Polkie and Beale show that math proves Jebus (and a disquisition on modern natural theology)

I have gradually been compiling a list of modern “natural theology,” that is, those aspects of nature that theologians and religious people see as giving evidence for God.  Until 1859, the list’s top item was organismal “design”, but of course Darwin dispelled that.  But natural theology—the explication of nature as God’s handiwork—is alive and well, as John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale argue in the book I’ve highlighted all week, Questions of Truth:

While science is competent to answer its own questions, questions arise from our experience of doing science whose answering takes us beyond its narrow confines.(p. 12)

Over the past months I’ve made a list of where theologians see evidence for God in nature (not all of these are discussed in P&B):

  1. The Big Bang: what got it started in the first place? After all a quantum vacuum isn’t nothing.
  2. Why is science possible at all?  The human ability to apprehend truth must be a gift from God, since it couldn’t have evolved (see Plantinga)
  3. The “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” proves that God designed the universe
  4. Ditto for the existence of physical “laws”
  5. Only God could have give us the “innate” human sense or morality (see Francis Collins)
  6. The “fine-tuning” of the universe (that is, the values of physical constants) is evidence for God
  7. The appearance of humanoid creatures on the planet—creatures capable of apprehending and worshiping a God—is evidence of His handiwork.

Now there are rebuttals of all of these arguments, and I’ve discussed most of them over the past few years.  I just wanted to highlight one version of #2, as adumbrated by Polkie and Beale (pp. 81-82 of their book):

Consider human mathematical abilities. For survival, we need not much more than counting and a little elementary geometry. Whence then has come the human ability to study noncommutative algebras and to prove Fermat’s last theorem? I think conventional Darwinian theory is unable to explain this capacity, which requires for its understanding the belief that our environment is not limited to the physical and biological but must also include contact with a noetic realm of mathematical ideas, into which our ancestors were increasingly drawn.

For those who know about the history of evolutionary biology, this argument is remarkably similar to that of Alfred Russel Wallace, who of course proposed the idea of evolution by natural selection in 1858. But, unlike his rival Darwin, Wallace thought that one aspect of biology was inexplicable by natural selection: the human brain.  As the quote below shows, Wallace saw the brain as conferring abilities far beyond those needed to survive in our ancestral environments: we can design airplanes, play chess, write music, and fly to the moon (not, of course, in Wallace’s time!).  Since natural selection has no foresight, and cannot adapt organisms to their future environments, Wallace saw our large brain as evidence for God, or at least an intelligence in the universe.  This quote, reminiscent of Polkie and Beale, comes from Wallace’s “The limits of natural selection as applied to man” (1870).

We see, then, that whether we compare the savage with the higher developments of man, or with the brutes around him, we are alike driven to the conclusion that in his large and well-developed brain he possesses an organ quite disproportionate to his actual requirements — an organ that seems prepared in advance, only to be fully utilized as he progresses in civilization.  A brain slightly larger than that of the gorilla would, according to the evidence before us, fully have sufficed for the limited mental development of the savage; and we must therefore admit, that the large brain he actually possesses could never have been solely developed by any of those laws of evolution, whose essence is, that they lead to a degree of organization exactly proportionate to the wants of each species, never beyond those wants — that no preparation can be made for the future development of the race — that one part of the body can never increase in size or complexity, except in strict co-ordination to the pressing wants of the whole.

Wallace’s mistake, which should be obvious, is that we have no assurance that the human brain really is larger than it needs to be, even in the so-called “savages” whom Wallace encountered on his travels. Humans aren’t just gorillas: we can speak, learn, and have sophisticated mental programs for sussing out the thoughts of others and figuring out how to relate to others in small groups.  We’ve mastered fire, which according to Richard Wrangham freed up our brain to become more complex under real selection pressures.

And once we have a complex brain, capable of learning, speaking, and working out strategies to hunt and to live in small social groups, it becomes capable of doing things beyond what it evolved for. In other words, chess, math, and building spacecraft are what Steve Gould called exaptations: those features that can be used in a beneficial way but evolved for other reasons. Once the brain crossed a certain threshold of complexity, these things became possible, but those abilities are epiphenomena.

With Wallace, Polkie and Beale see the brain’s ability to do math as something inexplicable by natural selection. Ergo Jebus.  But lots of animals have abilities that are similar exaptations.  We can train parrots and mynah birds to talk. Is their talking evidence for God? In England, blue tits learned to open milk bottles and drink the milk.  They didn’t evolve to do that!  Their ability to scan the environment for possible food items, and their possession of a nice bill and ability to wield it dextrously, was an exaptation for drinking milk.  So it is with tool-using in animals, from chimpanzees to crows to the cactus finches of the Galapagos: animals can put their already-evolved equipment to new uses.  And so it is with the human brain.  It hasn’t changed much in the last couple million years, but oh what we have done with it!

Sadly, one of the things we’ve done with it is invent the idea of God, and then, in a curious and invidious recursion, use our ability to conceive of God—and mathematics—as evidence for God himself.

h/t: Andrew Berry for the Wallace quote. I highly recommend his book on Wallace, Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Collection. It puts together snippets of Wallace’s writings along with commentary by Berry himself.  It’s a must-read for evolution aficionados.

199 Comments

  1. Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    This “brains better than they need to be” ergo “Jesus loves us” kind of rings hollow, doesn’t it?

    After all, we’ve been around for a long time and our advanced technology has been around for a short time. Though science and technology have been a spectacular good in the short term (e. g. longer life spans, reduction in killing diseases), abuse of technology might well lead to the extinction of us yet (pollution, climate change, nuclear wars, etc.).

    THEN what will we say about Jesus and our wonderful brains?

    • Frank
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:43 am | Permalink

      And since our ability to invent gods has many pernicious effects, perhaps we shouldn’t call it an exaptation of brain evolution as much as a maladaptive by-product or an antagonistic pleiotropy.

    • Jer
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      This “brains better than they need to be” ergo “Jesus loves us” kind of rings hollow, doesn’t it?

      Frankly, this kind of argument amuses me. Because the rationales given above by Polkingham and Beale can be used to justify things like Zechariah Sitchin’s belief that ancient aliens came to Earth, modified the DNA of some primates to make them smart enough to be good slaves, and set them to mining for gold.

      I mean, that makes as much sense as God directing evolution to a point where human beings are smart enough to be able to think their way through difficult mathematical proof structures.

    • Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      For readers who don’t scroll down, Jerry is, alas, taking our response to “do humans matter more than animals?” and pretending it was supposed to be an argument for the existence of God.

      After three attempts he hasn’t found a single valid argument against anything we say in our book. Jerry – you’re a smart man. Surely you can do better and find something wrong without misleading your readers and taking things out of context.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        Sorry, Mr. Beale, but the argument that “there is no objective evidence for the Trinity” is certainly valid, since your objective evidence is based on a book of mythology and the decision of a bunch of theologians. That is a decisive refutation of your claim. You don’t accept it because your notion of “evidence” divergence radically from that of anyone other than those already brainwashed by religion.

        And yes, your argument was evidence for humans as a special product of God’s creation, with features that could not have evolved by Darwinian evolution. How else would they get there, pray tell?

        I want to think you’re a smart man, but you can’t be if you’re so completely taken in by the God mythology.

        • Steve Smith
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          your objective evidence is based on a book of mythology and the decision of a bunch of theologians.

          You’re being too generous—the Trinity is not based on a book of mythology, as its only appearance in the Bible is in the “Johannine Comma>“, the fraudulent addition to 1 John 5:7–8 made sometime in the early Middle Ages.

          Early Christians fought and killed each over various Trinitarian and anti-Trinitarian heresies, which the complete absense of Biblical support made inevitable after the Trinity was invented.

          This is the very reason for the Nicene Councils: early Christians were killing each other over severe yet honest disagreements about the self-contradictory nature of Christ. Homoousians, Homoiousians (!), Arians, Trinitarians—no one could agree which held the heretical views. The Trinitarians prevailed, at least in the west, which is the only reason Beale holds the opinions he does, not because of anything written in the Bible.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        And you haven’t yet responded to the fact that you are making what amounts to a claim without evidence.

        Several claims, in fact. None of them supported with a shred of anything other than pure conjecture.

        You’re proving nothing other than you and Mr. Polkinghorn have absolutely zero understanding of the biological theory of evolution.

      • Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        Your arguments may have significance within the storybook universe of your religion, but they have no more bearing on the world at large than a couple nerds waving blueprints of the Enterprise at each other while arguing over whether or not it could go faster than Warp 10.

        In particular, Jerry quotes you as having written, “I think conventional Darwinian theory is unable to explain [human cognition].” This represents on your part a profound misunderstanding of the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection. That one sentence indicates that you have mistaken the Theory for the garden-variety creationist caricature of it — a caricature that essentially starts with Biblical creationism, and replaces YHWH creating animals as-is with “blind chance” purposefully modifying individual animals with a specific end goal in mind.

        If you wish to engage with Jerry at his level, you must first produce actual reproducible evidence supporting the existence and behavior of the phenomena at the heart of your theory. For the Theory of Evolution, that today primarily consists of DNA analysis and lab experiments, with notable honorable mentions for their historical roles going to the morphology of living and fossilized species. A religious equivalent would be evidence for souls or demons or gods or other denizens of the “spirit realm,” or possibly for the effectiveness of prayer or other forms of imprecatory magic.

        Unless and until you can offer concrete and verifiable evidence for your theories, you can rest assured that they (and you) will get no respect, only ridicule.

        You shouldn’t at all be surprised, of course. Your position is no different from those of people who preach the “reality” of UFOs or the Loch Ness Monster or other religions, and we all know the contempt you feel for those poor benighted idiots. When you come to realize that thinking that Jesus really did order Thomas to stick his hand in his side and fondle his intestines (and that this constitutes a good reason for us to believe the story!) is every bit as absurd as thinking that Elvis is alive and had a two-headed Martian baby with Bigfoot, then you might begin to deserve some respect.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • mandrellian
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        As theologians, everything you say leads inexorably and inevitably to support a decision you’ve already made (or, actually not, as the case may be): to believe in the spiritual dimensions and entities described in the scriptures of the sect you’ve been marinating in your entire lives.

        This isn’t Prof Coyne’s (or his readers’) first time addressing modern theology; please don’t be naive enough to think you can school us on your intent, or the proper “context” of your assertions.

        • mandrellian
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

          I might add that your attempt at a dressing-down falls particularly flat, considering your “Consider human mathematical abilities…” gambit is one gigantic combined argument from incredulity & ignorance.

          Honestly, “…conventional Darwinian theory is unable to explain this capacity”? This comes perilously close to resembling the boilerplate young-earth creationist non-gument that the eye couldn’t have evolved because it’s so complex (or the Intelligent Design movement’s canard about the “irreducibly complex” bacterial flagellum).

          Please, tell me: what differentiates common-or-garden Genesis-inspired young-earth creationism from the allegedly sophisticated theology modern atheist writers are always chided for ignoring? Is it the amount of syllables used? The degrees held by the theologians in question? Or just the lack of a Southern twang in their accent?

          • Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

            (sigh) We are NOT arguing that because there isn’t yet a decent theory of the evolution of mathematical ability “God did it”. This is perfectly clear from the context and Jerry is just misleading you to pretend otherwise.

            We just observe that you can’t formulate one which doesn’t engage with the truth or falsity of the mathematical ideas under discussion. It’s clearly a more complex problem than the evolution of language (although evidently related) and for this simple genetic ideas are not enough: you also have to consider the evolutionary dynamics of the language(s) themselves {and it is manifestly something where Group Selection matters, since languages only make sense in a community of speakers}.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted June 14, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

              “We just observe that you can’t formulate one which doesn’t engage with the truth or falsity of the mathematical ideas under discussion. It’s clearly a more complex problem than the evolution of language (although evidently related) and for this simple genetic ideas are not enough”

              So you keep asserting.

              What you say is true for mathematics as a discipline, but you’ve given no reason to think it applies to to the evolution of mathematical ability itself.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

                I have to agree with Beale on this – though it doesn’t have any direct connection to the existence or otherwise of the Judeo-Chistian God. Some mathematical achievements (therefore abilities) concern cpncts which have no exitence in he material world: I used the example of Cantor’s Theorem elsewhere in this thread. The mathematical truth (the transfinite set itself) either exits independent of the mind of the mathematician, or else it is part of that mind. It certainly isn’t part of, nor an abstraction from, the material world. (Or you could maintain that transfinite numbers don’t exist at all… Perhaps I should use a simpler example – magic squares?)

