Templeton-funded issue of “The New Atlantis” does down science

 Reader Michael looked over the latest issue of The New Atlantis, and was horrified. He sent me the message given below, which prompted me to look at the magazine, too. And I shared his horror, for the issue, while pretending to be about science, really does down science, criticizing it in several articles for its problems and incompleteness (it supposedly uses the flawed assumptions of naturalism and materialism, and of course, as they say, many experiments can’t be replicated). It’s no surprise that this issue was financed by—you guessed it—the John Templeton Foundation. Here’s part of Michael’s email (indented):

The current “Special Issue – Information, Matter, and Life” of The New Atlantis is financed by the Templeton Foundation (see bottom of page.  [JAC: here’s the note:]

And some of the ‘essays’ in this special issue are absolutely incredible [in a bad way]! Take the one by Stephen L. Talbott [you’ve run into him before], “Evolution & the Purposes of Life” – I really suffered reading it & I’m not going to even attempt to give an overview:

PLEASE NOTE
The New Atlantis is published by two bodies…
[1] “The Center for the Study of Technology & Society”, who also publish “Big Questions Online” – the latter is entirely financed by the John Templeton Foundation (https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/about/)

[2] A Washington think tank called the “Ethics & Public Policy Center” which has this on the “About” page: “About EPPC. Founded in 1976 by Dr. Ernest W. Lefever, the Ethics and Public Policy Center is Washington, D.C.’s premier institute dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy. From the Cold War to the war on terrorism, from disputes over the role of religion in public life to battles over the nature of the family, EPPC and its scholars have consistently sought to defend and promote our nation’s founding principles—respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, individual freedom and responsibility, justice, the rule of law, and limited government.”

There seems to be associations with the Templeton organisation [especially their juicy seminars] ‘hidden’ all over the place with respect to The New Atlantis & its directors, board, etc etc. Here’s one:

Take Adam Keiper, editor at The New Atlantis. I put “Keiper” into the Templeton Grant Database, and then picking a year gives me these two [no results appear for other years]:
[1] Start year: 2015. Big Questions Online Pilot and Planning Grant
Project Leader: Adam Keiper
Grantee: Center for the Study of Technology and Society
$211,634[2] Start year: 2015 Special Issue and Sections in ‘The New Atlantis’ Dedicated to Big Questions
Project Leader: Adam Keiper
Grantee: The Center for the Study of Technology and Society
$151,100

I [JAC] looked over a couple of articles, which give me cause for concern. But of course we’ve always known that Templeton tries to fuse religion and science, often by doing down science and suggesting it needs to be supplemented with the other metaphysical “ways of knowing”. That’s the subject of the first article I mention. There are other articles that push a hyperconservative agenda, including one on sex and gender that claim that gender and sexual orientation is far less “hard-wired” than we think.

Here are three specimens:

“The Limits of Information” by Daniel Robinson, an Oxford philosopher. Here we see an implicit claim that science is inadequate as a “way of knowing”:

Let’s pause to summarize these main points. First, the search for universally valid physical explanations must be futile, for some physical phenomena themselves lack the requisite certainty, as we know from quantum mechanics. Second, that aspiration cannot include a systematic understanding of what counts as an explanation in the first place. Imagine a Martian, sent to Earth to discover what human beings are. Returning to Mars, the “earthopologist” submits a report accurate in every detail regarding the composition of bodies identified as “human”: potassium, water, calcium, and so forth. All the empirical data are accurate and reproducible, but nothing in the account explains anything of interest about human beings. While this might count as an explanation of the chemical composition of human bodies, it cannot be considered an explanation of what it means to be human.

. . . It is not my intention to defend anti-realism. My own stance, if it’s even worth considering, is the Kantian position that, like it or not, we are all destined to be metaphysicians, so it’s a good idea to prepare for the mission. Van Fraassen, however, draws attention to the non-scientific dispositions and orientations endemic to the pursuit of knowledge: the choice of facts we attend to in our reasoning, and the stance one adopts in that process. There are also emotional and motivational factors that contribute to our choice of explanations. Once a revolutionary challenge to a previously uncontested scientific theory is vindicated by the facts, the scientist committed to that theory undergoes something akin to an emotional breakdown. There are real personal and psychological forces at work in a realm that textbooks treat as antiseptic and “objective.”

