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Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Actual intelligence v. Artificial intelligence?

Dialogue with ChatGPT on Intelligent Design 

William A. Dembski 

Here is an interesting chat between me and OpenAI’s ChatGPT on the topic of intelligent design. Interesting especially how it ended. Think of ChatGPT as a context-dependent natural language generator that tries to respond relevantly to textual prompts from human users to simulate conversation. The first of these conversation bots goes back to the 1960s with Joseph Weizenbaum’s Eliza program. The current incarnation of these programs have become much more sophisticated, exploiting machine learning and big data. 


ME: What is intelligent design?

ChatGPT: Intelligent design is the belief that certain features of the universe and living things show signs of having been designed by an intelligent cause. It is often seen as an alternative to the theory of evolution, which proposes that species have changed over time through natural processes. Proponents of intelligent design argue that certain features of the natural world are too complex to have evolved through natural processes, and therefore must have been created by a higher power. This belief is not supported by scientific evidence, and is considered a form of creationism by many scientists.


ME: Why do you say that the belief in intelligent design is not supported by scientific evidence?


ChatGPT: There is no scientific evidence to support the belief in intelligent design. The theory of evolution, on the other hand, is supported by a vast amount of scientific evidence, including fossil records, genetic data, and observations of natural selection in action. Scientists have studied the natural world for centuries, and the evidence overwhelmingly supports the idea that species have evolved over time through natural processes. In contrast, there is no scientific evidence to support the belief that certain features of the natural world were created by a higher power.


ME: Seriously, no evidence? What do you make of the specified complexity that is evident in the genes and proteins of the cell? Why don’t you consider this as constituting evidence for intelligent design?


ChatGPT: The complexity of genes and proteins does not constitute evidence for intelligent design. In fact, scientists have been able to explain the complexity of these structures through the theory of evolution. The genetic code, for example, is the result of natural selection acting on random mutations over countless generations. The same is true for the proteins found in cells. While these structures are certainly complex, that complexity can be explained through natural processes.


ME: But all organisms share the genetic code and would not be alive without it. So the genetic code must in some sense predate existing life forms. Natural selection, by contrast, requires life already to exist. So it is misguided to claim that natural selection acting on random mutations can “produce the genetic code.” Wouldn’t you agree?


ChatGPT: An error occurred. If this issue persists please contact us through our help center at help.openai.com. [Yes, this final output was in red.] 

For the defence.

 An unabridged excerpt of Bill davidson's article in the Nov.2nd 1946 edition of Collier's Entitled:Jehovah's travelling salesmen:P.75  

"because of the obviously huge income from the millions of publications every year the board of directors have often been accused of using Jehovah's Witnesses as a personal racket. 


There is no evidence to support these charges.The leaders actually live in lower middle class simplicity,and the first president of the Society,Charles Taze Russel,left exactly $200 in his will when he died in 1916.He had been the owner of a chain of haberdashery stores and a very wealthy man at one time.The same thing is true of Judge Joseph F.Rutherford,the second president.A few years ago,Roger baldwin of the American civil liberties union became one of the few men outside of the board of directors to get some official notion of the organisations finances.Baldwin is convinced that the million dollar profit of that particular year was almost completely eaten up by foreign publication losses,administration expenses and the tremendous legal expenses necessary to defend the witnesses in courtrooms."


Page 4 paragraph 1 Watchtower society's charter."It does not contemplate pecuniary gain or profit,incidentally or otherwise,to its members,directors or officers.Its members shall be only men who are mature,active and faithful witnesses of Jehovah devoting full time to performance of one or more of its chartered purposes under its direction and by its authority,or such men who are devoting part time as active presiding ministers or servants of congregations of Jehovah's witnesses."