                I know this has an unfashionably Platonist flavour, but I would point out that Roger Penrose is an obvious example of an atheist with the highest of scentific credentials who finds such Platonist conclusions inevitable.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

                Minds aren’t part of the material world?

                Regardless, it’s irrelevant to what Beale is saying. There’s no reason the standard model of evolution can’t account for evolving the ability to think of abstract concepts.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                Your major assertion is that a purely material brain could (evolve to ) handle abstract mathematical ideas. Even if that were true of abstractions in the sense of generalisations from concrete experience (e.g. the abstract concept “even number”) it’s still a far different thing to handle a concept such as “transfinite number”.

                You misinterpreted the initial point: the mind under discussion is not just a material brain. You can’t falsify a conclusion by assuming the conclusion is false. That would be a kind of petitio principii fallacy.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

                “Your major assertion is that a purely material brain could (evolve to ) handle abstract mathematical ideas. Even if that were true of abstractions in the sense of generalisations from concrete experience (e.g. the abstract concept “even number”) it’s still a far different thing to handle a concept such as “transfinite number”.”

                Why? How is that any different as far as brain function?

              • Posted June 14, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

                You misinterpreted the initial point: the mind under discussion is not just a material brain.

                I’d ask for evidence that the mind is anything other than a material brain, but we both know you don’t have any. Besides which, unless I’m sorely mistraken, anything that violates Church-Turing either requires or can be converted into a perpetual motion machine…so, unless you want to be dismissed as a zero-point energy crank, you might want to drop this one.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

                There is a moment in an old Dracula movie when Jonathan Harker asks the way to the castle. The castle is clearly visible on a crag above the village – he only needs to ascertain the route. The villager pointedly looks anywhere but at the castle. “Castle? What castle? There’s no castle here…”

                Hard problem? What hard problem? “There is no problem so great that you can’t run away from it.” (I think that’s from the late Dave van Ronk’s version of Cocaine Blues.)

                Still, I’m pleased to note that you have proved the Church-Turing conjecture.

                This is my bare-bones version of his discussion:

                A) There is evidence that there is more to the mind than a physical brain evolved by selecting available variations in response to the environment of an ice age hunter.

                B) There can’t be, because there is no more to the mind than a physical brain evolved by selecting available variations in response to the environment of an ice age hunter.

                A) But how do you account for our judgments, abilities, for consciousness itself?

                B) Well, obviously they must just be hevproducts of the brain – because there is no more to the mind than a physical brain evolved by selecting available variations in response to the environment of an ice age hunter.

                A denial is not a proof. As Monty Python has it:

                “That’s not an argument. It’s just contradiction.”

                “No it’s not…”

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                “There is evidence that there is more to the mind than a physical brain evolved by selecting available variations in response to the environment of an ice age hunter”

                Got any?

                That’s what we’re objecting to. You have provided absolutely no evidence that “judgments, abilities, [and] consciousness” couldn’t have evolved in response to the environment of a pre-ice age or ice age hunter.

                None.

                Judgement, mathematical abilities, and consciousness are all things that would give a paleolithic hominid a reproductive advantage.

              • Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                First, I don’t claim to have proven Church-Turing. I’m simply observing that every proposed method I’ve ever encountered for violating it has either required infinite resources (such as a device that can perform an infinite number of calculations in a finite amount of time or with finite resources) or can easily enough be employed to create a perpetual motion machine (a Christian soul could direct its human owner when to open and close Maxwell’s Demon’s Gate).

                There is evidence that there is more to the mind than a physical brain evolved by selecting available variations in response to the environment of an ice age hunter.

                There actually exists such evidence? Really? Please re-enlighten us with it, then — for all I’ve seen is people complaining that the human brain is capable of more than the bare minimum necessary to survive on the African savannah. That’s not only not evidence, it represents a misunderstanding of the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection so profound that only a creationist could come up with it.

                The ToE not only says nothing about parsimony, it’s nothing but a giant orgasm of waste and excess and inefficiency and accident and coincidence.

                The whole thing is trivially simple, really. We know that there’re significant evolutionary advantages to intelligence, at least on human timescales (the jury is still out on the survival of intelligence on geologic timescales, but it could well return a verdict in just a few generations). And it should be blindingly obvious that intelligence is a general-purpose tool, not some task-specific special-built widget. Once you’re smart enough to build tools and navigate social hierarchies and (especially) pass down your knowledge to the next generation, you’re also smart enough to do theoretical physics. And when you figure out how to build tools to help you think and to build better thinking machines? Well, so long as you don’t off yourself in the process, the sky’s the limit.

                Oh — and that’s also your problem with your summary of the discussion, because we haven’t gotten past that first bullet point of yours because nobody’s actually presented any evidence that has any bearing on the discussion.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

                There was evidence, but – like the castle – you don’t see it. There is a qualitative difference – a “category” difference – between solving day to day material problems and performing complex and totally abstract work on totally abstract entities. Even the motivation to do this is hard to explain, as are the value judgments – aesthetic and moral – involved.

                To many people – I’d say intelligent and well educated atheists or agnostics especially – such endeavours are among the highest expressions of what it is to be human. The best you can offer in rebuttal is that, on the contrary, these are accidentally selected byproducts, meaningless and valueless even within the dubious value of evolution itself.

                So, ask yourself this. You believe (it appears) that you are defending scientific truth here. WHY DO YOU BOTHER?

                a) because there is value in the world after all

                b) in response to some accidentally selected, misapplied, meaningless and unnecessary properties of your brain

                c) because the brain has to do stuff, or maybe just does stuff (WHY?) in its supposed leisure time since the invention of fire

                d) for some other reason (please specify)

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

                ‘There is a qualitative difference – a “category” difference – between solving day to day material problems and performing complex and totally abstract work on totally abstract entities.’

                Evidence, please.

                ‘To many people – I’d say intelligent and well educated atheists or agnostics especially – such endeavours are among the highest expressions of what it is to be human.’

                Yes, in they assign it such a value.

                ‘So, ask yourself this. You believe (it appears) that you are defending scientific truth here. WHY DO YOU BOTHER? a) because there is value in the world after all b) in response to some accidentally selected, misapplied, meaningless and unnecessary properties of your brain c) because the brain has to do stuff, or maybe just does stuff (WHY?) in its supposed leisure time since the invention of fire d) for some other reason (please specify)’

                I place a high value on people thinking critically and rationally.

                See that? I place a value on it. I feel like it’s valuable and important. Look up the word “value” in a dictionary. It is inherently subjective. Gold doesn’t have any objective value. Neither does petroleum. Each has various properties such as hardness and combustibility, but the value they have is because humans find them valuable to humans.

                The reason I am motivated to feel that way is probably a combination of the c and the option you left out: because having a value system confers a reproductive advantage.

                Consider what I’m doing right now: typing on a computer keyboard. Hominids living in Africa 200,000 years ago certainly didn’t need the ability to type on a computer keyboard. They needed to make tools, use tools, construct nets and baskets, butcher animals, harvest wild fruit and nuts, even sculpt and fire ceramic vessels.

                But somehow, my brain and muscles are capable of typing on a computer keyboard. And nothing beyond evolution by variation and natural selection is required.

              • Posted June 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

                There is a qualitative difference – a “category” difference – between solving day to day material problems and performing complex and totally abstract work on totally abstract entities.

                You keep insisting that this is so, and yet you steadfastly refuse to offer any evidence to support such a bold assertion.

                So let’s try another tack. What’s the barrier that prevents a brain capable of designing and making tools; of developing agriculture; of navigating complex social networks; and of ensuring that knowledge is retained and built upon across generations…what is it that you see that would prevent that simple, primitive, unsophisticated brain from doing complex abstract math? Or do you see the divine intervention as having occurred sometime before humans started making tools, domesticating plants and animals, and speaking to each other?

                b&

              • Posted June 14, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

                There is evidence that there is more to the mind than a physical brain evolved by selecting available variations in response to the environment of an ice age hunter.

                I thought that at least this trope had finally died a natural death at the hands of neuro-anatomical evidence. Looks like a non-material ghost of it still survives. For starters, I’d begin by asking one validated manifestation of such a mind that has been shown to exist outside a brain. If that is not forthcoming, I’ll ask for one validated function of such a non-material mind that has been shown to be immune to chemical stimulation to the brain. I should also point out that “judgments, abilities, for consciousness” have all been shown to be completely subject to material effects on the “material” brain, as any one who known about drunk driving being illegal should already have deduced.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                @ Ahannāsmi

                It is clear to many that consciousness is different from material reality as so far described by science, qualitatively different. Others – I would suggest as a result of quasi-religious commitment to a naïve materialism which refuses even to consider undiscovered forces – earnestly and often belligerently maintain that it is obvious that consciousness is merely an illusion, an epiphenomenon or an emergent property. But which? The very fact that there is a lack of agreement proves that it is not, after all, at all obvious. As Sam Harris put it: “This universe is shot through with mystery. The very fact of its being, and of our own, is a mystery absolute, and the only miracle worthy of the name. The consciousness that animates us is itself central to this mystery and the ground for any experience we might wish to call ‘spiritual.'” Religious people are understandably predisposed to locate God in this gap in physical understanding. If this provokes materialists to deny the mystery of consciousness for fear of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, then those materialists are wrong. The fact is that many atheists believe there is a real problem for (let’s call it) 20th century materialism. Some radically new physics which includes the fact of a distinct category of consciousness as a key datum is required. That is Harris’s view. Some atheist scientists are working on such new physics. See for example:

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Penrose#Physics_and_consciousness

                As an analogy, consider Newton’s explanation of optics as the mechanics of tiny solid particles. There was no knowledge of electromagnetism in his day, and instead of recognising the need for even more new physics, he opted for a mechanical explanation. As a further analogy, imagine an intelligent creature existing on the scale of an atom. His chances of discovering the existence of the gravitational interaction would be slim indeed. And yet, as Stephen Hawking points out, “It’s the gravity that shapes the large scale structure of the universe, even though it is the weakest of four categories of forces.” So there may well be undiscovered forces. Perhaps all matter is aware (Spinoza thought so), or perhaps there are distinct “mindons” of some kind (e.g. the monads of Liebnitz), involving a new fundamental interaction in either case. It certainly seems to many thinkers that meaning and purpose are uniquely tied to consciousness.

                On the question of whether our mathematical ability is unreasonable, Einstein wrote, “How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality?” (He was referring particularly of course to the newly discovered objects described by Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, not the objects of everyday life.) If it is obvious to you that mathematics is just palaeolithic counting in a smart suit, then you are either more mathematically astute than Einstein, or wrong.

                You raise a point Christians, Muslims, etc should consider carefully (the lack of evidence for minds independent of brains): almost all the contents of the mind are totally dependent on the brain. Every rational function, every element of memory, every act of perception, recognition volition or motor control can be completely disrupted by appropriate brain trauma. There is almost certainly no soul which perceives, remembers, etc independent of the brain. But when you strip everything away, there is the fact of awareness, roughly the ego of Descartes Cogito. It is obvious to many people, let Harris stand as an (atheist) example, or Penrose, that this basic element of consciousness is not material in the same sense as (for example) a computer, i.e. (ultimately) . Again, if you disagree, you may be a better neuroscintist than Harris, or a better mathematical physicist than Penrose, or perhaps just wrong.

                Please think carefully about this argument: I am not claiming that you must accept the scientific or philosophical views of Einstein, Harris or Penrose – this is not an argument from authority. I only adduce these very intelligent atheists to show that what you claim to be obvious is clearly not.

                You also ask for “one validated function of such a non-material mind that has been shown to be immune to chemical stimulation to the brain.” Quantum collapse. The measurement problem, like the hard problem of consciousness, has led to numerous radically different attempted solutions, none convincing: the simplest solution may well be to accept the reality of consciousness, and of wave function collapse as its key property. But if you want a simple undebatable function, stick with awareness itself.

                @ Ben Goren

                I see you, too, find things obvious which are baffling to Einstein, Penrose and Harris. But then, you also believe that I have expressed a belief in divine intervention. Sorry – strictly atheist, perhaps fractionally more so than Sam Harris.

