Larry Moran reviews Shapiro’s anti-Darwinian book; and another new anti-evolution book is about to appear

I’ve been criticizing James Shapiro’s HuffPo columns on neo-Darwinism (he sees it as all wrong) for a while now, but only recently noticed that for some time Larry Moran has been making more thorough criticisms of Shapiro’s columns and his recent new book at Moran’s website Sandwalk. You can find Larry’s comments collected here.

As you may know, Shapiro’s beef against the modern theory of evolution is that it neglects sources of variation that have been discovered only in recent years, e.g., hybridization, genome rearrangement, and capture of genes from distantly related organisms. He sees these, in a way that he’s never specified, as the drivers of evolution, neglecting or denigrating well-understood processes like natural selection and genetic drift.

In fact, Shapiro’s criticisms of natural selection as an important component of evolution resemble those of creationists or advocates of intelligent design, which explains why he’s been taken up as a “pet biologist” by The Discovery Institute.  Although he’s never produced an alternative to natural selection for producing adaptations like, say, the eye, Shapiro seems to have an almost teleological view of how evolution operates, as if—and Larry points this out—organisms have immanent within themselves the ability to guide their own evolution.

Now Larry and I don’t agree on everything.  Whenever I mention natural selection, for instance, he usually raises genetic drift as a plausible alternative, even for complex features like the genitals on a fish’s head. My own response would be that such complex features couldn’t evolve by genetic drift or as spandrels or maladaptive traits, but Larry does keep me honest by holding the specter of genetic drift before my eyes.  He’s also done hugely valuable work in attacking creationism, and, hey, I have to like anybody who drives me to the best poutine in eastern Canada.

Larry has put himself further on the good side of the ledger by writing a critical review of James Shaprios’s book, Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, for Reports of the National Center for Science Education (download free at link). If you want to see why Shapiro’s criticisms of the modern theory of evolution don’t hold water, go read it.  I’ll quote just one small bit:

The novel part of Shapiro’s model is that these cell-directed genomic changes are targeted and goal-oriented, leading to the view that cells design their own future. This view replaces the “traditional” view that “inherited novelty [mutation] was the result of chance or accident.” If this sounds a lot like “facilitated variation” or evolvability, then, congratulations, you’ve been keeping up on your knowledge of modern discussions of evolutionary theory. Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart have described a similar concept in their 2005 book The Plausibility of Life, but others have also talked about it over the past few decades. Are there any references to those ideas in the 1162 articles cited in this book? No.

This brings me to the second thing that distinguishes Shapiro from most other critics of the Modern Synthesis. He does not want to be identified as an advocate of “intelligent design” creationism and yet he protests a bit too much. His writings sound an awful lot like those of some “intelligent design” creationists, but Shapiro prefers a “third way,” as he first described in a Boston Review article (1997). His way isn’t creationism but it’s not exactly science either because he postulates a kind of evolution that has a goal, or purpose. He claims that one can investigate natural genetic engineering from a purely scientific perspective without invoking the supernatural. But if that’s true, then why don’t scientists routinely invoke goal-oriented processes? It’s because they have a philosophical bias against religion, according to Shapiro.

. . . Shapiro, like [Richard] Sternberg, is widely admired in the “intelligent design” community and there’s a good reason for this. This book is highly critical of old-fashioned evolutionary theory (neo-Darwinism) using many of the same silly arguments promoted by the Fellows of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Those fellows are dead wrong and so is Shapiro.

Virtually all of the non-creationist opposition to the modern theory of evolution, and all of the minimal approbation of Shapiro’s views, come from molecular biologists. I’m not sure whether there’s something about that discipline (the complexity of molecular mechanisms?) that makes people doubt the efficacy of natural selection, or whether it’s simply that many molecular biologists don’t get a good grounding in evolutionary biology.

And now we learn that another respected philosopher (Jerry Fodor was the first) has come out against neo-Darwinism, too: the distinguished philosopher Thomas Nagel is about to issue Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False. The Amazon blurb is, well, disturbing:

The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.

Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such.

Nagel’s skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic.

In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility.

First Fodor, then Nagel: what is going on with philosophers and evolution? But remember that Nagel chose Stephen Meyer’s pro-ID book Signature in the Cell as his “book of the year” in The Times Literary Supplement,and has defended ID.  

I’ve ordered Nagel’s book and will review it either here or somewhere else.

147 Comments

  1. TJR
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Admittedly its only a blurb, but the jump from “materialism is incomplete” straight to “materialism is wrong” without any sort of intermediate step is very strange.

  2. Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    First Fodor, then Nagel: what is going on with philosophers and evolution?

    That’s easy, it’s hubris and projection: “The most notable thing about me is my mind; I’m important; therefore I’ll project “mind” onto the universe”.

    Any naturalistic and materialist account of our origins damages their sense of worth and ego.

  3. Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Edward Feser too. Great review here. Apparently he proves from first principles that gay sex is inherently bad.

    • Batreader
      Posted September 6, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      it is in terms of reproduction :-)

  4. saguhh00
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    “The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value.”
    Consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value are all subjective.
    And what exactly does he mean by “materially irreducible conscious minds”?

    If he thinks the mind is not irreducible, I think he should try to raise a child from childbirth to adulthood to see how the human mind develops from simple to complex.

    • saguhh00
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      I meant *reducible

    • Bebop
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      “Consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value are all subjective.”

      The problem with subjectivity is that without it, we wouldn’t be able to think and do science. Objectivity and subjectivity are like male and female, good an devil, or hot and cold. One can’t exist without the other.

      I don’t get why subjectivity always seems suspicious and inferior…

      • saguhh00
        Posted August 30, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        “I don’t get why subjectivity always seems suspicious and inferior…”

        It’s neither suspicious or inferior, it is simply not the subject of science, because science only deals with facts and evidence, which are objective. The criticisms that “The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value.” is moot because science doesn’t deal with that.
        This is like saying that quantum physics doesn’t explain taste in music.

        • Tulse
          Posted August 30, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

          You’re making Nagel’s point — if subjectivity is a real part of the world, and science can’t explain it, then materialism is an incomplete account of the universe.

          • Bebop
            Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

            Voilà!

            • Tulse
              Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:19 am | Permalink

              Don’t be so triumphant, Bebop — that only gets you to “materialism can’t fully explain subjectivity”, and is nowhere near “therefore Jeebus”.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 2:15 am | Permalink

                both the concepts of consciousness, and subjectivity, are simply constructs used to model reality internally; to game the potentials.

                I thought we already had this discussion?

                so, IOW, yes, materialism actually even explains subjectivity.

              • Bebop
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

                I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious a person… That consciousness might be uncreated would only mean it is a natural state.

