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Some more thoughts on the ID article I posted

February 11, 2010

Here are some good reactions to the ID article I posted yesterday.

Atheist Math Professor Jason Rosenhouse

Catholic Professor of Philosophy Dr. Torley

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Johann permalink
    February 11, 2010 6:57 pm

    I’m going to be less than scholarly and not entirely polite in my response to Torley. You’ve been warned. πŸ˜‰

    1. It doesn’t help his argument that his very first point is horseshit. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is more than just a philosophical platitude; it reflects a basic truth about the world. Beauty is not an objective property of an object but a matter of perception; the same object can be considered beautiful by one observer, ugly by another and too terrifying to look at by a third. That Dr. Torley finds our descriptions of the properties of the universe esthetically pleasing tells us something about Dr. Torley, not about the universe.

    2. I won’t even waste time on this, Douglas Adams has described this line of thinking better than I can: “Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, it must have been made to have me in it!’

    Life adapts to its environment, not the other way around. It’s a rather basic fact of biology. The way he puts the cart in front of the horse here suggests that he is either a creationist despite his protestations, or quite clueless on this subject.

    3. I know you’re not trying to annoy me personally by citing philosophers who authoritatively talk about things they know nothing about, Jon, but it’s starting to seem like it. πŸ˜‰ I’ll grant that I’m no expert on biology, but really? “Minor copying errors” are commonplace in DNA replication; there are separate repair processes to compensate for them. What we know of the way information is stored in DNA is not “efficient” in any normal sense of the word; it’s an enormous mess with some very interesting organizing principles. Torley’s level of knowledge is summarized rather succinctly in the way he lifts half of his biological overview verbatim from the creationist article he links to.

    And as someone who’s written code for a living, I can tell you that Dr. Torley here knows fuck all about that, too; he’s just throwing this in as the standard creationist canard about the complexity of nature dwarfing the capabilities of man, and neither knows nor is concerned with the fact that he’s comparing apples to shovels. Had he actually wanted a somewhat reasonable computer comparison, he should’ve looked into data storage architecture.

    I’m afraid I have to run, so I’ll cut this short for now and come back to it later. Have fun. =)

  2. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 11, 2010 7:11 pm

    Johann,
    Nah, I just put Torley for balance and discussion.

  3. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 11, 2010 8:09 pm

    I will point out that I think Douglas Adams point is absurd and a false analogy. The universe is fine tuned for our existence. There is no way of getting around it.

    As for the biology side, I won’t speak to it much, as it’s a little out of my line. From what Collins argues, you remember him, the guy mapped the genome? It’s not a huge mess like you are saying.

    As for number one, if that were the case, then we can say nothing true or be certain about anything. Therefore, we are thrown into a complete Humian world where we all go around saying that everyone is full of shit and we can no nothing for sure. Therefore, the whole foundation of science itself is called into question. If you want to be that consistent with your worldview, great.

    Once again, I won’t address the bad analogies, ie, the computer thing. I leave that to you.

    As for annoying you with philsophers, I think I have only quoted Torley in this discussion.On the other hand, annoying could be fun.

    PS- I’m off to Michigan tomorrow and speaking to atheist on Saturday about New Orleans, so I might not get back with you a couple of days on any follow up.

  4. Knockgoats permalink
    February 12, 2010 4:46 am

    The universe is fine tuned for our existence. There is no way of getting around it. – Jonathan

    Here’s two ways off the top of my head:
    1) There are a number of recent papers indicating that fundamental constants could be very different and still permit the existence of life. For a recent popular article, see Scientific American for January 2010, which mainly concerns what a universe without the weak force (one of the four “fundamental forces”) would be like; this gives a couple of peer-reviewed references. There’s an article by Victor Stenger on the web that I can find if anyone’s interested.
    2) Even supposing it were so, “finely tuned for our existence” is ambiguous – I think deliberately so. It is supposed to imply, without actually making the insupportable claim, that our existence is the reason why the fundamental constants have the values they do. Yet this would in no way be a valid deduction from the alleged fact that intelligent life would not have emerged if they had been different. There could be no reason at all; or the reason could be something else entirely: Lee Smolin has speculated (I don’t think it’s more than that), that universes “reproduce” through making black holes, and that the conditions that generate lots of black holes also happen to be conducive to life.

    If the universe was designed to produce us, it was a pretty inefficient and painful way of going about it on the part of the designer. What’s more, it’s clearly a jerry-built universe, full of appalling hazards, and unlikely to support life for more than a few trillion years, if that. I think we should sue.

  5. Knockgoats permalink
    February 12, 2010 4:59 am

    It’s not a huge mess like you are saying. – Jonathan citing Francis Collins

    If Collins says that, it’s an excellent example of religious presuppositions interfering with scientific judgement. More than 90% of the human genome has no known function, and appears just to get carried around because it’s there: there are pseudogenes (thought once to have had functions, but now not coding for any protein), long stretches of repetitive elements, and probably at least 25% of the human genome is made up of retrotransposons – viruses that have insinuated themselves into the genome. About 20% is never even transcribed. Some of this DNA may have an unknown function, but there are completely functioning vertebrates with about the same number of genes as us, but only 10% of the DNA; and scientists recently removed 1% of the DNA of a strain of mice without noticeable effect.