                @ Truthspeaker (I think I accidentally referred to you as “Truthseeker” some time back. Maybe you should consider the change)

                You missed the point of my multiple choice question. If c), you are by definition doing something pointless. Why not watch Jerry Springer all day? Why not watch the TV with the power off? Or do you doubt that you could choose to? If its because of a value judgment, but not an a), then your values are equally pointless. However, if you find that all scientists and philosophers assert that seeking truth is valuable, then there would seem to be a universal ethic in this field, and that needs to be accounted for – especially in a biological realm where camouflage, subterfuge and above all self-interest are universal.

                I liked your keyboard analogy. If it is valid, then try examining it closely. Your brain, eyes and, above all, fingers are happy with the keyboard because it was designed for them. Are you then claiming that mathematical truths are designed for human brains? That the square root of two was not irrational before Euclid made it so? I prefer Max Tegmark’s view – that mathematics is fundamental and that the universe must follow its rules (that is, that there are fundamental immaterial entities underlying the material universe, I guess).

                Einstein, Penrose, Harris, Tegmark, von Neumann, Heisenberg… it’s a real ship of fools out there…

              • Posted June 17, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

                “Again, if you disagree, you may be a better neuroscintist than Harris, or a better mathematical physicist than Penrose, or perhaps just wrong.”

                False trichotomy. Einstein was wrong about the so called EPR “paradox”. Are you going to say that all the mathematical physicists who know know that EPR was wrong are “better” (whatever that means) mathematical physicists than Einstein? Or wrong? Even when they have been experimentally vindicated?

                I decided to address this argument first because you seem to be putting more weight on authority than on actual evidence (you conceded for example that every function of the mind can be disrupted by an appropriate form of neurological trauma).

                As for authorities I am not sure whether Harris and Penrose would stand as a better authority in matters of neuroscience than a real working neuroscientist like, say V S Ramachandran, someone whose opinion on the matter you blithely ignore.

                Further, I am not sure you are representing Penrose’s views correctly: you say “It is obvious to many people, let Harris stand as an (atheist) example, or Penrose, that this basic element of consciousness is not material in the same sense as (for example) a computer, i.e. (ultimately) .” Penrose seems to say nothing of the kind. He says current physical understanding may not be enough to understand consciousness. Current physical understanding is also not enough to understand some aspects of black holes. I believe I won’t see you arguing from there that there is black holes are not “material in the same sense as (for example) a computer, i.e. (ultimately)”.

              • Posted June 17, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

                @Logicophilosophicus:

                Also, I’d like to make clear the four positions that appeared to be a bit tangled in your comments (at least to me)

                1) Consciousness is a solved problem, and current physics is all that is needed to solve it.

                2) Consciousness is an open problem, but current physics is all that is needed to solve it.

                As far as I can see, no one here is taking these two views, so I am not sure why you are arguing against them.

                3) Consciousness is an open problem, but it is a consequence of the physics of the universe, and in that sense is completely material. More physics than is known now may be needed to solve it.

                This seems to be the view taken by all your “opponents” (including me) here, and as I said above, of such leading neuroscientists as Ramachandran. Curiously, it also seems to be the view of at least one of the authorities (Penrose) you seem to be suggesting are against this view: I haven’t checked the others you mentioned.

                4) Consciousness is not a consequence of the physics of the universe, and in that sense is not material. Any amount of physics we learn would not be enough to solve it, because it is just not a consequence of the physics.

                This, at least to me, seems to be the view you are supporting. But it seems bizarre that you would, given that you accept the evidence that the functions of the mind are all dependent upon the brain. Further, your historical examples, such as those of he corpuscular theory of light do nothing to support this position: there was never any widely held belief in physics that the “real” theory of light was that it was not “material” and was outside of physics. At least one of the authorities you cite (Penorose)in your support, as I described above, also seems not to adhere to this view.

              • Posted June 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

                @Logicophilosophicus

                A bit off-topic, but I also find your implication that Harris is somehow one of the best living neuroscientists (on par with Penrose in mathematical physics) a bit perplexing. I hope you do know that Harris’s fame mostly seems to rest on his books about religion and ethics and not on his work in neuroscience?

              • Posted June 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

                @Logicophilosophicus:

                “But if you want a simple undebatable function, stick with awareness itself.”

                SO what kind of awareness we are talking about here. The one that is completely lost to an aneasthetic or a particularly bad concussion, or of some other form of “awareness”?

                And what is the basis of your claim that “Quantum Collapse” (I understand by this you mean the “collapse” of a wave function on measurement) has anything to do with “consciousness”? Are you claiming there no “quantum collapses” before humans were around?

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

                @ Ahannāsmi

                To recap, my ENTIRE argument is this: Beale claimed that human mathematical abilities are not readily explained in toto by natural selection acting on early humans. I agreed that this situation is enigmatic, giving the specific reasons that some mathematics has no known link to physical reality, that the human interest (or drive to do) abstract mathematics is itself hard to, and that the high esteem/approval we give mathematical scientists is also puzzling. The negative replies (apart from the irrelevant stuff that “only a creationist” could suggest such things!) basically said that it is “blindingly obvious” that natural selection will produce abstract mathematicians (though they may sometimes actually be “broken” or dysfuntional byproducts of the process). It seemed reasonable to me that if a good selection of the most celebrated scientific atheists could be shown to be puzzled by the unreasonable effectiveness of human mathematical thinking, that would demonstrate that it is not “blindingly obvious” at all. I do not necessarily endorse any of their theories – this is not an appeal to authority. I don’t care what their claims are: I just needed to demonstrate that many very eminent atheists with the highest scientific credentials doubt that human conscious capablities can be explained without major new science – probably new physics. (Of course, you may decide I have handpicked a bunch of crypto-theists whose science is distorted by their dishonestly concealed belief.)

                I wrote: “…if you disagree, you may be a better neuroscientist than Harris, or a better mathematical physicist than Penrose, or perhaps just wrong.”

                You replied: “As for authorities I am not sure whether Harris and Penrose would stand as a better authority in matters of neuroscience than a real working neuroscientist like, say V S Ramachandran, someone whose opinion on the matter you blithely ignore.” But of course VSR’s theories have no bearing at all on the simple fact that Harris does not find the evolution of higher consciousness “blindingly obvious”.

                Re Penrose’s view that “consciousness is not material in the same sense as (for example) a computer,” my point is that his many discussions about Gödel’s theorem are specifically to establish that human minds can solve non-computable problems. For that reason (and also to address the Measurement Problem) Penrose and Hameroff developed the Orch-OR theory, i.e. some NEW physics. I don’t necessarily believe that Orch-OR will prove to be correct, but I do agree that new physics is required to account for the nature of consciousness. That doesn’t mean that I (or of course Penrose-Hameroff) believe that brains are not necessary.

                You’ll see that this is ALMOST exactly your position (3) “Consciousness is an open problem, but it is a consequence of the physics of the universe, and in that sense is completely material. More physics than is known now may be needed to solve it.” I say ALMOST because I definitely don’t rule out the possiblity that awareness is a fundamental property of the universe. (Spinoza and Einstein would hold such a view.)

                It is very obvious that other posters here disagree, and it is hard to see what views they hold other that your (1) and (2) – “Consciousness is a solved problem” or “current physics is all that is needed to solve it.” (e.g. “There’s no reason the standard model of evolution can’t account for evolving the ability to think of abstract concepts.”)

                So you can see you have misinterpreted my position.

                You wrote: “…you accept the evidence that the functions of the mind are all dependent upon the brain.” Actually I wrote “almost all” – I don’t know whether awareness is dependent on the brain. And If awareness is, for example, a fundamental physical property or entity, then all the brain-dependent functions might well also be awareness-dependent. (Hameroff/Penrose might go further – I believe they wrote that all our experiences remain forever indestructible in the entanglements (in the EPR sense) of the dispersed particles of our long dead brains. Don’t quote me on that.)

                You wrote, “your historical examples, such as those of the corpuscular theory of light do nothing to support this position: there was never any widely held belief in physics that the “real” theory of light was that it was not ‘material’ and was outside of physics.” You miss the point – the corpuscular theory assumed that mechanics was sufficient, but in fact completely new physics – a new fundamental interaction, new particles… – was needed to account for light. I think that may be the case for consciousness.

                You wrote: “I also find your implication that Harris is somehow one of the best living neuroscientists (on par with Penrose in mathematical physics) a bit perplexing. I hope you do know that Harris’s fame mostly seems to rest on his books about religion and ethics and not on his work in neuroscience?” Actually I picked him because he is one of the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism, i.e. one of the world’s most prominent atheist thinkers. He is, nevertheless, a neuroscientist (e.g. his recent work using MRI scans in search of the neural correlates of religious thought – highly relevant) but I never suggested he was “one of the best”.

                I had written: “But if you want a simple undebatable function [which is not affected by drugs], stick with awareness itself.”

                You repled: “SO what kind of awareness we are talking about here. The one that is completely lost to an aneasthetic…” Stuart Hameroff (a Professor of Anesthiology) would disagree, of course. Consciousness at the fundamental level according to Hameroff and Penrose is a quantum effect within cells. Disrupting communication between neurons is an effect at a different level. If you cut a telephone line, you haven’t stopped the guy at the other end talking. When I was a psychology student, a story about experiment and hypothesis was frequently cited. You’ve probably heard it. The experimenter has a hypothesis that fleas hear through their legs. He trains a bunch of fleas to jump when he says “Jump.” Then he pulls a few legs off. The fleas are much less reliable now, thougn if he really shouts “Jump!” they will. Then he pulls off all of their legs… Hypothesis confirmed. Not.

                You ask: “And what is the basis of your claim that… the ‘collapse’ of a wave function on measurement has anything to do with ‘consciousness’? Are you claiming there [were] no ‘quantum collapses’ before humans were around?” Are you denying that Consciousness Causes Collapse is a respectable view? Remember that I don’t rely on claiming any particular mechanism or theory – I’ve stated that many times here. But if awareness is fundamental, then the Measurement Problem goes away. Of course you may say (but it WON’T affect my “no specific mechanism” position) that the Measurement Problem has been solved: by Hidden Variables (i.e. unknown new physics) or Many Worlds (i.e. infinite amounts of unobservable new physics) or other more imaginative mechanisms. But which? The fact of unresolved rival theories proves my point – the enigma remains.

                Just to make it clear: I do believe that consciousness is physical, otherwise it could not interact with physical brains. It will sooner or later be measured (but may be ven more elusive than the graviton).

                However, going beyond the above argument, I believe it is also our best hope of explaining the mystery which has puzzled Einstein, Feynman, Tegmark, Penrose and many other of the most minent mathematical physicists: that mathematics exists independently of matter, and matter mysteriously obeys mathematical rules. What mediates that interaction, between the immaterial and the material?

                “The rules that describe nature seem to be mathematical… it is not a characteristic necessity of science that it be mathematical. It just turns out that you can state mathematical laws, in physics at least, which work to make powerful predictions. Why nature is mathematical is, again, a mystery.” (Feynman, “The Meaning of It All”)

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 18, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                “I agreed that this situation is enigmatic, giving the specific reasons that some mathematics has no known link to physical reality,”

                Which is irrelevant. The mathematics that humans invented first did have known links to physical reality, and the ability to invent it provided a clear reproductive advantage.

                “that the human interest (or drive to do) abstract mathematics is itself hard to,”

                Humans don’t have a drive to do abstract mathematics. They have a drive to think about things and try to make sense of them with abstractions. Humans didn’t evolve a specific drive to do abstract mathematics any more than they evolved the specific skill of typing on a typewriter.

                “and that the high esteem/approval we give mathematical scientists is also puzzling. ”

                Sciences that use math have a direct role in making our lives easier and more enjoyable. The computer network we’re having this discussion on was created by scientists and engineers using mathematics. The mathematicians doing abstract work with no clear connection to the real world don’t get a whole lot of esteem from society. I don’t see the puzzle.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

                Logicophilosophicus,

                PLEASE stop posting such long posts. This section is for comments, not essays.

                –Mgmt.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

                Post too long…

                My apologies. I have an obsessive regard for the truth, but I should not labour points already reinforced.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

                many very eminent atheists with the highest scientific credentials doubt that human conscious capablities can be explained without major new science

                Logy, you are conflating two very different concepts: the ability to manipulate abstract semantics, and the phenomenology of subjective conscious experience. These are completely separate problems (e.g., computers can manipulate abstract semantics, but presumably have no subjective experience, whereas my dogs can’t do formal math, but do indeed have their own conscious phenomenology).

