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In the news this week ...

William Crawley | 11:25 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

I'll post links here to some of the big religion and ethics stories of the week, and to some with less obvious connections to faith and values questions. You can add your suggested links to the thread and discuss the top stories of the week. What should we be debating on this week's Sunday Sequence?

Religion stories
Anglican primates meet in Dublin.
Practising Muslims will very soon overtake weekly churchgoers in Britain.
Women Increasingly Drawn To Islam In U.K.
Seven Anglican priests and 300 parishioners join Catholic church.
Worshippers asked to pay for cleric's £820,000 house.
Study sees global Muslim population surge.
Being black and gay.
Divine dispatches: a religion roundup.
German abuse victims reject compensation offer.

Ethics news
When is a death drug unhumane?
Heresy of Though? Jeremy Clarkson on the Sky Sports sexism row.
Is Marx making a comeback?
Episcopal Church leader: polygamy is sort of OK in Africa.
Is this the right GP for the drugs advisory council?
Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Was Worse?
Ethical jokes: 'the Unluckiest Man in the World'.
The Moral Maze: gay couples in Christian hotels?

Thinking allowed
Reynolds Price, 1933-2011.
Are beautiful people more intelligent then ugly people?
The beauty-intelligence link: ethical discussion.
How Christians should rethink sex.
The forger's story.
Email etiquette: is it time to ditch "Dear ..."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Catholicism: "Hey you guys, come join us! We restrict the role of women and homosexuals (no, really, we do!) in our heirarchy as a matter of principle!"
    Ex-Anglicans: "Sounds good to me!"

    ... Really? Reformation is undone, and all of the talk of faith before creed overturned, by Female and/or gay Bishops?

    Honestly, that the implicitly stagnant and explicitly authoritarian nature of an alternative organisation serves to draw congregants away from the Anglican institution makes me as an outsider wonder whether we aren't better off just letting the Catholic church do its work. A sort of "culling of the unquestioning", as it were - everyone who prefers to just have things presented to them on a plate goes to Catholicism, leaving a much more productive, considered and engaged (albeit perhaps much smaller) Anglican church in its wake.

    Controversial suggestion, perhaps, but in an organisation actually tearing itself apart over such trivial issues as the sex/ual-preference of its higher-ranking members, isn't it worth looking at whether it even ought to be trying to create a compromise position anyway?

  • Comment number 2.

    Catholicism: "Hey you guys, come join us! We restrict the role of women and homosexuals (no, really, we do!) in our heirarchy as a matter of principle!"
    Ex-Anglicans: "Sounds good to me!"


    Very relevant in light of the andy gray/richard keys sky tv situation. I wonder how many of the massed offended actively promote sexism etc through their church. Cast the first stone...

    .

  • Comment number 3.

    I guess it proves that peoples beliefs are not that deeply ingrained if they can swap religions over discrimination against women and homosexuals. I find it fascinating though that they have regressed on those fronts by moving to catholocism.

    Maybe their beliefs are not that strongly held?

  • Comment number 4.


    PaulR - (#1) Hear! Hear! Writing as an Anglican, those are my beliefs entirely.

    I welcome the departure of these guys from Anglicanism, surely a loss worthy to be counted richest gain if ever there was one. The Anglican church is now a much better place - if only we could also get rid of the evangelicals of the Reform type my joy would be full and my cup running over - bring on GAFCON!

    The unholy alliance of conservative Anglo-Catholics and traditionalist Protestants has block or delayed much progress in the Communion - in their absence we can hope for great things. I would only quibble with your projection that the church would be much smaller - I doubt if the Catholic exodus will be very big at all, the evangelicals will probably take more when they go.

    I am wholly against Archbishop Rowan's continual striving for the façade of unity through unrighteous compromise - it is a futile endeavour which will mark his primacy as one of abject failure and egregious sin (here I am particularly thinking of his exclusion of Gene Robinson from the last Lambeth Conference).

    It is time those of us in the Church who are whole-heartedly committed to the integrity of the gospel of Christ proclaimed it in all its unambiguous and challenging glory.

    Btw Dave - my faith must be very deeply ingrained indeed - I find it utterly impossible to conceive of any situation which would cause me even to contemplate being anything other than Anglican.

  • Comment number 5.

    The article on conversion of women to Islam mentions that 5000 people a year convert and become Muslims.

    It'd be interesting to see how many leave the faith as well. Perhaps the 2/3 majority of women converts to the religion will begin to see a change in the attitude towards them within the faith.

    Having the women covered up and segregated to prevent them tempting the menfolk is perhaps more telling of the inability of men to resist temptation than an obligation on the woman to avoid being tempting.

  • Comment number 6.

    Parrhasios,

    My comment was aimed at those who are probably more worried about what hat to wear on Sunday and moral rectitude than any real understanding of humans or the world we live in, or any real interest either, no offence meant.

  • Comment number 7.

    The Afghan security forces have just released this disturbing video of a public stoning to death that occurred last year. It drew quite a crowd.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    The woman was finished off with a few bullets in the head. Sharia law seems quite extreme to me.

  • Comment number 8.

    newlach,

    her partner was also stoned to death, they didn't bother with the bullets for him, they saved their 'mercy' for the woman.

    I have seen a heavily edited version of the video (I have no wish to see more), it is truly horrific particularly the zeal with which the people doing the stoning are whipped up into. They are clearly enjoying it.

  • Comment number 9.

    Dave

    I too got the impression that the crowd was enjoying it, but I suppose if the Taliban tell you to attend you would have little choice.

    If this sort of thing is acceptable in "The Religion of Peace" one wonders what the baddies get up to!

  • Comment number 10.

    On the topic of the Anglican Priests. They join the Catholic Church under a separate wing called the Ordinariate. Does this mean a Catholic Priest who wishes to have a family can also join that wing of the Catholic Church? As there are some Anglican Priests who have joined the R.C Church who are married and have kids

  • Comment number 11.

    "Worshippers asked to pay for cleric's £820,000 house."

    Words fail me.

  • Comment number 12.


    They don't fail me. This is disgraceful - it is not merely un-Christian, it is profoundly anti-Christian. Why am I not entirely surprised that the church is in the conservative evangelical tradition?


  • Comment number 13.

    Ryan

    Yes there are Anglican priests with kids joining the RC Church.

    Kids, celibacy etc isnt the point. Anti homosexuality and anti women is the point. If you have both of these, you're welcome.

    Interestingly, two Anglican couples approached a priest friend of mine to say they wanted to become RC's. They said they could no longer accept the Anglican attitude to gay priests and the ordination of women.

    My friend told them to go away and come back when they have good reasons to join the Catholic Church. Good on him!

    They will of course search the land until they find some little, right wing, collared, homophobic, woman hater and join through him.

  • Comment number 14.

    Speaking of right-wing, collared (maybe not), homophobic woman haters...

    Good ol' Stephen Green living upto the reputation of fundamental christianity.

    I'll add him to the list.

  • Comment number 15.

    Natman,

    Dave beat you to it.

    Please milk this ad hominem for all its worth. It shows atheism in a truly objective light, which surely can only be a good thing. (/ sarc.)

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    LSV,

    I'll 'ad hominem' people like Stephan Green for all it's worth.

    I'm not as vindictive as you to ascribe all his heinous actions to his religion, but if you want to tar all atheists with the same brush, I guess that's your (hypocrital) right.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    Oh dear. Try again... Here comes the toned down version.

    "I'm not as vindictive as you to ascribe all his heinous actions to his religion, but if you want to tar all atheists with the same brush, I guess that's your (hypocrital) right."

    If someone would like to shed some light on what Natman is on about here, I'd be most grateful. I'm sure there must be some logic in there somewhere!

    (The next paragraph is removed.)

    And what's all this about my wanting to 'tar all atheists with the same brush'? What piece of acrobatic eisegesis of any of my previous posts has produced that little accusation?

  • Comment number 20.

    LSV,

    "What piece of acrobatic eisegesis of any of my previous posts has produced that little accusation?"

    My post was saying that whilst I do think that Stephen Green's opinions are based upon his interpretation of his religion, I'm not going to assume that all christians hold similar views.

    Wheras your words "It shows atheism in a truly objective light, which surely can only be a good thing." makes the assumption that all atheists will jump on the 'look at the bad christian, see christianity is false!' bandwagon. If I'm wrong there, feel free to clarify your wide-reaching statement.

    Your opinion towards atheists has been made quite clear over the course of several debates on here (usually along the lines of us being unable to form morals, being responsible for various crimes throughout history and attempting to force secularism on children). Atheists come in all flavours whose only common element is not to believe in gods, to try and ascribe a particular modus operandi to them is futile.

  • Comment number 21.

    Natman -

    "Wheras your words "It shows atheism in a truly objective light, which surely can only be a good thing." makes the assumption that all atheists will jump on the 'look at the bad christian, see christianity is false!' bandwagon. If I'm wrong there, feel free to clarify your wide-reaching statement."

    My comment was made in an attempt to understand why you - along with various others on the other thread - had decided to drag up this issue from the Daily Mail (a newspaper that is generally held in low esteem by those same contributors). I have to be careful what I write, as my language about Mr Green was probably the reason why an earlier post was blocked, but the fact that he is a professing Christian and pursues the kind of moral campaigns that he does, tells us nothing about Christianity per se and it tells us everything about Mr Green. So you have pointed out that there is an individual human being in this world who has caused serious problems, as revealed in the DM article, and happens to live totally inconsistently with the morality that he professes. So what? What exactly has that got to do with anything we are discussing, if you are not trying to make a point about Christianity?

