lead inexorably to the conclusion that some species are more related than others.  With a little imagination (and I lot of metaphysical incentive), we can easily picture how “numerous slight modifications” over deep time would be a plausible explanation of how the species came to be.  And indeed Darwin’s theory has had a powerful grip on the imagination of much of the world for over 150 years.

 

Darwin did not delve into the OOL issue in depth.  (Indeed, with the state of scientific tools and knowledge at his time, it was impossible for him to have done so.)  But he did speculate, and to him goes the credit for the “little warm pond” scenario.  Ever since he and countless others following him have been charmed by the seeming plausibility of this and similar OOL scenarios.

 

To gain widespread acceptance, NDE and materialist accounts of OOL have absolutely relied on the natural human tendency to accept things at face value.  And this is a shame, because it is only when one delves into the details that the assertions become less and less plausible.  It follows that the less one knows about the facts, the more plausible materialist OOL accounts and NDE are.

 

This is where Dr. Giem is certainly correct, and the traditional materialist narrative had been turned on its head.  The more we have learned (especially in recent decades), the less plausible materialist accounts of these phenomena have become.  Far from forcing non-materialist accounts to retreat, these accounts (such as ID) have actually become more plausible and attracted a growing following precisely because we know more (not less) about the facts of the matter.

 

Consider, for example, this gem from Haeckel:  “Each of us was, at the beginning of his existence, a simple globule of protoplasm, surrounded by a membrane, about 1/120 of an inch in diameter, with a firmer nucleus inside it.”  Ernst Haeckel, Last Words on Evolution (London: A. Owen & Co., 1906).

 

How quaint.  We now know that every single cell is a bio-cybernetic chemical automaton able to self-replicate, self-organize, and perform metabolic functions by means of nano-level molecular machines controlled by internal digital software stored in information rich polymers.

 

Now, I ask you under which state of knowledge would a blind watchmaker materialist account of origins be more plausible?

96 Replies to “The Materialists Retreat

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    It would seem that under the materialist view of things there was non-living matter and then “poof” there was life.

  2. 2
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    It would seem that under the materialist view of things there was non-living matter and then “poof” there was life.

    That’s not entirely fair — but by the same standard of fairness, ‘the design view of things’ is that there was non-living matter, and then some unspecified intelligent being with unknown limits and abilities performed some sort of unspecified action, and then “poof!” there was life.

  3. 3
    Jerad says:

    It would seem that under the materialist view of things there was non-living matter and then “poof” there was life.

    So, what’s your proposed alternative? Don’t be shy, we’re all interested in the historical truth here.

    You do have an alternate idea . . . don’t you?

    I’ll be very disappointed if after all these months/years of ducking and diving and casting aspersions on evolutionary theory if you didn’t have some cogent and concise alternative.

    Please don’t tell me you’re just a merchant of doubt?

  4. 4
    Mung says:

    Well, we’re agreed then. We’re all believers in “poof!”

    But some of us believe in rational poofing and others believe in magical poofing.

  5. 5
    5for says:

    I’d be interested to hear your theory of rational poofing Mung. Could you spell it out?

  6. 6
    humbled says:

    “I’d be interested to hear your theory of rational poofing Mung. Could you spell it out?”

    Don’t change the subject. We’re discussing the inadequacies of NDE. Alternative explanations are not required to point out gaping holes in current theories.

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    Phillip Johnson addresses the ‘God of the Gaps’ fallacy – video (the 38:50 minute mark of his lecture is where Phillip Johnson addresses the ‘God of the gaps’ fallacy)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?f.....Xo#t=2329s

    Randomness of the Gaps
    “In the case of evolution, I picture Dennett and Dawkins filling the blackboard with their vivid descriptions of living, highly regulated, coordinated, integrated, and intensely meaningful biological processes, and then inserting a small, mysterious gap in the middle, along with the words, “Here something random occurs.”
    This “something random” looks every bit as wishful as the appeal to a miracle. It is the central miracle in a gospel of meaninglessness, a “Randomness of the gaps,” demanding an extraordinarily blind faith. At the very least, we have a right to ask, “Can you be a little more explicit here?” A faith that fills the ever-shrinking gaps in our knowledge of the organism with a potent meaninglessness capable of transforming everything else into an illusion is a faith that could benefit from some minimal grounding. Otherwise, we can hardly avoid suspecting that the importance of randomness in the minds of the faithful is due to its being the only presumed scrap of a weapon in a compulsive struggle to deny all the obvious meaning of our lives.”
    Stephen L. Talbott:

    Atheism of the GAP – Rabbi M.Averick – August 21, 2013
    Excerpt: What about a prosecuting attorney who says the following: “Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I know I have not presented any evidence that the defendant is guilty, but no one has yet proved that it is impossible for him to be guilty!”
    http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/atheism-of-the-gap/

    Francis Collins, Darwin of the Gaps, and the Fallacy Of Junk DNA – video
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....40361.html

  8. 8
    jerry says:

    the design view of things’ is that there was non-living matter, and then some unspecified intelligent being with unknown limits and abilities performed some sort of unspecified action, and then “poof!” there was life.

    There are a lot of biologists who think this is a short time off.

    The following is true

    the design view of things’ is that there was non-living matter, and then some unspecified intelligent being(s) with unknown limits and abilities performed some sort of unspecified actions, and then “poof!” there was incredible inter related complexity.

    An example, the Shroud of Turin.

    the design view of things’ is that there was non-living matter, and then some unspecified intelligent being(s) with unknown limits and abilities performed some programmed actions, and then “poof!” there was incredible inter related complexity operating extremely functional machines.

    An example, a computer programmer.

  9. 9
    Mapou says:

    Mung @ 1:

    It would seem that under the materialist view of things there was non-living matter and then “poof” there was life.

    LOL. I love it when the poof believers get a taste of their own medicine. The Darwinist bunch don’t realize that they sound like a bunch of superstitious dirt worshippers. Instead of the usual God-did-it religion, they have their own little dirt-did-it religion. Laughable, really.

