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April 08, 2007



"Daniel Dennett's book Darwin's Dangerous Idea takes itself to be a philosophical defense of the theory of evolution"

This is a misapprehension: the book is not a philosophical defense of "evolution" in the colloquial sense - though that is the sense in which Dennett is using the term in the quoted paragraph. Some might consider the book to be a defense of adaptationism, or a particular weighting of adaptationist versus contingency-based explanations. Generally speaking, however, it has to do with the general implications of algorithmic design in biology, mind and other design-related domains.

And that absolutely is the sense in which Dennett defends (and advances) "evolution" - as a teleological alternative to the traditional "top-down" conception of design. Specific mechanisms of (colloquial) evolution concern him insofar as they affect and effect this teleological project.

I would suggest that one must approach the book from that angle to understand the *real* strengths and weaknesses of the book. Otherwise, one will misunderstand most of the book.

The second comment is really a side issue: The various "doubters" with advanced degrees in biology like Behe - don't seem to doubt most of evolutionary theory, generally trying to argue for saltational events from which especially novel structures arise and locate the intelligent design there. The other 99% of natural history which is utterly explainable - predictable from population genetics, even - they concede. Sure, maybe they're right and there are specific structures for which algorithmic design cannot account, but even these would not invalidate evolution in general so much as the specific claim that evolution qua the algorithmic design process explains 100% of the "variety of life."

Nathan notes: "Most polls seem to show that they include the majority of the population in the world's most highly-educated large country, the United States"
Interestingly, ~45% of the US population and ~25% of college graduates believe in young-earth creationism, which is, I think it's fair to say, just plain ignorance. Lots and lots of folks can maintain ignorance if they want to, and I think this is Dennett's "inexcusable ignorance." Further, I suspect he's trying to say that this sort of ignorance isn't something we can just put down to oversight, like someone might be ignorant of the facts of the French Revolution. Now, Dennett also takes issue with the ~40% that think God guided evolution (in the colloquial sense) into making man, but I don't believe he means to describe all such as "inexcusably" ignorant. If he did, I don't think he would have bothered to write a book trying to change their minds.



I really think people should stop demonizing the fact in order to hold any position, one must set limits as to what that position holds to be true and what it holds to be false, under the label of "dogmatism".

Dogma does not mean that someone makes a coherent statement about reality.

For example, The Sky is blue, and thus the sky is not red, and anyone who thinks the sky is red is either ignorant of the color classification system or he has a problem with his eyes/brain that he can't see colors correctly.

This is not a dogma, this is simply a statement about the nature of the sky as it related to the nature of colors and the perceptive system.

Now if I were to say. Those who give $50 to "bob" are saints, those who do not give "$50" to "bob" are bastards.

That is a dogma, it's a rule that I made up and demand that people follow without any relation to facts.

Dogma means rules that are set for the sake of rules, without any basis on proven facs. Rules which are set in stone and not subject to change as the facts change.

If "GOD" came down from the clouds and produced an elephant out of thin air, then said on live televison, This is how I made created all life on earth. Dennett would retract his views on evolution and accept the creationism view.

However, the creationist "dogma" is so set in stone that even if we discovered time travel and recorded the entire process of evolution from the big bang to the present moment, the creationist would still insist that the cameras were flawed, or that the second between each flicker of the film is where "GOD" intervenes or some such bullshit.

Nathan Smith

1. In response to froclown's definition of dogma:

Neither "The sky is blue" nor "Those who give $50 to Bob..." are dogmas. The first is an empirical fact, the second is formally either a tendentious definition, or (if "bastards" is taken literally) a verifiable falsehood (which is not meant to be a paradox, but simply: its falsehood can be demonstrated), while in its real meaning it is a normative claim, and the extent to which normative claims can be dogmas depends on one's theory of ethics but overall it is very unclear.

The paradigm case of a dogma is a proposition which is held insistently to be true, and imposed (in the attempt at least) on others, even when there is no evidence for it. Whether creationism is a dogma or not is an elusive question, because the arguments for creationism are of a philosophical character. Some of the arguments appeal to individual religious intuitions, a form of evidence which is not, so to speak, "public," and therefore is difficult to assess in the context of an argument, where, by the nature of argument, only public evidence can be admitted as fully valid. Some philosophers, perhaps, would claim to defend creationism by argument in this sense.