    "Your opinion towards atheists has been made quite clear over the course of several debates on here (usually along the lines of us being unable to form morals, being responsible for various crimes throughout history and attempting to force secularism on children)."

    What I have gone to considerable lengths to explain is this: you have repeatedly asked me for evidence to support my belief in the reality of God. I have responded on numerous occasions with certain arguments, one of which concerns the existence of the 'moral sense' within human beings. I have argued that this moral sense does not logically make sense within a naturalistic worldview. In other words, it constitutes evidence to support the claim that we live in a moral universe. I affirm that those who profess to be atheists, being human beings, possess this moral sense (and I have never suggested otherwise). Therefore, like anyone else, atheists are able to make moral decisions and have moral convictions. But that is because they are a part of a moral universe, and, as Christians would say, 'made in the image of God'.

    There is a world of difference between saying 'atheists cannot form morals' and 'the philosophy of naturalism is amoral'. An atheist may claim to subscribe to that philosophy, but when he makes moral claims he is not living consistently with it, since naturalism is self-evidently amoral (if you disagree with that then please enlighten me as to what property of matter produces morals!). That is a very different thing from saying that atheists cannot form morals. Atheists can form morals, because they are human beings 'made in the image of God'! In fact, if I were to claim that a certain group of human beings were incapable of forming morals, then I would be undermining my own argument!! Think about it.

    As for atheists being responsible for various crimes thoughout history - yes, it is true that some atheists have committed heinous crimes. You can hardly complain that I point this out, when you have not been slow to point out the crimes of so-called 'religious' people!! In fact, this observation that 'religion has been the source of so much evil in the world' is often trotted out by atheists as some kind of argument against the existence of God!

    The same argument applies to the education of children. 'Religious' people are apparently brainwashers of children, but atheists can never be, because their philosophy is apparently the 'default mode' uncontaminated by any assumptions or presuppositions!!!

  • Comment number 22.

    "Atheists can form morals, because they are human beings 'made in the image of God'!"

    We have morals, because god made us!
    How do we know morals come from god? Because god has morals!
    How do we know god has morals? Because the bible says so!
    How do we know the bible is true? Because the bible says it's true!
    continue ad nauseum

    Please. Enough with the circular logic.

    "...please enlighten me as to what property of matter produces morals."

    It's called the human brain combined with social demands.

    It's not hard to figure out. If you're looking for a tangible 'moral molecule' then you'll find it in the same place as the 'justice particle' and the 'mercy compound'.

    ...the existence of the 'moral sense' within human beings."

    So did god forget to install this moral sense in psychopaths? And if it's inherant to humans, why do we need to teach right and wrong to our kids? And why are moral opinions so extremely different between cultures?

    Oh...

    "What exactly has that got to do with anything we are discussing?"

    Um, see the title of the thread? Y'know? Sometimes, just sometimes, LSV, it's not all about you. I wasn't making a point about christians, or god, or anything else this blog dreges up. I figured it was a topical reference to a current news story (or didn't you know about his opinions regarding the mob executions of rights activists in Sudan?) and I didn't realise Dave had already posted it.

    Happy?

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    That reply was very funny Natman, brightened up my afternoon :p

  • Comment number 25.

    Aw, C'mon, Mod! I only asked Natman if someone had urinated in his coffee this morning.

  • Comment number 26.

    Natman -

    For goodness sake, Natman! You accuse me of one thing, and then when I explain my way of thinking, you then shift the argument to whether what I am claiming is true or not. I am simply clarifying the statements I have made about 'atheism and morality'. Now, of course, I know that you don't accept my viewpoint. I have no illusions about that. I was responding to the accusation that "I was claiming that atheists cannot form morals". Whether you agree with my view of 'moral evidence' or not, do you now acknowledge that I am affirming that atheists can form morals? Yes or no?

    "Sometimes, just sometimes, LSV, it's not all about you."

    ????

    You never cease to amaze me, Natman, with your comments. What on earth is that comment about? I'm just having a discussion with you. Or am I not allowed to express my point of view, lest I be accused of 'self obsession'?

    I wondered why exactly you brought up the issue of Stephen Green. Of course, it's news, but 'the sun rose today' is news as well. Surely you must have had a reason to bring this up. So what is it, then? Or is it being 'selfish' to ask such a question?!

    "It's called the human brain combined with social demands."

    And in what way is that explanation NOT based on a circular argument?

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    Natman, did you mention the P word aswell?

  • Comment number 29.

    I have no idea why that was blocked.

    Regardless, it seems the moderators are a little touchy about a certain news story.

    I'll try and repost it without any (controversial?) mentionings later.

  • Comment number 30.

    LSV,

    [part of comment cut out as it scared the moderators, defamatory indeed]

    Hmmmmm.

    "And in what way is that explanation NOT based on a circular argument?"

    How is it? We have large brains, giving us intelligence, superior mnemonic skills and the ability to solve problems; the product of a long evolutionary process. We've used those brains to create complex languages and construct intricate social structures to allow us to pass on both genetic and cultural information to future generations. Without the use of morals and ethics, such detailed and stable sociological devices cannot function. It makes sense that they evolved alongside.

    Do you do any reading outside of the bible and philosophy? This is fairly low-grade evolutionary pyschology and seen in not only human societies, but also great ape and certain cetan and corvid species.

    I'm quite prepared to give humans the credit for developing our morals, instead of assuming that such intelligent and creative creatures are unable of doing anything of note without a supreme being to hold our hand and guide us.

  • Comment number 31.


    Natman

    "How is it?"

    It's as circular as a circular-ma-circle-ma-doofer-round-thingy-ma-bobbers.

  • Comment number 32.

    Natman -

    "How is it? We have large brains, giving us intelligence, superior mnemonic skills and the ability to solve problems; the product of a long evolutionary process. We've used those brains to create complex languages and construct intricate social structures to allow us to pass on both genetic and cultural information to future generations. Without the use of morals and ethics, such detailed and stable sociological devices cannot function. It makes sense that they evolved alongside."

    An explanation according to the philosophy of naturalism. It goes like this: "We assume that only a naturalistic explanation delivers truth, and then this explanation, once it has been articulated, shows us clearly that naturalism is true."

    The most discoid, cycloid, globose, Ouroboros argument you could ever meet!

  • Comment number 33.

    LSV,

    Unlike, of course, the 'I don't understand how it could've happened, therefore goddit' argument, which is totally logical and based on sound principles.

  • Comment number 34.

    Natman -

    Hmmm. Looks suspiciously like the tu quoque fallacy:

    "I can't be guilty of a circular argument, because you definitely are!"

    Nice sidestep, Natman. Very nice indeed.

  • Comment number 35.

    LSV,

    I've evidently been learning from you. The Master of avoiding difficult threads.

    There is -nothing- to suggest anything other than a naturalistic basis for the universe. Every argument you've ever put forwards to counter that goes along the lines of "I can't possibily imagine how this could occur without intelligence input, therefore goddidit."

    Naturalistic methodology works because it only considers that which can be shown. Just because you think there are things that cannot be shown using it, doesn't make it less viable.

    I've also noticed you're always on the attack, always critising whilst hiding your own opinions from scrutiny. I'm going to hazard a guess and take it that you believe in biblical inerrancy, a global flood and a literal 6 day creation?

  • Comment number 36.

    10. At 8:20pm on 30 Jan 2011, Ryan_ wrote:
    "On the topic of the Anglican Priests. They join the Catholic Church under a separate wing called the Ordinariate. Does this mean a Catholic Priest who wishes to have a family can also join that wing of the Catholic Church?"

    ******************************************************************
    Regarding married Catholic priests,with the exception of already married Protestants who have converted & wish to be ordained,priests in the Latin Rite take a vow of celibacy & even in the Eastern Rite Catholic churches that allow married priests, the priests have married before ordination, not afterwards.

  • Comment number 37.

    Natman (@ 35) -

    "I've also noticed you're always on the attack, always critising whilst hiding your own opinions from scrutiny."

    If that is what you have 'noticed', then I suggest you go and have an eye test, Natman. I find it hard (in fact, I'm tempted to feel a bit narked, actually) to comprehend how someone who relentlessly, and often childishly, attacks theism - and the Christian faith in particular - has the nerve to accuse me of always being 'on the attack'? Have you absolutely no consciousness at all of your own methods? You throw stones at people, and then complain that, when they throw the stones back, they are being aggressive. Come on, Natman, you can surely do better than that.

    Apparently I hide my own opinions from scrutiny. Well, that's an interesting accusation. You must have a pretty poor antenna if you have not yet detected the following:

    1. I believe in God.
    2. I am a Christian.
    3. I believe that the Bible is true.
    4. I believe that God is the creator of the universe and everything in it.

    Shall I go on, Natman? Or have you got the picture now?

    If you don't like others attacking your dogmatic and unsubstantiated statements about reality, then why don't you start showing a bit of respect. But on another thread, this is what you wrote: "You might not like it, but I will mock your beliefs, and the beliefs of others and not because I can't disprove them (#153 shows where I stand on the subject) but because they're based on such absurd presuppositions that it's more than irony for a theist to stand there and claim to be logical(!)"