  10. 10
    butifnot says:

    That’s not entirely fair — but by the same standard of fairness, ‘the design view of things’ is that there was non-living matter, and then some unspecified intelligent being with unknown limits and abilities performed some sort of unspecified action, and then “poof!” there was life.

    It is an implication of the evidence at hand. But ID posits a source capable to the task. Materialist have no such thing and grasp at straws. Our much improved understanding shows that materialistic explanations not only will not, but can not account for OOL.

  11. 11
    butifnot says:

    the design view of things’ is that there was non-living matter, and then some unspecified intelligent being with unknown limits and abilities performed some sort of unspecified action, and then “poof!” there was life.

    There are a lot of biologists who think this is a short time off.

    That would really be arguing the other way than your thinking. There sure are a lot of biologists who smugly talk as if they’ve created life themselves half a dozen times and know all about it.

  12. 12
    Mung says:

    Barry Arrington:

    Now, I ask you under which state of knowledge would a blind watchmaker materialist account of origins be more plausible?

    Well, the question seems a bit anachronistic to me. 🙂

    Also, in the “blind-watchmaker” metaphor it’s natural selection that is the “designer-mimic” and thus the entire metaphor depends on the prior existence of watches, so perhaps it should have been called “the blind-watch-tinkerer.”

    My grandfather was an antique clock repair specialist and I am proud to own some of the clocks he passed down and I assure you he was not blind.

    But obviously, it’s much easier to poof something simple into exist4nce than it is to poof something complex into existence. Isn’t it?

  13. 13
    lifepsy says:

    So, what’s your proposed alternative?

    The alternative is that nature is not a magic spontaneous generation fairy that the church of materialism has made it out to be.

    Life clearly only comes from life. Fundy materialists are the only ones desperate to shoehorn an atheistic creationism myth into science.

  14. 14
    bornagain77 says:

    Semi OT: Sean McDowell pretends to be an Atheist and challenges the audience of 500 to try to refute his arguments

    Sean McDowell Sunday – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq9f_n0n_-Y

  15. 15
    Johnnymack says:

    And then “poof” there was life – it is rational to think of an Intelligent Designer and to even conclude that “poof”, there was not only life, but thousands upon thousands of various complex and even similar life forms. If we are going to believe in poof, then let’s believe in POOF!

  16. 16
    GilDodgen says:

    Now, I ask you under which state of knowledge would a blind watchmaker materialist account of origins be more plausible?

    Barry, the answer is very simple:

    If in some warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc. present, that a protein compound was chemically formed, ready to undergo still more complex changes…

    That would do the trick, don’t you know? There is no debate among legitimate scientists that this process took place, and that the “more complex changes” were engineered by random errors filtered by natural selection, such that a self-replicating molecule eventually turned into Mozart in approximately 10^17 seconds (give or take a few).

    Only a science denier with no understanding of, or appropriate instruction in modern evolutionary theory can possibly not believe in the established, universally accepted, empirically verified, rock-solid scientific truth described above.

    Bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics, so there’s proof that random errors and chemical reactions turned rocks into Rachmaninoff. How could this not be obvious to anyone who is not a deluded religious fundamentalist?

    Refute those arguments. I dare you!

  17. 17
    Mapou says:

    Johnnymack @15:

    And then “poof” there was life – it is rational to think of an Intelligent Designer and to even conclude that “poof”, there was not only life, but thousands upon thousands of various complex and even similar life forms. If we are going to believe in poof, then let’s believe in POOF!

    I am a Christian and an ID advocate and I certainly do not believe that life on earth was poofed into existence. The scriptures specifically say that everything was created through wisdom and understanding. It is obvious that lifeforms on earth were designed and formed over millions of years and that the designer(s) reused previous designs as much as possible. This is why the species can be organized (classified) hierarchically. This is not unlike the way computer programmers reuse (via inheritance) existing classes to create new classes of objects. It’s pure engineering and design. I don’t see any “poof” at all in the ID picture.

    The magic “poof” exists only in the materialist (dirt-did-it) picture.

  18. 18
    RD Miksa says:

    Good Day to All,

    Just a quick comment:

    The fact is, all our uniform and repeated experience demonstrates that life only come from life, and thus, based on this experience, it is at least initially more plausible and rational to hold to the Intelligent Design view (a living thing created another living thing), then it is to hold to the materialist view (concluding that non-living matter just became living at some point).

    So while they may both be solutions that are do not really explain how the first living things came about, the ID view is definitely more in keeping with our uniform and repeated experience than the materialist view is, thereby making the ID view more rational than the materialist one.

    Take care,

    RD Miksa

  19. 19
    JGuy says:

    OT-ish: a few more molecular machine videos:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/drew_.....ology.html

  20. 20
    RD Miksa says:

    Just as a quick addition to my earlier comment: the same holds true for consciousness as well(ie – all our experience shows that conscious things only come from other conscious things), and that is why positions (such as theism) that posit consciousness as fundamental (meaning that consciousness always traces back to a conscious thing), are more rational, due to our uniform experience, than positions (such as materialism) that do not (meaning that consciousness alleged arises somehow from unconscious matter).

    RD Miksa

  21. 21
    Jerad says:

    But some of us believe in rational poofing and others believe in magical poofing.

    Whatever that means! Rational poofing. hahahahahahahahahahahah

  22. 22
    Andre says:

    Materialism can easily settle the issue if it does 2 things

    1.) Show that something can come from nothing
    2.) Show that life can spontaneously generate from inanimate matter.

    unless they can disprove that life only comes from life and that things that begin to exist does not have a cause I will hold onto the reasonable belief in a Creator.

  23. 23
    Andre says:

    I forgot to mention, creation is a positive argument based on our experience and the evidence in science and holds the default position until its proven otherwise. Anybody that believes that there can be another way needs to give extraordinary evidence to backup their extraordinary claim!