No doubt there are also philosophers who would try to offer an epistemically rigorous defense of evolution, too. But Dennett is not one of them. And he has just the abrasive, insistent, inquisitorial character of a dogmatist, imposing his views on others, wanting to get the power of the state behind him to stamp out heresy. Etcetera.

2. In response to the following point from Nato: "The various 'doubters' with advanced degrees in biology like Behe - don't seem to doubt most of evolutionary theory, generally trying to argue for saltational events from which especially novel structures arise and locate the intelligent design there. The other 99% of natural history which is utterly explainable - predictable from population genetics, even - they concede."

Suppose that I propose a theory that, contrary to popular belief, doors are incapable of opening. To prove my point, I sit in front of a door for 100 minutes, and during 99 of those minutes, no one opens the door. I therefore conclude that "99% of the evidence about the door is utterly explainable-- predictable even-- from my theory!"

Given the extreme, indeed inordinate flexibility of the theory of evolution, given the malleable interpretability, too, of the scanty fossil evidence that is available, there's nothing especially impressive about explaining 99% of natural history. Though at the same time I'm not sure what that could mean. What is the "unit," of natural history such that one could characterize the explainable as "more", let alone "99 times more," than the unexplainable.

Anyway, I haven't read Behe, but from Nato writes it seems that the honorable man has already conceded too much. Behe, it appears, chivalrously accepts the presumption of people like Dennett to impose the burden of proof-- or disproof-- on *him.* But the real problem with evolution is that the theory of evolution-- to be pedantically exact, the theory of evolution as a total theory of natural history, *as opposed to* a Darwinian theory of imperfect ecosystemic homeostasis which is a more parsimonious alternative that leaves room for skepticism about ultimate origins and alternative ideas about the drivers of change-- lacks Popperian rigor to begin with.

3. In response to Nato's "Interestingly, ~45% of the US population and ~25% of college graduates believe in young-earth creationism, which is, I think it's fair to say, just plain ignorance."

I won't join in the "ignorance" judgment because I haven't examined in detail the evidence for old-earth creationism. It's not clear to me how the normal methods of science-- hypothesis, observation and experiment, confirmation, or disconfirmation that leads to the abandonment of hypotheses and the formulation of new ones-- can teach us things about *the past.* Maybe they can, but I'd need to think through the epistemology more. The modes of inference involved in learning about the past are more subtle, less directly compelling. My own belief in an old earth is more or less uncritically accepted from the prevailing scientific ideas.

But I *AM* inclined to judge young-earth creationism rather harshly. I regard it not so much as ignorance as a form of dishonesty. It is a sub-species-- the most striking case, probably-- of a genus of dishonesty sometimes called Biblical literalism. Partly out of a sort of piety arms race-- to believe in the Bible is considered, in some communities, virtuous-- and partly out of fear of the consequences of doubt, many people form a belief in the literal truth of the Bible. The vast majority of these people have-- it is safe to say this, I think-- not read the whole Bible, or even very much of it. Actually reading the Bible might be the best antidote for Biblical literalism: I haven't read the whole Bible either, but I've read enough to know that it can't sensibly be read *that* way. Indeed it almost can't be read at all: to declare a book, ex ante, infallible or inerrant, is to turn off one's critical intellect and close the door to real mental contact with the thoughts and themes of that book.

Biblical literalism (or "inerrancy," or "plenary inspiration") is untenable, even meaningless; young-earth creationism, I think, is merely highly implausible. Why are there fossils of dinosaurs deep in the rocks beneath the earth? *Maybe* the earth was simply created that way, 10,000 years ago. Why not? But that would be very odd, and it seems rather less odd to think that, since dinosaur fossils look like animals, they really were animals, which leads to the questions: When? How? and to the elaboration of a natural history reaching back... well, at any rate, a lot more than 10,000 years.

But I am not inclined to judge the 45% of people who tell pollsters they believe in young-earth creationism quite as harshly as I judge the doctrine itself. There are many modes and degrees of belief. I probably hold implausible beliefs on a lot of topics simply because the topic is sufficiently marginal to my life that there is no reason to revisit this belief and notice its implausibility. If for some reason this topic became urgently important, I would examine my belief, see its implausibility, and discard it for a more sensible one. For a lot of people, young-earth creationism may be a bit like that. They've been told the Bible is the Word of God, and they've found that, in practice, "love thy neighbor" and "honor thy father and mother" really are pretty good advice, so they think the Bible is true. They haven't read much of it, but they have read the first couple of chapters of Genesis, and, naturally, they believed it. Why not? Since it really has no effect on their lives, they have better things to do than question it. This may be "ignorance," but I don't see anything "inexcusable" about it. It might be perfectly sensible of them not to allocate more mental effort to the subject.