                If you’re going to argue about these concepts, you should do so independently, rather than mashing them, and the philosophers who discussed these different issues, together. (I would expect especial care with such clarity from someone with such a highfalutin’ nickname.)

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

                Well, Tulse, you got that wrong. I have nowhere confused the two. When I refer to “conscious capabilities” I am – and I have mad his clear, on thread. When I refer to “awareness” I mean just that. I have nowhere resorted to equivocation or trope.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

                Logy, both you and Penrose conflate subjective phenomenology and semantic manipulation. If you just mean “abstract symbol manipulation”, use that term (or something like it) — there is absolutely no need to apply the modifier “conscious”, except to make things look more mysterious (or to appear to solve a broader problem that one actually can).

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

                Tulse.

                Penrose is convinced non-computability (e.g. in relation to Gödel’s Theorem) proves strong AI wrong – human minds can solve non-computable problems. I’m more persuaded by the subjective elements – see e.g. Feynman on the motivation to do mathematical physics (for its own sake) and the pay-off (joy). But in any case the issue is only whether or not it is “blindingly obvious” that the ability/urge to do higher mathematics is not puzzling.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

                the issue is only whether or not it is “blindingly obvious” that the ability/urge to do higher mathematics is not puzzling.

                Right, and that ability is merely a matter of abstract symbol manipulation, which does not necessitate conscious experience. (I’m not sure discussing the “urge” to do higher math is all that useful or convincing, since in terms of evolution our motivation to do something is far less determined than our abilities to do so.) Again, I see no reason to bring the very contentious and muddy term “consciousness” into the mix — adding it just removes clarity from the discussion.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

                Tulse

                You don’t see; some very talented and appropriately qualified individuals disagree. You may even turn out to be right; but it can’t be “blindingly obvious” that here is “no enigma” unless Penrose, Feynman, etc are stupid.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

                Penrose and Feynman are physicists, not biologists or psychologists. They are not any more qualified than I am.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

                Logy, you didn’t actually read what I wrote. My point is that conflating abstract symbol manipulation ability with consciousness is extremely problematic. That says nothing about the issue of abstract symbol manipulation or its origin, merely that one shouldn’t confuse the one for the other (as I think Penrose and others often do).

                As for the specific, narrow claim regarding abstract math, I’m not clear yet what the actual argument is about its non-evolvable qualities, rather than asserting from authorities. Indeed, I don’t see why math is special, since we do abstract symbol manipulation in other domains as well, such as language. It also seems to me that one needn’t argue that abstract math itself evolved, since it could also just be a by-product of other evolved abilities (such as language).

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

                Tulse

                Both are (were) expert in computation theory. Feynman is well known for his neural networks stuff. Penrose’s theory of consciousness is in collaboration with Stuart Hameroff, anesthiologist and consciousness expert. If it wasn’t obvious to them then it isn’t at all obvious, far less “blindingly obvious”. Nor have you given any hint of how it might be explained, made more obvious.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

                Sorry – that’s mainly @ Truthspeaker. But the final point is @ Tulse, and will not be repeated. There is ONLY ONE WAY to prove that somethong is not obvious, and that is to show that some people who are fully competent in the context don’t find it so. What they IN FACT believe instead is irrelevant. This is not an appeal to authority. If you believe “obviousness” is an intrinsic property rather than a judgment then you’re in a different conceptual universe.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

                And as I already pointed out, neither Penrose nor Feynman are fully competent in this area.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 19, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

                There is ONLY ONE WAY to prove that somethong is not obvious, and that is to show that some people who are fully competent in the context don’t find it so.

                Admittedly I came in late to this discussion, so I may have missed the specific claim as you state it, but (pardon me for saying this) the actual claim seems profoundly trivial. If all you’re saying is a few physicists can’t come up with an immediate explanation of how abstract math abilities could naturally evolve, then yes, empirically you are correct. But I honestly don’t find that particularly compelling, since by those broad criteria I could equally claim that evolution itself is not “obvious”, that quantum physics isn’t “obvious”, that the reasons Kim Kardashian is famous aren’t “obvious”. But so what? There are good, solid, well-accepted explanations for at least the first two of those claims — saying those claims aren’t “obvious” seems like such a weak and trivial statement.

                Perhaps you can make clearer exactly what your substantive point is, and perhaps more concisely than you have to this stage.

              • logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 20, 2012 at 3:20 am | Permalink

                Tulse,

                That the most eminent mathematical physicists (and also neuroscientists and philosophers) find the links between mathematics, reality and human mathematical ability so striking that they build new physical or cosmological theories around them proves that the math issue is enigmatic – all I claimed. I have no interest in supporting Beale, but his claim wrt this was Eefectively correct, and I share Daniel Dennett’s view: “There’s nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view I hold dear.”

                In other words, I think the original posting is in error (though I don’t necessarily dispute the assertion that Beale’s point was part of a fallacious pro-Christianity argument – in fact I said so higher up).

                If it’s trivially true, your argument is with WEIT, not me. But the unresolved physical implications are of cosmic significance, and shouldn’t be falsely dismissed in the cause of Christian bashing. Bash them with something else – there’s plenty to choose from.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 20, 2012 at 4:35 am | Permalink

                “Tulse, That the most eminent mathematical physicists (and also neuroscientists and philosophers) find the links between mathematics, reality and human mathematical ability so striking that they build new physical or cosmological theories around them …”

                But that hasn’t happened.

              • logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 20, 2012 at 5:21 am | Permalink

                Tulse,

                Well, I suppose if you mean that there is no ontological or cosmological theory with valid scientific credentials based solely and wholly on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics, you are right. Also I made a few typos along the way if you are hunting for rhetorical quiddities. But check out Einstein’s opinions – I won’t repeat quotes – or if you want something new:

                Max Tegmark: “…our [apparently 'real'] physical world is an abstract mathematical structure” [...and humans are self-aware comlexes in that structure which] “subjectively perceive themselves as existing in a physically ‘real’ world”.

                …which I suppose is a kind of Neutral Monism, which you can Google (e.g. V. S. Ramachandran).

                I hadn’t intended to devote a slice of my life to this, so I’ll leave it at that.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          Nitpick: traditions, not just scriptures. There are widely-held traditional Christian beliefs that aren’t found in any scripture – the Trinity for example.

          • mandrellian
            Posted June 12, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

            Ah, yes, that too. I appreciate the picking of nits!

            I do question the right of believers to applique their own traditions on top of what is actually dictated by their scriptures (pretty much the entirety of the Vatican’s operation); by what right does a believer get to add or subtract to or from God’s word?

  2. stevehayes13
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    ‘Consider human mathematical abilities. For survival, we need not much more than counting and a little elementary geometry. Whence then has come the human ability to study noncommutative algebras and to prove Fermat’s last theorem? I think conventional Darwinian theory is unable to explain this capacity…’

    Translation: I cannot understand how science can explain human mathematical ability, therefore, god did it.

    One would have thought it embarrassing for supposedly sophisticated theologians to have to resort to god of the gaps and personal incredulity arguments.

    • John K.
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

      I have found theologians to rely on little else.

      Last I checked, the gorilla population was considerably less than the human one, in no small part due to the enhanced survivability of humans with their bigger brains. This seems to fit quite well with evolution by natural selection. Aside from being a blatant argument from ignorance/god of the gaps argument, the ignorance is fairly deliberate.

      • stevehayes13
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

        Back in the nineteenth century, Henry Drummond, a Christian evangelist was criticising such arguments, as obviously flawed. In the twentieth century, Bonhoffer criticised the strategy as it was obvious that human knowledge would continue to expand and the god would inevitably constantly shrink. Thoughtful theologians have long recognised that the god of the gaps argument can only undermine faith. This is why I would have thought it would be embarrassing for a theologian to resort to such logical fallacies, as other theologians are highly critical of them, seeing their use as self destructive.

    • Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      More like god of the arbitrary constant.

    • gluonspring
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      “Translation: I cannot understand how science can explain human mathematical ability, therefore, god did it.”

      That’s actually being generous, since neither of these guys are arguing for a vague deism but for a very specific set of beliefs that includes Jesus, the fall, atonement, an after-life, and so on. “I don’t understand X therefore Christianity” is the argument they are ultimately trying to make. That they have so much ground to cover still after such a poor start is something that always impressed me about the poverty of apologetics, but which seems not to bother apologists in the slightest.

      • stevehayes13
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

        You are, of course, correct. I was far too generous.

  3. Greg G
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    So where did the blue tits get the taste for milk and the ability to digest it, being non-mammals? Therefore Jebus.

    • bacopa
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

      I think the blue tits were just drinking the cream, which las no lactose in it. This happened in an area where homogenization was not common.

      And the lives of “savages” are often very intellectually demanding. Polkie an Beale should go live in the Kalahari desert and see how easy it is.

      • M31
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

        The fact that cream floats is clearly evidence for fine-tuning of the universe for blue tits. Therefore, Jeebus of the Tits.

  4. Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    Sex, religion, and politics. These are enough to explain our intellectual attitudes, such as they are. A good chat up line will earn you more making opportunities, impressive sounding blah will help hold groups together (yes, Jerry, I know your views on group selection, but what if the groups, like human groups, are genocidal?), and you need to play games of ever-increasing complexity to protect your position and possessions.

    There are now some highly specialised niches (certain University philosophy departments spring to mind) where ideas disconnected from reality are no obstacle to survival, but even in our relatively well cosseted environment, compared with that in which we evolved, a similar level of disconnect would be lethal when the learned Professor needs to cross the road.

  5. Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    Seems pretty simple to me: once the awareness of time, and the future, reaches a certain point (and it would be hard to argue that the ability to perceive a future and plan for it isn’t a huge evolutionary advantage), the evolution of scientific methodologies and math isn’t far behind. After all, the core of science is the development of predictive models (theories), and mathematics is the “language” of science. But then I’m not a sophisticated theologian . . .

  6. Silvio Casagrande
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    John Allen Paulus has a short, funny and very good book about refuting most of these claims: Irreligion.

    http://www.math.temple.edu/~paulos/irrel-revs.html

    Good reading!

  7. Dominic
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    I think what god followers do is confuse hardware with software perhaps. Evolutionary pressures favoured the development of a large brain when there was a creature capable of changing in that particular direction. Exactly as wings developed in certain creatures that had the potential, because of a number of diverse factors, to evolve wings. When the brain reached a certain point of complexity it enabled or allowed those evolutionary pressures to cause the development of languages, cultures tools, & – yes – religions (in other words the software of what makes us human). These are simple incremental steps, they do not happen with an end in view. It is always a human failing to look back & try to explain complex interactions of things in retrospect as simple “this happened so then this happened” chains of cause & effect, like the 1st World War as a result of the assassination of the Arch Duke. The processes that cause the incremental changes are themselves very simple however – natural selection. It is the number & accumulation of changes as a result of differing or conflicting environmental pressures that makes it so difficult for some people to see that there really is NO god involved.

  8. andreschuiteman
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    (…)a noetic realm of mathematical ideas

    Many mathematicians and people who use mathematics have somewhat mystical, Platonist, ideas about the existence of mathematical objects. Perhaps it makes some of them more susceptible to religion too.

    There is even an Institute of Noetic Sciences.

    From their website:

    ‘The term noetic sciences was first coined in 1973 when the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) was founded by Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who two years earlier became the sixth man to walk on the moon. Ironically, it was the trip back home that Mitchell recalls most, during which he felt a profound sense of universal connectedness—what he later described as a samadhi experience. In Mitchell’s own words, “The presence of divinity became almost palpable, and I knew that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes. . . .The knowledge came to me directly.”

    It led him to conclude that reality is more complex, subtle, and mysterious than conventional science had led him to believe. Perhaps a deeper understanding of consciousness (inner space) could lead to a new and expanded understanding of reality in which objective and subjective, outer and inner, are understood as co-equal aspects of the miracle of being. It was this intersection of knowledge systems that led Dr. Mitchell to launch the interdisciplinary field of noetic sciences.’

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Sounds like Edgar Mitchell had a bad case of sleep deprivation once (explains the weak memory of earlier parts of the trip, and trippy mystical feelings that words don’t translate). Unsurprising really, but no excuse for trying to turn it into a religion.

    • gluonspring
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Sounds like a mild manic episode to me. Given the mind blowing experience, the stress, and so on, it is perhaps a wonder that we didn’t get more of this kind of stuff from astronauts.