  24. 24
    tjguy says:

    Johnny Mack @ 15

    I kind of agree with you here. I am a Christian and the clearly states that God created plants first on day 3, then fish, and birds on day 5, and then humans and animals on day 6.

    Certainly an all wise, all knowing, and all powerful God could create using the poof method if He chose. Mappou says it is clear that things evolved over millions of years. Creationists do not feel this is consistent with the biblical record. We do believe in the poof method, however, that said, we do not believe that every single unique species was created on the first day of creation.

    God created on pair of every kind of animal and the biblical kind was probably more along the lines of family. We allow for all kinds of adaptation and evolution within the created kinds, but it would seem clear that there are limits to the change that can take place. In other words, the original pair of organisms had a rich information chocked full genome that already had the genetic information necessary for the adaptation that then took place as the animals filled the world and began living in different niches. As the animal specialized for a certain niche, it lost a lot of the necessary genetic information to live in other niches. It was evolution by information loss, not by information gain. And this is indeed the main type of change we see happening in nature today.

    As Mung said, at least creationists & IDers have a sufficient cause for their poof. Materialists are left believing in a magical poof without sufficient cause or reason.

  25. 25
    Jerad says:

    I forgot to mention, creation is a positive argument based on our experience and the evidence in science and holds the default position until its proven otherwise. Anybody that believes that there can be another way needs to give extraordinary evidence to backup their extraordinary claim!

    Sure but you need a creator who was around at the time in question, who had the necessary technical skill, etc.

    (Just a side note: we have lots and lots and lots of experience of humans creating things, not so much non-human creation.)

    so . . . who’s your creator then?

  26. 26
  27. 27
    Alan Fox says:

    ID explanations?

  28. 28
    gpuccio says:

    Barry:

    Now, I ask you under which state of knowledge would a blind watchmaker materialist account of origins be more plausible?

    I suppose I agree with Gil at #16. Neo-darwinism just needs facts that support its explanations. As the main point in the theory is that complex functional information can come out of a RV + NS mechanism, what the theory needs is just that: examples of complex functional information coming out of that mechanism. Of which there is absolutely none.

    The following would do:

    a) A new complex protein, with a new sequence and function, arising from unrelated precursors in a controlled biological system by those mechanisms.

    b) Any new complex functional digital information higher than some threshold (many have been proposed by IDists) arising in any kind of system by that mechanism.

    Lacking that, neo-darwinism remains what it has always been: a myth.

  29. 29
    Axel says:

    A hilarious thread! I wonder if this thread should be left permanently on display, with materialism left exposed to the insights and satire. There are some excellent and very well-expressed insights, aren’t there?

    ‘It is obvious that lifeforms on earth were designed and formed over millions of years and that the designer(s) reused previous designs as much as possible.’ – mapou

    But, surely, mapou, the more interesting point is that the omnipotent agent, as he gives every evidence of being, could just as easily have ‘poofed’ everything into existence, just like the Walt Disney scenario our dim-witted, materialist friends conjure for their ‘creation of something by nothing’ story.

    Unfortunately, their poofery manifestation doesn’t have a magician – well attested in theism, I might add, as Philip noted, for those with ears to hear and eyes to see. They are just just riotously fanciful, numbskull, Walter Mitty-type dreamers.

    ‘Nobody knows.’ – Alan Fox

    Faith, even secular, and knowledge form a continuum. Isn’t scientific knowledge always said to be imperfect – statistical? Correct me if I’m wrong on the second point.

  30. 30
    Jon Garvey says:

    As far as the state of knowledge of any normal reader of this (my) post can tell, it poofed into existence on their monitor without explanation. Given our state of knowledge of the universe and its probabilities, most will suppose there is an intelligence at my IP address which instantiated it by some actual action rather than magic. We have no known mechanisms for any other alternative, and “sheer electronic fluke” is, in practice, a non-explanation. Though to be honest, if the stats of this Universe or a many-worlds multiverse allow one to countenance seriously astronomically low probabilities, then this post is no less likely to arise from a random power surge … in which case, don’t reply. Stuff happens.

    There’s every likelihood that, once instantiated in a semiotic state, my thought obeys known physical laws. But there must be a degree of agnosticism as to whether I typed it, dictated it to my wife or carved it in stone and got a large scanner to OCI it, because you’re not here to check. The result is the same whichever method I used – but in all cases, intelligent agency is more probable than not, because a fellow in front of a computer has many known ways to compose a post, and no alternatives to that fellow are known. Analogously, many of the ways for a designer to originate life would be inaccessible to us now in the record: but even a process that could be seen in the fossils would not reduce the “intelligent” likelihood if no non-intelligent mechanism can be demonstrated. My post will always be more likely to be consciously-willed by a fellow with a computer than by an uncategorised outworking of chemistry or physics. That’s because natural phenomona habitually recur – the basis of science – whereas intelligent acts are often unique.

    The fellow at the computer might be assumed to be human – but you’ve no guarantee whatsoever I’m not an alien infiltrator, an angel or a demon, provided I’m capable of instantiating rational thought about OOL into a semiotic state. But the last point is a logical (near-)necessity, whereas my identity is not.

    My thought processes themselves are entirely opaque to you: whether I wrote by stream of consciousness, did several much-corrected mental drafts or worked it all out whilst walking the dog – all that is inaccessible to you, and also irrelevant to the instantiation process. Even if you were in the room with me, the post would poof – at some finite speed – into existence on the screen, and you would have no way to access the thought that guided it – which is plausibly believed by many to be non-material in nature anyway. Mind cannot be tracked, nor can the mind/material interface. But once in the material realm, there must always be a nerve impulse, a finger, a keypad, an internet connection which fully account for the message – whilst *always* being *entirely* incapable of accounting for its information content. Observing a process unfolding in accordance with law no more obviates intelligence than watching a film does. It is the coherent result and the lack of any adequate non-intelligent agency that settles the case.