    So you admit that you wish to mock other people's beliefs. You claim to justify this by saying that their presuppostions are absurd and that you can disprove their beliefs.

    Fine. Then disprove them, and provide logical arguments that show that the presupposition of an intelligent creator is absurd, because I have yet to see one logically coherent argument from you on this issue. All you ever come out with is the claim of empiricism, but you refuse to address the question of the logical problem associated with empiricism (something that even a fellow atheist - Bertrand Russell - acknowledged. But no, Natman knows best, I suppose!). You base your entire view of reality on the premise that "only those things we can observe / perceive with our senses can be real". I have countered this claim so many times, and not once has my argument been refuted. If you think I am just bluffing, then, for example, please provide the direct empirical evidence of the existence of human consciousness. Note that I am not talking about the empirical effects of consciousness; I am talking about 'consciousness itself'.

    Please prove that life self-assembled by purely natural means. Where is the direct empirical proof of that claim? You claim that ID is not science. OK, then how is it unreasonable of me to ask you to provide scientific evidence that the alternative to ID is scientific? Where is the evidence??

    And it is no good coming out with some far-fetched convoluted theory that it could have happened that way (despite the extreme improbability). I am asking for evidence that it DID happen that way. If you cannot provide that evidence, then it is not 'absurd' to theorise that incredibly intricate, complex systems are the result of intelligent input (which is, ironically, the only empirical evidence we have of the formation of intricate complex systems. If the random and mindless formation of intricate complex systems is part of your daily experience, then do let us all know.) To draw a connection between the concepts of 'intelligence' and 'complexity' is not an intellectual 'cop-out' or some childish attempt to compensate for a lack of understanding. It is a logical deduction based on the only reality any of us can derive any information and insight from: the universe in which we live.

    If you then argue that the existence of the facility of adaptation constitutes evidence of 'mindlessness' creating complexity, well that is a huge leap of faith. A living system that has the facility to adapt to a changing environment is due to the fact that such a system possesses a high degree of complexity, which goes far beyond anything man has created. Even something as relatively simple as a Turing machine (i.e. simple compared to the systems in nature) had to be initially programmed and calibrated by an intelligent person before it could be set off on its apparently 'independent' way free of subsequent human intervention.

    Just because nature has all the appearance of 'working by itself' does not at all mean that it created itself, in just the same way that is utterly absurd to suggest that a machine in a factory, which 'works by itself', could therefore not have been initially designed and programmed.

    There, Natman. Is this post nasty enough to qualify as an 'attack'? Or is 'freedom of speech' just too much for you?

  • Comment number 38.

    Thx mscracker, I was curious as to how it would work, whether it was like a two tier system

  • Comment number 39.

    ...and on top of LSV's exposition;

    Famously, the facile notion that this universe simply sprang into being 'by accident' is like saying you could put a monkey in a room with a typewriter and expect it, eventually, to produce the entire works of Shakespeare. A rejoinder to this is along the lines of "yeah, but there's an infinite number of monkeys...". Even so - think about it - not one of them will EVER, in a hundred thousand million squillion guzillion years, produce the entire works of Shakespeare. So that's settled then.

  • Comment number 40.

    Theophane -

    "...not one of them will EVER, in a hundred thousand million squillion guzillion years, produce the entire works of Shakespeare."

    Exactly. But if they could, there would also be a googolplex quantity of near misses. Funny how we don't see the universe full of all these 'near misses'!

    Oh, I forgot. You also need a way of storing the works of Shakespeare and preventing them from being destroyed. It's one thing to create life by natural means, it's quite another to protect it for billions of years from any destructive forces. Another small factor conveniently overlooked!

  • Comment number 41.

    Theophane,

    Why is it facile, it beats the nonsense other people made up and cannot prove.

  • Comment number 42.

    LSV,

    Define 'consciousness' please. Without using inferences gained from empirical observations. Andecdotal evidence, ie your experiences and personal opinon, don't count.

    Theophane,

    Who said the universe was an accident? An accident implies something that wasn't meant to happen. If you mean without cause, in which case that's right, unless you'd like to provide evidence of a cause.

  • Comment number 43.

    @Theophane & LSV

    "...not one of them will EVER, in a hundred thousand million squillion guzillion years, produce the entire works of Shakespeare."

    Do yourself a favour and take a look at the weasel program. If you ever decide to have a go at programming computers, you should be able to knock your own version out as it is not very difficult. Wikipedia gives an example alogorithm, too. It's not a simulation of evolution or anything, but it does neatly demonstrate why the infinite monkey argument is such a crock.

    (something that even a fellow atheist - Bertrand Russell - acknowledged. But no, Natman knows best, I suppose!)

    We've got unfinished business on this one, you and me. You ran away. As per.

    You base your entire view of reality on the premise that "only those things we can observe / perceive with our senses can be real".

    I think you'll find the argument of the strong empiricist (not saying I am one, I don't know many that do) is that all knowledge derives from sense experience. I suggest you ponder on what "derives" and "experience" means in this context.

    If you think I am just bluffing, then, for example, please provide the direct empirical evidence of the existence of human consciousness. Note that I am not talking about the empirical effects of consciousness; I am talking about 'consciousness itself'.

    Since you don't say what you mean by consciousness and you have shown nowhere on this blog ever that you understand what evidence is and can be, that is just a waste of pixels.

    OK, then how is it unreasonable of me to ask you to provide scientific evidence that the alternative to ID is scientific? Where is the evidence??

    ID proponents are the ones trying to re-define science. The onus is on them.

    If you cannot provide that evidence, then it is not 'absurd' to theorise that incredibly intricate, complex systems are the result of intelligent input.

    So, where are the theories? Specified complexity? Irreducible complexity? Neither are going very well. But if you're up to it, give us the low down on their strengths.

    A living system that has the facility to adapt to a changing environment is due to the fact that such a system possesses a high degree of complexity, which goes far beyond anything man has created.

    A high degree of unnecessary complexity. The hallmark of efficient design is simplicity. If, by some chance, we had a theory, supported by many lines of evidence, that higher life forms evolved from very simple ones through an unguided process, one prediction we might make is that sub optimal... We've been here before. You didn't answer then, either.

    Sorry to keep butting in, Natman. LSV is excelling himself here, though. I don't think I've ever seen such a shameless wallowing in ignorance.

  • Comment number 44.

    Natman (@ 42) -

    "Define 'consciousness' please. Without using inferences gained from empirical observations. Andecdotal evidence, ie your experiences and personal opinon, don't count."

    Errm. Awareness, perhaps? That state of being awake and cognisant of oneself and the reality in which one lives, perhaps? That which you cannot do without, if you wish to have even the slightest success in reading this comment?

    Oh, by the way, Natman... how do I know that you possess consciousness? For all I know you could be a robot programmed to churn out comments based on a certain ideology. I can perceive with my senses (well, just my eyes anyway; I haven't been privileged to hear your dulcet tones) that there is some kind of 'being' or 'mechanism' that calls him-/her-/itself 'Natman', and I infer from that that this 'Natman' is conscious. But this inference gets me no nearer to having any kind of direct apprehension of the consciousness, that I assume Natman possesses.

    So even 'inference on the basis of observation' (which, by the way, is not an empirical observation) does not reveal to me the reality of consciousness. I can only assume it in other people on the basis of that inference. But I know that consciousness exists, because if it didn't it really would be a miracle for me to sit here writing this, and if I'm the only one with consciousness, then I would be being rather silly attempting to communicate with other people! Certainly I do not believe in the reality of my own consciousness on the basis of inference from empirical observation, because I find that when I lie down in a dark and quiet room I am still conscious (unless I nod off, of course, which is not uncommon in that situation).

    Anecdotal evidence for consciousness doesn't count? What, you mean that if someone tells me that they are conscious then I have to take that as evidence that they are? I suppose you have a point when you say that this 'doesn't count', since I would need to believe that such a person already possessed consciousness in order to believe that they could tell me that they did! It's a bit like someone saying to me: "I am telling you that I am a different person from you. These words are evidence that this is true." All a bit silly, dontcha think?

    Evidence from my experiences? What, you mean that I am not allowed to believe that I possess consciousness if I experience it? I take it therefore that experience cannot be used as a means of discerning whether something is true. Bang goes empiricism then!!

    Personal opinion? Well there's a good deal of that on this blog, so maybe you're right there. My personal opinion that I possess consciousness (and therefore that other people also do) is, I suppose, rather erroneous!

    So to sum up: we know that consciousness exists, and there is no evidence that it is a blob of matter floating around somewhere. It may indeed interact with matter (in fact, it does), but the assumption that it is matter can only be made if the presupposition of materialism is also assumed. And then we get on to: how is that justified? (We wouldn't want to be guilty of a circular argument now, would we?)

    "If you mean without cause, in which case that's right, unless you'd like to provide evidence of a cause."

    Sorry Theophane, to gatecrash on your conversation with Natman, but such is the audacity of our friend here, that I cannot resist responding.

    Natman, are you seriously suggesting that we can only believe that something had a cause if we can also observe and investigate the cause? That has got to be one of the most ludicrous arguments I have ever heard in my life.