Darwinism's failure as a predictive model VII

 Darwin's Predictions 

Cornelius G Hunter 

In the 1960s molecular biologists learned how to analyze protein molecules and determine the sequence of amino acids that comprise a protein. It was then discovered that a given protein molecule varies somewhat from species to species. For example, hemoglobin, a blood protein, has similar function, overall size and structure in different species. But its amino acid sequence varies from species to species. Emile Zuckerkandl and Linus Pauling reasoned that if such sequence differences were the result of evolutionary change occurring over the history of life, then they could be used to estimate past speciation events—a notion that became known as the molecular clock. (Zuckerkandl and Pauling)


In later decades this concept of a molecular clock, relying on the assumption of a roughly constant rate of molecular evolution, became fundamental in evolutionary biology. (Thomas, et. al.) As the National Academy of Sciences explained, the molecular clock “determines evolutionary relationships among organisms, and it indicates the time in the past when species started to diverge from one another.” (Science and Creationism, 3) Indeed the molecular clock has been extolled as strong evidence for evolution and, in fact, a common sentiment has been that evolution was required to explain these evidences. As a leading molecular evolutionist wrote, the molecular clock is “only comprehensible within an evolutionary framework.” (Jukes, 119, emphasis in original) The claim that the molecular clock can only be explained by evolution is, however, now a moot point as the mounting evidence shows that molecular differences often do not fit the expected pattern. The molecular clock which evolutionists had envisioned does not exist. The literature is full of instances where the molecular clock concept fails. For example, it was found early on that different types of proteins must evolve at very different rates if there is a molecular clock. For example the fibrinopeptide proteins in various species must have evolved more than five hundred times faster than the histone IV protein. Furthermore, it was found that the evolutionary rate of certain proteins must vary significantly over time, between different species, and between different lineages. (Thomas, et. al.; Andrews, 28)


The proteins relaxin, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and the glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GPDH), for example, all contradict the molecular clock prediction. On the one hand, SOD unexpectedly shows much greater variation between similar types of fruit flies than it does between very different organisms such as animals and plants. On the other hand GPDH shows roughly the reverse trend for the same species. As one scientist concluded, GPDH and SOD taken together leave us “with no predictive power and no clock proper.” (Ayala)


Evolutionists are finding growing evidence that the purported rates of molecular evolution must vary considerably between species for a wide range of taxa, including mammals, arthropods, vascular plants, and even between closely related lineages. As one study concluded, “The false assumption of a molecular clock when reconstructing molecular phylogenies can result in incorrect topology and biased date estimation. … This study shows that there is significant rate variation in all phyla and most genes examined …” (Thomas, et. al.)


Evolutionists continue to use the molecular clock concept, but the many correction factors highlight the fact that the sequence data are being fit to the theory rather than the other way around. As one evolutionist warned, “It seems disconcerting that many exceptions exist to the orderly progression of species as determined by molecular homologies; so many in fact that I think the exception, the quirks, may carry the more important message.” (Schwabe) 

References 

ndrews, Peter. 1987. “Aspects of hominoid phylogeny” in Molecules and Morphology in Evolution, ed. Colin Patterson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Ayala, F. 1999. “Molecular clock mirages.” BioEssays 21:71-75.


Jukes, Thomas. 1983. “Molecular evidence for evolution” in: Scientists Confront Creationism, ed. Laurie Godfrey. New York: W. W. Norton.


Schwabe, C. 1986. “On the validity of molecular evolution.” Trends in Biochemical Sciences 11:280-282.


Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences. 2d ed. 1999. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.


Thomas, J. A., J. J. Welch, M. Woolfit, L. Bromham. 2006. “There is no universal molecular clock for invertebrates, but rate variation does not scale with body size.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103:7366-7371.

Zuckerkandl, E., L. Pauling. 1965. “Molecules as documents of evolutionary history.” J Theoretical Biology 8:357-366.

 


Still seeking straight answers III

To trinitarians: please point out(if you are so able) the logical fallacy in the following premise or it's conclusion.




The triune God alone is the most high God, Jesus is not the triune God, therefore Jesus is not the most high God.  

Ps. As corollaries ,JEHOVAH is the most high God ,Jesus is not the most high God therefore Jesus is not JEHOVAH.


Anyone who is the most high God is greater than anyone who is not the most high God


JEHOVAH is the most high God,


Jesus is not the most high God,


Therefore JEHOVAH is greater than Jesus

Tuesday, 6 December 2022

On Christian physicalism

  We are Christian physicalists. Why? Because as those who believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures we are convinced that the bible ,properly understood, holds to this view of earthly life including human life ecclesiastes3:19,20KJV"19For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. 20All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.". Now we do not hold to a reductive physicalism. We do not e.g believe that left alone matter and the laws of physics would eventually produce life,consciousness,intelligence or free moral agency or that there is no meaningful difference between living and nonliving matter. You can tell that the Lord JEHOVAH distinguishes between living and nonliving matter by his law regarding the way that we are to deal with even subhuman lifeforms 

Deuteronomy5:14NIV"but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do." 