    So “under which state of knowledge would a blind watchmaker materialist account of origins be more plausible?” Easy, isn’t it, I’d have thought? Under the same circumstances that provides a viable set of reasons for the spontaneous poofing of this post on to your monitor without intelligent origination.

  31. 31
    bornagain77 says:

    Jon Garvey, it is unscientific to be a “sheer electronic fluke” denier! 🙂

  32. 32
    Jon Garvey says:

    BA – Yes, I’m aware that it’s the “argument from incredulity” – which states (I think) that it’s invalid not to believe something because you don’t have any reason to believe it. I know I should, to be a real OOL student, exercise the virtuous contrary principle, “the argument from gullibility.”

    But they never covered that in any of my Cambridge courses.

  33. 33
    bornagain77 says:

    Jon Garvey, “the argument from gullibility.”, 🙂 you my man are headed for philosophical greatness! 🙂

  34. 34
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    I have decided to withdraw (perhaps temporarily) from these discussions, for the following reasons:

    (1) I no longer believe that Uncommon Descent is a hospitable forum for examination of my criticisms of design ‘theory’ (as distinct from the design hypothesis, which I accept as a reasonable abductive ‘leap’);

    (2) I believe that my pleas for a version of “liberal naturalism“, as distinct from “materialism”, in the sense of “whatever it is that design advocates oppose”, have fallen on deaf ears;

    (3) I am presently writing a book on intentionality, normativity, and naturalism, and I no longer can afford the time and energy that I expended on my contributions to Uncommon Descent and The Skeptical Zone.

  35. 35
    Alan Fox says:

    Sorry to hear that, KN. At least you got me started on reading Richard Rorty.

  36. 36
    Mapou says:

    Axel:

    But, surely, mapou, the more interesting point is that the omnipotent agent, as he gives every evidence of being, could just as easily have ‘poofed’ everything into existence, just like the Walt Disney scenario our dim-witted, materialist friends conjure for their ‘creation of something by nothing’ story.

    Omnipotence, omniscience and infinity are all silly crackpot ideas, in my opinion. Sorry. And yes, I am Christian.

  37. 37
    Upright BiPed says:

    Kantian,

    I, as one of many I’m sure, am sad to see you go.

    I look forward to hearing more about your project, if it should come to pass (and I hope it does). I will certainly question it’s completeness though. It is one thing to say “I don’t know” about something, or to say “I have not decided”, while it is quite another to ignore it like it doesn’t exist. I think what is even worse is to analyze it at a safe distance while you comfortably sweep it under the rug – whether that rug belongs to one of the opponents, or is just philosophical milleu. I believe that at least approximates what you’ve been doing here. The fact remains; ID is not incoherent with science, yet materialism is incoherent with materialism. It is a partisan act to put that off on ID in order to remain temporally fashionable.

    Best Regards

  38. 38
    Timaeus says:

    Alan Fox wrote:

    “Sorry to hear that, KN. At least you got me started on reading Richard Rorty.”

    Hopefully Alan will one day balance his philosophical reading by studying the large parts of the philosophical tradition which Rorty rejects, starting with Plato. To get one’s introduction to philosophy from someone who thinks that huge parts of the Western philosophical tradition have been completely misguided is a bit like getting one’s introduction to evolutionary thought from Ken Ham or Henry Morris rather than from Charles Darwin or Stephen Jay Gould. The conclusions of Richard Rorty certainly aren’t synonymous with the judgment of “philosophy,” and have been contested by a number of Rorty’s modern peers, not to mention the great philosophers of the tradition.

  39. 39
    gpuccio says:

    Jon Garvey:

    For what I can say, the “sheer electronic fluke” that has taken the form of your post is really fine!

    Obviously, this very simple post of mine can even more easily be disregarded as simple selected variation, and its apparent relationship to your post is certainly some form of convergent evolution, or cooption…

  40. 40
    Alan Fox says:

    Sorry, Timaeus, if I get through “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” I might try Quine. Maybe Sellars, maybe even Churchland. Dennett, should I? Ruse, not after his petulant performance at BioLogos 🙂 Plato will have to wait.

  41. 41
    Alan Fox says:

    I’m aware that it’s the “argument from incredulity” – which states (I think) that it’s invalid not to believe something because you don’t have any reason to believe it.

    Never heard that! It’s pretty unconvincing as an an argument to attempt to refute something purely on the basis that you, personally, can’t believe it but carry on. 😉

  42. 42
    Alan Fox says:

    ID is not incoherent with science…

    What can one say?

  43. 43
    Jon Garvey says:

    gpuccio –

    Yours, I think, arose from duplication and then massive loss of infomation under selection, whilst my original continued to provide function within the thread (or strictly, apparent function – we mustn’t speak teleologically, as my old haematology tutor always used to say, because she always did speak teleologically about blood clotting, immunity etc).

    One can still see, as one would predict, traces of my original sequence in yours (eg “sheer electronic fluke”).

  44. 44
    Upright BiPed says:

    What can one say?

    Perhaps have a little less disrespect for the data and say “Science cannot answer that question either way”.

    What would be the problem with that, given the complete truth of it?

  45. 45
    Upright BiPed says:

    Jon/GP,

    Frankly, I think this thread has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

    😉

  46. 46
    Alan Fox says:

    Perhaps have a little less disrespect for the data and say “Science cannot answer that question either way”.

    What would be the problem with that, given the complete truth of it?

    I have no problem with “Science cannot answer that question.” The issue begins with “either way” introducing the false dichotomy and the default with backward somersault to “A is wrong, therefore B”.

  47. 47
    Upright BiPed says:

    The issue begins with “either way” introducing the false dichotomy

    Face palm

  48. 48
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Cf here where I tracked down the exchange with KN over naturalised ethics as presented by Flanagan. KF

  49. 49
  50. 50
    Timaeus says:

    Alan Fox wrote:

    “Sorry, Timaeus, if I get through “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” I might try Quine. Maybe Sellars, maybe even Churchland. Dennett, should I? Ruse, not after his petulant performance at BioLogos 🙂 Plato will have to wait.”