In these moments the moral, spiritual, and aesthetic dimensions of lived life may be informed by physics and physiology, but only from the third-person perspective. From our own first-person perspective, words alone fail, and making the experience known to another requires appealing to what is common in our humanity — yet another gap.

Well, yes, you can feel in your heart that there’s a God, which you might say is part of “being human,” but that feeling gives no confidence that there really is a God. It’s just a feeling, and establishing its truth value beyond the fact of your feeling it requires science.

And some day science may indeed explain the emotions. Further, the question of “what it means to be human” is of course totally nebulous. When made more explicit, the answers are empirical—scientific. That doesn’t mean that there is no value in the humanities—in literature, art, and music. What it means is that any question about the real nature of the Universe can be answered only by what I call “science construed broadly”: the use of reason and replicated observation of nature as a way of ascertaining such truths.

Another bad piece:Saving Science by Daniel Sarewitz, professor of science and society at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation and Society (we’ve encountered Sarewitz’s misguided ideas before: here and here).

Sarewitz claims in the subtitle that “Science isn’t self-correcting, it’s self-destructing.” To save the enterprise, he says, scientists must come out of the lab and into the real world.” His thesis is that all the problems of science— confirmation bias, lack of replication, etc.—can be cured if it’s driven by technology: the need for practical solutions. Sadly, that’s not even wrong, for technology driven science would miss some fundamental discoveries about the universe (like evolution), and science driven by pure curiosity, like quantum mechanics, has had great practical payoffs not predicted if the field were driven by human “needs” alone. Some excerpts:

Science, pride of modernity, our one source of objective knowledge, is in deep trouble. Stoked by fifty years of growing public investments, scientists are more productive than ever, pouring out millions of articles in thousands of journals covering an ever-expanding array of fields and phenomena. But much of this supposed knowledge is turning out to be contestable, unreliable, unusable, or flat-out wrong. From metastatic cancer to climate change to growth economics to dietary standards, science that is supposed to yield clarity and solutions is in many instances leading instead to contradiction, controversy, and confusion. Along the way it is also undermining the four-hundred-year-old idea that wise human action can be built on a foundation of independently verifiable truths. Science is trapped in a self-destructive vortex; to escape, it will have to abdicate its protected political status and embrace both its limits and its accountability to the rest of society.

. . . Advancing according to its own logic, much of science has lost sight of the better world it is supposed to help create. Shielded from accountability to anything outside of itself, the “free play of free intellects” begins to seem like little more than a cover for indifference and irresponsibility. The tragic irony here is that the stunted imagination of mainstream science is a consequence of the very autonomy that scientists insist is the key to their success. Only through direct engagement with the real world can science free itself to rediscover the path toward truth.

Sarewitz is the Chicken Little of Science, and our field is proceeding just fine without his tut-tutting, thank you. After all, some “facts” have remained unchanged for several hundred years. DNA is a double helix regardless of what people find in the future. Smallpox vaccination prevents smallpox (the disease is in fact gone now), benzene has six carbon and six hydrogen atoms, and the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old. Sarawitz falsely implies that the whole edifice of scientific truth is rotten,.

Finally there’s “Evolution and the Purposes of Life”, by Stephen L. Talbott, described as “a New Atlantis contributing editor, [and] a senior researcher at The Nature Institute in Ghent, New York”. This piece emphasizes the teleological aspects of organisms that seem to evince purpose (“purpose” of course, involves intention and thus a mind). I quote in extenso because this supposedly evolutionary article is really a Teilhard-ian argument that evolution, materialism, and natural selection are inadequate to explain the seemingly “purposive” nature of animal life. (This is not true, of course, as Dan Dennett and Richard Dawkins have shown repeatedly.)

Even the “growth behaviors” of plants and the “chemical behaviors” of the individual cells in our bodies are in some sense intelligent and purposive, wisely directed toward need-fulfilling ends. Purposive — or teleological (end-directed) — activity is no merely adventitious feature of living creatures. Being “endowed with a purpose or project,” wrote biochemist Jacques Monod, is “essential to the very definition of living beings.” And according to Theodosius Dobzhansky, a geneticist and leading architect of the past century’s dominant evolutionary theory, “It would make no sense to talk of the purpose of adaptation of stars, mountains, or the laws of physics,” but “adaptedness of living beings is too obvious to be overlooked…. Living beings have an internal, or natural, teleology.”