        • Posted August 31, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

          Or rather, since the subjective is hard to access, like many things, it has to be approached via indicators. There’s even a chapter in Bunge’s (there’s a philosopher who would never become a creationist) _Finding Philosophy in Social Science_ called “The Objective Study of Subjectivity”.

  5. gluonspring
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I suspect in Fodor’s case it’s just the conclusion of his long war against relativism, that somehow he feels that the Darwinian account bolsters relativism. Let me indulge in an extended and very catchy quote of Fodor’s from The Modularity of Mind:

    “But look”, you might ask, “why do you care about modules so much? You’ve got tenure; why don’t you take off and go sailing?” This is a perfectly reasonable question and one that I often ask myself. The idea that cognition saturates perception belongs with (and is, indeed historically connected with) the idea in the philosophy of science that one’s observations are comprehensively determined by one’s theories; with the idea in anthropology that one’s values are comprehensively determined by one’s culture; with the idea in sociology that one’s epistemic commitments, including especially one’s science, are comprehensively determined by one’s class affiliations; and with the idea in linguistics that one’s metaphysics is comprehensively determined by one’s syntax. All these ideas imply a sort of relativistic holism: because perception is saturated by cognition, observation by theory, values by culture, science by class, and metaphysics by language, rational criticism of scientific theories, ethical values, metaphysical world-views, or whatever can take place only within the framework of assumptions that – as a matter of geographical, historical, or sociological accident – the interlocutors happen to share. What you can’t do is rationally criticize the framework. The thing is: I *hate* relativism. I hate relativism more than I hate anything else, excepting, maybe, fiberglass powerboats. More to the point, I think that relativism is very probably false. What it overlooks, to put it briefly and crudely, is the fixed structure of human nature.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 31, 2012 at 2:16 am | Permalink

      because perception is saturated by cognition, observation by theory

      methinks the man projects too much.

  6. Bebop
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    “Although he’s never produced an alternative to natural selection for producing adaptations like, say, the eye, Shapiro seems to have an almost teleological view of how evolution operates, as if—and Larry points this out—organisms have immanent within themselves the ability to guide their own evolution”.

    First, this can be a coherent alternative if you consider that consciousness is uncreated. I don’t want you to believe this but just to consider for 5 minutes how Shapiro’s and neo-Darwinin’s views can meet with no problem if consciousness is uncreated. You have both natural selection and purpose that can work hand in hand, with respect to what science tells about how evolution works.
    Because seeing is something very useful when it comes to self-awareness (something consciousness is looking for), it would be normal that through natural selection, the eye is something nature wants to achieve.

    Second, when M. Moran says that Shapiro’s
    “way isn’t creationism but it’s not exactly science either because he postulates a kind of evolution that has a goal, or purpose”, is he forgetting that he postulates evolution has no goal..?

    Third, for your information, you have in Drummondville (40 minutes of Montreal), where the poutine was invented, Le festival de la Poutine every august.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      You arrange events non-casually to achieve your “teleology”, since eyes evolved before consciousness.

      I don’t understand you point on Moran, it is an observation that evolution has no overall goal, so what else would you have Moran say?

      • Bebop
        Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

        If consciousness has an uncreated nature, it was there before the eye since the eye was created.

        You take for granted that evolution has no goal so that you can’t consider the hypothesis of an uncreated consciousness. Like I said, I don’t expect you to believe this but you could at least try to imagine the coherent and logical scenario that could come with that possible explanation.

        Let me rephrase this.

        Consciousness is uncreated. It means it never began and can never end.

        And when it comes to interact with matter, it has no choice to organize it in a way consciousness can become more and more self-aware and complex. It has no choice to do so because self-awareness is an innate attribute of consciousness. Just like water has the property to be wet.

        From that point, natural-selection-with-a-purpose makes sense. Not only that, but sense has a meaning. And so does subjectivity, qualia. And objectivity.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted August 31, 2012 at 2:17 am | Permalink

          “If consciousness has an uncreated nature, it was there before the eye since the eye was created.”

          lolwut?

          • Bebop
            Posted August 31, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

            Uncreated mean it is beyond time. Isn’t energy considered to be uncreated and therefore prior to matter. The eye was created, If consciousness isn’t, it would the eye gave consciousness the ability to see. Because it is in the nature of consciousness to be self-aware, it would be logical that consciousness, when acting on space/time/material plane, does its best to organize matter in a way it is able to see. All this through natural selection. It would just a little bit less random than than what the official story is telling.

            • Posted August 31, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

              As I asked you elsewhere on this page, if this “uncreated consciousness” provides a goal for evolution, whay aren’t all modern species (which are all equally evolved!) conscious?

              /@

              • Bebop
                Posted September 1, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

                I don’t understand well your question. Just like water will wet (or not) whatever it comes in contact with, consciousness tries its best “to conscious” whatever it can. I think that anything that lives is conscious, but the “quality” of self-awareness varies from a species to another. But it is not a contest, it is a consequence. If sharks aren’t as self-aware as humans are, it doesn’t mean they are not conscious. But because the way they evolved doesn’t require them to change that much since a few millions of years, the “quality” of their self-awareness stays where it is.

                Again, natural selection, or any natural law is still ruling. It is just that when interacting with the physical world, an uncreated consciousness will always do its best to increase its self-awareness, all this within the limitation of the organic machine that it has to deal with. But because an uncreated consciousness is by definition the most creative and freest thing that can exist, it can only push to build organic machines that will be more and more free and creative.

                I think we can say that this is what evolution is showing us.

              • Posted September 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                It seems to me that you want to have your uncreated cake and eat it too.

                /@

    • Posted August 31, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Oh, Bebop, you have come to WEIT under several names peddling this “uncreated consciousness” woo “hypothesis”.

      But where is your evidence? Where are your testible predictions? What form does this “uncreated consciousness” take? How does it interact with our brains? If it provides a goal for evolution, whay aren’t all modern species (which are all equally evolved!) conscious?

      Really, it explains nothing.

      /@

      • Posted August 31, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        *why

      • Bebop
        Posted August 31, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        Not several, only two.

        • Bebop
          Posted August 31, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

          And you are right, it explains actually nothing. Something materialism has still issues with.

          • Posted August 31, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

            Not explaining everything is far removed from explaining nothing.

            /@

  7. Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    At least it is finally revealed that pretty much every academic is deeply solipsistic and holds essentially childish views about the primacy of immediate personal experience aka “consciousness.”

    This appeal is like saying:

    “The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as the centrality of the earth in the universe, demons, ghosts, and action at a distance via thinking and praying. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as the central location of the earth, argues philosopher (fill in the blank), is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to astronomy, natural philosophy, and cosmology.”

    These appeals are all deeply conceited.

  8. Sastra
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I think there is nothing easier to think — and nothing easier to defend — than non-materialistic irreducibility. It’s like getting a free pass and sailing blithely past the toiling crowds.