    Plato should never be left waiting. Reading Quine or Sellars before reading Plato would be like answering the phone call of Lady Gaga or Celine Dion before answering the phone call of the Queen of England.

    Mind you, there is nothing wrong with reading Rorty. But if your goal is to understand what philosophy is and does, you won’t get a full picture from reading only very modern philosophers such as the ones you are citing. You’ll get a very narrow vision of what philosophy can be. To really understand philosophy you need an up close and personal (not secondhand) encounter with the masters of the philosophical tradition. That means Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, etc. And it’s always best to start with Plato, first of all because he is at the start of the tradition and makes the subsequent tradition much more intelligible than if you try to understand it without him, and second of all because Plato’s writing is for the most part comprehensible to the average educated layman — which is more than can be said for the writing of a good number of modern philosophers, who write mainly for their professional clique.

    Ruse you can easily skip. As for Dennett, I can’t speak for his professional, technical philosophical writing, but his popular writing and speaking (on evolution, atheism, etc.) is the usual set of vulgar and trivial cliches, unworthy of serious response. If I want that kind of shallow secular humanism, I can find it better-written and argued in Bertrand Russell or Bernard Shaw. What the “new atheists” present is just the old atheism warmed over, only with worse prose style and without any of the Oxbridge class of the earlier generation of cultivated and gentlemanly atheists.

    Anyhow, read Plato. Start with Gorgias, perhaps. The Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito, read in that order, also provide a good entry. After such a warm-up, you can tackle The Republic, one of the handful (along with the Bible, Shakespeare, Homer, etc.) of “must reads” of every civilized Western person.

    After you have actually read some Plato, some useful commentators are Eric Voegelin and Allan Bloom. But try your hand at Plato first.

  51. 51
    Mung says:

    I started eating playdough at an early age. I really think it helped when I got to the more modern philosophers.

  52. 52
    Alan Fox says:

    …before answering the phone call of the Queen of England.

    I’m a republican. Henry Tudor, Elizabeth’s ancestor by whom she claims right of accession, was a usurper and possibly had a hand in the murder of Edward V. Though as Edward’s father, Henry IV, was allegedly the result of a liaison between his mother, Cecily Neville, and an archer in her entourage this does not much matter.

    Plato should never be left waiting.

    He’ll have to wait till I retire. I have already read Herodotus and Xenophon (Anabasis).

    …more than can be said for the writing of a good number of modern philosophers, who write mainly for their professional clique.

    Indeed. This is a basic problem of philosophy. The jargon can be impenetrable and annoying when one finds, on checking definitions, that the concept behind the jargon can be trivially simple. And acknowledgements to earlier writers could go in footnotes, rather than wordy expositions of positions that are no longer relevant. (In science, it’s not necessary to give a passing nod to phlogiston theory when discussing the phenomenon of oxidation.)

    If I want that kind of shallow secular humanism, I can find it better-written and argued in Bertrand Russell or Bernard Shaw.

    Russell shallow? Disagree. He writes with clarity, precision and humility. Shaw is a playwright. I don’t think he would have claimed to be a philosopher. Regarding Shakespeare, his plays, when done well, can still be magical. If you get chance to get to see The Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford or London or on tour, it is well worth it.

  53. 53
    Upright BiPed says:

    It’s not just me

    Saying that science cannot answer the question “either way” to a question that cannot be answered either way, does not introduce a dichotomy (much less a false dichotomy).

    One might think this would be obvious.

    Linking to a conversation where one person critiques another person’s incomplete knowledge, while having incomplete knowledge himself, does nothing to improve your error.

  54. 54
    Alan Fox says:

    Saying that science cannot answer the question “either way” to a question that cannot be answered either way*, does not introduce a dichotomy (much less a false dichotomy).

    *my emphasis!

    You know, I didn’t spot that sneaky little sidestep there straight away and was half way through a charitable answer. If science can’t supply an answer it does not imply there is one way or another way. It simply means science can’t answer the particular question.

  55. 55
    Upright BiPed says:

    If science can’t supply an answer it does not imply there is one way or another way.

    facepalm

    It simply means science can’t answer the particular question [either way]

  56. 56
    gpuccio says:

    Jon Garvey:

    Alternatively, it could have evolved from stretches of non coding posts. The homologies with part of your post could easily be explained by HGT.

    The real issue, however, is: do our posts generate a nested hierarchy? (I leave the higher places to you, obviously, out of sheer respect).

  57. 57
    Alan Fox says:

    Just to add to the retreat, I hear that commenter, Jerad, has been banned at Uncommon Descent. I think I too will retreat and leave you guys (not many women -why is that?) to your own devices. Call me when that ID theory coalesces.

  58. 58
    Mung says:

    gpuccio:

    Alternatively, it could have evolved from stretches of non coding posts.

    Even we trolls have a part to play in God’s grand design!

  59. 59
    Timaeus says:

    Alan Fox wrote:

    “I’m a Republican etc.”

    Sigh. Leave it to a biochemist to take an analogy literally, and assume I was defending monarchy. The point of the image was that some people are more important in the scheme of things, more worth listening to than others; and Plato is more worth listening to than Rorty, Sellars, Quine, Churchland, etc. So if you have time before retirement to read only one philosopher, you might as well read the best.

    Glad to hear you have read Herodotus.