The curious thing, however, is that despite this emphatic recognition of the purposive organism, we find in textbooks of biology virtually no mention of purpose — or of the meaning and value presupposed by purpose. To refer to such “unbiological” realities is, it seems, to stumble into the unsavory company of mystics. Yet we might want to ask: if purposiveness in the life of organisms is as obvious as many in addition to Monod and Dobzhansky have admitted, why should it be impermissible for working biologists to reckon seriously with what everyone seems to know?

. . . The idea of teleological behavior within a world of meaning is rather uncomfortable for scientists committed — as contemporary biologists overwhelmingly are — to what they call “materialism” or “naturalism.” The discomfort has to do with the apparent inward aspect of the goal-directed behavior described above — behavior that depends upon the apprehension of a meaningful world and that is easily associated with our own conscious and apparently immaterial perceptions, reasonings, and motivations to act.

The problem of teleology, with its apparent inwardness, has been thought to present itself on two fronts. It occurs wherever a conscious, purposive designer, traditionally taken to be God, is assumed to have created organisms, and again wherever the organism itself, once created, becomes a locus of end-directed functioning. Resolving the issue of teleology has meant, for the biologist, eliminating inwardness on both fronts, and the argument often makes little distinction between them.

. . . Everyone agrees that natural selection cannot work unless the organisms available to it are capable of carrying out all the activities necessary to their life and survival, while also reproducing and preparing an inheritance for their offspring. But these are the very activities that presented us with the problem of teleology in the first place. If natural selection must assume them in order to do its work, then to say it solves the problem of teleological origins looks very much like question-begging.

No, the “assumptions” are heredity and naturalism, both of which are not really assumptions, but methodologies that give answers. There is no question-begging!

But wait, there’s more!:

All of which takes us back to an earlier point: the organism is not so much something with a causal, physical origin as it is a power of origination — or a power of storytelling. It manifests itself in becoming — in the coordinated and directive aspect of organic processes moving toward fullness of expression — and is not something explained by the physical lawfulness of those processes. When we have understood this inward, originating power, might we not find ourselves better equipped to think about primordial origins?

Nope. What we have here is an indigestible word salad.

In the end, the article flirts with Intelligent Design: a divine force behind evolution. Or so I think from words like these (my emphasis):

Evolution-based pronouncements have somehow become far too easy. When theorists can lightly pretend to have risen above the most enduring mysteries of life, making claims supposedly too obvious to require defense, then even questions central to evolution itself tend to disappear in favor of reigning prejudices. What is life? How can we understand the striving of organisms to sustain their own lives — a striving that seems altogether hidden to conventional modes of understanding? What makes for the integral unity and compelling “personality” of the living creature, and how can this personified unity be understood if we’re thinking in purely material and machine-like terms? Does it make sense to dismiss as illusory the compelling appearance of intelligent and intentional agency in organisms?

It is evident enough that the answers to such questions could crucially alter even our most basic assumptions about evolution. But we have no answers. In the current theoretical milieu, we don’t even have the questions. What we do have is the seemingly miraculous agency of natural selection, substituting for the only agency we ever actually witness in nature, which is the agency of living beings.

But we do have answers: natural selection produces the appearance of “intelligent agency”. It’s not rocket science! Organisms live their lives as if their “purpose” was to survive and reproduce: to maximize their genetic output. Dennett thinks this is real design, just not conscious design, while others call it “designoid.” I don’t care what you call it so long as you understand how it came about. And we do!

So once again we see Templeton, while paying lip service to science, is really doing it down, claiming that it’s incomplete, that naturalism and materialism are insufficient, that there’s some kind of nebulous “purpose” behind evolution, and that we have to look at Other Ways of Knowing (read: God) to supplement science.

Shame on Templeton, and shame on those researchers who so gladly take its money!

44 Comments

  1. Sastra
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    The curious thing, however, is that despite this emphatic recognition of the purposive organism, we find in textbooks of biology virtually no mention of purpose — or of the meaning and value presupposed by purpose.

    Equivocation — or, to employ Dennett’s terminology, using “purpose” as a deepity. The true but trivial: agents HAVE agency. An animal goes forth for purposes or reasons — food, reproduction, curiosity, whatever. Extraordinary but false interpretation: agents SHOW agency. A teleological explanation not for the individual’s choices, but for the existence of individual choice itself.