    Let's just think about it. A dead body is found in the woods. The unfortunate person has sustained serious injuries, let's say ten deep stab wounds. The police draw the conclusion that this person has been murdered. Unfortunately for the investigation, there is someone on the police team who has been educated in the 'Natman' school of criminal studies. This person is aghast that his colleagues should assume that the victim has been murdered. This is what he says: "We cannot say that anything caused the death of this person. All we have is a dead body lying in the woods with certain injuries. Unless we can find evidence of a cause - i.e. direct empirical evidence, such as a video of this alleged murder taking place, or perhaps the confession of a murderer - then we have to assume that the apparently violent death of this person WAS NOT CAUSED by anything!!!"

    Honestly, Natman, if this really is your level of thinking, then repeat these words after me: "Bye bye, science. It's been nice knowing you."

  • Comment number 45.

    Natman;

    The phrase 'by accident' is really just a way of caricaturing certain fashionable theories which seek to exclude God from the origins of the universe. Essentially though, why not ascribe so much of the apparent 'architecture' all around us (the majestic functioning of this little near-perfectly spherical blue and green planet within the solar system for example) to an 'Architect'. This may approximate to "Intelligent Design" theory, but anyway; here's a question that isn't asked as often as it should be.

    "Is there intelligent life on earth?"

    Thankfully a resounding "yes" comes from what, at first, seems an unlikely quarter. Before his election to the Papacy in 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was often seen as a controversial figure, especially by hand-wringing liberals who imagined you could pander to fashionable opinion and retain so much as a shred of authority...



  • Comment number 46.

    It may indeed interact with matter (in fact, it does), but the assumption that it is matter can only be made if the presupposition of materialism is also assumed.

    So it's not a leap of faith to posit a theory that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain? Especially as many observations from neuroscience and cognitive science support the theory?

    Let's just think about it. A dead body is found in the woods. The unfortunate person has sustained serious injuries, let's say ten deep stab wounds. The police draw the conclusion that this person has been murdered. Unfortunately for the investigation, there is someone on the police team who has been educated in the 'Natman' school of criminal studies. This person is aghast that his colleagues should assume that the victim has been murdered. This is what he says: "We cannot say that anything caused the death of this person. All we have is a dead body lying in the woods with certain injuries. Unless we can find evidence of a cause - i.e. direct empirical evidence, such as a video of this alleged murder taking place, or perhaps the confession of a murderer - then we have to assume that the apparently violent death of this person WAS NOT CAUSED by anything!!!"

    But you've argued the self same thing on here any number of times. In LSV land mark 1, much evidence for evolution doesn't count because it wasn't directly observed. I know you are argumentative, but arguing against yourself is a new departure even for you.

  • Comment number 47.

    LSV,

    So you can prove to someone else that you've got self awareness and consciousness? Definite proof of that? Without using emperical evidence?

    The point I'm trying to make is that even your vaulted philosophical stance is based upon emperical evidence, but I give up.

    The fact you're willing to believe the writing of the bible over and above the vast amounts of evidence to the contrary is telling that you'll use your philosophical stance to first undermine the foundations of science, and then use that to ignore it.

    Theophane,

    Science doesn't "seek to exclude" anything, it only accepts the insertions of variables that can be tested and falsified. God and anything of the supernatural cannot, therefore it isn't included.

  • Comment number 48.

    grokesx -

    "But you've argued the self same thing on here any number of times. In LSV land mark 1, much evidence for evolution doesn't count because it wasn't directly observed. I know you are argumentative, but arguing against yourself is a new departure even for you."

    I've been accused of misinterpreting and twisting people's words, but this one just about 'takes the biscuit' (in fact, it takes something else, which I won't mention in polite company). You are conflating two totally different arguments here.

    Natman was making a point about the concept of causation, by claiming that if we cannot directly observe and investigate the cause of the universe, then it follows that the universe is uncaused! I showed with my illustration how absurd that idea is. Of course, we can infer a cause for something even if we cannot directly observe that cause.

    Now where have I ever said anything that agrees with Natman's viewpoint or even his methodology? In fact, my argument against the total reliance on empiricism proves that I cannot possibly be guilty of Natman's way of thinking.

    You are claiming that my comment about the evidence of evolution falls into the same category. What utter bunkum! My argument concerned the distinction between theory and fact. If we have no direct observational evidence of a past event, then how can we be certain that it occurred? We can infer that it occurred, but then we have to justify that inference by using valid presuppositions. The naturalistic theory of the origin and development of life is inferred through the interpretation of certain empirical evidence (e.g. fossils) by the application of certain presuppositions (e.g. naturalism and uniformitarianism).

    My argument, which you are referring to, is a response to the claim that the naturalistic theory of the origin and development of life is based on observed fact, whereas, in reality, it relies, to some extent, on the application of certain philosophical presuppositions.

    I have never suggested that something that is not directly observed cannot exist or could not have happened. That is the very opposite of everything I have ever argued, and you know it.

    Good try, grokesx. Pity you didn't pull off the ruse.

    "I know you are argumentative..."

    Keep trying to avoid the debate, grokesx. Keep pumping out all the little techniques you have acquired, to make it appear that you are winning the argument, when you are, in fact, simply engaging in sleight of hand and ad hominem attacks.

    You've learnt the art of avoidance well. Well done. Ever thought of becoming a politician?

  • Comment number 49.

    Theophane,

    You asked two questions,

    "why not ascribe so much of the apparent 'architecture' all around us (the majestic functioning of this little near-perfectly spherical blue and green planet within the solar system for example) to an 'Architect'"

    Begs the question 'why would you' ? I have never heard an answer which does not equate to I can't answer (or I have made something up) so it must be.

    That's a cop out.

    "Is there intelligent life on earth?"

    There is, at least by how we measure intelligence, and I would have thought Rattzy must be intelligent, you don't get to be head of one of the most ruthless organisations on earth without being ruthless and intelligent. That does not make you good or sane.


  • Comment number 50.

    Natman (@ 47) -

    "So you can prove to someone else that you've got self awareness and consciousness? Definite proof of that? Without using emperical evidence?"

    Why do I need to prove it to someone else??

    I am making a general point about the reality of consciousness. Does it exist or not? Do you believe it exists? Do you believe that your own consciousness exists? Is your fundamental 'sense of self' dependent on what you look at physically, what you hear, taste, smell and touch? Or do you have to measure it, in order to believe in it?

    Now you may say that consciousness is the effect of matter. That is a theory, based on the philosophy of naturalism. But consciousness itself (at least one's own consciousness) is not detected empirically, as I have just argued. Because I am conscious, I assume that you are too.

    "The fact you're willing to believe the writing of the bible over and above the vast amounts of evidence to the contrary is telling that you'll use your philosophical stance to first undermine the foundations of science, and then use that to ignore it."

    No, I am not ignoring the evidence at all. I see no evidence whatsoever to support the naturalistic view of reality. Much of what you call 'evidence' is simply 'an interpretation of the evidence', which excludes any other possible interpretation. And how am I undermining the foundations of science? Science has nothing to do with atheism at all. In fact, atheism is completely irrelevant to science, and, in one sense, I would agree that theism is as well. A theist can design a bridge just as well as an atheist. So what??

    I suspect that you are just utterly desperate to believe that science somehow undermines belief in God. It's such a boring lie. Most of all, it is what is called a 'category error'.

    "Science doesn't "seek to exclude" anything, it only accepts the insertions of variables that can be tested and falsified. God and anything of the supernatural cannot, therefore it isn't included."

    Except that there is one 'variable' that people like you will never allow to be 'falsified': the idea of the natural self-assembly of life. If that improbable idea were ever completely falsified, then what would the alternative be? According to your reasoning you would have to consider that alternative, but it's clear that would be taboo.

    So don't tell me that every idea in science is subject to testing and falsification. It is obvious there are philosophical red lines, which are assumed and never rigorously questioned.

  • Comment number 51.

    LSV,

    Can empirical methodology be used to gather information that is then used to infer or postulate theories based on the unobservable? Or is it limited to describing only what can be directly observed?

    If it can, then there's no reason why the concept of the divine or the supernatural could be considered, if the information led to that. However, even die-hard theologians accept that the divine has never once put forwards nothing other than circumstantial or coincidental 'evidence'. And as is commonly said; "correlation does not imply causation".

    If not, then that's the whole basis of science destroyed in one fell swoop, but also the death knell of theology, as everything about gods and the supernatural is inferred, albeit from non-scientific sources.

    You cannot have your cake and eat it, either science can infer things from observed evidences, or it cannot. I'm going with the former and as such, theories like that of evolution, gravity and atomic structure, along with less certain (but still strongly supported) hypothesis like abiogenesis, can be considered logically.

    Grokesx,

    Hey, it's all good. I'm not the most eloquent debater, so other voices to the sanity is welcome.

  • Comment number 52.

    grokesx, post #43;

    I looked at the 'weasel programme' and it doesn't pass muster. Professor Dawkins shows a tremendous knowledge of typewriters/keyboards, but might as well be utterly in the dark about the behaviour of monkeys. Almost the first thing a monkey will do, in every case, is tear the paper out of the typewriter, leaving the prospect of producing anything at precisely 'nil'. "Methinks Professor Dawkins does not realise it is a monkey".

  • Comment number 53.

    @Theophane

    Funny. Unless you are being serious, in which case it s funnier still.

  • Comment number 54.

    grokesx,

    That's the thought process I have about religion all the time.

  • Comment number 55.