    Where does mind come from? Mind. How did it get that way? By being Mind. How does itwork? Mind power. And what is that? It’s how the mind works.

    You can run along this line of non-explanatory explanation at such breathtaking speed, for there’s no labor involved in a system where nothing comes apart, nothing has a history, and nothing arises from something or some things that aren’t already it. We get mind from a mind force, we get consciousness from consciousness-osity, we get reason from reason essence, we get morals from moral impulse, we get love from a great big hunk o’ Love which starts it all off. Or maybe it’s Creativity. Whatever.

    It’s like it all comes down to Like Comes From Like — and what could be more intuitive, more simple, or easier than that? No components, no complexity, no substance, no mechanism, no process, and no need to ever be embarrased by their absence. Hey — it’s irreducible! And it’s NON-material! Looks like MY work here is done.

    Must suck to be you. You’re still in search of an explanation FOR all the stuff I have so confidently, thoroughly, and satisfactorily dealt with.

    Suckers.

    Yeah. Easy.

    • eric
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Love your first two paragraphs. And that comes right from my irreducible, non-material Love generating organ.

    • Christian
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      This bafflegab is really popular among sophisticated believers.
      I see this almost verbatim from two sophisticated believers on a board I mostly lurk on for my daily dose of facepalm and headdesk.

      One of them is Joe Hinman aka Metacrock (most of you probably bumped into him before) and a younger fellow who goes by the nick “Occam” (not to be confused with our Occam). The latter even has a blog here on WordPress: Occam’s Blog.

      He actually seems to be quite a bright guy but since his religious experience and subsequent conversion to Christianity I noticed with a certain bewilderment that he swallowed plantingan (properly basic, heh heh!) and esp. swinburneian Sophisticated Theology hook, line and sinker.

      He regularly brings up the claim that minds are simple and God’s mind is even more simple (even though he is omniscient or just because of that) – Kolmogorov and Chaitin be damned and since the mind is an immaterial entity this means you can Calvin-ball your way to whatever conclusion you need.
      As far as I can tell he got this from Swinburne’s The Existence of God.

    • gluonspring
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Beautiful.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      Where does mind come from? Mind. How did it get that way? By being Mind. How does itwork? Mind power. And what is that? It’s how the mind works.

      I agree that this is very unsatisfying, but it’s not as if materialists have a much better explanation. The best we can do is to note correlations between mind (or, at least, the appearance of mind) and certain configurations of matter. We can’t explain where mind “comes from” or how it “works,” either.

      • Tulse
        Posted August 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

        Yep, non-materialism is unsatisfying, but materialist accounts of the subjective always misunderstand the question.

        • Bebop
          Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

          So between the 2 versions, why would you prefer the materialist one?

          • Tulse
            Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:23 am | Permalink

            Who says I do with regards to subjectivity? But saying that is vastly different than saying that there are immaterial disembodied teleological forces that act on physical matter. Materialism pretty much completely describes the objective universe, and that universe is one that has empirically demonstrated that it can be explained without resort to gods. Subjectivity is an odd and “hard” problem, but that problem doesn’t get you to Jesus.

            • Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:29 am | Permalink

              People also forget that quite a lot of what is now well-understood science used to be “hard” problems. The age of the sun. The cell theory. Germ theory. Biochemistry. Chemistry. Physics. These were mysteries. They aren’t now. This is why “God of the gaps” arguments from ignorance are a priori terrible and don’t get taken seriously.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

                The age of the sun. The cell theory. Germ theory. Biochemistry. Chemistry. Physics. These were mysteries.

                But those mysteries were all solvable through observation and experiment. As far as we can tell, mind is not observable. We can’t detect or measure it with scientific instruments. That’s what seems to make it fundamentally different.

              • Posted August 31, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

                My point is that they didn’t realise they were until they did. Lord Kelvin was proclaiming life an eternal mystery, unsolvable, running on an inexplicableelan vital, right until someone else finally worked out what to look at.

                That we do not yet understand mind does not mean it is fundamentally inexplicable.

                The trouble with mysterious answers to mysterious questions is that they make the listener feel like the question has been answered when it actually hasn’t – because an actual answer has predictive power. Nagel’s hypothesis is a Mysterious Answer that feels good but explains nothing – you can’t make predictions based on it.

                When you don’t have an answer with predictive power as yet, saying “we don’t know yet” is actually okay.

            • Gary W
              Posted August 31, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

              That we do not yet understand mind does not mean it is fundamentally inexplicable.

              What conceivable observation or experiment do you propose that would allow us to “explain” mind in the sense that we can explain physical phenomena?

              We can all observe that, say, the sun is round and shiny through our common sense of sight. But we can’t “observe” your subjective experience. Only you can do that.

              • Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

                At present.

                /@

              • Gary W
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

                And forever. How could you “observe” someone else’s subjective experience? How would this be possible?

              • Posted August 31, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

                How do you know it’s not?

                /@

              • Gary W
                Posted September 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

                I’m asking you to describe how you think this would be *possible*. Do you have an answer?

              • Posted September 2, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

                Sorry: I thought that was just a rhetorical question.

                Self evidently, we don’t know how it would be possible. But I don’t think it’s something that we can rule out a priori.

                /@

            • Bebop
              Posted August 31, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

              @ Tulse. You really don’t need to talk to me about Jesus…

      • Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:19 am | Permalink

        Your problem there is that “we don’t know yet” is actually a valid answer. The entire pseudo-issue is the claim that it is not a valid answer, therefore anyone claiming to have an answer – whether the answer works or not – must automatically be doing better.

        • Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

          Bertrand Russell: “If it’s true then you should believe it and if it’s false than you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it’s true or false then you should suspend judgment.”

          /@

          • darrelle
            Posted August 31, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

            It really is very simple, isn’t it? Apparently, putting that into practice is very difficult for human beings though.

        • Gary W
          Posted August 31, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          Yes, “we don’t know” is the right answer. To the extent that either materialists or non-materialists claim to understand or to have explained the nature of mind (“It’s irreducible!”, “It’s an emergent property of matter!”, “It’s a dessert topping!”), their claims are unjustified.

          • Leigh Jackson
            Posted September 6, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

            Materialism has an excellent track record of explaining mysteries. Can you supply an example of a mystery which has been explained by non-materialism?

            • sunyavadi
              Posted September 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

              Materialism is excellent for finding things out and getting things done, no question. We need materialism to do that, to create technological solutions, medicines, and the like. But just remember: some things are priceless – for everything else, there’s Materialism:-)

              • Leigh Jackson
                Posted September 7, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

                I don’t think of myself as a “materialist”. But most people who think that there are mysteries which science cannot answer tend to say its because there is more to reality than the material world, and science only deals with the material world. The implication is that there are other ways of explaining mysteries than science.