    Is it any surprise that this is just a sophisticated veneer slapped over the ancient, primitive, tried-and-true “common sense” assumption that “Like Comes Only From Like.” If atoms and chemicals don’t have agency, then where does agency COME FROM??? Where is the PURPOSE in the system? It couldn’t have got that way from something not-agency, or non purposive. Agency and purpose must be fundamental features of reality. Like comes from like, after all. Doesn’t that seem instinctive? Sure it does; ask a child.

    • Zach
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      That actually is a sound criticism of biology textbooks. They often merely describe organisms, outside of a purposeful context, as if they were features of nature akin to rocks or stars. They are not.

      The irony is why biologists—or more often, biology teachers—avoid talking about the purpose of organisms. It’s because people like Talbott don’t want them to! They don’t want to be told that organisms are machines built by self-replicating molecules, and that they only exist, ultimately, to propagate those self-replicating molecules.

      Life certainly does have a “purpose” (Matt Ridley called it an “interest”)—just not one that most people, including Talbott, like to hear.

      • darrelle
        Posted April 29, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        I am not sure I agree with that. Well, I don’t know about biology textbooks so I actually can’t disagree with you due to ignorance.

        But, outside of textbooks I’ve not noticed a significant effort by bioligists to avoid purpose in biology. Of course when biologists use purpose and similar words they do not intend to imply that agency is involved. Conversations between bioligists are typically filled with words that, like purpose, are commonly used to denote that agency is involved but all parties understand that they are not talking about agency.

        Talbott, and those who share views similar to his, very pointedly do intend to imply agency by using purpose and similar agency implying words.

        • Zach
          Posted April 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          Well, I did put “purpose” in quotes.

          What differentiates teleology from metaphorical talk about genes “striving” to replicate themselves is the notion of an ultimate goal, an endgame. Of course, life has none. This is what people like Talbott don’t like.

          And, to be fair, sometimes even people who take evolution at face value fall into the same teleological trap—like when they imagine that evolution was destined to produce intelligent lifeforms such as ourselves, that it has an automatic progression towards greater intelligence. It doesn’t, necessarily.

          I suspect this misconception contributes to the Fermi paradox, or what we think is the Fermi paradox.

      • Posted April 29, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Biology textbooks actually devote many pages to “purpose”, but they call it by a term far more appropriate in this context, “function”.

    • Posted April 29, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Getting the various scales mixed up is one of the standard moves of spiritual confabulation. Quantum mechanics exists, therefore it must explain what Darwin can’t; and Darwin can’t explain it because survival of the fittest can’t explain cubism.

      If only scientists would drop their silly dogmas, they would discover all the new things which we would discover if we had time, but we’re too busy at the moment.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    What we have defined here with Templeton is behavior that contradicts ones claims. If compatibility is your stated claim, Templeton has a funny way of showing it and you have to say, is wasting lots of money. Looks like plain old hypocrisy, expensive though it is.

    Just follow the latest news on Cassini, out there 870 million miles from earth flying thru the rings of Saturn; the A & F rings framing the picture of a tiny earth and it’s moon in the man-made photo.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Trouble is that there are two ways of making religion “compatible” with science. One way is to show that science is coming to conclusions which support religion, either by providing evidence (quantum! teleological evolution! Intelligent Design!) or by providing gaps which require a religious explanation, because science struck out. The only faith needed is the ordinary sort of pragmatic reliance we use for all conclusions.

      The second way of harmonizing the two is to split them NOMA-fashion. Science and religion can never come in conflict because the two are totally different domains which answer different questions. The analogy which is often subsumed is that of science and ethics, or matters of fact (“why is there a mountain here?”) and matters of choice (“why do I want to climb this here mountain?”) It’s silly to think science could ever say anything one way or the other about the supernatural. By definition, it can only deal with Nature. So religion is where Faith reigns as the supreme method.

      Those two approaches conflict. But most apologists are happy to use conflicting arguments. Whatever works. The destination matters more than the method which gets you there.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted April 29, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Well, you could always modify your religion.