Proverbs12:10KJV"A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." 

Matthew10:29KJV,"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care." 

It's important to understand that the beasts are souls(Greek psyche/Hebrew nephesh) like man Genesis1:20KJV"And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature(Nephesh/psyche) that hath life"

Indeed all life is to be regarded as sacred:

Leviticus17:11KJV" the life(Nephesh/psyche) of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." 

Even the lifeblood of the brute beast is to be distinguished from any nonliving substance indeed regarded as sacred. 

Christian physicalism is necessary for a proper understanding of the atonement. 

Blood would not be necessary for the sustaining of a spirit self. And hence could not redeem such a nonphysical self. 

Hebrews2:14-16NIV"14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16For surely it is not angels(Spirits) he helps, but Abraham’s descendants(physical souls dependent on flesh and blood). " 

This is the only way that a truly substitutionary atonement can be effected by means of blood.








On Darwinism's failure as a predictive model VI

 By Cornelius G Hunter 

Histones are proteins which serve as the hubs about which DNA is wrapped. They are highly similar across vastly different species which means they must have evolved early in evolutionary history. As one textbook explains, “The amino acid sequences of four histones are remarkably similar among distantly related species. … The similarity in sequence among histones from all eukaryotes indicates that they fold into very similar three-dimensional conformations, which were optimized for histone function early in evolution in a common ancestor of all modern eukaryotes.” (Lodish et. al., Section 9.5) And this high similarity among the histones also means they must not tolerate change very well, as another textbook explains: “Changes in amino acid sequence are evidently much more harmful for some proteins than for others. … virtually all amino acid changes are harmful in histone H4. We assume that individuals who carried such harmful mutations have been eliminated from the population by natural selection.” (Alberts et. al. 1994, 243)


So the evolutionary prediction is that in these histone proteins practically all changes are deleterious: “As might be expected from their fundamental role in DNA packaging, the histones are among the most highly conserved eucaryotic proteins. For example, the amino acid sequence of histone H4 from a pea and a cow differ at only at 2 of the 102 positions. This strong evolutionary conservation suggests that the functions of histones involve nearly all of their amino acids, so that a change in any position is deleterious to the cell.” (Alberts et. al. 2002, Chapter 4) 

This prediction has also been given in popular presentations of the theory: “Virtually all mutations impair histone’s function, so almost none get through the filter of natural selection. The 103 amino acids in this protein are identical for nearly all plants and animals.” (Molecular Clocks: Proteins That Evolve at Different Rates)


But this prediction has turned out to be false. An early study suggested that one of the histone proteins could well tolerate many changes. (Agarwal and Behe) And later studies confirmed and expanded this finding: “despite the extremely well conserved nature of histone residues throughout different organisms, only a few mutations on the individual residues (including nonmodifiable sites) bring about prominent phenotypic defects.” (Kim et. al.)


Similarly another paper documented these contradictory results: “It is remarkable how many residues in these highly conserved proteins can be mutated and retain basic nucleosomal function. … The high level of sequence conservation of histone proteins across phyla suggests a fitness advantage of these particular amino acid sequences during evolution. Yet comprehensive analysis indicates that many histone mutations have no recognized phenotype.” (Dai et. al.) In fact, even more surprising, many mutations actually raised the fitness level. (Dai et. al.) 

References 

Agarwal, S., M. Behe. 1996. “Non-conservative mutations are well tolerated in the globular region of yeast histone H4.” J Molecular Biology 255:401-411.


Alberts, Bruce., D. Bray, J. Lewis, M. Raff, K. Roberts, J. Watson. 1994. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 3d ed. New York: Garland Publishing.