    It isn’t inherent in philosophy that it has to be badly written, or written in academic-speak. Academic philosophy, in the modern sense, is only a couple of hundred years old, dating back to about the time of Kant. Many of the greatest philosophers were never university professors — Bacon, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Descartes, Hume, Rousseau. And the extreme jargon-ridden phase of philosophy — outside of German philosophy which was always big on jargon (Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, etc.) — began only recently. It used to be that English and French philosophers wrote fairly clearly, for the general educated audience, not for academic specialists. Montaigne, Voltaire, Rousseau, etc. Bergson was noted for French “clarte” and his lectures were packed not only with students but with members of the public. But then in the 20th century you get pompous a-holes like Derrida and Foucault who write pretentiously and obscurely as a mark of alleged profundity. And in English philosophy, there were wonderfully clear writers — Hobbes, Hume, Mill — but now you have a whole mess of philosophers who want to write everything in symbolic logic or talk about Bayes’ Theorem or do very abstruse philosophy of science (which generally has nothing to do with the actual practice of science). No one but specialists can — or even want to — read philosophy like that. And to rise in the profession you have to learn to write this jargon. It wasn’t always that way. Philosophy used to be considered part of the Humanities, not as an adjunct or handmaiden of science and mathematics etc. Philosophers were supposed to be articulate and communicative, and some of them were even inspiring. Modern academic philosophy, however, has become just another technical profession. And if you are going to study something that is dry and technical that looks more like Mathematics than like the Humanities, you might as well study engineering or math or computer programming — where you will make a lot more money than you will as a philosophy professor (or more likely as a cab driver with a Ph.D., as philosophy jobs are few and far between).

    I certainly would not describe Russell’s writings as big on “humility” though I agree with you that he could write very clearly. I grant that Russell was less shallow than the modern New Atheists I spoke of; however, he still was a shallow thinker on matters of politics, ethics, and religion, regardless of how good he was at logic and mathematics. Wittgenstein, his former student, pointed this out. Nonetheless, I concede that Russell was far *smarter* than any of the New Atheists, and more broadly educated and cultured as well. But then, a Cambridge-trained English peer who hobnobbed with the elite philosophers and scientists and other thinkers of the realm is likely to be more cultured than American vulgarians like Provine or Coyne or Myers or Shallit, or Brit vulgarians like Dawkins and Hitchens.

    I am well aware that Shaw was a playwright. But one doesn’t have to be an academic philosopher to have philosophical ideas or make philosophical arguments. Indeed, philosophical ideas are often better expressed in works of art than in treatises. Certainly Shaw was familiar with the philosophical currents of his day, including the ideas of Nietzsche and Bergson, and philosophical ideas fill his plays (and his even longer prefaces to those plays).

    I’ve seen many productions of Shakespeare, featuring world-class actors and actresses such as Maggie Smith. No disagreement with you there. My point was that among the great writers of the human race — including Shakespeare — Plato ranks very high. Even as literature, aside from the philosophical contents, the dialogues are extremely carefully crafted. And of course Plato’s influence upon art, literature, theology, political theory, etc. is incalculable. One should read Plato for the same reason that one listens to Mozart or goes to look at Chartres or the Louvre or watches Shakespeare — even aside from Plato’s intrinsic value as a philosopher, which is very great.

    Anyhow, best wishes.

  60. 60
    Mung says:

    The first philosopher of interest to any young inquiring mind, is play-doh.

  61. 61
    Barry Arrington says:

    Fox: “I hear that commenter, Jerad, has been banned at Uncommon Descent”

    Not true.

  62. 62
    kairosfocus says:

    Plato is simply one of the founders of our civilisation. Period. He should be read just for that. Then, one will discover the rest, with delight.

  63. 63
    kairosfocus says:

    AF, why can’t you resist making a strawman caricature as your Parthian shot on the way out the door? KF

  64. 64
    steveO says:

    Timaeus:

    Many of the greatest philosophers were never university professors — Bacon, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Descartes, Hume, Rousseau.

    I don’t have a philosphy background myself so I’m only aware of Leibniz and Descartes because of their brilliant mathematical contributions.

    To think that they also count amongst the greatest philosphers! One sometimes hears “dead white guys” used as a term of disrespect towards men of history such as these, but when it comes to these gentlemen and many like them, they certainly don’t seem to be making them like they used to!

  65. 65
    steveO says:

    It was actually quite funny to watch Jared do his utmost to get banned by constantly badgering Barry.

    It was almost like he was envious of Lizzie’s martyrdom (or walk of shame more like).

    And now, at last, Jared – after all his hard work to get banned – can finally stand tall before his materialist peanut gallery.

  66. 66
    kairosfocus says:

    Only, per blog owner, Jerad was not banned. KF

  67. 67
    steveO says:

    KF

    Only, per blog owner, Jerad was not banned. KF

    Well I suppose I should have known better than to believe something AF said:

    Just to add to the retreat, I hear that commenter, Jerad, has been banned at Uncommon Descent.

  68. 68
    steveO says:

    p.s Ugh sorry for nasty spelling above e.g. Jared & Philosphy but I was seated with the sun in my eyes and could scarcely see the screen to check and review what I’d written.

  69. 69
    jerry says:

    My favorite philosophy professor is a man named Michael Sugure. He had several Teaching Company courses (now called the Great Courses) on philosophy and religion and some history. The only course that is now listed on their site is his course on Plato which is audio only:

    http://www.thegreatcourses.com.....px?cid=463

    It goes on sale about a third of the year and is currently on sale for $29.95. It is 16 half hour lectures on Plato and is a good place to start if one wants to understand Plato. I do not know what the availability is outside the US but for Americans it is easy to download or get the CD’s.

    Often these courses are in local libraries. I have been able to get a lot of Sugrue’s older courses from the local library and once on Ebay. He was the first one who gave me a sense of what Hegel was about. He defined the term “metaphysics” so clearly that it finally became a word that I could use easily with clarity.

    There are other very good professors at the Great Courses on just about any topic you can imagine. There are courses on Quantum Mechanics, String Theory, Chaos Theory and just about any science subject you can imagine including evolution. (In not one of their lectures on evolution has anyone been able to defend Darwinism even though he is often praised and the phrase “it evolved” is used constantly.)

    So if someone wants to understand Plato, I suggest Michael Sugrue’s course as a great start. And right now it is on sale. And if someone is a science or history junkie like myself, there are courses on everything.