        • Sastra
          Posted April 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          Good point. Just be sure that when you modify the religion you insist that this has always been the way the religion was, really — it’s implicit in the text and all the best, sophisticated theologians have interpreted it that way throughout history. It’s only recently that people thought anything else and that’s because scientists decided to turn it into an easily dismissed Straw Man during the so-called Enlightenment and ordinary folk naively bought into it ever since.

          The religion which has always been compatible with science is both superior to Naturalism, and vague about the distinction.

        • reasonshark
          Posted April 30, 2017 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

          You might as well ask a drunk to modify his drink. The unspoken dogma behind every religion – indeed, behind every irrational ideology and philosophy – is “Never let facts get in the way of my favourite story”. Even the chummiest advocates of “why can’t science and religion be friends” will sooner or later do a little fiddling with the facts, especially when it comes to human beings.

  3. nicky
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I think these Templetons should read ” The Vital Question” by Nick Lane, or -of course- WEIT.
    I’d love to give a Templeton lecture, but the chances of that are somehow rather slim.

  4. Barry McGuire
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Any conscious, purposive designer that would deliberately create a cockroach, tick, flea, louse, mosquito, polio virus, etc., is not to be trusted. If such a “being” exists we are all in deep trouble. Be careful for what you wish for!

    • Posted April 29, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      + 1. I sometimes ask anti-evolutionists why such creatures were brought into existence and the best they could produce was in the line of “punishment for sins”. A young preacher once said that pathogens were created by the devil.

  5. darrelle
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    “All the empirical data are accurate and reproducible, but nothing in the account explains anything of interest about human beings. While this might count as an explanation of the chemical composition of human bodies, it cannot be considered an explanation of what it means to be human.”

    This argument is so stale it makes the typical cliche seem as fresh as scratch made bread right out of the oven. It reveals such a tragic misunderstanding of science that it is surprising that an academic philospher could believe it is valid. What seems rather more likely is that this type of argument results from a feeling of fighting a losing battle for relevance.

    Sience can be, and is of course, usefully applied to any of the various interpretations of the question “what are human beings.” The “gotcha” interpretation that Robinson implies eludes science is something that is ultimately an exercise in deciding what values we think we should aspire to in order to be what we want to be, to live the kind of life we want to live. And there is no other method for informing ourselves in aid of making those kinds of values decisions than science, broadly construed. And science minded people are at least as thoughtful regarding those kinds of questions than any other group.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      Aside from the mispellings, the phrase “And there is no other method . . .” was intended to be “And there is no more effective method . . . “

  6. darrelle
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    The word “purposive” is one of those words that when you come across it you know it is time to don the hip-waders and the air pack.

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    “New Atlantis” was originally the title of a novel by Francis Bacon whose “Novum Organum” is considered an early prototype description of modern scientific method.
    (Thomas Jefferson wrote “Bacon, Locke and Newton. I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences.”)

    Bacon’s NA is very progressive in some ways having moderately influenced the Napoleonic Code and advocating equality for multiple religions.

    But it is also a very religious society, thoroughly, as our host JAC would put it, accomodationalist.

    It’s therefore hard to say what Bacon would make of this endeavor. He might actually like a great deal of it.

    =-=-=

    Internal or intrinsic teleology is, I’m fairly sure, a recent idea of religious discourse. In Aristotelian physics (and consequently Thomist theology), a lot of teleology is extrinsic.

    =-=-=

    In religion, as in free speech, a crucial question is: Who is the Decider? (and who decides about the decider?)

    As Charles Darwin put it, “Let each man hope what he may”.

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think we need to worry too much about this issue. The only people who could possibly get through it are those who can recognize it’s a load if crap.

    Personally, I found all the excerpts so difficult to read I’d never have bothered were they not part of a WEIT post. They’re poorly written, and the sentences are too long and contain too many parts. Basically, it was too much effort.

    If you want people to read what you’ve got to say, the number one rule is to make it as easy as possible to actually read.

    • Posted April 29, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      + 1

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Let me be the first to agree. Why use an 11 letter word when a 5 will due. Much of this religious philosophy just puts many of us to sleep. I know the subject of religion is basic to what this site and our conversation is about, as it should be but sometimes we work too hard defending atheist when religion fires back. Atheism stands on it’s own just fine and allows all of us to better understand the important things in life, such as science, discovery, reason, nature and the importance of evidence in any discussion. Religion will continue desperately to defend itself because it really has nothing else.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 29, 2017 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        “Why use an 11 letter word when a 5 will do?”
        So it sounds more important. Also, it helps to obscure the meaning so that the obviously nonsensical bits do not stand out so prominently.