    Theophane (@ 52) -

    "I looked at the 'weasel programme' and it doesn't pass muster."

    You are absolutely correct. It's a con, since it factors in a selection element, which can only be dependent on the function of intelligent intervention.

    This approach has been thoroughly refuted in John Lennox's book 'God's Undertaker' - chapter 10: The Monkey Machine.

    (Still waiting for Helio's critique of this book...)

  • Comment number 56.

    @LSV

    You are absolutely correct. It's a con, since it factors in a selection element, which can only be dependent on the function of intelligent intervention.

    This would indeed be true if it was claimed to be a simulation of evolution, which I was careful to say it wasn't, as was Dawkins. It simply demonstrates that random variation and cumulative selection is a vastly different affair to pure chance. As such, it counters the "evolution is so improbable" argument, put forward by even exceedingly clever people like Fred Hoyle.

    Whoa, I've just read Lennox's refutation and I now see that Dawkins is just conning us all... Oh hang on, sorry, I can see why you like Lennox, he refutes arguments that weren't made.

    Yes, in the program there is a target phrase. In evolutionary theory there is no such thing, survival and reproduction are the only "goals". Yes, in the program, there are fitness criteria. In nature these are determined by the environment and the greater part of the theory of evolution is to do with how they pan out. The few lines of code in the weasel program are not up to the task of illustrating that, nor was it intended to do so.

    I wonder what part of: Although the monkey/Shakespeare model is useful for explaining the distinction between single-step selection and cumulative selection, it is misleading in important ways (Page 50 The Blind Watchmaker) Lennox didn't understand.

  • Comment number 57.

    grokesx -

    I hope that I will be permitted to quote a couple of sentences from Lennox's book, in response to your quote from The Blind Watchmaker.

    This is what Lennox writes:

    A target phrase is a precise goal which, according to Dawkins himself, is a profoundly un-Darwinian concept. And how could blind evolution not only see that target, but also compare an attempt with it, in order to select it, if it is nearer than the previous one? (p.167, 2007 paperback)

    I could quote more, but since you have the text anyway, you can look it up.

    The methodology that Dawkins is using is characteristic of the function of intelligence. Now if you want to claim that nature itself is not mindless and possesses some kind of inherent intelligence (i.e. mind) - if you want to read that idea into nature - then go ahead and become a pantheist.

    The reality is that nature, left to its (I almost wrote 'her') own devices, is mindless. Any other position is contrary to naturalism.

    Dawkins can claim whatever he likes concerning the relevance of his argument, in order to 'cover' his own back (and then claim that he has been misrepresented) - but those of us who look at the actual concepts (such as how probability works, and what intelligence is) can see that it is highly relevant as a way of supporting the theory of the naturalistic origin and development of life, and therefore Lennox's rebuttal is entirely valid.

  • Comment number 58.

    Grokesx;

    You charge me with an unreasonably high esteem for Pope Benedict (the word "groupie" was one you used), but i'd suggest you take an overly uncritical approach towards Dawkins. He takes a scenario about the monkey and the typewriter, and there are basic flaws in his assumptions about what the monkey will do. This stuff about cumulative and single-step selection is glorified nerdery.

  • Comment number 59.

    @LSV

    A target phrase is a precise goal which, according to Dawkins himself, is a profoundly un-Darwinian concept. And how could blind evolution not only see that target, but also compare an attempt with it, in order to select it, if it is nearer than the previous one?

    Give the man a carrot. Evolution doesn't see a thing, not because it is blind, but because it is not a seeing entity. The next sentence of the Dawkins quote - it's even on Wikipedia, for crying out loud - specifically tackled that point, partly, I suppose, anticipating that people like you and Lennox would try and present it as something it is not, looking at the actual concepts and getting them completely round their necks.

    The only thing it demonstrates is that if characters in a string are preserved, meaningful combinations can be rapidly achieved using random mutation. In the simulation, the meaning is defined by the target string. In evolution, it is a tad more complicated. The string is analogous to the gene, and explaining how end results take the place of target strings via gene expression, phenotypes, selection pressures, environment and a whole lot more besides is what the theory of evolution - and laymen's explanations like The Blind Watchmaker - is all about.

    Now if you want to claim that nature itself is not mindless and possesses some kind of inherent intelligence (i.e. mind) - if you want to read that idea into nature - then go ahead and become a pantheist.

    I'm not claiming any such thing and I don't recall asking your permission for what to become.

    @Theophane

    This stuff about cumulative and single-step selection is glorified nerdery.

    Not glorified, just plain old vanilla. And how can you make a judgement on uncritical approaches if you don't get to grips with the details? You can't have it both ways.

    He takes a scenario about the monkey and the typewriter, and there are basic flaws in his assumptions about what the monkey will do.

    Oh, you were being serious. The Infinite Monkey Theorem is not about an actual monkey, it's about... Sorry, more nerdery, I'm afraid, there's alot of it about. We wouldn't be having this conversation at all without it.

  • Comment number 60.

    Grokesx;

    "The Infinite Monkey Theorem is not about an actual monkey"

    Right. So the 'weasel programme' doesn't challenge the monkey/typewriter scenario, and no one is actually "doing themselves a favour" to look at it. Is it just one of the logical fallacies from your collection, which LSV was telling us about?

  • Comment number 61.

    @Theo

    Although most people's idea of infinite monkeys is not quite so literal as yours, there has been at least one experiment looking into it.

    Despite bashing the keyboard with a rock and defecating on it, six monkeys managed to produce five pages of text, mostly the letter S, in a month. Not bad going, if you ask me, and two grand of public money well spent.

  • Comment number 62.

    I've had a look at the output from that monkey experiment, and it was better reading than Twilight, that's for sure....

  • Comment number 63.

    O.K., the student high jinks are quite funny (aren't they always?), but i'm still left with the impression that this infinite monkey claptrap is only useful to someone with a quite bewildering and profound ignorance of Shakespeare - otherwise you are just 'suspending disbelief'. The original statement about the futility of thinking that the universe simply sprang into being 'by accident' still stands.

    In August 1999 there was a total eclipse which many people will remember. If you look under "Eclipse" in a 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica there is a table at the end, showing when and where this phenomenon has been visible over several centuries - and the last entry pinpoints the date and region of England where it was to happen in 1999. When we encounter this kind of precision in everyday life - in a household appliance for example - we do not merely SPECULATE that some intelligent being is responsible for it. It's a matter of "stating the obvious with confidence".

  • Comment number 64.

    "stating the obvious with confidence".

    That phrase sends a shudder down my spine.

  • Comment number 65.

    "When we encounter this kind of precision in everyday life - in a household appliance for example - we do not merely SPECULATE that some intelligent being is responsible for it. It's a matter of "stating the obvious with confidence".

    Are you serious? I just re-read this and it seems to imply that because the moon follows a circular orbital path around the Earth and the Earth rotates on its axis, both in defined, easily measured ways, and from that extrapolate the times and instances of eclipses... that's evidence of design? I suggest you read up on the subject before commenting on the subject again, lest I mock you some more.

    Do you honestly think that? Even LSV can come up with better and more plausible excuses for intelligent design than that...

    Good grief.

    And whilst you might struggle to understand the concept, with an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters with an infinite amount of time will produce Shakespeare. It's not a case of 'if', it's a case of 'how many' and 'how long'. It's not about ignorance of Shakespeare, it's about ignorance of chaos theory and probabilties.

  • Comment number 66.

    Grokesx;

    There are three major monotheistic religions, the adherents of which affirm belief in one and the same God. Our society was pretty clearly of the 'Christian' variety until really very recently, but we sought a more palatable version of it, diminishing the importance of the Cross. From Christianity without the Cross, conventional wisdom now seeks to exclude God altogether, but we should not delude ourselves that other cultures and societies will do likewise. If anything, this is the reality which might 'disconcert' you, not the fact that an adherent of one of the faiths expresses a degree of certainty. Faith, after all, gives meaning to the lives of many millions of people.

    Natman;

    "whilst you might struggle to understand the concept, with an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters with an infinite amount of time will produce Shakespeare. It's not a case of 'if', it's a case of 'how many' and 'how long'. It's not about ignorance of Shakespeare, it's about ignorance of chaos theory and probabilties."

    I could predict that the Faroe Islands will not only qualify for the next World Cup, but they will defeat Burkina Faso 4:3 in an enthralling final, having trailed 3:1 at half-time. Anyone with the faintest idea about football will tell you that this is utter fantasy, but in all details it is, relatively speaking, a 'safe bet' compared to this baloney about infinite monkeys.

  • Comment number 67.

    Theophane,

    The proper analogy to the monkey problem involving football would be that in an infinite amount of world cups it is a statistical probability that the outcome you predict will come true (as all outcomes are possible it follows that in infinity all outcomes will happen as long as all variables are free to have all values). The fact that you have bounded your prediction as the next single event shows that you have not grasped the monkey.

  • Comment number 68.

    Dave;

    The point is that this drivel can be used to predict virtually anything, and give it a veneer of scientific respectability. This is particularly true because it presupposes that there must be a desired aim - which cannot be, unless it has been ordained by a higher authority.

    "Methinks it is like a weasel. Nay, forsooth, 'tis - but it can't be - 'tis a pig - with wings! See how it flyeth! It hath evolv-ed wings in accordance with ye so-called infinitely manky theorem."

  • Comment number 69.