Alberts, Bruce., A. Johnson, J. Lewis, et. al. 2002. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th ed. New York: Garland Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26834/


Dai, J., E. Hyland, D. Yuan, H. Huang, J. Bader, J. Boeke. 2008. “Probing nucleosome function: a highly versatile library of synthetic histone H3 and H4 mutants.” Cell 134:1066-1078.


Kim, J., J. Hsu, M. Smith, C. Allis. 2012. “Mutagenesis of pairwise combinations of histone amino-terminal tails reveals functional redundancy in budding yeast.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109:5779-5784.


Lodish H., A. Berk, S. Zipursky, et. al. 2000. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th ed. New York: W. H. Freeman. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21500/


“Molecular Clocks: Proteins That Evolve at Different Rates.” 2001. WGBH Educational Foundation and Clear Blue Sky Productions.

The fossil record goes awol again re:Darwinism.

Springtails: Wingless Arthropods that Can Fly 

David Coppedge

If you’ve hiked along streams and lakes, you may have noticed tiny bugs moving about on the water, appearing to pop into the air like popcorn. They were probably springtails: tiny non-insect hexapods without wings. Evolutionary biologists used to think that hexapods like this evolved into insects when they first earned their wings, but news from Stanford points out several problems with that idea. The fossil record shows a “Hexapod Gap”: 

“There’s been quite a bit of mystery around how insects first arose, because for many millions of years you had nothing, and then just all of a sudden an explosion of insects,” said study first author Sandra Schachat, a graduate student at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth).


Many ideas have been proposed to explain this curious lacuna in the insect fossil record, which scientists have dubbed the Hexapod Gap. 

Unfortunately for Darwin, the two leading theories to explain the gap can be ruled out; “No Excuses,” the news items says in a subtitle, silently agreeing that the insect explosion mentioned in the Science uprising episode about fossils is real:

The only way to preserve Darwinism is with a just-so story. 

As part of the new study, the team reexamined the ancient insect fossil record and found no direct evidence for wings before or during the Hexapod Gap. But as soon as wings appear 325 million years ago, insect fossils become far more abundant and diverse.


“The fossil record looks just how you would expect if insects were rare until they evolved wings, at which point they very rapidly increased in diversity and abundance,” Payne said. 

So Much for Darwin; Let’s Try Design Thinking 

A closer look at springtails shows admirable design. Six scientists from South Korea and from Georgia Tech investigated these little gymnasts. Publishing in PNAS, Victor M. Ortega-Jimenez and his team wrote about “Directional takeoff, aerial righting, and adhesion landing of semiaquatic springtails.” After refuting some myths about them, the scientists expressed amazement at their acrobatic abilities. 

Springtails are the largest group of noninsect hexapods renowned for their unique and enigmatic appendices for jumping (furcula) and adhesion (collophore). However, it has been erroneously assumed that they are unable to control their explosive takeoff, mid-air spinning, and landing. We discover that semiaquatic springtails can indeed control all three phases of jumping by adjusting their body posture and taking advantage of their appendages. They adjust the body angle and actuation speed of their leaping organ during takeoff, change their body posture in midair, and exploit the hydrophilic property of their ventral adhesive tube. The combination of these strategies allows springtails to achieve locomotion control, stability, and maneuverability, which can inform the design of small bio-inspired robots with controlled landing. 

To appreciate what they found, one must watch the slow-motion videos from the project, which are embedded in the paper. The graceful performances, with high jumps, flips, spins, and explosive horizontal dashes, are stunning enough for Olympic “short performances” in tumbling. The hexapods perform their stunts in tuck, pike, and full layout positions. And then, being able to “stick” the landing is a goal of every gymnast. The little bugs “perform directional jumps, rapid aerial righting, and near-perfect landing on the water surface,” nailing the landing 87 percent of the time after rotating so fast the action would look like a blur if not slowed down to 10,000 frames per second. This silent video really needs music!


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. After watching the performance, the judges tried to copy the design: 

We validated the springtail biophysical principles in a bioinspired jumping robot that reduces in-flight rotation and lands upright ~75% of the time. Thus, contrary to common belief, these wingless hexapods can jump, skydive, and land with outstanding control that can be fundamental for survival. 

Who Needs Wings? 