        [I can’t resist this – ]
        Sooner New Atlantis sinks again, the better.

        cr

      • reasonshark
        Posted April 30, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        Some eleven-letter words have their own euphonious and exotic charm. “Scintillate” is a delightful adjective to apply to the twinkle of a midnight star. “Shine” is a hackneyed and dull monosyllabic slab by comparison.

        • reasonshark
          Posted April 30, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

          Consarnit, I meant “verb”. I don’t know why I called it an “adjective”.

      • phoffman56
        Posted May 1, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        “Why use an 11 letter word when a 5 will due.”

        Well, I know it was Randy’s typo, but I can’t resist a joke, changing 11,5 to 3,2: that is,
        ‘do’ not “due”!!

        And I certainly agree with Randy, and now can’t resist two digs at pretentious ‘modern’ usage:

        ‘Many’ not ‘multiple’ for 8,4. Really, uses of ‘multiple’ won’t convince anyone the writer is a math genius.

        And

        ‘In future’ not ‘going forward’ for 12,8. There we get politician’s feel-good-speak.
        ‘Going backward’ is feel-bad, I suppose.

  9. Posted April 29, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    An FYI on Stephen Talbott, I knew him and his brother David in their old pro-Velikovsky days (yep, the “Worlds in Collision” guy) some 40 years ago in Portland, Oregon. Talbott’s continuing activity shows the weird connections bubbling around in modern antievolutionism (the late Native American creationist Vine Deloria Jr. published in the Talbott’s short-lived journal Pensee too). The new iterations are redressed & revamped with the current Design buzzwords of course, but still reflecting an underlying flawed cognitive method that has never quite caught up with the data.

    • Zach
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

      “…reflecting an underlying flawed cognitive method that has never quite caught up with the data.”

      That is a perfect summation of religious thinking in general.

  10. Posted April 29, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Some people seem inordinately disturbed by the idea of saying, “We’ve had a lot of success with this so far, and avoided the most horrendous pitfalls of the previous few hundred thousand years, by seeing much we can explain just by looking for naturalistic causes to things.”

  11. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    All of which takes us back to an earlier point: the organism is not so much something with a causal, physical origin as it is a power of origination [snip]. When we have understood this inward, originating power, might we not find ourselves better equipped to think about primordial origins?

    I am starting to think religionists [but of course never theologians!*] will have a real problem now when life origins seems to have been found. The appearance of a “half alive” last universal common ancestor [ https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311408010_Physiology_phylogeny_and_LUCA ] detracts from ideas of a lack of a “causal, physical origin”.

    It is of course not possible to easily reject that old idea of a “phase change” from lifeless chemicals to life akin to how a crystal – that also can replicate – constitute one from liquid or vapor phase to solid. But if the cell machinery, including the genetic and replicative parts, developed in a seemingly seamless fashion: where would a dramatic “origination” take place?

    Seems to me bioinformatics took the “appearance of magic” – to make a Dawkinsesque description – out of life emergence.

    *)Theologians will simply continue to claim against amassed evidence to the contrary that the natural order is the magic order of things.

    • Emerson
      Posted April 30, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Happily there are interesting experimental results too. A very recent article “Rich complex behaviour of self-assembled nanoparticles far from equilibrium” (Nature communications – free pdf – https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14942) showed that many live characteristics can emerge under very simple condition: “simply shining a laser onto a colloidal solution is enough to observe a very rich set of complex behaviors, showing that particles can form autocatalytic aggregates that can self-regulate, self-heal, self-replicate and migrate. Quite similar to living organisms, these aggregates can also take very many different forms (patterns); these forms then compete for limited resources,…”(https://www.sciencedaily.com/). No divine purpose to be found here, but probably an intrinsic feature of mater in the universe we live in…

  12. kelskye
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    It’s strange how alluring anthropocentric explanations are despite the perennial failing of such explanations in the past. The illusion that we’re somehow special or exempt from nature is the illusion that needs a natural explanation – not a revisiting of evolutionary theory.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 29, 2017 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, where is the human in the heart of a random neutron star in the heart of a galaxy five billion light years away. A bowlfull contains more matter than all out planet.