Those who understand evolution well enough to understand why its claims are, at least up to a point, compelling, can no longer embrace young-earth creationism so innocently as that. I have often encountered young-earth creationists with an attitude almost of defiance towards the evidence. Even then, though, you have to understand this belief in the context of a person's broader beliefs. There may be no evidence for the historicity of Adam and Eve, but what we observe of human behavior and in our own hearts does fit well with the lessons of that story. The story explains, or at least accounts for, why we wear clothes; evolution does not. The story explains ethics, and in particular sin (since we would not be so much aware of ethics if it were not constantly violated); evolution does not. The story explains why we are different from the beasts, which is consistent with experience; evolution, implausibly, tries to put us on a level with them, and one can't help concluding that "you and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals / so let's do it like they do on the Discovery channel" is quite a reasonable position to take. Evolution, by purporting to explain all history in materialist terms, implies a materialist ontology; no proposition could do more violence to the introspective evidence, and of course, sophistries aside, this destroys the possibilities of free will and ethics.

The intelligent young-earth creationist may conclude, I think, that if faced with a binary choice between Darwin and Genesis, Genesis requires them to accept a few irrelevant implausibilities, while Darwin requires them to accept many implausible things that touch on the whole of life. I choose "none of the above." I wonder, was that one of the answer choices on the poll that found the 45%/25% figures?

4. In response to froclown's hypothetical: "If 'GOD' came down from the clouds and produced an elephant out of thin air, then said on live televison, This is how I made created all life on earth. Dennett would retract his views on evolution and accept the creationism view."

I doubt that Dennett would do any such thing; and he would be perfectly right not to. If one observes an apparent miracle, it's always possible to dismiss it as a scientific fact we were not previously aware of it, and very often that's just what it is. The problem is: If God 'came down from the clouds' (why from the clouds? but that's another question I suppose), how would we know that God was God? Just because he could produce an elephant out of thin air? But the power to conjure elephants, though impressive, is still finite. How could one conclude, from observing any display of *finite* power, that a given being possessed *infinite* power (as the Judeo-Christian/Islamic God is said to, though not the typical pagan god)?

If Dennett, the atheist, saw a being claiming to be God, conjuring elephants, and preaching creationism on live television, I think he would conclude that a technologically superior species had arrived on our humble planet and, for their own mysterious reasons, had decided to exploit our religious beliefs, which they had discovered by observing us, to subjugate us. And that's what I, the theist, would conclude as well.

Which raises the question: if God did decide to 'come down from the heavens,' how would he prove to us that He was Himself? He did use quite a few miracles, but the most impressive kind from the scientific point of view. Changing water into wine would have been more impressive if the wedding-guests were not already pretty drunk by the time He did it. The faith-healings, the exorcisms, and the calming of the storm, could be explained as placebo effect or coincidence. Is the feeding of the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes more impressive? Or might it just be that some of the crowd, having brought lunches with them, kept them hidden from their hungry fellows until the example of the disciples' generosity shamed them into sharing (unbeknownst to the disciples)? The raising of Lazarus and the distance healings are dramatic. As is the walking on water. Aside from the Resurrection itself, the walking on water is my favorite New Testament miracle. How often have you looked across the "moon-path" that forms on a lake at night, and longed, *longed*, to walk across it? In this life that pleasure is forever denied us. The walking on water seems to promise a world where a thousand pleasures that are impossible in this life and yet, strangely, that our souls can conceive of and yearn for, are opened to us. But then, the walking on water was witnessed only by Jesus's disciples. If Jesus wanted to prove who He was, it would have been much smarter to gather a crowd of his worst enemies, his most obstinate skeptics, and *then* perform the signs. Yet this he refused to do.

Jesus said that "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." He *said* that, but he never *did* it. Wouldn't that have been more persuasive as a demonstration of his divinity? I daresay that if he had done *that,* it wouldn't have taken 300 years for Christianity to convert the Roman Empire. His disciples would not have been crucified; no doubt, they would have been greeted as great lords wherever they went.