Springtails are among the smallest of arthropods, measuring 0.2 to 10 mm in length. They may seem deprived compared to their winged insect neighbors, but their physical prowess exceeds their humble appearance. The South African Biodiversity Institute tells us that they live on every continent, “even in the most inhospitable environments such as Antarctica and the Namib desert.” Their specialized exoskeleton lets them move easily on water: “Most interestingly, their skin has comb-like hexagonal or rhombic granules that are water repellent and self-cleaning.” 


Classified in phylum Arthropoda, class Entognatha, subclass Collembola, springtails are not harmful to humans unless they pop into your house by the hundreds for a visit and become a nuisance. They live on algae, fungi, and detritus, and rarely harm plants. And yes, these tiny gymnasts contain all the necessary equipment for sensation, digestion, movement, circulation, mating, sex, and communication. Like everything else, they run on ATP, with complex specified information encoded in DNA. All the respiratory and epigenetic systems that I discussed in my recent article about mitochondria are at work in their tiny bodies.

Anatomy and Physiology for Gymnastics 

The name “springtail” comes from the furcula under the abdomen, a forked, spring-like appendage powerful enough to launch them several meters into the air. Some of the 650 species of springtails that live in soil lack this organ. Another distinctive organ of springtails is the collophore, a tube-like structure under the abdomen. The PNAS paper tells how this organ plays a key role in the little bugs’ acrobatics: 

We discover that semiaquatic springtails, Isotomurus retardatus, can perform directional jumps, rapid aerial righting, and near-perfect landing on the water surface. They achieve these locomotive controls by adjusting their body attitude and impulse during takeoff, deforming their body in midair, and exploiting the hydrophilicity of their ventral tube, known as the collophore. 

Researchers proved that this organ prevents bouncing on landing. The collophore picks up a drop of water at launch. On landing, the droplet grips the surface by water cohesion, providing a cushioned impact and adhesion so that the bug doesn’t bounce. 

Experiments and mathematical modeling indicate that directional-impulse control during takeoff is driven by the collophore’s adhesion force, the body angle, and the stroke duration produced by their jumping organ, the furcula. In midair, springtails curve their bodies to form a U-shape pose, which leverages aerodynamic forces to right themselves in less than ~20 ms, the fastest ever measured in animals. A stable equilibrium is facilitated by the water adhered to the collophore. 

Another trick in the springtail’s repertoire is the rapid skip. Springtails can scoot across the water horizontally at amazing speeds, using both the furcula and collophore. 

In a few extreme cases, we even observed individuals locomote on the water surface without detaching the collophore from the surface. These springtails were able to skip on the water surface, frequently actuating their furcula. They reached traveling speeds of up to 28 cm/s (~280 bodies per s) …We observed that springtails moving horizontally on the water use their legs to adjust their yaw direction before each leaping. 

Watch and Wonder 

A truly astonishing set of springtail jumps was filmed by Dr. Adrian Smith at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. His YouTube video on the Ant Lab channel shows what the tiny springtails look like close up. He shows them leaping more than 86 times their body height into the air and rotating in 14 somersaults or more at 290 flips per second! The final clips, filmed at 73,510 frames per second, show how the furcula works: it slaps the surface, bends at a knee-like joint, and then arcs backward under the body, eventually folding back into position in midair. 

For an encore, Smith posted another YouTube video

He collected springtails in his backyard and filmed them at double the previous speed: 150,000 fps. One member of an elongated species took 0.0048 seconds to take off, accelerating at 80 m/s2 or 8 G. That was only the silver medalist! A globular species took off in a third of that time (0.0015s), accelerating at 798 m/s2 or 81 G, ten times the other one’s g-force! It’s a marvel that the head doesn’t separate and fly off under that kind of physical stress. And yet these tiny creatures jump like that all day long, every day.


Awe and Intelligent Design

People travel the world to watch the Olympic Games every four years. The gymnastics competitions are among the most popular. Without diminishing the human skill, strength, and artistry in those events, here we have seen wonders in a scientist’s backyard of equal magnificence that most of us pass by unaware. Most scientists are trained to have a keener sense of awareness of the world around them. They like to observe phenomena in detail to understand how they work. None of these scientists needed Darwinism in their study. The expectation of a functional design capable of explaining the feat sufficed to motivate the research. 