                I was drawn into using the term as I was interested in knowing if you could give an example of a non-materialist explanation of a mystery. I wondered what a non-materialist explanation would look like. And what sort of mystery would be explained. You might have talked about the mystery of “love”; or the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. I would have liked to hear you explain those mysteries to our mutual and unqualifed satisfaction, without the aid of science. Science does have something to say on those things, I think. But in any case I don’t think that those mysteries can be explained by other means.

                It appears that you cannot give an example. This doesn’t surprise me because non-scientific explanations of mysteries have no way of being shown to be wrong! Any non-scientific explanation of any mystery is as good as any other. One can believe anything one wishes to believe if one is determined enough. In science one cannot do that. That is its great beauty and power.

                Any mystery which you might have given, and any non-scientific explanation of it, I have no doubt, would have raised questions which you would have had no way of satisfactorily answering. Certainly no more satisfactorily than science. Those who are forever pointing to the fallibility of science are forever and far away more fallible in their epistemological methodologies.

                Not that scientific explanations are exhaustive and fixed in stone for all eternity. The cutting edge of any scientific discipline is always at the rock face of the unknown. Chipping away question by question; perhaps for ever.

                The rest is wishful thinking or at best is hopelessly personal and incapable of being shared.

          • Leigh Jackson
            Posted September 7, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            Gary, you are putting a non-scientific account of mind on an equal footing with the scientific account. That is a brave or a foolish thing to do.

            Neurobiology believes the brain to actually be the mind on the basis of lots of very hard and very solid evidence.

            It would be helpful to let go of the “materialist” tag. It’s just a distraction. Concentrate on the observable evidence and forget the tag.

            Strip away the brain neurone by neurone and you gradually strip away all the brain’s functionality. In the process you strip away mind. Conscious awareness comes and goes according to the functioning of the brain. The content of mind is determined by processes beyond conscious awareness. Conscious awareness arises from non-conscious brain processes and is itself brain activity. How all this works is still a deep mystery, but that is the nature of the mystery. We don’t need to pile metaphysical mystery on top of the physical. Not yet. We have a hell of a long way to go getting to grips with the neurophysics. Metaphysics comes cheap and easy. Science not.

            Suppose mind is not the brain. How would we even begin to unravel its working? And why does it look so like it is just the brain? If the mind is the brain – as it appears to be – we can hope that we may be able to explain it one day. Otherwise, there would seem to be little hope of ever understanding this essential and most profound aspect of ourselves.

            • Posted September 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

              Holy snod, at last! Another brain geek voice. Not many on WEIT. We need you over at the free will Nahamis post – stat!

              ” It would be helpful to let go of the “materialist” tag. It’s just a distraction. Concentrate on the observable evidence and forget the tag.” Amen. Tagging and name calling is just a cheap rhetorical trick.

              What a eloquent, and fact-based, comment. Careful the philosophical types are after us brain folks. They LOVE word play using name calling and HATE talking about data and facts.

    • Pete D
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      Love your comments Sastra!

    • Bebop
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

      So why are you still denying what seems so obvious?

      • Ichthyic
        Posted August 31, 2012 at 2:22 am | Permalink

        it’s only “obvious” to you, because you have constructed an entire series of rationalizations in your head to prop up a rather erroneous series of definitions and concepts related to cognition, consciousness, and what we actually know about them.

        none are so sure as the ignorant.

      • Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        “Obviousness” is not a criterion validating (or falsifying) a hypothesis.

        /@

        • Gary W
          Posted August 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          “Obviousness” is not a criterion validating (or falsifying) a hypothesis.

          Sure it is. All propositions ultimately bottom out in axioms we take to be self-evidently (i.e., obviously) true.

          • Posted August 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

            Axioms NE hypotheses.

            /@

            • Gary W
              Posted September 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

              I have no idea how the phrase “Axioms NE hypotheses” is supposed to relate to what I said.

              • Posted September 2, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

                Sorry: Isn’t it obvious? :-P

                /@

  9. meeh
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    So Nagel’s main premise is that materialism/science doesn’t have all the answers yet so we best abandon it as an unsuccessful project?

    I take it he has never heard of Auguste Comte and doesn’t understand that it is an ungoing project and that we are making in roads into the areas he is complaining about. We may never know everything but that doesn’t mean the underlying premises behind trying to find out are wrong.

    Also how does he know minds are materially irreducible?

    • Darth Dog
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      “So Nagel’s main premise is that materialism/science doesn’t have all the answers yet…”

      Yeah, if somebody yelled out “Times up. Pencils down.” I certainly missed it.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted August 30, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        Either that or he’s saying that since we failed to solve the hardest problems first, we must be doing it wrong.

      • gluonspring
        Posted August 30, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        April 12, 1972. Sorry you missed it.

    • Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Your last comment: This.

      /@

  10. Michael Fisher
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I think every academic with half a book in them is well aware by now of the Templeton magic money machine. It has never been more profitable to jump on the woo bandwagon & take a stab at the green stuff.

    • ManOutOfTime
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      I think you won the Internet with that observation. Even if a given author is not chasing Templeton lucre directly, that prize is definitely seeding the accommodationist and faitheist trade.

  11. raven
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    First Fodor, then Nagel: what is going on with philosophers and evolution?

    It’s real simple.

    Most (but not all!!!) of philosophy is irrelevant or just stupid and gibberish.

    It’s just adolescent attention seeking behavior. They know they can some cheap and easy attention by attacking evolution. The fundie xians will cheer wildly as predictably as Pavlov’s dogs if nothing else.

    You left out U. of Colorado “philosopher” Bradley Monton. All he did was splice together every Intelligent Design argument from the pre-xian era to the present. Nothing new there.

    The many, many bad philosophers give a bad name to the few good ones. It’s almost a miracle that there are any good ones, alive anyway.

    • raven
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Michael Fisher:

      I think every academic with half a book in them is well aware by now of the Templeton magic money machine.

      That too.

      We all have to eat. It’s just that some of us prefer to combine worthwhile work with the need to pay for food and shelter.

      Must be hard times for philosophers if they have to pander to the most anti-intellectual and least educated sectors of our society.

  12. Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    “Mind” is just a local, ideological word and idea. It is highly culturally determined and thus no more significant than food preferences.

    However, in the US and Western countries, the dominant ideology is the myth of the individual and individual agency. Just a local myth, factually unsupported and manipulative.

  13. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Sophisticated Theology: Never mind the complicated stuff, the important thing is the experience of my religious belief.

    Sophisticated Philosophy: Never mind the complicated stuff, the important thing is the experience of my consciousness.

    • Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Right, radical solipsism. Also, “sophisticated” means — supporting what I get paid for and the ideology of the affinity group that helps be get paid.