    Theophane,

    "The point is that this drivel can be used to predict virtually anything, and give it a veneer of scientific respectability"

    Actually, it's not. The point is that given sufficient time, and sufficient resources, even highly improbably events become probable. It's not a desired aim, but the occurance of something that appears more desireable than the other random and chaotic outcomes in a given set of variables.

    Your ignorance of evolutionary pathways is seemingly only exceeded by your ignorance of chaos and probability theory.

  • Comment number 70.

    Natman;

    "It's not a desired aim, but the occurance of something that appears more desireable than the other random and chaotic outcomes in a given set of variables."

    To quote Professor Dawkins,

    "Although the monkey/Shakespeare model is useful for explaining the distinction between single-step selection and cumulative selection, it is misleading in important ways. One of these is that, in each generation of selective 'breeding', the mutant 'progeny' phrases were judged according to the criterion of resemblance to a distant ideal target, the phrase METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. Life isn't like that. Evolution has no long-term goal."

    We have to go back to the nerdery because Natman wasn't paying attention.

  • Comment number 71.

    Theo,

    The problem is thinking that the works of Shakespeare are a desired aim, as Natman says it only appears as a desired aim because we intellectually value it. It is simply one of a finite number of outcomes, none more desirable than the other (mathematically speaking), all with an equal opportunity of occurrence. Given an infinite number of attempts (each with a single outcome) every outcome including the works of Shakespeare will occur. This is just mathematical probability in the same way as the Dream Number in the lottery works (a defined set of numbers in a set order) the value of the result is dependant on the ticket you hold. Another problem is that the system is a non-cumulative ie one result is not dependant on the last, or next.

    The other problem with the monkeys/typewriter is that it assumes perfection in all the elements (ie they never alter) and that there are no environmental influences to change the fundamental freedom of any variable (such as there are in evolution). The monkeys/typewriters and treated as a closed perfect system, human evolution is not. If a cold wind blew into the monkey experiment and froze all the letter M keys then obviously Macbeth would no longer be a possible outcome.

    Then think what would happen if environmental factors in the typewriters/monkeys scenario produce a new letter, the number of outcomes increases, if that is the case then number of mutations becomes another psuedo random element which could be infinite causing the possible outcomes to be infinite but due to the lack of the letter M the original possible occurrence of Shakespeare is still not possible unless the random mutations (being blown about by environmental factors) reintroduced the letter M. We now have infinite outcomes, not all possible in equal chance, and infinite time but where each result is not simply random but cumulative on every result which has gone before and the environmental factor in place at the time of the result but crucially not dependant on the next result.

    This result is not being pulled towards by future results but is a function of the cumulative results to this point plus environmental factors in place.

    So monkeys/Typewriter is like throwing dice where each result is random, evolution is more like a state machine where the result is pseudo random (ie if we could compute all the variables including environmental factors we could predict the result). Unfortunately (as I understand it) chaos theory restricts that computation of variables as it would have to include all possible environmental variable and their interactions too, That's a big sum, hence the outcome appears pseudo random.

    None of any of this requires a defined end point or any intelligence. In fact to be aiming for a defined end point something would have to be manipulating every single variable in the universe at every point in time in order to shepherd evolution or to have started the universe having predicted the impact of every variable throughout all time until the point at which the result happened (then reversed engineered that to calculate the starting point for both the object to be evolved and the starting point of each and every variable).

    There is no evidence for this intelligence and to be honest you could speculate about it till the cows come home and not get the right answer (even if there is one). If it exists it is as likely to be a school experiment by some multidimensional super being (from our perspective) as it is to be the 'loving' god of christianity for all the real evidence we have.



  • Comment number 72.

    Theo,

    What, exactly, is your point? That a simple computer program, never intended to show anything complex, isn't complex enough to prove evolution?

    Wow golly gosh. Who'd've thunk it?

    The point of the matter is that the argument from improbability fails as it's shown that given sufficient time and resources highly improbable events have a high likelihood of occurance.

    Besides, debating the statistical probability of an event occuring after the event has occured is pointless. It's the same as saying "Well, the chance of anyone winning the lottery is 17 million to one, therefore no one ever wins the lottery."

    Returning, briefly, to an earlier point...

    "There are three major monotheistic religions...

    The majority of the worlds population follow none of those three religions. There are far more Hindu and traditional Chinese adherants than Christian, Muslim or Jew. Does that disconcert you? That 3 billion or more people think you're wrong?

  • Comment number 73.

    Weaselprogramme and Monkeytheorem are dead.

  • Comment number 74.

    If that last one broke the rules - "There is something rotten in the State of Denmark." Incidentally, 'Rosenkrantz' is the German word for 'Rosary'.

  • Comment number 75.

    Theophane,

    Your profound statements and refutation of the arguments presented against you have convinced me.

    All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    RAmen

  • Comment number 76.

    Natman (@ 72) -

    "The point of the matter is that the argument from improbability fails as it's shown that given sufficient time and resources highly improbable events have a high likelihood of occurance."

    That is not actually true at all. In fact the opposite is the case. It would conceivably be true if you were talking about a single event that occurred in a flash and then disappeared, but that is not the case concerning the subject in question (the question of life). A vast series of interconnected improbable events, the sequence of which cannot be broken, relies on an ever increasingimprobability. So, for example, if I throw a dice (or 'die' to be pedantic) and need to obtain an unbroken series of the number 6, the probability of achieving that unbroken series decreases the more times I throw the dice: chance of 1/6 --> 1/36 --> 1/216 --> 1/1296 etc

    The trouble with the understanding of probability typical of something like the weasel programme is that it assumes that once a '6' has been thrown, it can safely be stored away somewhere, and then come out and 'recognise' the next '6' that comes up (if it does not appear immediately) and 'join' itself to that '6' and so on. This recognition and selection process is a violation of probability theory, and can only work within the context of an intervening intelligence.

    Life, by its very nature is improbable (from a naturalistic point of view), and it relies entirely on an unbroken interconnectedness. Therefore the more time life is given to develop, the more improbable its development becomes. Since the probability of life getting started is as good as nil anyway, the probability of any continuation becomes so absurdly and exponentially improbable that we are effectively talking about the impossible.

    Therefore (by a sound process of falsification) the only rational alternative is intelligence.

    "Besides, debating the statistical probability of an event occuring after the event has occured is pointless."

    No, the point is about working out whether such an event could have occurred randomly at all. To assume that it did, and then claim that it is pointless working out its probability, is, of course, a circular argument.

  • Comment number 77.

    LSV,

    You're working on the (wrong) assumption that life -must- have followed a specific pathway and that any deviation from that path results in utter failure for life (and by extension evolutionary processes).

    Your analogy of rolling a die and getting 6, then rolling succesive times to get a 6 each time is deeply flawed. Evolutionary processes do not need the equivalent of a 6 each time to continue.

    To put it in perspective, you're looking at the random paths taken by a 100 blind men across a large room full of traps and pointing at the single blind man who made it across and saying "He -must- be able to see, there's no chance he could've made it across without getting caught in a trap."

  • Comment number 78.

    Natman (@ 77) -

    You are making an assumption that once life has formed, then somehow the universe 'knows' to preserve that life, and then allow it to develop from a position of complete protection from any hostile forces. In a universe subject to disorder, this is simply not true. In fact, it's an assumption based on the same kind of thinking as Dawkins' weasel programme. Once the correct letter has been typed it is then safely stored away, and can no longer be 'untyped' (reversed) or lost to the scheme of the synthesis of the line of Shakespeare.

    I've done a calculation to show how absurd the notion of the random synthesis of life really is. Let us suppose that the initial formation of, let's say, a single prokaryotic cell is an absolute dead cert for one particular year (year one). This, of course, is an utterly ridiculous assumption, because such an event is highly improbable. Now this cell has to be preserved in a conducive environment. Let us suppose that the chance of its survival (and reproduction) is 99% for each year that passes. So the universe is considered to be overwhelmingly friendly to life, but, of course, there are a few forces which are inimical to it. Again, this is an unrealistically optimistic scenario, since the universe is not naturally conducive to life at all. So I am factoring in a very small element of disorder.

    Looking from the vantage point of year 1, these are the chances of the survival of this life form:

    After year...
    1: 100%
    2: 99%
    3: 98.01%

    and now we'll skip to year...
    10: 91.35%
    100: 36.97%
    500: 0.664%
    1000: 0.00436%
    5000: 0.0000000000000000000151%

    So the point is, that we only need a very small element of disorder to increase the improbability exponentially. If we plot a graph showing the first 5000 years, the line drops rapidly in the first few years and then almost flatlines above zero for the rest of the time. And this is a calculation based on the premise that the natural formation and preservation of life is more probable than improbable, and the improbability factor is extremely small. Of course, if we begin with the correct premise that the natural self-assembly of a single cell is highly improbable, and that its preservation is also highly improbable, then the improbability increases to such an extent and so quickly as to be farcical.

    Therefore, it is clear that the more time you give life, the less likely it is to survive, never mind develop / evolve. Of course, you could argue that once life has arrived in a particular ecosystem, then that ecosystem will be preserved from all danger within our universe. Good luck with that one. As I say, you only need a very small factor of disorder (entropy) to infect the process and what I have shown above comes into play.