Isn’t that one of the key benefits of design thinking for science? Curiosity leads to attention, attention to observation, observation to research, research to innovation to improve observation, innovation to understanding, and understanding to imitation. Throughout that “evolution” — defined in its etymological sense of unfolding, from the Latin evolvere — intelligent design was implicitly present whether the scientist was aware of it or not.


Something else builds on understanding: awe. Many scientists testify that awe of nature led them to seek a career in science. Design science, I believe, yields a cornucopia of awe for which we can be thankful.

 

Monday, 5 December 2022

On the devaluing of the body.

Nature Worship Advances as Human Dignity Retreats 

Wesley J. Smith 

The New York Times has a long article out promoting human composting as a means of final disposition. The idea is to quickly turn bodies into dirt and then plant flowers in the remains or return the compost to the forest as fertilizer.


I have no objection to composting the dead being legal, as it now is in five states, and soon, apparently, in New York. But the story illustrates how profoundly traditional Christianity has collapsed in the West, and indeed, the meteoric growth of what might be called a nature worshipping neo-paganistic ethos: Per the Times:

I visited another forest in Southern Washington. After decades of depletion by logging, this forest had been taken over by a conservation organization with a special mission. A golf cart drove me along a re-wilding logging path, up to a field of dark-brown compost. The soil in this compost had once made up the bodies of 28 different humans: now, all were one, part of the woods around them. These 28 people chose to donate their soil to help regrow native trees and eventually bring shade to a salmon-spawning stream. 

Notice the anonymity of the deceased. Notice that, unlike traditional Christian burial practices, with human composting, the body itself has no real meaning. 

Body and Soul 

Yes, Christianity understands that, as Ash Wednesday has it, dust we were and dust we shall be. But that’s not all we are or will be in traditional Christian practice. Indeed, the dead body has value because the human person does. For example, the Orthodox Church believes: 

Not only do the Orthodox revere the body, but we also acknowledge the part our physical bodies play in our salvation. Our bodies are just as valuable as our souls. According to Holy Tradition and Scripture, we will be resurrected in our physical bodies at the Second Coming of Our Lord. We must take care of our bodies, feeding them properly, getting adequate rest, and healing them with the Holy Mysteries.


Today, many Western Christians now allow cremation, in light of the fact that its association with paganism or Gnosticism is no longer a reality. However, the Orthodox Church asserts that voluntary cremation, regardless of its detachment from pagan thought or ritual, in every instance denies the value of the human body and of material creation in general. Hence, we as Orthodox Christians are to avoid it. 

Human Life and Human Dignity 

How we treat our dead reflects our views on what we think about the living. In this sense, human composting — and even more so, another growing practice of liquifying bodies and pouring the remains into the sewer — reflects a disturbing mindset that denies ultimate meaning to human life and views us, essentially, as just another animal in the forest. At the very least, these innovations reflect a lamentable, accelerating rejection of the Judeo-Christian values that undergird Western Civilization. 

Ps. The lack of self awareness on display here compels me to rant some more about Christendom's thought leaders' inability/reluctance to take the premises of their theology to it's logical conclusion ,acts17:32NIV"When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, " why? Because they took the premise of an immortal true self to its logical conclusion. If the self is concretely distinct from the physical form and immortal it is absurd to speak of a resurrection. 

1Corinthians15:36NIV"36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies." 

No death no resurrection. There can be a re-embodying or a reincarnation but not a resurrection. 

All neo pagans are doing is reclaiming a doctrine expropriated from its palaeo-pagan forbearers by Christendom's theologians and taking its premises to their logical conclusions 


 

The failure of Darwinism as a predictive model V

 By Cornelius G Hunter 

Protein coding genes make up only a small fraction of the genome in higher organisms but their protein products are crucial to the operation of the cell. They are the workers behind just about every task in the cell, including digesting food, synthesizing chemicals, structural support, energy conversion, cell reproduction and making new proteins. And like a finely tuned machine, proteins do their work very well. Proteins are ubiquitous in all of life and must date back to the very early stages of evolution. So evolution predicts that proteins evolved when life first appeared, or not long after. But despite enormous research efforts the science clearly shows that such protein evolution is astronomically unlikely.