      That’s all normal self-interest and fine but it’s fundamentally dishonest to claim it has some non-conflicted and impersonal value, meaning or usefulness.

  14. Occam
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    First Fodor, then Nagel: what is going on with philosophers and evolution?

    One of the wonders of the modern age: how anyone who has read anything published by Thomas Nagel over at least the past four decades should assume that his trajectory could lead him to any other stance.

    From “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” (1974) to “Public Education and Intelligent Design” (2008), Nagel’s thought path is clear. And I would argue that it is at least in some key aspects fundamentally at odds with scientific understanding.

    But let’s try an unabashedly materialistic, reductionist analysis: Nagel, Fodor & Cie are defending their franchise. As long as it is believed that mind and consciousness are structures irreducible to physical laws, their turf is safe.

    • Christian
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      From “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” (1974)[...]

      Let’s hope his next book isn’t “What is it Like to be Batshit Crazy”

    • Darth Dog
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      “First Fodor, then Nagel: what is going on with philosophers and evolution?”

      Nagel has certainly always been antireductionist. I suspect the antievolution aspect has to do with pure marketing, especially being so prominent in the title. Kind of like Leon Lederman’s “The God Particle”. If Nagel wrote a boring philosophic tome with a title that was something about the logical inconsistency of reductionism no one would care. Bash evolution in the title and he’ll get mentioned on Fox News. He’ll probably have Republican state legislators who can’t even spell philosophy referring to his book. No consensus! Teach the controversy!

  15. eric
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such.

    They are an emergent property. Minds arise from brains the same way wetness arises from H2O. Collections of things can have properties that do not exist in the individual things themselves, because the interactions between the things create new properties.

    There, that was easy. Actually, I probably could’ve stopped after the first sentence, the rest is just a more wordy explanation of what that sentence means.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      The more words the better if you are talking to a philosopher. I swear, many of them absolutely delight in figuring out the most torturous, bloated verbiage possible to explain even simple things.

      I understand how the practice of philosophy requires taking special care that all the terms you use are understood, but being “captured by the system” seems to be a common affliction.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      They are an emergent property. Minds arise from brains the same way wetness arises from H2O. Collections of things can have properties that do not exist in the individual things themselves, because the interactions between the things create new properties.

      I don’t think this analogy really helps. What exactly do you mean by “wetness?” If it’s not a *physical* property of water, what kind of property is it? Are minds a physical property of brains?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted August 30, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know about wet_ness_, but wet_ting is a testable emergent property of liquids.

        Minds would be a biological property, more precisely a neuroscience property, surely?

        • Gary W
          Posted August 30, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          But mind isn’t a testable property, at least not in the sense of a physical property like “wetting.” We can’t observe or measure it with scientific instruments. That’s what makes it fundamentally different. I don’t think we know that it is a “property” at all. If it is a property, we don’t know whether it is a property of only biological matter, or whether other types of matter can also have this property. I think the nature of mind is deeply mysterious.

          • Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

            “We can’t observe or measure it with scientific instruments.”

            Yet.

            /@

        • Tulse
          Posted August 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          The other emergent properties we talk about are objectively observable. The whole point is that subjectivity isn’t an objective, observable property.

          • Bebop
            Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

            This is exactly why science may not be able to define it. Unless you believe that science is the only authority that can decide what is real. Which would mean you would belief that what is real is what can be measured…
            The irony about this is that you can’t have the idea of measuring something without subjectivity. subjectivity and objectivity really come in pair. You can’t have one without the other. Even not one before the other.

            • Ichthyic
              Posted August 31, 2012 at 2:27 am | Permalink

              “This is exactly why science may not be able to define it. Unless you believe that science is the only authority that can decide what is real. ”

              science is not an authority, it is a method.

              the ONLY method we have that has shown any measure of success in verifiably answering questions in the entire existence of human beings.

              you don’t understand what you’re talking about.

              • Bebop
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

                I love science. And like you are pointing, science is a method, a method that has boundaries. So if the scientific method can’t explain what can’t be measured, does this mean that what can’t be measured isn’t real or true? Of course not despite the claim scientism makes.

  16. gillt
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Virtually all of the non-creationist opposition to the modern theory of evolution, and all of the minimal approbation of Shapiro’s views, come from molecular biologists. I’m not sure whether there’s something about that discipline (the complexity of molecular mechanisms?) that makes people doubt the efficacy of natural selection, or whether it’s simply that many molecular biologists don’t get a good grounding in evolutionary biology.

    The geneticists and molecular biologists I talk to are biased toward trait adaptations because it gives whatever gene or process they’re interested in greater-seeming (publishing) significance.

    I think partly the opposition (and it is a minor one) to evolutionary biology coming from molecular biologists is similar to biologists opposition to evolutionary psychologists. Disagreements about accepted standards of scientific robustness.

    • Posted August 30, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      It depends on what you mean by “modern theory of evolution.” If it includes Neutral Theory and random genetic drift then molecular biologists, and molecular evolution, have made significant contributions.

      I’ve been to a number of evolution conferences over the years and my observations suggest that the majority of biological scientists don’t understand modern evolutionary theory. However, my observations also suggest that biochemists and molecular biologists are more likely to have learned the lessons of population genetics that the average field biologist who studies evolution.

      The average molecular biologist looks at homologous genes and proteins and realizes that positive natural selection plays almost no role in the fixation of variants.

      Jerry, is that what you meant by doubting “the efficacy of natural selection.”

      On the other hand, it’s true that there are many biochemists, molecular biologists, and developmental biologists, who are convinced that they have discovered new facts that will overthrow modern evolutionary theory. The one thing they all have in common is that their version of evolutionary theory is the Darwinism of fifty years ago.

      This is certainly true of Shapiro. His understanding of the evolutionary theory he attacks is about as good as his understanding of the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, which he also attacks.

      And let’s not forget that Massimo Pigliucci organized the Altenberg 16. He edited a large book of articles attacking modern evolutionary theory. His own contribution is “Phenotypic Plasticity.”

      Shapiro wasn’t invited.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted August 31, 2012 at 2:37 am | Permalink

        The average molecular biologist looks at homologous genes and proteins and realizes that positive natural selection plays almost no role in the fixation of variants.

        because some molecular biologists miss the forest for the trees, literally.

        they are looking at the direct end products instead of what happens to those products in actual populations. I see this all the time: MCB folks see a fixed trait and conclude selection is not happening. This does not answer the question, sorry.

        I would stress what I said earlier though: only SOME MCB folks are guilty of this, though it’s common enough to be hair-pulling. In fact, if you are aware of work people are doing with microsatellite markers, you’d find lots of papers where they have used these markers to indicate a past history of selection involved in any given trait. Was just at a lecture recently where they were doing that very thing with Oncorhynchus here in NZ, using microsatellite DNA markers to show that selection had already been operating on various traits since their importation so long ago to NZ.

        you’re wrong about this one Larry.

        btw, don’t know what it’s like in Canada, but every undergrad program I have been associated with in the States in the last 30 years most certainly includes at least a full year of molecular AND population genetics for biology majors.