  9. Tulse
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I think that, as you’ve stated it, the argument that ‘the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” proves that God designed the universe’ is a claim about the underlying structure of the universe, and not about human mental capacity. That is, what it is arguing is designed is not the human mind, but a mathematically consistent universe, rather than chaos. It is math, and not mentation, that it identifies as coming from a god or gods. Your response seems more appropriate for Claim #2, which focusses on how we are designed to comprehend the universe, and not the design of the universe itself.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      Agreed, and I’ve changed it appropriately; thanks.

    • Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Of course, the catch is that any finite amount of universe is potentially just an isolated island of order that Ramsey Theory indicates is inevitable from a sufficiently large sea of chaos.

      Contrariwise, mathematics can also describe sufficiently large seas of chaos. On that level, the reason the universe can be given a mathematical description is that pretty much anything can be given a mathematical description.

  10. darrelle
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    “While science is competent to answer its own questions, questions arise from our experience of doing science whose answering takes us beyond its narrow confines.(p. 12)”

    Anyone who would characterize science as narrow is suffering from a severe lack of imagination. Or, dare I say, narrow mindedness?.

    People are always trying to define science as a rigid prescribed discipline useful for only certain kinds of questions. Perhaps in certain specific contexts it is useful to do so, but in general terms, which is the context of science vs revelation/theology as methods of generating knowledge, the key contrasting attribute of science is simply checking to see if something really happens the way you think it does before accepting it as real. How narrow is that?

    Irony is alive and well it seems, but hard to detect by its source.

    • FastLane
      Posted June 19, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      When I read it, that line seemed more like a dog pissing to mark its territory. To Nickie and Polkie, it’s quite alright to hijack science to further religious ideas, but if one is to turn that scientific scrutiny on religion, well, that is forbidden!

  11. Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    (6) is standard God of the Gaps, (1) is indeed a conundrum but one for which religion provides no assistance, and all the rest are just Stupid with a capital S.

    (7) in particular is vulnerable to a trivial reductio ad absurdum: The same argument could be used to plead for the reality of every god ever worshiped, and every myth ever believed. The fact that Earth evolved creatures capable of tossing salt over their shoulders to ward off bad luck proves that it must be effective.

    (4) is actually somewhat of a disproof of god (a universe which was not bound by physical laws and yet was somehow orderly anyway would be one that was far more amenable to the god hypothesis)

    Okay, I admit I sometimes waffle on whether (3) is an interesting problem. I think the mystery is really the other way around, i.e. what is surprising is the unreasonable effectiveness of organisms taking rough heuristic approaches to understanding a world defined purely by mathematics. But it is fun to think about these existential questions sometimes.

  12. Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    I posted an article here

    http://august43.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/exceptionalism-resolving-the-wallace-paradox/

    about another example of this kind of reasoning about the so-called Wallace paradox.

    My argument was basically the same as that provided by Jerry here. It is quite obvious.

    What we are dealing with is the post-hoc rationalization of a preconceived idea. And even smart people can fall into this trap.

  13. Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I have never understood the proclivity of the faith-inclined to invoke mathematics as providing evidence of their positions. I do not restrict this to the religious incidentally. Some months ago I happened across a video on youtube where some (what I presume to be) atheist was arguing that mathematics proves god can’t exist. In particular 1 + 0 = 1 whereby some spooky Harold Camping type ‘analysis’ the following ‘equation’ is to be defined: 1 = universe and 0 = god. Should anyone be actually interested, I could probably find the original video.

    But my response to him was similar to my response to a student who was trying to argue to me that Gabriel’s Horn proved god (some nonsense about the finite, us, being under by the infinite, god of course – my eyes kind of glazed over until there was a noticeable break in noise indicating that it was probably my turn to speak) by noting that one should in the future attempt to avoid using mathematics to prove anything about god for it makes one look fracking intellectually deficient.

  14. Kevin
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    You would think that sophisticated theologians could come up with original arguments.

    These are boring arguments. They’re trite, tired, old, superannuated, reprobate, ridiculously simplistic and wearisome.

    Arguments for (and against) the existence of god have been around since man first started putting stylus to wet clay. These arguments do not prove or disprove the existence of gods because — according to the good Catholics at aquinas.org, they can be “argued”.

    It’s maddening to see a former scientist like Polkinghorne misuse scientific concepts in the service of his invisible friend.

    Evidence, John. Evidence. None of what you cite is evidence. EVIDENCE!1!Eleventy!!!!

  15. Brad
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    I’d like to point out that sexual selection has the tendency to produce traits that are not related to survival and may actually handicap an organism’s survivability. Yet those traits sexual selection produces are some of the most ornate and complicated structures seen in nature. The human brain may be one of them, and this notion can go a long way toward explaining why we are so intelligent.

    Why don’t other primates living in very similar ecological niches as our own environment of evolutionary adaptedness have such large brains? Because something got the positive feedback loop of sexual selection going (perhaps rudimentary speech) and the peacock’s tail of our brain began to grow and grow and grow and grow….

  16. Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Jerry:
    I’m afraid that yet again you are misleading your readers. The passage you cite comes in response to the question: “Do humans matter more than animals?”

    Polkinghorne begins “Every so often in the history of the universe something intrinsically new emerges from within the deep potentiality with which creation has been endowed….” We are not at all (at that point) making an argument for God from this, nor are we suggesting that this emergence is scientifically inexplicable. John is merely saying that “conventional Darwininan theory” needs to be extended to allow for the fact that “our environment … must also include contact with a noetic realm of mathematical ideas”

    This is a purely scientific proposal and people like Nowak and Liebermann have made a start with work on evolution of language and “culturnomics”. But to integrate mathematical ideas into the “environment” is extremely complex and probably won’t be done for a few decades. We don’t suggest for a moment that it is impossible, simply that at present we don’t know how to do the evolutionary dynamics.

    If you have any thoughts, or would like to collaborate on the problem, or can point us to a decent scientific treatment of it, we’d be delighted.

    • Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      If you don’t mind my asking, what is the precise element (or set thereof) of ‘conventional Darwinian theory’ that is sufficient to explain the existence of a complex immune system, say, that is sufficient to explain the existence of a complex digestive system but that is simultaneously impotent to explain the existence of a complex nervous system? (One presumes you accept that ‘conventional Darwinian theory’ is sufficient to explain kidneys and stomachs and intestines and all that jazz).

      After specifically identifying the deficient element (or set of elements) of ‘conventional Darwinian theory’ that is adequate for the other system but inadequate for the brain would you mind please specifying what it is, in your estimation (could be rank conjecture for all I care) that if added to those deficient elements would rescue the ineptitude of ‘conventional Darwinian theory’?

      • Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        It’s easy to see how a more complex/effective immune system might give enough additional survival value to individuals (and possibly herds)to have a strong selection pressure.

        But to understand how the ability to solve complex problems in number theory (say) evolves you have to consider both how the brain could evolve to have these capabilities and how what we can roughly describe as collective human intelligence can “evolve” to be able to solve these problems (the fact that one can train people whose grandparents were hunter-gatherers to do advanced science strongly suggests that this is a separate question from simple brain evolution).

        It’s probably something closely related to the evolution of language, and there is some lovely work by Nowak and others about this. But it’s certainly a more complex problem, mathematically and scientifically, than conventional Darwinian theory. There’s a very nice book “Evolution in Four Dimensions” that explores some of this, in the context of language/culture rather than mathematics. But a lot more needs to be done.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

          “the fact that one can train people whose grandparents were hunter-gatherers to do advanced science strongly suggests that this is a separate question from simple brain evolution”

          Doesn’t that show the opposite?

          The ability to solve complex problems in number theory is not a specific trait that evolved, it’s just one result of evolving a brain intelligent enough to count, remember things, imagine the future, figure out how to harness fire, and invent agriculture.

          You really haven’t shown how the standard evolutionary model doesn’t account for this.

          • Kevin
            Posted June 12, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

            I was going to fisk this claim, but you’ve just hit the nail on the head.

            The evidence shows exactly the opposite from what he claims.

            Evolutionary theory is more-than adequate to the task of explaining our mathematical abilities.

            Unless he’s trying to claim that somehow Stone Age people who don’t have a counting system above four are not part of the human species.

        • gluonspring
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          Do you really believe that we evolved the ability *to* solve complex problems in number theory? If so, that strikes me as a remarkable claim, especially given that so many people find math hard and hate it so much. Surely it is much simpler and more cogent to think that we evolved a general intelligence and that, with tremendous effort over a long period of time, we have been able to press that general intelligence into service in order to develop math (and many other things). Having a brain that can do well in a language-using social environment, that can model the behavior of other people, where people can lie, can give true or false information, can form coalitions, and so on is no small thing. It is very easy to see the selective pressures at work in a complex social environment, in the need for ever more complex ability to model not only physical processes but abstract ones as well. Perhaps having such a brain crosses a threshold of universal computation, much as a Turing machine crosses the minimum threshold of being a universal device, able to compute any effectively computable function. In short, what reason or evidence is there to force us to conclude it is not merely an exaptation?

          As a bit of background, I am curious, do you buy the Church-Turing thesis? Do you believe that the human brain has abilities that could not be simulated by a Turing machine + a good pair of dice?

        • eric
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          “But to understand how the ability to solve complex problems in number theory (say) evolves you have to remember sexual selection

          There, FIFY.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      A claim without evidence.

      Let’s see — I think someone had something to say about that a while back. What was his name? Mitchens? Pritchens? Fitchens?

      Oh yes, Hitchens.

      That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.

      Do you actually have something other than a god of the gaps argument to offer?

    • Konradius
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Interesting. “Do humans matter more than animals?” is a values question. So I am happy to see you want to take science out of the “narrow confines” it is normally cast in.
      I agree that science can at the very least inform our values questions.

      Your request to help “extend” “conventional Darwininan theory” would ring more honest if your side would not have a very invested position of discrediting evolution. Evolution being the real name of what you call Darwinian theory.

      Btw, based upon the evidence provided by Jerry (similar exaptations), do you now have to revise that humans matter more than animals, or do you conceed this as rationalization?

    • MM
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      “John is merely saying that “conventional Darwininan theory” needs to be extended to allow for the fact that “our environment … must also include contact with a noetic realm of mathematical ideas”

      I think you misspelled here (lubricous slip I guess).
      You wanted to write:
      ‘…John is unfoundedly asserting that “conventional Darwininan theory” needs to be extended to allow for the fact that “our environment … must also include contact with a noetic realm of mathematical ideas”’

      “This is a purely scientific proposal”
      No it isn’t.
      This is a ‘quasiplatonic’ argument of ignorance:
      ‘I can’t explain something therefore some abstract ‘idea’ must exist…

      I think it is “nötig” to get you into contact with reality and scientific thinking.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        +1

        Yes, an extended argument from ignorance is not evidence for anything other than the existence of ignorance.

    • Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Mr. Beale,

      If you are interested “to integrate mathematical ideas into the “environment”” check out the material at http://www.condition.org

      the key is application of godel’s incompleteness theorems to the system of human experience

      the framework rests on two fundamental assumptions:

      1. there is matter/energy (as defined in natural sciences)

      2. anything we can aver know or think about is a property of matter

      from those two assumptions the complete account of evolutionary origins and etiology of “human condition” is made and matematical ideas are fully integrated into “environment”

      not that the material is not ‘philosophy’ or any “-ism” in a belief-system sense

      hope you can wrap your mind around the integration :)

    • DV
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      “noetic realm”

      Yeah right! Begging the question right there. A not so subtle way to inject the proposition while trying to avoid having to produce evidence that there exists such a thing as a realm at all of non-metaphorical souls independent of matter. You say you’re not making an argument for God. Who are you trying to fool – yourself? You’re just inventing a gap where you can put Divine Intelligence in.

    • eric
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Prof. Beale,
      For sake of argument, let’s say you’ve actually shown (rather than just asserted) that human mental capability is far beyond what adaption via natural selection would require.

      Conventional Darwinian theory is still perfectly adequate, because of sexual selection. If women favor smart men (or vice versa), no other environmental or selective force is required to explain extroadinarily big-brained humans.

      Did you guys not give any thought to that?

      • Logicophilosophicus
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:35 am | Permalink

        Sexual selection was Darwin’s ingenious (and, I agree, convincing) explanation for the evolution of such appendages as the peacock’s tail, which in pure survival terms are a drawback: differential fertility redresses the balance; but this is ultimately a dysfunction – the peahen has been misled into interpreting (not consciously, of course) a magnificent tail as a larger and therefore fitter mate. The tail lies.