    So the argument that "given enough time and resources anything can happen - and therefore life is that thing that has randomly happened" is nonsense. In a system in which the creation of something is more improbable than probable (in other words, less than a 50% chance) it follows logically that the expansion of that system - the increase of time and resources - increases the improbability (since that is the inherent nature of the system) of that thing happening - and the increase of improbability is exponential. Even a small element of disorder throws the system, as I have shown. Simple logic really.

    The 'pathways' argument is irrelevant, because I am talking about 'life' in general terms, however it may develop.

  • Comment number 79.

    LSV,

    Probability understanding epic fail. It's not even wrong.

    You've totally ignored reproduction in which said cell would have thousands if not millions of offspring, each one having thousands if not millions of offspring and each generation is made up of those cells that had a better chance of survival.

    Using your mathematical approach, if one cell can have 1000 offspring a day, and each of those offspring can have 1000 offspring a day ad infinitum... well, the numbers get too mind boggling big to contemplate, even if 99.9% of all those cells are dead by the end of the year. Add in that for each generation the population gets more adapted to the environment (as those who cannot cope don't survive), the percentage lost gets -lower-.

    Suffice to say, whatever statistic you can throw out, you can guarantee that there'll be the numbers required to reduce that chance to 1.

    To elaborate on the blind man senario (which you deftly ignored), take the room with the traps, get your 100 blind people, for each step that they take, they get to split to make 2 people. Eventually, a significant proportion of those blind people will make it across. That doesn't mean that they can see and the chances of a specific blind person making it across is billions to one.

    Seriously, you're not doing yourself any favours here.

  • Comment number 80.

    Natman -

    No, you have totally misunderstood my argument. No matter how many offspring are produced, my argument holds true, because the reproduction and survival of each one of those organisms remains subject to the same laws of probability as every other. The number of cells or organisms is irrelevant - it's the fundamental nature of the system in which they develop.

    No amount of cells - or living organisms - can counteract the effect of disorder within the system. The idea that the principle of reproduction can somehow magically hold back the forces of chaos is a fantasy that naturalists love to read into nature. It's a bit like saying that the task of running up a steep hill somehow becomes easier the more people who are involved in doing it. The fact is that the hill remains just as steep quite irrespective of the number of people trying to run up it! I know that someone like you may possibly retort that the more people who try to run up the hill will mean that there is a greater chance that someone will make it. But I'll pre-empt that argument by saying that the hill becomes progressively - and exponentially steeper - the longer the activity of 'running up it' continues - no matter how many runners are involved. So therefore the number of runners does not affect my argument that refutes your claim that probability increases when greater resources and time are factored into the system.

    Going back to my perfectly legitimate calculation: if we factor in a 1% influence (per year) of disorder in the system (and this applies irrespective of how much life we begin with and how much life is reproduced) - and remember this is wildly and insanely optimistic from a naturalistic point of view - then what are the odds of life developing and surviving a mere 10,000 years (which is, of course, a miniscule period of time within the time-frame of the theory of evolution)? Answer: a chance of 1 in approx. 44 million trillion trillion trillion. This is the exponential effect of a mere 1% factor of disorder (entropy) having started from a position of the dead certainty of life's formation (which, of course, is pure Alice in Wonderland fantasy anyway). And the calculation applies irrespective of 'how much' life - and subsequent reproduction and multiplication - we are dealing with.

    The only way you can refute this is if you can prove - by means of 'weasel' logic - that once life has formed then the mindless universe 'knows' to carefully preserve and protect it. Good luck with that one.

    Honestly, how you can claim that this grandiose theory should be accepted as 'fact' is completely beyond me. Simple maths shows that it's pure fantasy.

    Seriously!!

  • Comment number 81.

    LSV,

    Preserve?

    Havn't you heard of genes? They're pretty good at storing information, and even better at replicating it and passing it onto future generations.

    Your probability example fails again; as more people attempt the steep hill, the ones that get further up the hill than the others then produce people who can push that little bit further. Eventually all that is left are the people who can make it all the way up the hill.

    You -really- need to look into this properly, the argument from mathematics has been disproven a long time ago. It seems you're still playing catch-up.

    I note, with some amusement, each time I post, you alter the method in which you produce your statistical argument slightly. Now that's evolution!

    Answer the blind man example, if you please. I'll even say that yes, the hill gets steeper, but each time a blind person gets up part of the hill, its offspring inherit that same ability.

  • Comment number 82.

    Natman (@ 81) -

    Have I ever heard of 'genes'? What, you mean useful and meaningful information within living systems? Nah, since I am not allowed to believe in intelligence, I can't possibly be expected to believe in that which intelligence produces, namely, useful and meaningful information!!

    Again you misunderstand my analogy. The steepness of the hill represents improbability - and looking at the probability of the sequence of life surviving from the vantage point of year one. Unless you can prove that there are no factors or forces within the universe that are capable of destroying and 'unforming' life, then my probability argument holds true. You only need to factor in a very small degree of chaos (that which destroys life) to prove mathematically that improbability increases over time. This applies to your blind man analogy as well.

    You talk about reproduction, but there is still a chance that reproduction may fail. That possibility has to be factored in, and it remains a factor throughout the whole process of evolution. You seem to be assuming that once life has magically self-assembled (no mean feat in itself) then it's a certainty that it will then unfailingly succeed in its course of reproduction and multiplication. From where do you derive this certainty? (and don't say "because life exists", as that is a circular argument.) If there is even just a small percentage of uncertainty, then over a long period, this factor will increase the improbability of life surviving, as I have shown. Remember the universe is not friendly to life. An asteroid bombardment, a slight change in the atmosphere (chemically, or in terms of pressure or temperature) or a severe change in the magnetic field (such as a reversal), too much ultra-violet radiation, extreme climate change, extreme volcanic activity, a change in the earth's orbit (which can occur, although rare), disease, sterility etc - all these can wipe out life on earth. Extreme fine-tuning needs to be maintained for life to have any chance at all of surviving (irrespective of genetics or the rate of reproduction). All these things have to be factored in, and they contribute to the increasing improbability of the long-term survival of life.

    And it's no good coming out with a useless circular argument that says: well, because life has survived that proves that none of these adverse events occurred. That's an argument I've read recently concerning geomagnetic reversal, for example. It's simply bad logic.

    This 'certainty' of survival is huge leap of faith, and it is not based on anything remotely scientific, whether you talk about genetics or not. What we see today are continual threats to survival (and I am not talking about ridiculous Doomsday scenarios) with the extinction of numerous species. What we do not see is evolution or a universe inherently biased to the creation and preservation of life (which is hardly surprising, considering that the universe by itself cannot produce life).

    People like you seem to view life as a kind of 'positive cancer'. Once it multiplies then it will take over nature and overcome the forces of disorder - in other words, the mere quantity of life will somehow impose its order on mindless nature. This is just utter tripe. According to the philosophy of naturalism, life is subject to the laws of nature, and where in the laws of nature acting on matter do we see a tendency towards life? We do not. Life is the great exception, not the rule. Even Richard Dawkins accepts this, hence his acknowledgment that randomness alone cannot produce life (and hence his vain attempt to defy the laws of probability with his spurious weasel programme).

    Let me go back to my dice analogy. Instead of talking about a series of sixes, let me assume that the die has the following on its six faces: five faces of 'N' (Non-life) and one face of 'L' (Life). Whatever pathway life will follow, we still need to throw an unbroken sequence of 'L'. If the sequence of life is broken at any point, we are sent back to the beginning again. Even if there are points in the sequence where we can allow five of the faces of the die to show 'L' rather than 'N' (if we hypothesise that the environment is more conducive to reproduction and therefore survival than previously) we still end up with ever increasing improbability. The only way you can disprove this is by eliminating all adverse factors altogether. Therefore your claim that increased time and resources increases probability is simply false from a mathematical point of view.

    Your argument could conceivably be true if you are just looking for a single event. I suppose it is conceivable (though ridiculously unlikely) that a single protein could be formed randomly (it has been calculated that the chance of a 100 amino protein forming by chance is 1 in 1 followed by 130 zeros or 1 in 10 billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion!). But then that protein has to be preserved in an appropriate environment, and a sequence of the synthesis of life has to then proceed, and the sequence must never be broken. This sequentialism then demolishes your argument, as I have shown, because you also have to factor in an accompanying sequence of events detrimental to the preservation of life. Like I said, Dawkins tries to get round this with his weasel fallacy (in other words, with what is, in reality, an intelligence methodology!).

    "You -really- need to look into this properly, the argument from mathematics has been disproven a long time ago. It seems you're still playing catch-up."

    Waffle.

  • Comment number 83.

    LSV,

    By your logic, without the sustaining (and invisible) hand of a guiding intelligence, we'd all be dead within a year.

    Or does your probability calculations only apply when no one is looking?

    Evolution isn't random, only the mis-educated and the willfully ignorant assume that it is. Genetic mutation -is- random, but evolution depends on much more.

    You clearly don't understand the simple basics of evolutionary biology, so until you've done some reading, we're done here.

  • Comment number 84.

    Natman (@ 83) -

    No argument offered then.

    One of the definitions of 'special pleading':

    "Assertion that the opponent lacks the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view."

    Only an elite can understand the impossible. The elite say that the impossible is possible. Therefore the impossible is possible.

    End of argument.

    "Now you 'orrible little people, Big Brother has spoken, get into line, or else....!"

  • Comment number 85.