        • Posted September 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          That’s an interesting example.

          In order to detect selection, geneticists look at a forest of mutations like SNPs and microsatellite repeats that serve as a background for identifying unusual “trees.”

          The SNPs and other markers are nearly neutral alleles that are segregating in the population by random genetic drift. They vastly outnumber the alleles that are being selected. That’s why the experiment works.

          because some molecular biologists miss the forest for the trees, literally

          Ichthyic, do you stand by your criticism of what I said?

          you’re wrong about this one Larry.

          One of us is wrong.

  17. Myron
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t yet read the whole book, but Nagel’s intention seems to be to reintroduce (atheistic) teleological explanations into natural philosophy and science.

    “Some form of natural teleology…would be an alternative to a miracle—either in the sense of a wildly improbable fluke or in the sense of a divine intervention in the natural order. The tendency for life to form may be a basic feature of the natural order, not explained by the nonteleological laws of physics and chemistry. This seems like an admissible conjecture given the available evidence. And once there are beings who can respond to value, the rather different teleology of intentional action becomes part of the historical picture, resulting in the creation of new value. The universe has become not only conscious and aware of itself but capable in some respects of choosing its path into the future—though all three, the consciousness, the knowledge, and the choice, are dispersed over a vast crowd of beings, acting both individually and collectively.
    These teleological speculations are offered merely as possibilities, without positive conviction.”

    (Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. p. 124)

    • darrelle
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      “And once there are beings who can respond to value, . . .”

      Urble grble?

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      The tendency for life to form may be a basic feature of the natural order, not explained by the nonteleological laws of physics and chemistry.

      By what non-miraculous mechanism would this hypothetical “tendency for life to form” achieve the necessary organization of matter, if not through the laws of physics and chemistry?

      • Gary W
        Posted August 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

        His phrasing is ambiguous, but he said only that it’s not explained by the “nonteleological laws” of physics and chemistry. So perhaps he believes that there are undiscovered “teleological laws” of physics or chemistry. Or perhaps he would say that these “teleological laws” should properly be considered part of a more basic science than physics, just as physics is more basic than chemistry, biology, etc.

        I’m not saying that this explanation is justified, just trying to put a more charitable interpretation on his hypothesis than jumping to the conclusion that he’s proposing miracles.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted August 30, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think he’s proposing miracles (that’s why I included the “non-miraculous” qualifier). I just think he’s painting himself into a corner by insisting that life must be in some sense more basic than physics.

          Either life emerges from the laws of physics and is therefore not basic; or it arises from some other basic natural force that, once elucidated, will become part of physics; or else it’s miraculous. There aren’t any other possibilities.

          • Gary W
            Posted August 30, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

            Either life emerges from the laws of physics and is therefore not basic; or it arises from some other basic natural force that, once elucidated, will become part of physics; or else it’s miraculous. There aren’t any other possibilities.

            He says that life may arise from some basic natural force that is not part of the “nonteleological” laws of physics. So he may consider this force to be an as-yet-undiscovered “teleological” law of physics. Such a law would not be a miracle, and it would not be outside of physics.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

              Some force has to physically push particles into appropriate configurations for forming primitive biomolecules. If the “non teleological” forces of ordinary physics aren’t up to that task, how is it possible for a “teleological” force to do a better job of it? What does it even mean for particle motions to be “teleological but not mechanistic”?

              • Gary W
                Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

                If the “non teleological” forces of ordinary physics aren’t up to that task, how is it possible for a “teleological” force to do a better job of it?

                By influencing “random” quantum events, or “random” genetic mutations, for example, in such a way as to make life more likely to arise.

              • Bebop
                Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

                That natural law could be that consciousness is uncreated. It never began and can’t end. it is a property of the universe. If that would be the case, a “teleological but not mechanistic” process can emerge.

                Of course, from the “perspective” of the process, the paradox doesn’t exist since it has no choice to be a random-with-a-purpose project.

                The process is not certainly not limited by what the limits of what language is able to express…

              • Bebop
                Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

                Sorry for the bad english…

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

                Gary: That strikes me as a teleology-of-the-gaps argument. Since we don’t really understand quantum mechanics, let’s shove the teleology in there.

                Thing is, we actually do understand quantum mechanics pretty well, and what our understanding tells us is that there’s nothing in the gap; it really is genuinely random, and not just apparently “random”. If the statistics deviated from pure randomness, we’d be able to tell.

                So that dodge won’t work, because it requires our knowledge of one of the most well-tested physical theories in history to be not just incomplete, but wrong.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

                Thing is, we actually do understand quantum mechanics pretty well, and what our understanding tells us is that there’s nothing in the gap; it really is genuinely random, and not just apparently “random”. If the statistics deviated from pure randomness, we’d be able to tell.

                I’m not sure what you mean by “pure randomness.” If you really think that observation or experiment has ruled out the possibility that there is a force influencing quantum events, or some other natural process, in such a way as to make life more likely, please cite this work. I would very much like to see it.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

                So that dodge won’t work, because it requires our knowledge of one of the most well-tested physical theories in history to be not just incomplete, but wrong.

                I don’t think you understand the issue here. It’s not a matter of how well-tested quantum mechanics is. It’s a matter of why it works the way it does and how the way it works affects the chance of life arising. Suppose the probability that particle A will decay into particle B within time T is 38%. This result has been confirmed across millions of trials. Why is the probability 38%? Why not 36%, or 99%, or 0.0001%? We don’t know. But perhaps this probability is determined by some “teleological” force of which we are unaware.

              • Tulse
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 12:28 am | Permalink

                Suppose the probability that particle A will decay into particle B within time T is 38%. [...] perhaps this probability is determined by some “teleological” force of which we are unaware.

                That must be one extremely bored teleological force, having to determine the decay of every single particle in the universe.

                And you do realize that you’re not now talking about the standard dodge of “god tinkers with the quantum” here, where miracles are occasionally hidden in otherwise natural processes — you seem to be suggesting that particle decay is literally actively determined by some goal-directed power.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

                Gary, if you’re asking why Schrodinger’s equation gives that particular answer in that instance, do the math. It’s not like the answer could have been any arbitrary number.

                If you’re asking why Schrodinger’s equation is the right tool for that job, it’s simply a brute fact of nature that (non-teleological) physical laws can be expressed mathematically. I don’t see how that implies teleology as a basic aspect of reality.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

                That must be one extremely bored teleological force, having to determine the decay of every single particle in the universe.

                Then I guess gravity and electromagnetism must be “bored” too. I’ll assume this is just a joke.