        It is possible that human intelligence and its uses in creating art, music, abstract mathematics, literature, philosophy, etc are consequences of sexual selection. If so, then our value system falsely glorifies what amounts to a dysfuntion or deception. I choose not to believe that, preferring to think that the pursuit of mathematical or philosophical or scientific truth really is a higher moral purpose.

        But, noting the venom of some contributors here I think that macho display often dominates at the expense of reason. Darwin expressed it more stylishly:

        “What wretched doings come from the ardour of fame: the love of truth alone would never make one attack another bitterly.”

        • yngveb
          Posted June 13, 2012 at 3:46 am | Permalink

          Actually, the peacock’s tail doesn’t lie. The one with the biggest tail is arguably also more fit, because it needs to pay for the tail in addition to what the lesser peacocks need to pay for theirs. It is a credible display of fitness because it is costly.

          • Logicophilosophicus
            Posted June 13, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

            This is what Richard Dawkins has to say about the peacock’s tail:

            “What matters for our purpose is that sexual selection, according to a sound mathematical theory, is apt to drive evolution to take off in arbitrary directions and push things to non-utilitarian excess.”

            Way back in the past some peahen gene arose which led the hens to select fitter males by their slightly more impressive tails. The males responded to the new (reproductive) environment in the obvious way, and thus a vicious circle was established which reduced the actual fitness of the males (partially offset when rich humans decided to populate their lawns with them…)

      • Posted June 13, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Indeed Eric. I said it too, seven hours earlier; no great matter but if I use the idea later in my writing I don’t want you feeling you’ve been plagiarised. I don’t know (I’d like to know) who first came up with this one; the teacher character says something like this about language in Dead Poets Society.

        And of course the other factors mentioned here also apply; big brains do have their uses, and supporting the metabolic load of a big brain is an index of health.

    • gluonspring
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      In answer to that question, Polkinghorne says “I think conventional Darwinian theory is unable to explain this capacity..”, and in the very next sentence “I also believe that God interacts providentially with the unfolding history of creation in ways that respect the divine gift to creatures of the freedom to be themselves and ‘make themselves’ through evolutionary process.” Never mind what a lot of gibberish that last sentence is (make themselves through evolution… wtf?), what is a reader supposed to conclude from the juxtaposition of these two claims:

      A I think conventional Darwinian theory can’t explain human abilities
      B I believe God interacts in the history of life to do something or other

      I suppose you can say that he’s not making a formal argument that A implies B, but the propaganda message is clear: Fear not, gentle believers, God, or at least the Spirit-realm, will ultimately be needed to explain humans.

      Pitching this as not being a bit of apologetics strikes me as the truly misleading thing here.

  17. DV
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    There are many things that are much more than necessary for survival if there were no arms races in evolution. Trees are wasting energy competing with each other to be so tall. Cheetahs and gazelles are wasting energy competing to be faster and faster. But arms races don’t just happen between species. Intra-species competition can result in arms races also. The “wasteful” enlargement of the human brain is probably due to such an arm race. Humans don’t need to be much smarter than a lion. But individual humans are competing to be smarter than each other. If only everyone of our ancestors could cooperate for the good of the group, then we could have stayed stupid and happy. But no, some selfish brat had to be more cunning and cheat to get ahead of his peers. So now we end up with all this extra computational power in our heads making us godless and divesting us of comfortable delusions!

    • lamacher
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      Yeah. When a lion is chasing me, I don’t have to be the fastest human on earth; I just have to be faster than the guy behind me!

      • DV
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        No. You don’t have to be faster than the lion. Just faster than your slowest companion.

    • gluonspring
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      +1

    • Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      So now we end up with all this extra computational power in our heads making us godless and divesting us of comfortable delusions!

      Actually, I think it is a bit more complicated. I am pretty sure no evidence of theism has been found in, say, gorillas. Being able to imagine gods, angels and devils is also probably a result of the same arms race.

  18. raven
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    1.The Big Bang: what got it started in the first place? After all a quantum vacuum isn’t nothing.

    IANAP, but I read most of the modern popular books :>).

    Most cosmological arguments today hypothesize a multiverse. It seems inevitable when thinking about the Big Bang and what the physical constants are, the fine tuning, which isn’t so fine according to Victor Stenger.

    As to how the Big Bang happened. It’s quite clear that something is a lower energy state than nothing. Nothing is unstable.

    It’s quite possible that our universe is just one of near infinite universes in a larger and eternal matrix. And there is no reason or cause for that. It just is.

    • Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      “It’s quite possible that our universe is just one of near infinite universes in a larger and eternal matrix. And there is no reason or cause for that. It just is.”

      So you can accept this nature of the universe, that there is no reason or cause for its existence, because it just is?

      Funny. How it differs from the idea that God has no beginning and no end?

      • raven
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

        It differs in one major way. Data, facts.

        There is no evidence whatsoever that the eternal gods exist.

        There is a huge amount of evidence that the universe exists.

        So you can accept this nature of the universe, that there is no reason or cause for its existence, because it just is?

        This is really dumb. What I can accept or not has zero bearing on what reality is. Wishful thinking doesn’t create anything but delusions and mistakes.

        • Posted June 13, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

          raven, I agree that there’s no evidence (or data/facts) whatsoever of gods (external or otherwise) but I’m wondering if you can provide evidence, data, and facts that shows that this universe, whether all alone or one of near infinite universes in a larger and eternal matrix, “just is” and has no reason or cause for its existence? Especially for the “just is” and no cause parts. And please don’t throw speculative chalkboard equations and/or non-evidential, unverified ‘theories’ at me as data, facts, or evidence.

          • Tulse
            Posted June 13, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

            Is a god “just is”? Why is a lack of answer a problem for the existence of the universe, but not for gods?

          • Posted June 13, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

            I may be dense, but I fail to understand how the universe (taken to mean the entirety of all that ever has does, or will exist) can possibly have reason or cause any more than it can have feelings or a birthday. You’re committing a category error by anthropomorphizing something that’s as non-anthro as it gets.

            And if you’re hinting that you think there’s merit to the First Cause argument, or any of the allegedly sophisticated variants of it that theologians like to blather on about, that’s a perfect example of something you’d know is as absurd as a married bachelor had you even attended an introductory lecture on set theory.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted June 14, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

              Ben Goren, assuming you’re addressing me, I’ll respond by saying that I’m not applying any merit to any arguments made by so-called theologians. I’m asking if there’s data/facts/evidence that supports a “just is” existence for this or any other universe. If there isn’t, the “just is” is just speculation and should be stated as such. My scientific mind likes to think that there should be data/facts/evidence before positive, or positive sounding claims are made. After all, aren’t ‘we’ challenging and condemning the assertion of non-data, non-factual, non-evidential speculations from so-called theologians?

              • Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

                My point is that, by declaring that either the universe must have meaning or that it “just is,” you’re making a distinction as silly as declaring that a Mozart string quartet must either have marathon paperclips or else it winches a sea urchin.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Posted June 15, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

              And that’s why I’m a strong atheist …

        • Posted June 22, 2012 at 12:35 am | Permalink

          What data and facts you are talking about? I’m not sure if we are on the same page here. I’m not contending on the physical reality of the universe nor I am denying the facts or data nor any information about the universe.

          What I meant when I asked about the difference between what you said “to accept the universe just as is” is tantamount to saying to accept it by faith.

          Simply because >>> There is no data available prior to big bang. There is no available explanation how it all began. Your statement to accept it because “it just is” is tantamount to saying “I have faith” that I don’t need evidence or proof to believe that the universe has no beginning because I believe “it just is”.

          You see, you fell on the same trap that you tried to scape from believing in a God. But unfortunately, your very dilemma has not left you and will continue to haunt you. Because there is no scaping from your dilemma.

      • Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        Complexity. Agency. &c.

        /@

      • Tulse
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        How it differs from the idea that God has no beginning and no end?

        I dunno — is your God just 4.077 × 10^32 cubic light-years of empty space at 3K?

        • gluonspring
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

          Lol. +1

      • Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        Well, there’s a non-trivial distinction between a god and our universe. We have exactly one universe more on hand to point to than we have gods on hand.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        The concept of a god with no beginning and no end that doesn’t interfere in our earthly affairs can be held to be consistent with the current understanding of the cosmos. In the same manner as highly advanced interdimensional universe-building aliens would be consistent with our current understanding of the cosmos.

        However, theists never leave it at that. They also insist that this not-beginning-not-ending thing involves itself in the day-to-day workings of planet Earth.

        Which is outright gibbering nonsense.

        You can’t disprove the god concept any more than you can disprove universe-building aliens. But you can disprove each and every fictional god that’s been created by human imagination. One at a time.

        • raven
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

          They also insist that this not-beginning-not-ending thing involves itself in the day-to-day workings of planet Earth.

          Not to mention that this eternal, universe creating god being, is (supposedly) deeply concerned and interested in the sex lives of one group of advanced primates living on one planet out of 10exp23 or so.

          • Kevin
            Posted June 12, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

            Every sperm is sacred.

  19. MAUCH
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Are they arguing that our brains being larger than a gorillas has given us no evolutionary advantage therefore it is a gift from god? Wouldn’t having an intellect of a gorilla seriously impact your fitness in today’s world or at least won’t it seriously limit your career prospects?

    • Kevin
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Where I work, they call the ones with an intellect of a gorilla “boss”.

    • corio37
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      Back when I did Biology, one of our lecturers made the following comment:

      “They say that Neanderthals were so similar to modern humans that if one of them sat down next to you at a bar you wouldn’t bat an eyelid.” Pause. “Of course, that depends on what kind of bars you go to.”

      Maybe the gorillas all went to the wrong bars.

  20. Peter Ozzie Jones
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    P&B’s sketchiness on humans exceeding the bare minimum in math capability makes me wonder if they are aware of the steps in power of expressiveness of, for instance, the four levels of formal grammars as in the Chomsky hierarchy. Going from the lowest Type-3 which only gives simple strings to Type-0 that describes unrestricted languages.

    This would be an example of where a small change gives rise to greater expressiveness, perhaps more than is needed. Eg programming language syntax is deliberately kept simple (hah!) so as to use Type-2 grammars & recognizers.

    Similar small steps in power can be seen in digital systems where the progression is from simple combinatorial circuits to ones with feedback and memory.

    Our brains are a step or two above other animals and allow for a more expressive computation. It is not a large step for evolution to have made and no need for any supernatural intervention.

    • Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      I’d add that it’s evolutionarily easy to go from one copy of something to multiple copies (amylase in humans and polyploidy in plants being major examples on different scales).

      I also recall seeing a paper within the last few years on how a combination of two lower-level grammars can yield a type-0 unrestricted result. However, I don’t recall the citation, so I might have the details wrong.

      • Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Well, those “types” are quite fragile. For example, deterministic finite state machines with one stack capture a small subset of type 2 (context free) grammars. It is typically this subset that is used in Programming language grammars. Add another stack, an you get all the way to Turing machines (Type 0).

        But this has been known since the 70s (or perhaps earlier). So perhaps you had something else in mind?

        • Posted June 13, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

          My reading in advanced theory of computation is pretty eclectic, and not so much the result of well-organized courses. Might be that I just stumbled across an old paper, and didn’t note the date. Presumably, though, if it’s that old, particular citation isn’t so critical.

          In any case, the point remains: such a stack doubling is a pretty easy evolutionary development.

    • gluonspring
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      I get the impression that NB is aware at least on some level. I pulled up that section in Google Books [1] to get the context. NB acknowledges, without referencing anything explicitly like the Chomsky hierarchy, that there are subtle thresholds one can cross that result in qualitatively different levels of ability. This doesn’t lead him to conclude “problem solved”, though. Rather, they both go on to assert that something beyond conventional Darwinism is needed, either after this point is crossed, or perhaps before (they are very vague, so who knows). While they will say that they don’t claim that this (merely asserted) deficiency in Darwinian theory requires God, they do strongly imply it. And, BTW, Darwinists will come after your disabled children.