    Natman (@ 83) -

    "By your logic, without the sustaining (and invisible) hand of a guiding intelligence, we'd all be dead within a year."

    Yep. That's exactly what I believe. God sustains the universe, otherwise we would all be dead (but not within a year, more like within a nanosecond). Welcome to reality.

  • Comment number 86.

    @LSV

    A quick primer .

    I'm not for one moment thinking you'll look, but if anyone thinks there is something in what you say it shows why your arguments are, as Natman says, not even wrong.

    That you trot out:

    I suppose it is conceivable (though ridiculously unlikely) that a single protein could be formed randomly (it has been calculated that the chance of a 100 amino protein forming by chance is 1 in 1 followed by 130 zeros or 1 in 10 billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion!)

    indicates that you have either made no attempt to seriously engage with the current scientific position or that you follow the simple strategy of constant repetition. I'm not saying it isn't effective, especially when there are people who cry "advanced nerdery" whenever they can't be bothered to get to grips with the details. Chucking in a mind boggling number and wittering on about the probabilities will sound just nuts to them provided the conclusion fits in with their existing belief.

    Anyway, the linked article deals with the, "Oh it's just so improbable that life started without intelligence, therefore it didn't," argument. (Not I'm not saying anything about what actually happened - proper scientists are trying to work it out. What is sure is that there are theories worth exploring.)

    But what about your dice analogy and the preservation of life mullarkey? Well, probabilites aren't just plucked out of the air, they have to be worked out from known phenomena and to try and do so on unknowns is not possible. But let's play your game and give it a shot. You ran away from the specifics of your single prokaryotic cell in favour of intangible dice loading, but the only way to get a feel of your argument is if we look at some specifics. Lets look at each of the things you claim could have wiped out life:

    An asteroid bombardment. Yep. Could have done. Possibly did, but early enough in time for it not to matter. As the solar system got older, bombardments became rarer and in the end single asteroids rather than loads of the blighters came visiting. One did for the dinosaurs, which turned out well for us because it allowed furry rats to take over the world.

    slight change in the atmosphere (chemically, or in terms of pressure or temperature), extreme climate change, extreme volcanic activity, Them prokaryotes aren't quite the shrinking violets you take them to be.

    severe change in the magnetic field (such as a reversal) Happens about every 300,000 years - there's been about thirty since we've been a distinct species. We survived. The last one was 780,000 years ago, so we're overdue. It'll be the end of the world exactly the same as it wasn't all the other times.

    too much ultra-violet radiation, Before the ozone layer helped out, early prokaryotes that approached the surface of the oceans evolved enzymes that repaired uv damage.

    Disease Caused by other life, mostly. One organism's disease is another organism's feast.

    Set against all this are our plucky little prokaryotes, binary fission (initially) and exponential population growth. Some can divide in ten minutes. That's 4722366480000000000000 new prokaryotes a day. Of course, early life didn't reproduce so efficiently, what with more primitive metabolisms and replication. But early life would have been quite serene, because most threats to organisms have always been other organisms.

    Anyway, this is all nonsense. You are just vomiting your metaphysical beliefs into areas you don't understand and I am responding to male bovine faecal deposit arguments. And leave off the "You're so elitist" whining. It's never been easier to learn stuff than it is now. But you don't need to bother, because there is nothing that can't be answered by "My invisible, all powerful sky pixie is working tirelessly in the background to keep his ickle babies safe and they don't even care, the ungrates." But what I'd like to know, if this sky pixie is so all powerful, why did he create a universe where life is so fragile that he has to spend every nanosecond protecting it? Why not create one that works better? I suppose being all seeing, he knew he'd get bored, so he set himself a few challenges. That'd be it, obviously.

  • Comment number 87.

    That would be ingrate not ungrate. And the cell division figure is wrong - it's for dividing every twenty minutes. More nerdery tells us that after a day at ten minutes per division, we'd get about 4,000 times the earth's weight in prokaryotes. So it's just as well that the universe puts up a few objections and limits population growth somewhat.

  • Comment number 88.

    LSV,

    "No argument offered then.

    One of the definitions of 'special pleading':

    "Assertion that the opponent lacks the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view."

    Only an elite can understand the impossible. The elite say that the impossible is possible. Therefore the impossible is possible."


    All this from someone pleading 'goddit'?

    The irony is just too much.

  • Comment number 89.

    grokesx -

    I've had a look at the link and I can't help but notice that huge assumptions are made about abiogenesis, and the fundamental assumption appears to be somewhat similar to the 'weasel fallacy': that the mindless universe 'knows' to preserve and to not reverse those chemical reactions which produce the building blocks of life. That is a huge leap of faith, and not consistent with a proper application of the laws of probability.

    This is how I see it (and I think we've got to the stage where we can't pretend that we can convince each other, and so I am simply stating what I believe). According to naturalism, nature is a closed system, which is subject to entropy. Life, according to this philosophy, is therefore a product of this closed system. Since life is highly ordered, then for such a phenomenon to exist the fundamental nature of the system needs to have been suspended in some part of it.

    Now suppose I am a notional observer standing at the very beginning of the process of the development of life in this closed system and my job is to calculate the probability of the long-term success of this development. It is entirely logical of me to factor into this process some element of disorder, since the process is the product of a closed system subject to entropy. It would be utterly absurd and illogical not to. But suppose that I am wildly, insanely and hopelessly optimistic and decide to 'give life the benefit of the doubt' and factor in only a miniscule percentage of disorder (and by 'disorder' I mean "all those adverse factors which have the power to bring the entire process to a halt"). I decide to factor in 0.0001% per year to allow for this contingency - in other words, a chance of 1 in a million that the whole 'life project' will fail (in reality I think that it's less than 1 in a million that it will succeed, but, as I say, let me be optimistic).

    On this basis, what are the approximate odds that life will survive, let's say, 100 million years (which is not very long really in so-called 'geological time')?

    Answer: 1 chance in approx. 22.3 million trillion trillion trillion.

    Now this may appear to be an example of super-nerdery. It's also logic (and the calculation isn't difficult - using a natural logarithm and exponential function). If you want to have some idea of the size of this number, then if this is a distance in nanometers, it is equivalent to just over 50 million times the radius of the observable universe! Get your neurons round that one!

    So this is what we get to after a quite modest period of geological time after only factoring in a one in a million chance of life not surviving each year, remembering that life is supposed to survive and thrive in a closed system fundamentally subject to entropy.

    The only way this can be refuted is if you can prove that life has the inherent capacity to overcome the fundamental nature (tendency to disorder) of the closed system which produced it, which is a total contradiction.

    Now this approach applies to every stage of abiogenesis, unless, of course you can prove the weaselly 'inherently irreversible' super protected, sugar coated, environmentally 'padded cell' theory of evolution. Sorry, but the universe, left to itself, is nasty. There is no padded cell or cotton wall nursery for the preservation of life within this closed system. Any order has to come into the system from the outside, which is obvious when you think about it. Of course, you could theorise that this order is coming in from another universe, but this just pushes the problem further into the distance, since a multiverse is just a larger closed system.

    The naturalistic theory is therefore total nonsense, as far as I am concerned. It doesn't matter how much time and resources you factor in; the improbability of order always increases within a closed system subject to entropy. Therefore 'order' cannot be the result of nature left to itself.

    You can accuse me of nerdery as much as you like. I prefer the facts.

  • Comment number 90.

    LSV,

    First you raised the issue of naturalistic methodology.

    Then you brought up probability.

    Now you're moving onto the laws of thermodynamics.

    Are you going through the checklist of 'thoroughly refuted creationist claims'?

    But hey...

    1. The second law of thermodynamics applies universally, but, as everyone can see, that does not mean that everything everywhere is always breaking down. The second law allows local decreases in entropy offset by increases elsewhere. The second law does not say that order from disorder is impossible; in fact, as anyone can see, order from disorder happens all the time.

    2. The maximum entropy of a closed system of fixed volume is constant, but because the universe is expanding, its maximum entropy is ever increasing, giving ever more room for order to form.

    3. Disorder and entropy are not the same. The second law of thermodynamics deals with entropy. There are no laws about things tending to "break down."

  • Comment number 91.

    @LSV

    As in so many things, you miss the mark on the (very minor) nerdery point.

    It was a reference to Theophane on a previous thread who dismissed the difference between one step change and cumulative selection as "advanced nerdery." I'm sorry, you don't qualify a a nerd. Nerds know what they are talking about.

    As for the rest, what are these adverse factors that have to be factored in? The ones you quoted before hardly require the services of a preserver paid by the nanosecond. And what's all this about a universe knowing not to reverse chemical reactions? The universe observes certain laws, some of which have been worked out by the study of chemistry, biochemistry and the rest. Now, many people, including some scientists, think that these laws were, if not the work of a divine being, at least guarantee conscious life. Others, like deists, think the universe with all its laws, was created and then left alone. These beliefs, along with others, including naturalists, are consistent with everything science has observed so far. Your belief that there is an all powerful sky daddy that protects us from harm is also consistent, but not needed. And pulling figures out of your fundament to plug into useless probabilty guesses aren't required either. What is the point in trying to argue anything in terms of laws if your basic thesis is that your sky daddy defies them?

    And the closed system/entropy thing. The earth has a thermonuclear reactor kicking out energy like there's no tomorrow only 93 million miles away. That helps.

 

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