But suppose that Jesus had moved mountains, and today tourists to Israel-Palestine could visit ancient cities long buried, like Pompeii, only not beneath the rubble of a natural volcano, but beneath the rubble of a mountain moved by faith. (If you like, Jesus could have teleported the inhabitants out of the way, then miraculously created new homes for them later, just so that there be no tort claims against the Lamb of God.) The historians would be unanimous: Yes, this really happened; there are dozens of amazed reports of it from contemporary observers, in fifteen languages; and travellers from all over the Roman Empire, from as far as Persia and even India came to see the wonder; famous naturalists (like Pliny, who died trying to get a closer look at the fascinating volcano at Pompeii!) came for a visit to the man-moved mountain; all the sources agree. The geologists would be unanimous: Yes, there were clearly millions of tons of earth that scraped along the ground just here, and carbon-dating of the vegetable material buried in the rumbling rubble dates it to just about 30 A.D., give or take a few years; nothing like this has been observed anywhere else, and no plausible naturalistic hypothesis to account for the anomaly has been offered. The archeologists who study the unearthed villages beneath the mountain will be unanimous: Yes, what we have discovered is precisely a Jewish village from the 1st century B.C., preserved with amazing and otherwise unaccountable exactitude, just as it was on an otherwise ordinary day.

What exactly would this convince us of? That Jesus was no ordinary man, to be sure. No one would be inclined to regard him as "merely" a great teacher. But we would as easily regard him as a monster as much as God. We would certainly consider the possible, either that He would come back, or that some other similar creature, perhaps equally powerful but not so generally beneficent, would appear. We would have little grounds for concluding that He was *infinitely* powerful, as opposed to merely extremely powerful and in ways that remained to us-- hopefully, temporarily-- mysterious. We would have still less grounds to conclude that He was infinitely good. The US military, fulfilling its duty to protect the American people as best it can against all possible threats, would carry out war games to defend the homeland against a possible invasion by Jesus or a Jesus-like entity.

Instead, Jesus sowed the seed of a teaching which can change hearts and renew men and civilizations from within. Not only in spite of persecutions, but even in spite of earthly prosperity, that message has lasted for 2,000 years. It does not follow the pattern characteristic of intellectual history generally by which ideas evolve and change and recombine, by which the novel ideas of one age become the commonsense of the next age and the bigotry of the one after that. The Christian teaching is, by contrast, timeless: a modern Christian can read the writings of a 14th-century or a 6th-century saint, a saint from Russia or Ethiopia or China, and feel just as at home-- no more *and no less* at home, for he also feels as if he is in touch with another world-- as he does when reading contemporary sacred writers. The Christian teaching as contrary to commonsense today as it was in the 1st century A.D., and yet has the same attractive power even among those who find its theology absurd and baffling, so that even atheists often retain a feeling that to condemn or despise Jesus Christ is blasphemous.

So if a God who 'came down from the heavens' would rely on teaching rather than miracles to show that He was God, why did Jesus perform miracles at all? While miracles helped to attract a following, such followers seemed to be following for the wrong reason. Jesus became frustrated with such followers, and he regularly warned the beneficiaries of miracles not to tell what He had done for them, just to avoid attracting crowds of gawkers. It is almost as if Jesus worked the miracles against His better judgment, because the human side of the incarnate God could not resist the tug of pity. If that's not good enough, perhaps Jesus was also interrupting this fallen world for a moment in order to sow the idea that "another world is possible," a world without sickness and death, where no one is lame or blind, a world in which all water gladdens the heart with its sweetness as much as wine does.

In any case, the purpose of the miracles was certainly not to prove that Jesus was God, and the onlookers who were "seeking a sign" were missing the point. A sign was not too much to ask for, it was too little, for no physical miracle would demonstrate the issue at hand; no finite sign can demonstrate the power of the Infinite. Contemporary atheists who suggest hypotheticals in which miracles prove the existence of God miss the point in the same way.


"This may be "ignorance," but I don't see anything "inexcusable" about it. It might be perfectly sensible of them not to allocate more mental effort to the subject"

And here is the real crux of the disagreement Nathan has with Dennett. Dennett is trying to argue for algorithmic design as a cardinal dynamic of the world and thus a critical filter through which to understand the world.

It's part of a worldview (and here I'm going beyond Dennett's central theses) in which "mind" really is baked into the fabric of the universe, in the sense that fundamental processes are going to design minds that eventually understand the processes that created them. There's nothing really so exceptional and contingent about our existence at all*, though it remains wonderful. How awesome that existence is like that!