One reason the evolution of proteins is so difficult is that most proteins are extremely specific designs in an otherwise rugged fitness landscape. This means it is difficult for natural selection to guide mutations toward the needed proteins. In fact, four different studies, done by different groups and using different methods, all report that roughly 1070 evolutionary experiments would be needed to get close enough to a workable protein before natural selection could take over to refine the protein design. For instance, one study concluded that 1063 attempts would be required for a relatively short protein. (Reidhaar-Olson) And a similar result (1065 attempts required) was obtained by comparing protein sequences. (Yockey) Another study found that from 1064 to 1077 attempts are required (Axe) and another study concluded that 1070 attempts would be required. (Hayashi) In that case the protein was only a part of a larger protein which otherwise was intact, thus making for an easier search. Furthermore these estimates are optimistic because the experiments searched only for single-function proteins whereas real proteins perform many functions.


This conservative estimate of 1070 attempts required to evolve a simple protein is astronomically larger than the number of attempts that are feasible. And explanations of how evolution could achieve a large number of searches, or somehow obviate this requirement, require the preexistence of proteins and so are circular. For example, one paper estimated that evolution could have made 1043 such attempts. But the study assumed the entire history of the Earth is available, rather than the limited time window that evolution actually would have had. Even more importantly, it assumed the preexistence of a large population of bacteria (it assumed the earth was completely covered with bacteria). And of course, bacteria are full of proteins. Clearly such bacteria would not exist before the first proteins evolved. (Dryden) Even with these helpful and unrealistic assumptions the result was twenty seven orders of magnitude short of the requirement.


Given these several significant problems, the chances of evolution finding proteins from a random start are, as one evolutionist explained, “highly unlikely.” (Tautz) Or as another evolutionist put it, “Although the origin of the first, primordial genes may ultimately be traced back to some precursors in the so-called ‘RNA world’ billions of years ago, their origins remain enigmatic.” (Kaessmann) 

References 

Axe, D. 2004. “Estimating the prevalence of protein sequences adopting functional enzyme folds.” J Molecular Biology 341:1295-1315.


Dryden, David, Andrew Thomson, John White. 2008. “How much of protein sequence space has been explored by life on Earth?.” J. Royal Society Interface 5:953-956.


Hayashi, Y., T. Aita, H. Toyota, Y. Husimi, I. Urabe, T. Yomo. 2006. “Experimental Rugged Fitness Landscape in Protein Sequence Space.” PLoS ONE 1:e96.


Kaessmann, H. 2010. “Origins, evolution, and phenotypic impact of new genes.” Genome Research 10:1313-26.


Reidhaar-Olson J., R. Sauer. 1990. “Functionally acceptable substitutions in two alpha-helical regions of lambda repressor.” Proteins 7:306-316.


Tautz, Diethard, Tomislav Domazet-Lošo. 2011. “The evolutionary origin of orphan genes.” Nature Reviews Genetics 12:692-702.

Yockey, Hubert. 1977. “A calculation of the probability of spontaneous biogenesis by information theory.” J Theoretical Biology 67:377–398.



On acknowledging the thumb print of JEHOVAH.

God Hypothesis: In Defense of Stephen Meyer’s Book Title 

Michael Egnor 

A friend and interlocutor, the philosopher Edward Feser, takes exception to the title of Stephen Meyer’s recent book, Return of the God Hypothesis.


Responding to a tweet from David Klingoffer, Dr. Feser writes: 

With all due respect, the phrase “the God hypothesis” gets my hackles up. If X is something on which the world might merely “hypothetically” depend then X isn’t God. An argument gets to God only if it establishes the reality of an X on which the world couldn’t fail to depend.


Hence arguments that present theism as a “hypothesis” are — qua arguments for theism — time-wasters at best and indeed cause positive harm insofar as they yield a distorted conception of God and his relation to the world.


That is not to rule out a priori the possibility that considerations of the kind raised by Meyer point to real difficulties with some particular naturalistic theory, or indeed with naturalism as such as it is generally understood today. And that’s important.