      It’s so out of proportion to what these people are latched on to.

  13. Posted April 29, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    The purpose is to find purpose in the purpose. Does that sound about right?
    Talking about purpose or more specifically,lack of, delving into the quantum just gives me a belly laugh… from there on up or down unto the many convergent phenomena it’s one big bang and a waste of time and money looking for it.

    I find the tragedy of this disconnect of the above subjects and the like of this post, that they will never see life for what it truely is, an incredible astonishment.
    They pass it on to the supernatural and thereby dulling their senses to what we now know as a distraction of deceitful purpose.
    With all the science when science gets it right, just adding fuel to this amazement.

    Meanwhile I will stride to the fridge with complete purpose for that’s where I keep the coffee.

  14. nicky
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Those articles are flatulent, IMMO. Jerry is on the spot.

  15. eric
    Posted April 29, 2017 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Okay, I give up. How about this: anyone who thinks science is so crappy, don’t go into it. The job market for professors and research scientists is supply heavy right now anyway.

    The pomos can sit around writing essays for all I care. Show disdain for science as you type on your wireless computer, use GPS to find your way home. Sniff at how wrong it is while you get your MMR vaccine. I don’t care. Just get out of the way.

    • Tom
      Posted April 30, 2017 at 1:56 am | Permalink

      Agreed, but these people are writing for a particular niche readership those whose minds remain open. Unfortunately these minds are open in the same way that the entrances to tunnels are open. Still there are exits which hopefully some will eventually reach.

  16. Leigh Jackson
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    New Atlantis and its discontents is placed at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum to those who organised the March for Science.

    For the ultra left and right, the ideology of science is all that matters.

    Not science itself.

  17. reasonshark
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    To paraphrase Sastra from way back, what’s dreary about this sort of thing is how familiar it is. It provides shallow, oft-repeated arguments as though they’re radical and deep. Purpose, perception, scientific limitations, boo-word machine stereotypes, “what it means to be human”… sooner or later, it’s an attempt to stare in awe at the super-special intuitively unique magical mind-stuff we humans are “blessed” with, and then to sneer at “materialism”, “scientism”, and “naturalism” as not up to the task, even though there’s such a thing as mind science.

    It’s the main reason the unfathomably meaningless “free will versus determinism” debates aren’t dead and buried yet. It’s a failure of rational thinking against stubborn but dim-witted intuition. Gut feeling is not and has never been a reliable epistemological method. An important step in exposing this baloney for what it is will be having a culture that stops venerating gut feelings as on par with, or in extreme cases better than, critical thinking skills and actual evidence.

  18. irritable
    Posted May 1, 2017 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Templeton Foundation funds issue of microJournal, partially scanned by (possibly) dozens of time-rich, wankers with intellectual pretensions. Milquetoast, poorly argued arguments for teleology and “other ways of knowing” [you know, not involving unsophisticated ‘facts’] published.
    Please remain calm.

  19. Posted May 1, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    “Returning to Mars, the “earthopologist” submits a report accurate in every detail regarding the composition of bodies identified as “human”: potassium, water, calcium, and so forth. All the empirical data are accurate and reproducible, but nothing in the account explains anything of interest about human beings. While this might count as an explanation of the chemical composition of human bodies, it cannot be considered an explanation of what it means to be human.”

    Some basic chemistry: until you put in the way those atoms are put together, you’re not even beginning to take the materialist view seriously.

    “The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it but the way the atoms are put together.”, as the man said.

    (Also how the put together atoms interact with their environment and change state over time in general.)

    • reasonshark
      Posted May 2, 2017 at 4:04 am | Permalink

      “Some basic chemistry: until you put in the way those atoms are put together, you’re not even beginning to take the materialist view seriously.”

      My thoughts exactly. The platform for the booing of “naturalism”, “scientism”, and “materialism” is largely made on straw.

      • Posted May 2, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        The most charitable interpretation is that they are stuck in the 19th century – pre Darwin and preknowledge of isomerism.

  20. phoffman56
    Posted May 1, 2017 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Several here know and have read more than me. But no one mentions Monod yet.

    It was many years ago that I read his ‘Chance and Necessity’ (IIRC the title). It seems to me that the third person quoted above has completely misrepresented Jacques Monod here by means of short out-of-context quotation.


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