  6. Knockgoats permalink
    February 12, 2010 5:12 am

    As for number one, if that were the case, then we can say nothing true or be certain about anything. Therefore, we are thrown into a complete Humian world where we all go around saying that everyone is full of shit and we can no nothing for sure. Therefore, the whole foundation of science itself is called into question. If you want to be that consistent with your worldview, great. – Jonathan

    Where does one start, with a load of hooey like this?
    1) This is an argument from consequences. It thus has no relevance whatever to whether the fact claim in question is true.
    2) Indeed, the rational way to proceed is to place absolutely nothing beyond the possibility of revision (even this way of proceeding), since reason itself tells us there is no refutation of absolute epistemic scepticism. I know that makes you feel very insecure, Jonathan, but inventing a Sky Daddy to hold your hand won’t save you. Of course in practice we assume that there is no evil demon misleading
    us at every step in our reasoning, but this neither has nor needs any “beyond doubt” justification. Your fundamental error is to think that we must have a secure epistemic foundation: such is neither necessary, nor possible.
    3) The fact that we can say nothing certain in no way implies that we can say nothing true.

  7. Johann permalink
    February 14, 2010 1:10 pm

    I will point out that I think Douglas Adams point is absurd and a false analogy. The universe is fine tuned for our existence. There is no way of getting around it.

    And I’ll point out that this claim is quite absurd if you think there actually is something to evolutionary biology. Or do you think that “natural selection” is shorthand for “God using the universe to guide us (and zebras and bacteria) to our current state”?

    As for the biology side, I won’t speak to it much, as it’s a little out of my line. From what Collins argues, you remember him, the guy mapped the genome? It’s not a huge mess like you are saying.

    I don’t know Collins’ opinion or its context, so I’ll withhold comment for now. I was talking specifically about what Torley addresses – the way information is stored and organized in DNA and not, say, the enzymes used in transcription.

    As for number one, if that were the case, then we can say nothing true or be certain about anything. Therefore, we are thrown into a complete Humian world where we all go around saying that everyone is full of shit and we can no nothing for sure. Therefore, the whole foundation of science itself is called into question. If you want to be that consistent with your worldview, great.

    As Knockgoats put it on the other thread, if by “being certain” you mean “placing something beyond the possibility of revision”, I’m all for not being certain of anything. In fact, I think it’s the only way to develop an honest and clear view of the world. It’s also the way and the reason science works – it deals in probabilities, not absolutes – so I’m not sure what you’re getting at there.

    I think you’re overdramatizing my claim here, though. Consider two men, one five feet tall and the other seven feet tall, walking along a fence. One says the fence is tall; the other one says it’s short. Finally, one of them gets out a measuring tape and they both agree that the fence is six feet tall.

    I’m saying that “beautiful” is an evaluation of the “short/tall” variety, dependent on the observer’s opinion, and not of the “six feet” sort. Do you disagree? If you do, is there only One True Flavor of ice cream, with people claiming to like other flavors just heretics who shun the truth they know in their hearts? πŸ˜‰

    As for annoying you with philsophers, I think I have only quoted Torley in this discussion.On the other hand, annoying could be fun.

    Sorry, that was my memory letting me down. ^_^ The previous philosopher was actually linked by Cruz – and before that, you linked to Steven Barr, who was fudging facts but a physicist and not a philosopher.

    Hope you had a good trip. =)

  8. Johann permalink
    February 14, 2010 5:01 pm

    Feh, I messed up the tags on the “annoying you with philosophers” quote. Hopefully it’s clear enough. ^_^

  9. ferret wrangler permalink
    February 15, 2010 11:51 pm

    “The universe is fine tuned for our existence. There is no way of getting around it.”

    Gahhhhhh!! There’s soooo much wrong with that.

    How about some Red Green instead:

    “We’re all in this together.”

    “If it ain’t broke, you’re not trying!”

    “I’m a man, but I can change…if I have to. I guess…” πŸ˜‰

  10. Richard Eis permalink
    February 16, 2010 8:15 am

    The universe is fine tuned for our existence. There is no way of getting around it.

    Now don’t be silly, the universe is CLEARLY fine tuned to support rare intestinal organisms who couldn’t survive long without humans feeding them and giving them some place warm to hang around in. How could it be otherwise?

    They also don’t like shellfish much. Which clears up a commandment in the bible you may have always wondered about.

    πŸ˜‰

  11. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 16, 2010 10:34 am

    Richard and others,

    As for the fine tuning arguments, I’m refering to the cosmological arguments.

    As for the biological ones, the parasite example doesn’t negate what I’m talking about. You are making the same argument Darwin made, that is, cruelty in nature bothers him so the Universe must not have any meaning. It begs a number of different questions, not the least of which is, where does his definition of cruelty come from in the first place? If it’s all natural, you can’ really say it’s cruel. All you can say this is the way nature works. As for the problem of evil, which is really behind this argument, Cruz is addressing this question in his argument, so I refer you to his arguments.

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