                And you do realize that you’re not now talking about the standard dodge of “god tinkers with the quantum” here, where miracles are occasionally hidden in otherwise natural processes — you seem to be suggesting that particle decay is literally actively determined by some goal-directed power.

                Yes, I’m not talking about a “dodge” involving God. I’m talking about Nagel’s proposed “teleological” natural law. One of the things that law may influence is quantum probabilities.

              • Posted August 31, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                Yes, it’s a variant of the quantum consciousness argument:

                1. I don’t understand consciousness.
                2. I don’t understand quantum.
                3. Therefore, consciousness is quantum.

                He’s taking two things he doesn’t understand, and assuming that combining them is a gap his wishful thinking might be safe in.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

                Gary, if you’re asking why Schrodinger’s equation gives that particular answer in that instance, do the math. It’s not like the answer could have been any arbitrary number.

                How would “doing the math” (what math?) tell us why particles have the decay rates that we observe? What determines these rates? We don’t know. One possible answer is Nagel’s proposed “teleological” law.

              • Posted August 31, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

                The trouble is that if you assume magic, then your theory explains anything but has no predictive power.

                Tom Campbell-Ricketts sets out the mathematical problem of this approach here: Bayes’ Theorem: All You Need to Know About Theology.

                This is why, when formulating a theory, you need (a) actual evidence for it (b) to show that it has predictive power (falsifiability). You can’t just make up any old hypothesis (“I’ll use teleology!”) without those things and expect not to be dismissed, because without them you haven’t actually said anything. Nagel hasn’t actually said anything.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

                The trouble is that if you assume magic,

                He’s not proposing “magic.” He’s proposing that there may be an as-yet-undiscovered natural law (or set of laws) that increase the probability of life arising.

              • Posted August 31, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

                Sorry, I was being unclear there. By “magic” I meant “supernatural”, i.e. a model that has mind as a fundamental entity.

                He’s still predicting nothing, on the basis of nothing. It’s true that others can’t prove his speculation false, but that’s because he’s provided nothing falsifiable.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

                The point is that what he’s proposing is a natural force or process, not “magic” or a “miracle.”

              • Posted August 31, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

                @ Gary : Absent any evidence it is indistinguishable from magic.

                /@

              • Gary W
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

                So what? Until we discovered gravity, the motion of the planets may have been “indistinguishable from magic.” Just because we haven’t yet discovered Nagel’s proposed force doesn’t mean it isn’t there waiting to be discovered.

              • Posted August 31, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

                True, but that was then and this is now. As Sean Carroll says, and Torbjörn frequently reminds us, the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are fully understood. Laplace would have had something to say about this “teleological force”.

                /@

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted September 1, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink

                How would “doing the math” (what math?) tell us why particles have the decay rates that we observe? What determines these rates? We don’t know.

                I think we do know, at least in principle. “The math” is Schrodinger’s equation, which completely specifies the evolution of a particle’s wave function, including its decay modes. Decay rates are not free parameters of the theory, with mysteriously arbitrary values; they’re mathematically determined outcomes of the evolving wave function.

                In practice such outcomes may be prohibitively difficult to calculate, and thus known only by measurement, rather than derived from first principles. But that doesn’t make them any less determined, or provide gaps for teleological forces to hide in. The wave function tells the whole story of a particle’s possible histories, whether or not we can calculate it.

              • Gary W
                Posted September 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                As Sean Carroll says, and Torbjörn frequently reminds us, the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are fully understood.

                The laws, if any, that cause quantum mechanics to work the way it does rather than in some different way (e.g., different particle decay rates) are not understood at all. The probability of life arising may varying dramatically between these different possibilities.

              • Gary W
                Posted September 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

                I think we do know, at least in principle. “The math” is Schrodinger’s equation, which completely specifies the evolution of a particle’s wave function, including its decay modes. Decay rates are not free parameters of the theory, with mysteriously arbitrary values; they’re mathematically determined outcomes of the evolving wave function.

                Huh? How do we know “in principle” why the decay rates of elementary particles (the various types of baryon, lepton, boson, etc.) are what we observe them to be? You cannot answer this question with an equation. That just transforms one set of values into another set of values. It doesn’t tell you why the values are what they are.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted September 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

                “You cannot answer this question with an equation.”

                Of course you can, just as you can use Newton’s (or Einstein’s) equation of gravitation to answer the question of why the Earth’s surface gravity has the value we observe it to have.

                Or do you dispute that too? If so, you seem to be arguing that physical theories don’t actually explain anything; they just push numbers around.

              • Gary W
                Posted September 1, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

                Of course you can, just as you can use Newton’s (or Einstein’s) equation of gravitation to answer the question of why the Earth’s surface gravity has the value we observe it to have.

                No you can’t. The value of Earth’s surface gravity depends on the value of the universal gravitational constant, G. If the value of G were different, the value of Earth’s surface gravity would be different. Newton’s equation doesn’t tell us why G has the value we observe it to have, and hence doesn’t tell us why Earth’s surface gravity has the value we observe it to have. Nothing tells us these things. Just as nothing tells us why elementary particles have the decay rates we observe. But perhaps an as-yet-undiscovered “teleological” law of nature would tell us these things.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted September 1, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

                So in other words you’re not arguing about decay rates after all, since they’re no more fundamental than the value of Earth’s surface gravity. What you’re arguing about is the fundamental constants of quantum physics from which decay rates can (in principle) be calculated (however intractable the calculations may be in practice), and asserting that it takes some undiscovered teleological force to give them the values they have.

                That sounds a lot like a fine-tuning argument, which has already been adequately refuted by others elsewhere in the thread.

              • Gary W
                Posted September 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

                No, my argument is this:

                1. The probability of life arising in the universe may depend on the way the universe works. (This includes both the decay rates of elementary particles and the value of the universal gravitational constant.)

                2. Our current understanding of the universe does not explain why it works in the way it does rather than in some different way that is less conducive to the appearance of life.

                3. An as-yet-undiscovered law or set of laws may provide that explanation.

                If you seriously think this argument has been “adequately refuted,” then please point me to this alleged refutation. As far as I can see, nothing you or anyone else has written refutes any of these three propositions.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted September 1, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, getting my threads confused. But since you’re already engaged with Torbjorn about fine tuning on the other thread, it seems fair to assume you’re familiar with his (and Stenger’s) refutation of it. So I see no need to repeat that argument in this thread (which is already too long).

        • Occam
          Posted August 30, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

          Charity is not warranted.

          In the passus perceptively highlighted by Gregory Kusnick (“The tendency for life to form may be a basic feature of the natural order,…”), Nagel draws on Aristotelian entelechy. OK, entelechy was understandable in Aristoteles. It was, maybe, forgivable in Hans Driesch.
          But pure and simple vitalism, in this day and age?