  70. 70
    Mark Frank says:

    For the record Jerad thinks he/she was banned. This has happened to me before at UD – banning and putting into moderation (which has much the same effect) happen so often for such idiosyncratic reasons that if you are not an ID supporter you are apt to assume you have been banned if you cannot make comments.

  71. 71
    Barry Arrington says:

    Mark @ 70. Jerad knows he was not banned. Even in the link you give he says he was placed in moderation, not banned. Jerad was behaving like an insufferable ass and landed in the moderation sandbox. Any reasonable comment of his will be allowed out of moderation. Taunting, tantrums and name-calling will not.

  72. 72
    equate65 says:

    Looking at some of the comments here, I sometimes wonder if ID critics purposely act like an ass, knowing they will be moderated/banned in order to cry wolf.

  73. 73
    Brent says:

    Timaeus,

    Regarding reading Plato, what are your recommendations, if any, concerning translations which can be very important? I see a complete works offering at a good price, I think, at Amazon, but with works such as these, the translations can make a world of difference.

  74. 74
    Mark Frank says:

    Barry @70. So the whole thing hangs on the difference between moderation and being banned. I can tell you from the personal experience that from the user’s point of view the two are virtually indistinguishable. When you are moderated, sometimes you are told your comments are put into moderation, other times you just enter them and they never appear. It is unclear in the latter case whether you are being moderated or banned. In either case your comment, even if approved, will not appear until someone approves it which may be days after you write it.

    Certainly Jerad appeared to think the two were the same as he wrote:

    I seem to have been banned at UD. This morning my comments were put into moderation and then they disappeared.

  75. 75
    Mark Frank says:

    #72 equate65

    Looking at some of the comments here, I sometimes wonder if ID critics purposely act like an ass, knowing they will be moderated/banned in order to cry wolf.

    I think some of us intentionally push the boundaries because really we would like to be forced to get on with work – addressing arguments that you find fallacious can be a compelling waste of time. It isn’t necessary to cry wolf. There are any amount of absurd and unexplained bannings and moderations. Barry executed a great bannination a few months ago when of people who would not sign up to some axiom of logic (I forget which). On that occasion, and when Lizzie was banned, many ID supporters objected.

    It really doesn’t matter much but it is rather hypocritical when Denyse is spouting the line that there is a worldwide conspiracy of tax-payer funded elitist Darwinists (aka known as scientists) suppressing the valiant ID movement (who represent the real people) from expressing their opinions.

  76. 76
    equate65 says:

    I seem to have been banned at UD. This morning my comments were put into moderation and then they disappeared.

    The only problem is, we don’t know if on Jerad’s end it says “awaiting moderation”, which only he can see. If his comments drop, then it is highly due to “Taunting, tantrums and name-calling” A test for Jerad would be, to post a comment minus the above, and see if it gets through. Although, it might be easier for him to hold on to being a Martyr.

  77. 77
    jerry says:

    Looking at some of the comments here, I sometimes wonder if ID critics purposely act like an ass, knowing they will be moderated/banned in order to cry wolf.

    This has been going on for years. Their main objective is to make ID look bad and this is one way of doing it. The interesting thing is that no one has made ID look bad through their arguments. Not one has ever been able to justify naturalistic evolution let alone Darwinian processes through any evidence or science or logic. After a while that has a toll.

  78. 78
    equate65 says:

    F/N @ 75

    If I’m not mistaken, both Joe G and bornagain77, were also banned in the past, then reinstated at a later date, just as EL has been.

  79. 79
    Mark Frank says:

    #78

    Possibly – Joe G was handing out multiple insults to every ID opponent every day – often the comment was nothing but an insult – BA77 is not as bad but has been known to resort to straightforward insults.

  80. 80
    Timaeus says:

    Brent (73):

    Hello!

    The Penguin paperback called *The Last Days of Socrates*, which first came out in about 1966 and has since gone through several cosmetic makeovers (new cover designs), contained translations of Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. Because those dialogues form a chronological sequence of Socrates (pre-trial, trial, post-trial incarceration, and execution), they make sense together; and they are among the most easily understandable dialogues for the general reader. The Tredennick translations were adequate for most purposes. I see that Penguin has a newer edition out, with Tredennick’s translations modified by a scholar named Tarrant. I haven’t seen that edition and can’t vouch for Tarrant’s work. Some modern translators are infected by political correctness and I don’t like their work as well as that of older translators, but I don’t know in this case, so I won’t comment. I’d say you probably couldn’t go far wrong with either version, but if you can get the older version cheaper, a good clean used copy, that might be the way to go.

    Another starting-point, perhaps equally good, is Gorgias, also available in a Penguin paperback. Some would argue that the Meno is a good introduction to Plato as well.

    There are various complete works of Plato editions, one of which is the Bollingen edition put out by Princeton. It is hardcover with indexes etc. The translations are by a wide range of scholars, so you don’t get consistency in style, but they were all thought to be good scholars in their day.

    If you get around to reading the Republic — Plato’s longest and arguably greatest and most influential work — there are many good translations, each with characteristic strengths and weaknesses. Allan Bloom in the 1970s strove for a very literal translation, to get the non-Greek reader as close to the original Greek as possible, and some prefer that one. Older well-regarded translations include those of Cornford, Jowett, and Shorey, and there are probably about 10 new translations out since the 1970s. I prefer the older style of translating that reflects the British classical tradition (all those guys read Greek and Latin almost as easily as we read the daily newspaper, and their English style in translations has a classical “feel” to it), but others find a more modern idiom helpful.

  81. 81
    Barry Arrington says:

    Equate: “Looking at some of the comments here, I sometimes wonder if ID critics purposely act like an ass, knowing they will be moderated/banned in order to cry wolf.”

    Yes, in Jerad’s case it all but certain that is what he was going for, and that is exactly why I did NOT ban him.