Though I remain an atheist, I don't blame those scientists who conclude that perhaps there's a God after all based on the fortuitous nature of reality. Ironically, those who want special creation tend to argue in ways that make our existence seem like a meaningless fluke from that perspective. 40% of scientists on that survey felt that evolution produced humanity but God had something to do with it. Which relates to the survey - there wasn't a binary choice. There was young-earth creationism(~45%), evolution with God's intervention/guidance(~40%), and evolution without God's intervention/guidance(~10%).

A great deal more deserves response or commentary but I hope to get to it later.


By the way, the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster states that God is a trickster God who created the world recently but arranges things with His Noodly Appendages to appear exactly as if the Earth was 4.5 billion years old. Clearly an irrefutable hypothesis.

Nathan Smith

I think the real crux of my disagreement with Dennett is epistemological. I have no problem with algorithmic design. But *universal* algorithmic design would have to stand up to a Popperian test for me to accept it. Dennett seems to be no Popperian. That's the basic difference.


The * was supposed to be linked to the comment that things turning out precisely as they have is highly contingent, but the production of minds at least somewhat like ours isn't.


So analysis of dinosaur proteins reveals them to be related to chickens:


It would seem that this is a prediction made by the modern synthesis that's confirmed by microbiology. It's only one of a crushingly huge corpus of evolutionary predictions that are subsequently confirmed, but it's a very topical one.

Nathan Smith

What's the "prediction"? If the protein hadn't been found, would the modern synthesis have been disproven? C'mon, Nato. This is an interesting factoid, but there's no Popperian test of Darwinian evolution here.

Nathan Smith

Needless to say, if the "prediction" here is simply the vague idea that some similarities will be observed between ancient and modern species, this would be equally predicted by my more parsimonious alternative, the Darwinian theory of imperfect ecosystemic homeostasis.


No no no. If the protein had turned out to be more related to, say, frogs, or hippos or something like that, it would have turned evolutionary theory on its head. It wouldn't have disproved it all at once, wholesale, but it certainly would have shown there was something deeply wrong with our understanding of a huge section of natural history. Instead, it agrees with the fossil record, which agrees with amino acid comparisons, which agree with geological dating, which agrees with radioisotope dating, which agrees with...

There are real points of disjuncture in evolutionary biology, and folks like Behe - as well as those less ideologically driven - point out. But focusing on those problems ignore the vast expanses in which the data agrees, and not in some sort of "we already have all the facts, let's just make a story out of it" kind of way. New facts come in all the time, and usually they more-or-less agree with the existing stories, and there's lots of ways in which they might not. It's fully Popperian in that way.

No, you can't run experiments, and you can only hope that new sources of data will show up to confirm, deny and correct existing theories. But there's nothing wrong with the methodology. Or if there is, then all of history is in bad shape, and asserting that there was an American Civil War from 1860 to 1865 is just dogmatic.

Nathan Smith

Our belief that a Civil War occurred is based primarily on the evidence of *human communication,* a very different kind of evidence than the fossil record. Generalization from our knowledge of natural history to our knowledge of human history is invalid. In fact, we know very little about human history before the development of writing.


You appear to assume that humans existed before the development of writing.

Nathan Smith

Not "assume." I conclude this based on archeological evidence. It's possible but seems to me implausible that spearheads and other seemingly-human artefacts just appeared about 5,000 B.C., as opposed to being made by humans. I also conclude based on fossil evidence that huge reptiles we call dinosaurs existed a few tens of millions of years ago. While archeological evidence is somewhat scanty, it can show this much.

That all life-forms emerged through a process of algorithmic design is a far more ambitious claim. That's where the evidence starts to fall short, and either skepticism or dogmatism fills the gap.


Certainly any categorical statement (ALL life forms) is going to be pretty much impossible to prove. After all, aliens could have come down and edited some slimy ancestor to us all and we would have to be very lucky to happen upon solid evidence of this, meaning we can never really be sure it didn't happen. We all agree that empirical knowledge is always going to be contingent so I'll shrug my shoulders here.

More important to me is the agreement that there exist forms of evidence besides "human communication" that can justify knowledge claims about the past. That being the case, it seems fairly natural to regard the dinosaur protein's relationship to chicken proteins to be good evidence in support of the scientific consensus (growing over the course of the last half century) that birds arose from dinosaurs. Perhaps it is just chance, of course, or maybe the scientists are lying to advance the Darwinist Agenda, but I think we can conclude that birds arose from dinosaurs a few tens of millions of years ago. The evidence may be somewhat scanty compared to the evidence of the Civil War, but it can show this much.