      [1] http://books.google.com/books?id=jiXANZ1CPD4C&pg=PA80&lpg=PA80&dq=Do+Humans+Matter+More+than+Animals+Questions+of+Truth&source=bl&ots=gVz4Jjzwq5&sig=9_49OHvr44-s13vqyenxFcsCvLE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=-5fXT8uWNYq02gXtivSCDw&ved=0CFAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

  21. Posted June 12, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    There must be an ulterior motive when bright minds need to plead the existence of God. Their pleadings remain just plain daft. What is it that they need and so patently desire in trying to prove one of the most ludicrous sets of ideas still existing in this 21stcentury? The God story is plainly an explanation for what was once unexplainable. Beware the men of letters not necessarily one’s betters’.

  22. Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Peculiar that these guys, and others like them, talk about god but never about gods. If you’re going to try to explain the world via the supernatural, polytheism can do a much better job than monotheism. Multiple gods can be limited instead of omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent; they can compete with each other, have limited intelligence, etc. – which fits much better with what we know of nature!

    • gluonspring
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. Polytheism allows one to worship a non-wicked god. Monotheists have no such luxury.

      • Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        Polytheism allows one to worship a non-wicked god.

        Another sophisticated theological solution to it is to install a “law” OF Karma, and make even the gods subservient to it.

        • gluonspring
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

          I guess really the problem is omnipotence. If you are willing to limit your god with some outside thing, Karma, other gods, or just simple limits to power, then you can craft all sorts of versions of god who are variously good. Any omnipotent god, though, must be a scoundrel.

  23. eric
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Whence then has come the human ability to study noncommutative algebras and to prove Fermat’s last theorem? I think conventional Darwinian theory is unable to explain this capacity

    AFAIK, only a few humans are/were smart enough to solve the problem of Fermat’s last theorem, and only maybe a few hundred more are smart enough to follow the proposed solution well enough to say whether its correct or not.

    So, the theological the conclusion is obvious: only those folks are designed by God. The rest of us serve the same purpose as homo habilis – mere precurser.

    • gluonspring
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      I’d say no humans were smart enough to solve the problem. No one human developed all the math that even makes Fermat’s last theorem comprehensible, much less all the math that makes it provable. Wiles did not, for example, develop arithmetic, or algebra, or the idea of an elliptic curve. He did not even prove the epsilon conjecture which the first part of his own proof is based on (Ribet gets that credit). The list of living contributors to his proof alone is quite large. Rather, the collective work of humans over many *centuries* provided the ideas that a few humans could study and extend, bit by bit. Ultimately some one human, a human of great ability no doubt, is able to climb this pre-existing scaffold of knowledge and span the last gap to reach some new plateau. It is an illusion to think that one person has the ability to arrive at that plateau on their own, though.

      • Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        Yes, this is really important. I wonder why the popular view of science is always that of a solitary confined genius churning out results on his or her own, especially when the history of science (and especially, mathematics) strongly suggests that the opposite is true in most cases. Even in such celebrated cases as, say, relativity.

        • gluonspring
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know. I wonder if this is a cultural phenomena, an expression of Western Individualism, or something more innate, a desire for tribal leaders or father figures or some such? Of course, all significant scientists have a stake in perpetuating this image, of accruing as much credit to themselves as possible, so that probably plays a role too.

          This tendency is maddening to me, because it as obviously false as it is pervasive. Relativity is a decent example. Did Einstein come up with the Lorentz transformation? No. Did he develop the theory of electro-magnetism? No. Did he come up with Maxwell’s equations? No. (nor did Maxwell, he just fixed them up a bit and added one). Did Einstein conceive of and execute the Michhaelson Moorley experiment? No. You could go on and on. The fact is the problem was “in the air” and all the things that people had done up to that time to address the various issues with Newton’s laws, the implications of Maxwell’s laws, both theoretically and experimentally, were available as scaffolding. No doubt you have to be brilliant to climb the scaffolding, to have a chance at reaching a new foothold, and brilliant again to see a next step or turn around a corner. But if Einstein had not developed relativity when he did it someone else would have, and in that same period of history. It might have been five years later, or ten, but we wouldn’t be sitting around in in 1960’s still wondering what to do with the speed of light.

          It is not only in science that I see a sort of false individualism. Steve Jobs “invented the iPhone”. What a laugh. And almost as comic to me are people who take themselves “off the grid” and fancy themselves as individuals in no need of society. Off they go, carrying steel tools and a dozen other products of a vast industrial society, along with all sorts of hard won knowledge, off to demonstrate that they don’t need anyone. Yeah.

          • corio37
            Posted June 12, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

            I think people have a natural tendency to simplify the real world by attributing complex phenomena to single individuals. For instance, there are people who seem to believe that Agatha Christie wrote every detective novel published before 1960, that Marilyn Monroe was the only blonde movie star between Carol Lombard and Meryl Streep, and that Elvis was the only rock and roll singer to come out of Tennessee.

  24. Logicophilosophicus
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    The enigma is not just the mathematical or musical or philosophical etc ability, it is the ability coupled with the use we make of it. “Gödel, Escher and Bach” seems to have little to do with the expected abilities or drives of Cromagnon Man.

    Nor, I hasten to add, does it have anything much to do with the agendas of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.

    But there is a real enigma.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I’m not seeing the enigma.

      Thanks to technological innovations like the invention of agriculture, made possible by those large brains, some humans started having something most other animals don’t have – leisure time. Then they started using those brains to fill up that time.

      • Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        agree there is no enigma

        i would even add that leisure time is the utimate goal for brain to exist

        in other words brain is the ultimate answer to the situation when _all_ the time is consumed by survival activities

        enthropy is the word

        when everything decays the basic deature of any life-form that is to keeep-on going, to survive to reproduce and parlay life into the future requires better and better tool to counterbalance the effects of decay

        human brain is the result of that process and now when homo sapiens sapiens as a life-form is to go thru the bottleneck of too much genetic replicas of essentially the same design competing for rapidly decreasing viability resources natural selection will again produce a subset of brains that are in certain respects “better” than currrent design

        george mobus calls that “sapience”

        our group is more focused on beleif-free science in government

        and of course in both cases there is no room for unscientific beliefs

        • h pinxteren
          Posted June 13, 2012 at 5:43 am | Permalink

          the word is entropy

        • Logicophilosophicus
          Posted June 13, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          “…leisure time is the ultimate goal for brain to exist…”

          Moses would agree with you.

          Exodus 20:

          9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

          10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work…

          Personally I think that if the evolution of the brain had a “goal”, “leisure” would be a rather trivial one.

      • raven
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        some humans started having something most other animals don’t have – leisure time. Then they started using those brains to fill up that time.

        My cats don’t have to spend all their time feeding themselves. But they don’t seem to use their brains for much anyway. Mostly they sleep and look out the windows.

        Hmmm, well, come to think of it, most humans have lots of leisure time and they don’t fill up that time with thinking either. Much of it seems to be taken up with watching TV.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

          Your cats are domesticated, not wild. They have more leisure time than they would if they had to procure their own food.

          That said, some predators spend a lot of time lying around, conserving the energy they’ll need for short bursts of hunting activity.

      • gluonspring
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        It’s not always pure leisure either. Math was developed for utilitarian purposes originally: to keep track of life stock, for tax collecting, for building things, etc. From very practical, utilitarian, concerns was born basic number theory, algebra, and geometry. As our activities grew more complex, it benefited from more complex math. As we worked with the math we knew rough edges and problems in our formulation were exposed, leading people to think of math on ever more abstract levels. At some point, the idea of proof arises. But we had to contend with bogus “proofs”. How to tell the difference? Right up to Godel, the concerns were still very practical. “Can we know that the math we have put together is right?” Can we prove we’ve finished the project? Can we prove there are no errors in our formulation of math? All of this developed, step by step, from very practical and mundane concerns. The final product seems very remote and abstract and unrelated to survival in any way, but that is an illusion from seeing the final product without considering carefully the many steps and long time it took to get here.

      • Logicophilosophicus
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        No, you don’t see it. Leisure does not in any obvious way drive humans to construct magic squares or sonatas, or to starve in a garret painting sunflowers. If you don’t marvel at that, then your sense of wonder isn’t switched on.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t say I didn’t marvel at it, I said I didn’t see an enigma.

          Leisure by itself doesn’t drive us to do those things. Leisure time plus a brain that evolved to spend that time thinking about things did.

          • Logicophilosophicus
            Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

            You are confusing opportunity with motive. Why would van Gogh starve for his art, or Ramanujan for his mathematics? Given leisure time, why not procreate, or assist your kin, or collect food, or a dozen other survival/fertility related activities? For that matter, why would a Galileo or a Giordiano Bruno risk his life for science? It is mysterious that human beings – from their own commitment rather than some imposed (e.g. religious) authority, value abstract intellectual matters higher than personal survival. Enigma.

            • Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

              I fail to see how different this is from garden-variety altruism, which is very well understood from an evolutionary perspective. It goes right back to kin selection, almost certainly with a healthy dose of sexual selection, and the realization that the human brain is the peacock’s tail.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • truthspeaker
              Posted June 12, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

              Because when that intelligence and the motivation to use it evolved they conferred a reproductive advantage. You had to think that hard and that long if you wanted to plan for the future, harness fire, and invent agriculture. We didn’t have leisure time to pursue other interests until after those things had been invented – after human intelligence had already been selected for. Still no enigma.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 12, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

                And that’s without even mentioning sexual selection.

        • raven
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

          Leisure does not in any obvious way drive humans to construct magic squares or sonatas,…

          It doesn’t “drive” humans to do anything.

          Leisure enables humans to do something other than just survive.

          The vast majority of humans aren’t using their extra hours to write sonatas or do magic squares. They mostly watch TV and surf the internet.

          Some with talent, ability, and enough interest will use their time to create or think.

          This is obvious. Homo sapiens is roughly 150,000 years old. The vast majority of that history was static with the same stone tools being made for tens of thousands of years. The explosion in the arts and sciences didn’t happen until our technology and social systems reached a level where they could.

          • gluonspring
            Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

            This is an important point. It might be more fruitful to regard Gogh and Ramanujan as broken examples of what evolution selected for. In a hunter-gatherer era, people with the kind of obsessive nature displayed by Gogh and Ramanujan might have literally starved and accomplished nothing. In fact, maybe Gallileo’s and Brunos are comparatively rare precisely because there is a constant selective pressure against those kinds of genes, at least until very recently.

            Of course, it is as likely that the motivation for all the art and music and math and science we see humans doing over time is indeed more universal and is merely the overgeneralization of evolutionary endowed motivations. In the “wild”, the motivation to actively look for patterns might routinely pay off in survival or reproduction. This pattern-seeking motivation gives a reward also in the artificial environment of looking for patterns in stars, or numbers. The motivational payoff one gets by finding colorful fruits, or their associated flowers, might give a payoff still when one stimulates the same circuitry by painting flowers. The brain is a complex thing and we’ve taken it far from it’s original origins. So who knows what built-in motivations are operating and how those might play out in the artificial world we have created?

            • Logicophilosophicus
              Posted June 13, 2012 at 1:58 am | Permalink

              Sexual selection… stimulus generalisation… Then are you suggesting that the maths, pure science, literature, music, art, etc that we regard as the *highest* expression of human thought is really just a dysfunctional byproduct of evolution (and human psyschology)? The quest for truth-for-its-own-sake is really just a peacock’s tail? (See also my note in comment 16 et seq. for clarification.)

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 4:36 am | Permalink

                Nothing dysfunctional about it.

                “Highest” is obviously a subjective human judgement.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

                Dysfunctional because it has come about as an unselected, meaningless byproduct of evolution. (I don’t necessarily hold that view.)

                Highest… well, I can recommend Sam Harris if you want to read a justification of value judgments in an atheist context. Or you are entitled to believe value judgments are a matter of individual choice (or, avoiding the non-deterministic language, individual brain state). Harris would say – and I agree – that this makes Ted Bundy’s morality as valid as anyone else’s.

                Unless you merely mean that Gödel, Escher and Bach, not to mention Newton, Darwin and Einstein, are not really worthy of our great admiration. Who would you rate higher, and why?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

                It is selected, and it makes them more likely to reproduce, so there’s nothing dysfunctional about it.

                I said “highest” was a subjective judgement, not a meaningless judgement. Morality, art, and music are very important to us humans, but there’s nothing objectively “high” about them.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

                The “dysfunctional” remark is just a restatement of Gluonspring’s “broken”. The modern brain and its faculties are presumed to have evolved to fit early modern humans to their Pleistocene environment, not to write or listen to classical music, nor to debate the theorems of Gödel and Cantor, nor to create works of art based on impossible figures or cubism, nor to theorise about the origin of vertebrates or mammals, etc, etc – lacking even the limited meaning (non-randomness) that natual selection gives to its products.