  82. 82
    equate65 says:

    @ BA 81,

    Yes I agree about Jerad, and it is good you did not completely ban him. However, I personally think the decision on banning should have been reversed- ban Jerad, keep EL.

    The reason I say this is, while EL is not perfect, she has demonstrated her ability to acknowledge error and correct, and has stood up for some matters regarding ID, such as this >

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....n-microbe/

    Hopefully EL will be reinstated at a future date. Speaking as a casual observer, I’ve enjoyed seeing the debates with her here, and have cited many UD links on other forums, where she is participating, in which she adds much needed contrast of views.

  83. 83
    jerry says:

    Anti ID people are very useful. They are indicators of what is going around amongst those who are trying to undermine ID. One of the reasons I started commenting here again after a long time of only occasionally looking at the site was the publishing of Meyer’s book.

    I wanted to see what others were saying. So far there has been almost no valid criticism of Meyer’s book by any of the anti-ID people. The fact that their criticisms of the book are so lame is an indication that the book hits home on all its points.

    Some react differently to their inability to say anything substantive. Some are polite, some divert to irrelevant issues, some are sarcastic, some get aggressive but none make a coherent argument for their position. UD needs them but we should realize this is a game of “whack a moles.” As each gets whacked, they will pop up some place else with some other irrelevant argument or some vague issues which they can feel good about. They never affect the main discussions with their arguments. Most just eventually disappear. A few hang in for the long haul.

  84. 84
    Brent says:

    Timaeus,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m especially glad you included the last paragraph in regards to the older vs. newer translations. I am always inclined to the older unless there seems to be a compelling reason to have the newer, disregarding more modern language. It’s sometimes like getting two books in one, seeing the older usage of language and terms, which is very educational in itself. There is a limit somewhere to how far back I can go, but as long as spellings aren’t using some letters interchangeably I’m usually fine. 🙂

  85. 85
    Querius says:

    For some inexplicable reason, I’m inspired to attempt a small experiment here. Letme star tby modying th keybard rotatation as I close my ayes jk ees rtuhyt6g [ h]u9 o’l usefur gktj o eytp duvj sd endoplasmic reticulum

    o.o

    Holdddy cau! 😉

  86. 86
    Mung says:

    MF:

    Barry executed a great bannination a few months ago when of people who would not sign up to some axiom of logic (I forget which).

    It was probably not the law of non-contradiction. That one gets violated all the time here without any of the culprits getting banned.

  87. 87
    Mung says:

    Is there a law of self-contradiction.

  88. 88
    Querius says:

    In my view, Mung, banning did not result from either self-contradiction or simply being proven wrong, but rather for continuing to argue for its own sake by shifting or misrepresenting the issue.

    The result had a tragicomic resemblance to the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where King Arthur reluctantly battles the Black Knight (“None shall pass”).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eMkth8FWno at 2:55.

  89. 89
    Mark Frank says:

    #88 Querius

    The amount of debate, even among ID supporters, about why Lizzie was banned proves that it was not clear.

  90. 90
    Eugene S says:

    Jerad:

    Evolution does not tell us how function emerged out of non-function. This needs to be answered even before we want to deal with hypothetical changes of function. Emergence of non-trivial function is inseparable from evolution because the latter depends on it but it is too weak to account for huge functional complexity leaps in vastly different biosystems.

    Evolution selects from among already functional systems, not in pursuit of future function. Therefore the question of evolution and its limits is only secondary to the much more fundamental question of how the first function as well as any other genuinely different new functions in species came to be.

    We know that biological function is prescribed/pre-programmed in living systems and is corresponding to a Turing machine, according to John von Neuman. So for biological function to emerge out of non-function, there must have been a means of forecasting as to whether it was going to work (a Turing halting oracle). Programming new functions is untenable without a decision maker.

    So pre-programming for self-assembly and reproduction needs a coherent set of computationally halting formal instructions, that are only realisable as a result of thought-through decision making.

    We know from experience that only a mind can stand up to this task. We know NO OTHER thing that can accomplish it. Was a mind behind the appearance of biological function, too? In my opinion, yes, of course. We simply have no other workable alternative.

  91. 91
    kairosfocus says:

    ES: Good to hear from you after so long, trust all is well. Your point is on target as usual. KF

  92. 92
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: One of the key begged questions above is the nature of designing mind. Until we see someone boot up a conscious mind through programming on a hardware base — oops, the program needs to be written by code accidents filtered for incremental improved performance — we have no empirical basis for imagining that mind is a software phenomenon riding on hardware emergent from blind chemistry and physics. Similarly, we actually have the testimony of millions that they can, did, and do interact with an immaterial mind, God; this cannot simply be swept away with Lewontinian-Saganian quips about the demons of their own imagination (at least, if we are interested in not begging big questions), and this feeds right into the chain of first principles of right reason linked to sufficient reason and the need for a necessary being behind a contingent cosmos that exhibits fine tuning for aqueous medium, C-chemistry life. From that perspective RDFish’s arguments above nlook rather circular and strawmannish. They need to be rebooted and revised. KF

  93. 93
    Mung says:

    Mark Frank:

    The amount of debate, even among ID supporters, about why Lizzie was banned proves that it was not clear.

    So? It doesn’t take a genius.

    Just look at the title of the thread.

  94. 94
    Eugene S says:

    KF:

    Many Thanks. All is well. I have been busy with my chores. In early October I have been to Mount Athos in Greece for a pilgrimage. I spent two days with my eldest son. It is a different world.

    It is nice to be back albeit for just a minute or two.

    Incidentally, I will be coming over to your side of the pond in the first week of November to take part in a Decision Camp event in San Jose.

    Take care.

  95. 95
    kairosfocus says:

    ES: Famous site for such a pilgrimage, trust you will enjoy Costa Rica (about 1500 miles away from the EC I guess . . . the Caribbean basin is big, just mostly sea). KF

  96. 96
    Eugene S says:

    KF:

    I am sure I will 🙂

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