I know of a guy who says that Atoms are made out of Galaxies that have burned themselves out.

It seems to me that to say Life was created by "GOD" is rather the same kind of absurd nonsense.

GOD appears to be some king of living being, one with emotions, sentience, and he has the ability to act, thus he must have some sort of structure of make up.

Top say that a had to design other all living beings, because living being require a creator, yet God was not created by a super-God. I mean what kind of logic is that?

I guess that it makes sense to say that bricks are made out of buildings or that water is made out of lakes.

Or even worse, this creationism actually makes a claim on the order of Machines are not made from gears and parts, rather gears and parts are produced by a machine out of nothing, and that machine is not made out of any parts. Oh, and all lesser machines contain ghosts put their by the creator machine, the parts are not really what make the machine work, it's the ghosts.

Nathan Smith

re: "because living being require a creator, yet God was not created by a super-God. I mean what kind of logic is that?"

The same infinite regression of causation afflicts materialist accounts, of course. What cause the Big Bang? But theologians and philosophers have at least dealt with the idea of the First Cause or Unmoved Mover for a long time. I don't know know too much about the answers to this.

Nathan Smith

re: "Certainly any categorical statement (ALL life forms) is going to be pretty much impossible to prove..."

Yep, that's why Popper's account of the nature of scientific knowledge is useful. Scientific theories have to make very specific predictions which, if proved false, even once, refute the theory (at any rate in its current form; generally the response to refutation is refinement). We've had this argument before, and as I recall, it ended something like this:

First, Nato came up with an example of a possible empirical fact that would refute Darwinism: the anachronistic organism. If we discovered the skeleton of, say, a modern horse in a layer of rock known to date back to the Jurassic period, this would knock down the theory, since, according to the theory of evolution, there couldn't have been modern-type horses in the Jurassic period.

But let's take a step back. In Popperian terms, what is the prediction that is made by evolution to which the Jurassic horse is counter-evidence. At bottom, the prediction is "no time travel." Horses can't travel back in time and show up in the Jurassic period. It would be like walking down the streets of San Francisco and meeting a 2nd-century Roman philosopher in a toga, speaking Latin and frustrated that no one understood him. (My classicist friend Tim Pepper would love that!)

But many theories of the origins of life could incorporate a "no time travel" hypothesis, and some of them are far more parsimonious than the evolutionary theory-of-everything.

Let me suggest a parallel here. Suppose I postulate an elaborate "grand theory of love," which includes a whole range of ideas about ethics, sexuality, theology, and the natural world; and among the predictions of my theory of love is that any encumbered object will accelerate towards the earth (which it "loves"). I then challenge you to drop a rock, and see if it falls. When it does, I say: "See, the theory of love is true!" You say that you're not quite convinced. "Okay, drop another rock. Drop as many as you like!"

Actually, I'm not sure the Jurassic horse would really be taken as a refutation of Darwin. For one thing, it would always seem more likely that the horse lived in modern times but by some strange chance got buried deep in the earth. Perhaps there was a cave which collapsed? (And I, evolution-skeptic though I am, would also look for collapsed caves, because I am not a skeptic when it comes to the "no time travel" hypothesis.) If we somehow were convinced that no, this horse definitely did live in the Jurassic period (perhaps it has T-rex tooth marks in its bones) then evolutionists would have to postulate that the horse design is just, somehow, a "good idea," and that it therefore evolved twice, being somehow driven to extinction the first time... and for some reason earlier fossils from the Jurassic-horse genealogy seem to be missing from the fossil record.

There is a sense in which any categorical statement ("all life forms...") is not hard, but impossible to prove, at least in the sense that logical statements can be proven. But some theories do pass the Popperian test of making infinite exact, testable predictions. Evolution does not.

"More important to me is the agreement that there exist forms of evidence besides 'human communication' that can justify knowledge claims about the past..."

Yes, but they are quite tenuous.


It only makes sense that the complex is derived from the simple.

The Big bang is the most simple.

Vacuum flux causes sub-atomic particles to appear all the time, the Big bang only represent this happening on a mass scale.

Also, the big bang is only one origin theory, it's not set in stone.