                You sidestep the issue of the significance of the general assessment of these meaningless by-products of evolution as being among our “highest” achievements, but replacing “high” with “important” doesn’t remove the value judgment. Are they really important in an absolute sense (I think so) or are such judgments completely subjective, putting Bundy and Bach on an identical footing?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                Such judgements are entirely subjective, and they do not put Bundy and Bach on an equal footing.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

                On what objective basis are you able to make that judgment?

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, that wasn’t clear. I am assuming that you place Bach above Bundy. If so, how? Do you think there is any objective way of rating the value of Bach, Newton or Darwin (however vaguely)?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

                No. I value Bach more than Bundy for subjective reasons.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

                Then if someone values Bundy above Bach, is his view as valid as yours?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

                Depends what you mean by “valid”.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

                Is there any non-subjective basis for preferring the anti-Bundy judgment?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

                No. Human morality is subjective.

              • gluonspring
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

                Yes.

              • gluonspring
                Posted June 13, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

                Morality is not tied to any kind of objective thing outside of human thoughts and sentiments. In that sense it is subjective. Nonetheless, it is not unconstrained. Our evolutionary endowed human nature means that we probably have some innate moral sensibilities, innate reactions to various situations that we can not easily ignore. Whether it is reacting with pity to the sight of a child in distress, or expecting reciprocity both good and ill, or “treat your in-group well and hate your out-group”, whatever the actual and real list, there are some shared moral commonalities that people shake only with great effort or, in some cases, with a defect in their innate programming. As a result, the ranks of Bundy fans is quite small as compared with the ranks of those who despise him, and the latter have hired police and built prisons to enforce their value judgments. The example of Bundy works for you rhetorically only because of the widespread commonality in human nature which leads to a similarly widespread assessment of Bundy. The common agreement that Bach beats Bundy is just a reflection of our common human nature and environment, not because we can reach into a set of Objective Universal Values and apply them to the Bach/Bundy comparison.

                Ethicists actually spend a fair amount of their energy trying to come up with a rational moral system which doesn’t, in various corner cases, shock our innate moral sense. This proves to be a difficult exercise because our moral senses are heuristics, mere reactionary rules of thumb, not principles, and these heuristics have no need to be consistent with each other in every situation and frequently aren’t.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

                gluonspring/truthseeker

                First, can I say that thoroughgoing materialists typically retreat into some kind of fuzzy thinking on morality – either (using the word-of-the-moment) “compatibilist”, or (like Daniel Dennett) “emergent”. But your materialism is pure.

                Nebertheless, is it acceptable? If the condemnation of Ted Bundy is justified – morally and logically – solely on the statistical grounds that most people agree; and if the pursuit of truths in mathematics, pure science, human evolution, philosophy, etc, and of artistic truth (“beauty” if you like)in music, fine art, literature, etc, is similarly justified, the consequences are shocking. Gallileo and Bruno were wrong; the routine use of torture up until the seventeenth century in virtually all cultures was right; etc. Even belief in God remains in some sense right (insofar as it is based on moral certainty).

                I can’t accept that. The rightness of Bruno and the wrongness of the Inquisition are more clearly perceived for me than, for example, the reality of the Z boson.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:26 am | Permalink

                “the consequences are shocking”

                You know argument from consequences is a fallacy, right?

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

                You are mistaken. Logical argument frequently proceeds to invalidation of a premiss – e.g. reductio ad absurdum: a logical consequence. In this case, way back in the thread, a key premiss was that theistic claims based on moral beliefs were invalid. We have reached a point where they are arguably no less valid than the contrary view. If the majority view is in any sense right, then that shocking consequence follows.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

                Appeal to consequences: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/adconseq.html

              • Posted June 14, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

                Logicophilosophicus:

                Please do not confuse an “argument from contradiction” with an “argument from consequences”. In the former case, we get to a consequence that is logically (in a mathematical) false. In the latter, which is what you have been engaging in, one gets to a consequence that mere appears “shocking”, “immoral”, or “unethical” to a human.

                The Universe is a rather “shocking” place. Bach would have no selective advantage over Bundy if they were to find themselves at the bottom of the Mariana Trench or just outside the ionosphere. That does not mean that you have “shown” that the laws of physics are “wrong” and that you cannot “accept” them.

                Or perhaps, you really can’t accept them. I can only say (tongue-in-cheek) that your rejection itself is far less important than whether the laws find your rejection acceptable :)

                In short, if you wish something to be true, it does not necessarily become true.

  25. Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    (not, of course, in Wallace’s time!)

    Only in steampunk. *sigh*

  26. Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Why stop at the human brain? If we’re only talking about raw survival, why do we need brains at all? Why even be multicellular?

  27. jay
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    “play chess, write music, and fly to the moon (not, of course, in Wallace’s time!).”

    Sadly, not in our time either.

  28. emmageraln
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on emmageraln and commented:
    Great read as always!

  29. truthspeaker
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Your cats are domesticated, not wild. They have more leisure time than they would if they had to procure their own food.

    That said, some predators spend a lot of time lying around, conserving the energy they’ll need for short bursts of hunting activity.

  30. truthspeaker
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    “We never said that human ability to do math could not have evolved, merely that “conventional Darwinian theory” (in its present state of development) is unable to explain it, ”

    And that’s where you’re way off base, and seemingly ignoring all the work that’s already been done in this area.

  31. Kevin
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Good grief, I just noticed this:

    …that the large brain he actually possesses could never have been solely developed by any of those laws of evolution, whose essence is, that they lead to a degree of organization exactly proportionate to the wants of each species, never beyond those wants…

    “Wants”? This is pure Lamarckism. The organism doesn’t get to decide what it wants or doesn’t want. It gets what time, genetic change, and natural selection provide.

    Nothing more. Nothing less.

    If this is the quality of their science, their theology is even worse.

    Pure doggerel.

    • Logicophilosophicus
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      “Want” has two meanings.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        No. It doesn’t.

        Not one that explains this egregious misuse of science, in any event.

        This is the “evolution is striving for perfection” school of bad thinking. And worse science.

        It’s stupid and wrong. I won’t accommodate that nor back down one inch.

        Peddle that fish somewhere else. It stinks.

      • mandrellian
        Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        Robert Plant wrote a song about that.

      • Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        Kevin’s use of “want” may be understood using only the “lack” sense, but I suspect Beale is contaminating it with the “wish” sense.

        • Logicophilosophicus
          Posted June 12, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

          The sense “desire” in this quote is clearly not intended, and the urge to confront Beale has led to a false position. At this point B is summarising the Darwinian view – that there can be no preadaptation within a strict Darwinian framework (though of course exaptation can look like preadaptation; but that’s not relevant to B’s use of the word “want”).

          In any case, what has “desire” to do with Lamarckism? Nothing whatsoever. No one doubts that an exercised organ is often enhanced in the individual – it is the supposed routine *inheritance* of acquired characteristics that distinguishes Lamarckism.

          Anyway, the original and still primary meaning of “want” is “lack”. That’s unarguable.

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted June 13, 2012 at 2:39 am | Permalink

      (…)that the large brain he actually possesses could never have been solely developed by any of those laws of evolution, whose essence is, that they lead to a degree of organization exactly proportionate to the wants of each species, never beyond those wants

      I’m in a charitable mood today, so I think you should read ‘wants’ here as ‘needs’ rather than ‘desires’. That doesn’t alter the fact that it is complete nonsense. There is no such thing as ‘the wants’ of a species. What could that possibly mean? Do I need wings? Do I need the ability to run 200 mph? Would I still be the same species if my ‘wants’ were fulfilled?

      What our comic duo Nickie and Polkie are trying to say in this confused manner, I think, is that natural selection will not cause abilities to evolve that have no benefit for the survival of the species. But, as others have pointed out here, the ability, say, to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem can be perfectly explained as a side effect of the evolution of our cognitive faculties, the survival value of which not even N & P will deny. Just as there is variability in people’s length there is variability in people’s mental abilities. The few people who are able to do such a thing as proving FLT are just outliers on a scale of mathematical capabilities, which is a subset of our mental faculties. It poses no problem at all for the conventional Theory of Evolution to explain this.

      • andreschuiteman
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 4:24 am | Permalink

        By the way, I don’t think sexual selection is behind our cognitive faculties, as some here have suggested. If that were the case one would expect a clear dimorphism between the sexes in this respect.

      • h pinxteren
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

        side effect(s) explain everything

  32. mandrellian
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Even an aforementioned gorilla or a two-year-old human will figure that if they drop something, it breaks. If they don’t want it to break, they hold on to it. If they do want it to break, they drop it on purpose – or throw it, or hit it. Observe

    Over the lifetime of one individual, certain facts regarding the world and its operation will become apparent. Extrapolate that apprehension of facts to a family, then an extended family, then a community with the ability to share and compare knowledge (via language or imitation), then an entire sentient species over a great many millennia and it soon becomes clear that our brains aren’t some magickal device implanted by a divine hardware/software engineer (which is, fuffery and pretensions to “extending the scientific arguments” aside, precisely what our theologians are getting at, otherwise they wouldn’t be theologians); but just another organ that has been the beneficiary of evolution.

  33. Posted June 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    “Consider human mathematical abilities. For survival, we need not much more than counting and a little elementary geometry. Whence then has come the human ability to study noncommutative algebras and to prove Fermat’s last theorem?”

    I am reminded of a lift technician in 1967 at a bank of four lifts (capacity 13 people) in an 8-storey building. They were each set (or as we would now say, “programmed”) to return to ground when unused, to the irritation of people on upper floors.

    I said some day computers would control lifts, and he said “How could they? They can only work with numbers.”

  34. gluonspring
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    This book is a perfect example of what finally ejected me out of my own faith. Nothing quite makes religion seem so ridiculous as an all out attempt to defend it rationally. Apologetics is the true friend of atheism!

    So long as the religious pass over their beliefs with a hushed silence, so long as they do not examine them, or allow them to be examined, those beliefs have a bit of power. Bluff works. Until they open their mouths, you can imagine that perhaps you have been daft, perhaps you are missing something, that perhaps all the confidence they exude is based on something you hadn’t considered. Maybe, you think, The Emperor really does have a snazzy outfit hidden in the closet. Then they walk out, butt naked, and ask you to marvel at their outfit. That’s when you know, for sure, that it’s bunk.

    • Christian
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

      My sentiments exactly, you only said it so much better than I ever could. Also nice variation on the naked-emperor metaphor. I hope you don’t mind if I steal that. :D

      And how bunk it really is, is especially apparent when you see what kind of god even the most sophisticated apologists defend (or believe in when they don’t suspect any atheists around).
      You look at a Hubble Ultra Deep Field image and all you can do is wonder how parochial this sophisticated version of the Abrahamic deity still is, let alone the more widely believed in and worshiped popular versions.

      This kind of god may have made sense in a small snow-globe universe that only contained our planet or at most the solar system with everything else just being fancy decorations on its outer shell.
      But in light of our current knowledge such a deity is simply preposterous and my reaction to the maunderings of these apologists is a simple but emphatic “Seriously?!”

  35. saguhh00
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I think this video sets the claims of these theologians right:

  36. Posted June 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Polkinghorne, Beale, and Jesus – PB&J. :-)

    User Logicophilosophicus, IMHO, is a religulous troll and should be treated as such. All he does is layer value judgements – mostly derived from Victorian and christian value systems – on top of science. To build on the Dracula allusion, all he’d have to do is point to the castle – “How do I get to *that* castle?” – that’s what everyone’s asking him to do. But he doesn’t. Probably cuz there’s no castle there at all.

    Beale quotes Polkie: “Every so often in the history of the universe something intrinsically new emerges from within the deep potentiality with which creation has been endowed….”

    Has been endowed? Anthropomorphize much? Who did all this endowing? Polkie’s fairy tale god, perhaps?

    Everything they write is soaked in the cowardly language of those who believe in god yet lack the stones to actually say it.


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  1. [...] at Why Evolution is True — here, here, and here – Jerry Coyne has been giving us a few examples of things that are, to most [...]

  2. [...] at his website (which most of us call a blog), Jerry Coyne has been discussing sophisticated theology and illustrating this with reference to a book (“Questions of Truth”) by Polkinghorne [...]

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