Archive for May, 2008
Jerry Coyne gave a presentation on Creationism and ID at The Rockefeller University on May 1. You can watch the video here.
What's troubling about the presentation is the last 5 minutes or so, where Coyne focuses on religion and basically sides with Dawkins, Hitchens, and the New Atheist movement. He propagates the war between religion and science viewpoint and argues that we need to "get rid of religion." He plugs the books by Dawkins and Hitchens. He argues that we need to more publicly express the opinion that religion is the enemy of science. And then he turns to the NCSE position and says, "At least do not pretend that religion and science are alternative and compatible ways of looking at the world." He claims the National Academy of Science's recent statement is "soft-pedaling the dichotomy" and describes Gould's NOMA as "hogwash." He even contrasts religion and science by peddling the stereotype that religious people "blow each other up" while scientists behave in a civilized manner.
Coyne really should stick to genetics and evolution.
In their paper, "A Disconfirmation Bias in the Evaluation of Arguments," psychologists Kari Edwards and Edward Smith (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1996, Vol. 71, No. 1, 5-24) explore this tendency. They begin their article as follows:
When evaluating an argument, can one assess its strength independently of one's prior belief in the conclusion? A good deal f evidence indicates the answer is an emphatic no. This phenomenon, which we refer to as the prior belief effect, has important implications. Given two people, or groups, with opposing beliefs about a social, political, or scientific issue, the degree to which they will view relevant evidence as strong will differ. This difference, in turn, may result in a failure of the opposing parties to converge on any kind of meaningful agreement, and, under some circumstances, they may become more extreme in their beliefs.
Engineers Discover In Nature Exotic Structures Envisioned By Mathematicians is the title of a Science Daily summary. Although the article is a few years old its message is timeless. From the article:
Three years before he received the Nobel Prize in Physics, Eugene Wigner published an article entitled "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences" (1960). He marveled at how often physicists develop concepts to describe the "real" world only to discover that mathematicians–heedless of that real world–have already thought up and explored the concepts. His own experience of the uncanny applicability of mathematical insights to the physical reality of quantum mechanics led Wigner to observe "that the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it."
The SA essentially states that, given the potential for posthumans to create a vast number of ancestor simulations, we should probabilistically conclude that we are in a simulation rather than the deepest reality.
Most people give a little chuckle when they hear this argument for the first time. I've explained it to enough people now that I've come to expect it. The chuckle doesn't come about on account of the absurdity of the suggestion, it's more a chuckle of logical acknowledgment — a reaction to the realization that it may actually be true.
But this is no laughing matter; there are disturbing implications to the SA. We appear to be damned if we're in a simulation, and damned if we're not.
NaÃ¯ve realism is the conviction that one sees the world as it is and that when people don't see it in a similar way, it is they that do not see the world for what it is.
Over the years, I have tried to help people see that this contentious debate is not purely a matter of "the evidence," but instead deeply involves such things as stereotypes, confirmation bias, disconfirmation bias, and tribalism. We can now add naÃ¯ve realism to the pot, as it may play a central role.
Despite assertions to the contrary scientists, social scientists, educators and professionals in many fields have found the term intelligence to be both a useful concept and one that can be used in conjuction with explanations related to research. The evolution of intelligence is discussed in some papers. Sometimes the evolution of intelligence is explained by theories of complex animal behavior. On other occasions in terms of nutrition.
Intelligence is at times alluded to indirectly as in: One signal from light-years away could prove we're not alone in the vastness of space"”and alter humanity's view of our place in the universe. Extensive scholarly use of the word intelligence is testimony that the concept confers explanatory utility.
Second, and more importantly, this sentence stands out:
Hence it is through reference to our own activity, conscious and projective, intentional and purposive-it is as makers of artifacts-that we judge of a given object's "naturalness" or "artificialness."
Maybe it is simply not possible to make such judgments without accessing this subjective element. After all, recognizing design may indeed be akin to recognizing another mind. For how do we recognize other minds if not by recognizing what they design?
*BTW, the quote is from the first three paragraphs of chapter 1.
The difference between artificial and natural objects seems immediately and unambiguously apparent to all of us. A rock, a mountain, a river, or a cloud "“ these are natural objects; a knife a handkerchief, a car "“ so many artificial objects, artifacts. Analyze these judgments, however, and it will be seen that they are neither immediate nor strictly objective. We know that the knife was man-made for a use its maker visualized beforehand. The object renders in material form the preexistent intention that gave birth to it, and its form is accounted for by the performance expected of it even before it takes shape. It is another story altogether with the river or the rock which we know, or believe, to have been molded by the free play of physical forces to which we cannot attribute any design, any project, or purpose. Not, that is, if we accept the basic premise of the scientific method, to wit, that nature is objective and not projective.
Hence it is through reference to our own activity, conscious and projective, intentional and purposive-it is as makers of artifacts-that we judge of a given object's "naturalness" or "artificialness." Might there be objective and general standards for defining the characteristics of artificial objects, products of a conscious purposive activity, as against natural objects, resulting from the gratuitous play of physical forces? To make sure of the complete objectivity of the criteria chosen, it would doubtless be best to ask oneself whether, in putting them to use, a program could be drawn up enabling a computer to distinguish an artifact from a natural object. Read the rest of this entry »
Metaphors typically break down when we begin to take them literally. Any investigator who tried to use the literal interpretation of a metaphor as a research guide would quickly find themselves with a rather useless guide. For example, if the sky really is angry, this implies the sky contains some type of nervous system given that emotions, from a scientific viewpoint, are attached to nervous systems. However, since the sky has no brain, the understanding of meteorology is not at all advanced by seeking brains and neurotransmitters among the clouds. Neither will we find brains and neurotransmitters among the molecules that are hydrophobic. But all this changes when we turn to the use of metaphors in molecular biology.
The design terminology that is used in the language of molecular biology does not break down when interpreted literally. Consider the process of protein synthesis as an example. To make a protein, a specific sequence of twenty different building blocks, known as amino acids, must be linked together. Yet how does the cell know what sequence to put them in? That information comes from the DNA molecule, where a specific sequence of building blocks, known as nucleotides, encodes the amino acid sequence. The cell employs machinery that translates the nucleotide sequence of the DNA into the amino acid sequence of the protein. We can thus legitimately think of the DNA as literally encoding the amino acid sequence, just as it is valid to think of the process of protein synthesis as an event that literally translates the DNA code-script into an amino acid sequence. While the sky does not actually possess emotions, the cell does actually encode and translate things. (p.45)
I don't know if it's appropriate for me to post a thread like this, but my conscience has been bothering me for a while now, and I need to apologize. And since what I did wrong was on this blog, I thought I better make my apology public.
I want to aplogize to Jack T. I lost my temper, and accused you of things that I had no right to accuse you of. There was no excuse for it. If you still read this blog, I offer my sincere apologies for doing so, and I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me.