Actually, it would be very clear if it had lived back then or not; the way geology works makes it usually extremely clear one way or another. As for it having evolved twice, I don't think that anyone would accept that explanation unless there were significant marks of analogy. Things are too set in stone (if you'll pardon the pun) for any of those to be acceptable explanations.

In fact, it's because things are so non-tenuous that the horse discovery would so uproot everything.

Val Larsen

Bob Wright did an interview with Dennett (posted to a sister network of BloggingheadsTV, meaningoflifetv) and then wrote this: "I have some bad news for Dennett's many atheist devotees. He recently declared that life on earth shows signs of having a higher purpose. Worse still, he did it on videotape, during an interview for my website meaningoflife.tv." Basically, Wright offered a variation on William Paley's watch found in the desert argument and Dennett granted his point. One thing both of them agreed on is that what is true at the microbiological level--specialization in the service of larger complexity and, ultimately, of emerging intelligence--also seems to be true at the macro level. Indeed, the world as a whole can be viewed as an emerging form of live in which the internet becomes a kind of nervous system and individual humans linked by the net become cells in a massive distributed intelligence. Presumably, networked machine intelligence (perhaps working synergistically with our intelligence) may bring the universe to a level of self understanding that far exceeds anything human beings are capable of. In listening to the argument, I was ultimately struck by how easily it could be subsumed within Aristotle's account of how the unmoved mover motivates what happens in the world. Wright was working from the other end, with God functioning as an efficient cause who gets the process rolling. But in their description of the emerging macro life form, the plausibility of final causation was if anything a more striking possibilty. In other words, the direction we can discern in the evolutionary process seems to lead to the emergene of a kind of divine intelligence that fully knows it self and in knowing itself knows the universe and the motive force within the universe which is itself. In a word, a logical extension of their discussion leads one to the conclusion that God is the final and imminant cause of the process we call evolution.


I'm acquainted with the video and aware of with what exactly Dennett regarded himself as agreeing, which is different than Wright's position. Dennett has a fairly subtle manner of using the term "design" and in fact DDI had much to do with reifying what nature does as design - algorithmic design. He primarily defended this idea against those who felt it wasn't design because all processes are ultimately contingent (which is inter alia why he didn't really spend any time talking to evolution skeptics).

Ultimately, of course, there's a residue here that still fits the overall theist interpretation - why is it that existence tends to create intelligence? How fortunate/wonderful is that? Moreover, game theory seems to dictate that those intelligences will almost always have the ability to get along, love and be happy. It's a very positive scenario, and it seems easy to imagine things having been otherwise.

Would I at this point start to posit God? No, because I (as usual) don't see how it helps, but there does seem to be a serious conundrum here and I can understand why folks hypothesize that God made the Universe in this happy manner. And frankly, as long as people don't use that God to tell me that being gay is bad or that women should be subservient (etc.) then I don't see any critical reason to argue strenuously. Heck, I don't really even mind folks saying that God guided evolution, as long as they don't distract from the ongoing research into the hardest (and thus likely to be most instructive)problems in algorithmic design. If "intelligent design" had a real research project, I might support it, too.

P.S. I don't expect non-personal machine intelligence to be all tht intelligent, except an extension to personal intelligences. I'm not a transhumanist and I think they're fundamentally mistaken in a number of ways. I mostly keep quiet on that since I'm just glad to find people whose reaction to machine intelligence in any form is free of hostility and fear.


Where do we draw the line and say "this is machine and this is biology"

I do not see any limits in the near future to what sort of intelligence is possible with structures cloned from DNA designed from man made templates, and those organic structures integrated fully with electronic components, nano-sized mechanical devices, and linked to other macro and micro sized devices via wireless feed-back systems. Especially as these bio-mechanical-electrical devices become fully integrated into our human brains, and perhaps even a method of integrating them into our genome, that is so that the DNA in our gamete cells reproduces these alterations in future generations.


Well, I would of course just take the position that biology *is* machinery.

...and now I've posted in the correct thread.


Yes, but biology is complex machinery that can work in ways that conventional digital systems can not.

Of course Quantum computers can work in ways that far exceed the limits of biology and digital systems.

Who knows, maybe we will discover "quantum intelligences" that exist in the non-local fields between quantum events.

If this is so, I could accept such as evidence for GOD(s) existing.

However, it will take some doing to equate these Quantum Gods, with the stories about Gods I've read about in mythology including the Bible.

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