          I wish someone could ask François Jacob. He could recount, with his mordant wit, how biologists of his generation had to fend off the Barthez-Bichat-Bergson lineage of vitalism dominant in French academe, six or seven decades ago. Now Nagel is regurgitating that old bolus with all the freshness of gastroesophageal reflux.

          • Bebop
            Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

            And what is wrong exactly with that neo-vitalism?

            • Occam
              Posted August 31, 2012 at 3:10 am | Permalink

              Seriously? Everything.
              1. The neo- is a misnomer, nothing new in there.
              2. Nagel is pulling a Rumsfeld field (which I’m tempted to contract to Rumsfield) by positing unknown unknowns, of a type very convenient to him as a philosopher, when science has barely scratched the surface of knowables. The onus of showing, in a fundamental way, that there are, in principle, areas of knowledge not amenable to scientific method but attainable through other means, is on him.

      • Bebop
        Posted August 30, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        Simple. Consciousness is uncreated. If that is its natural state, it would then organize itself to create more and more self-aware and complex creatures within the limits of the laws of physics and chemistry.

        • darrelle
          Posted August 31, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

          You keep saying this. Explain how on earth you get from “consciousness is uncreated” to “therefore it never began and will never end” to “therefore it would create more and more self-aware and complex creatures.”

          To be blunt that sounds like pure made up crap. One does not lead to the other in any logical or rational way, and the first two claims are self contradictory deepities.

          If you are claiming to have any evidence that suggests that it is reasonable to believe that it is even remotely possible that something like what you claim could, maybe, even to just some minute degree, comport with reality, then please do describe that evidence.

          • Posted August 31, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

            Bebop has precisely the same evidence for this now as he did under his/her previous two (?) names here.

            NONE AT ALL.

            /@

          • Bebop
            Posted August 31, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

            Darelle, if consciousness is uncreated, it means that it precedes matter, it precedes everything, unless you believe that matter was always there. It would mean it is a property of the universe and that it is not an exclusive human phenomenon. Humans are on earth the creatures that are the most self-aware and therefore creative because they the most conscious species. But have different degrees of self-awareness. Dogs and monkeys are quite self-aware creatures compare to mouses or ants.

            Uncreated is another way to say eternal. Eternity isn’t a very very very long period of time, it means it is outside time. That is why something uncreated can’t begin or can’t end. If it began, it means it was created. If it doesn’t, it also means it can’t end.

            So just like it is in the nature of water to cause wetness or gravity to cause attraction, it would be in the nature of consciousness to cause self-awareness. This is why when it interacts with matter, like it did on earth, it tried its best to build more and more conscious organic machines.

            As for my evidence, the only one I got is personal and subjective because you can’t escape that plane when it comes to consciousness. Consciousness, at the level reached by humans, involves subjectivity, you have no choice, this is a natural state by the way. Science can’t deal with that but that is because it is not its territory. That’s it. No big revelation here unless you firmly believe in scientism which claims that only science can talk about what is real and true.

            But at its core, consciousness isn’t split between objectivity and subjectivity. That happens only when consciousness is trapped in a space/time plane. On our level, the oriental traditions explain why we think on a dual mode, how we grasp the world through opposites, which gives birth to the ego, language and a distorted understanding of the real nature of the world.

            • darrelle
              Posted August 31, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

              Oh. Okay.

              • Bebop
                Posted August 31, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

                There you go!

      • Ichthyic
        Posted August 31, 2012 at 2:40 am | Permalink

        “The tendency for life to form may be a basic feature of the natural order, not explained by the nonteleological laws of physics and chemistry.”

        and the tendency of sodium to combine with chlorine is likewise!

        oh, wait… what’s the opposite of that?

        right: fully explained.

        Nagel is nutz.

  18. Posted August 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Hey, don’t neglect Raymond Tallis’s APING MANKIND! His position is quite similar to Nagel’s (if the blurb is accurate): reductive materialism/neuroscience is inadequate, fails to show that consciousness, freewill, etc. are illusory. What is or would be adequate? We don’t know; to know that X is mistaken, we don’t need to know what is correct! To see that an argument for X involves egregious logical fallacies, you don’t need to know what a good argument for X (or not-X) would be!!!

  19. Desnes Diev
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    “even for complex features like the genitals on a fish’s head”

    In fact, the Phallostethid fish genitals are more on the upper chest: they are under the heart and are associated to what must be highly modified (postcranial) girdle and fin bones (see Parenti LR, Copeia, 1986(2):305).

    If the genitals look like being on the head, it’s only because fishes have no neck.

    Desnes Diev

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Science and especially evolution has been “a world view ripe for displacement” for centuries, according to creationists. It was seen as “ripe for displacement” before it started, actually.

    I’m not sure whether there’s something about that discipline (the complexity of molecular mechanisms?) that makes people doubt the efficacy of natural selection, or whether it’s simply that many molecular biologists don’t get a good grounding in evolutionary biology.

    At Uppsala University they snapped up engineers for research by giving optional courses in molecular biology. They recognized that engineers were adept in handling the complex analysis machines and the math used both there and in cellular regulation et cetera.

    I don’t know how successful they were, but at least one engineer went on to post doc in MB.

    And I don’t know how wide spread the idea was.

    But if it happened often, while I’m not sure I buy the idea that engineers are more frequently creationists, I assume basic biology may be lacking in cases.

  21. stabbinfresh
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    From the blurb it sounds like the entire book is an argument from ignorance. Wow, that should be VERY convincing! ::rolleseyes::

  22. gluonspring
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    “Virtually all of the non-creationist opposition to the modern theory of evolution, and all of the minimal approbation of Shapiro’s views, come from molecular biologists.”

    Could you point us to some references for this? I don’t doubt the veracity of the statement, I am just unaware of who or what opposition to evolution and approbation of Shapiro you are referring to. None of my own colleagues in molecular biology or genetics doubt evolution, at least not that I know of, so I’m trying to get a picture of who or what you mean exactly.

  23. Bebop
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    “First Fodor, then Nagel: what is going on with philosophers and evolution?”

    They are looking for a satisfying global answer. It doesn’t turn them into creationists.

    “In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility.”

    What is wrong with that?

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 31, 2012 at 2:45 am | Permalink

      what’s wrong with it is this:

      Form a testable hypothesis that is mot materialistic in nature.

      well?

      good luck with that.

      this is why so many people rightly criticize this nonsense.

      it’s absurd on the very face of it! all these people are doing is defining “x” as being a concept that is untestable, and then complaining that it isn’t testable!

      *shakes head at gross stupidity*

      • Bebop
        Posted August 31, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

        So if it can’t be tested, it means it can’t be true? What is true is only what can be tested? Good luck with that too.

  24. jeffery
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    So- I guess cells have free will, then, huh?


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