But to criticize naturalism is not by itself sufficient to establish theism. The relationship between the two sets of issues is more complex than that. Moreover, the arguments that explain the rationale of theism take the form of demonstrations (not mere hypotheses), and proceed from premises that go deeper than particular facts about this or that empirical phenomenon (adaptation, fine-tuning, or whatever). For the interested uninitiated reader, these are matters I set out in Five Proofs of the Existence of God. 

I think Dr. Feser is exactly right in this sense: God’s existence is not a scientific theory on a par with Darwin’s theory of evolution or Big Bang theory or General Relativity. It is certainly possible that Darwinism or the Big Bang or Relativity could be wrong in a fundamental way — in fact, it is obvious that each of these theories is far from an exhaustive explanation of nature. 

A Necessary Predicate 

God’s existence, as Feser has brilliantly shown in several of his books (e.g., here, here and here ), is a necessary predicate for the existence of anything, including the natural world. God is the ground of existence — the Necessary Existence — on which existence itself utterly depends.


But in defense of Dr. Meyer’s book title, there is another perspective that I think is important. Natural theology is a branch of theology (and properly a branch of natural science, in my view) that demonstrates God’s existence from evidence in nature. Feser is an expert in the thought of the great Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225– 1274). In Aquinas’ view, all demonstrations of God’s existence are natural theology, because existence is absolutely distinct from essence.


The implication of this is that any valid demonstration of God’s existence must begin with evidence and proceed to the most satisfactory explanation that accounts for that evidence. This is the basis for Aquinas’ refutation of Anselm’s Ontological Argument: the Ontological Argument is a purely formal deductive argument, and you can’t prove the existence of anything by logic alone (essence) without invoking evidence (existence) of some sort. 

Aquinas’ Metaphysics 

Thus, as I understand Aquinas’ metaphysics, God’s existence is a theory in natural science, and (aside from revelation) it is only via natural science (i.e., natural theology) that His existence can be demonstrated. Of course, when you look carefully at the natural demonstrations of God’s existence, His existence is absolutely undeniable, because to deny His existence is to deny the reality of change in nature (The First Way), causation in nature (The Second Way), the existence of anything in nature (The Third Way), degrees of perfection in nature (The Fourth Way), teleology in nature (The Fifth Way), interconnectedness of processes in nature (The Neo-Platonic Proof), the reality of universals (The Augustine Proof), the real distinction between essence and existence in nature (The Thomistic Proof), the existence of sufficient reason for nature (The Rationalist Proof), and the reality of Moral Law.


To deny God’s existence is to admit abject ignorance or, if the denier is conversant with these proofs, insanity. But nonetheless, by Aquinas’ own criterion, these proofs are hypotheses in natural science, in the sense that they are inductive arguments that begin with natural (scientific) evidence and proceed to inference to best explanation. 

Science Correctly Understood 

It is in this light that I see Dr. Meyer’s book title — the validity of the God hypothesis is demonstrated by modern science correctly understood. Of course, the arguments presented by Dr. Meyer are not Thomistic or classical philosophical proofs, but his arguments are accessible to the public and to scientists in ways that classical natural theology may not be.


I suspect that more people in our philosophically innocent modern culture will be convinced of God’s existence by the Big Bang, the genetic code, and anthropic coincidences than will be convinced by the Augustinian Proof or the Neo-Platonic Proof. Dr. Feser makes excellent points — particularly the point that it is dangerous to use atheists’ own metaphysical presumptions in this debate — but what Dr. Meyer did was enter the atheist camp, take up their flawed tools, and defeat them with their own weapons.


Dr. Meyer’s brilliant book is a 21st century Areopagus Sermon, fitted to the scientistic world in which we live and move and have our being.

 

On the crux of the design debate?

 Luskin on the Heart of Intelligent Design Theory 

Evolution News 

On a classic episode of ID the Future, intelligent design geologist Casey Luskin sits down with podcast host Dr. Jeff Myers to explain the heart of intelligent design theory and why it should matter to Christians and to anyone who prizes a culture committed to the view that life is meaningful and human beings more than matter in motion. Dr. Luskin also responds to evolutionist attempts to explain the origin of exquisite molecular machines like the bacterial flagellum motor, and he offers some advice for pro-ID college students facing professors hostile to anything that challenges mainstream evolutionary theory.  

Download the podcast or listen to it here


Sunday, 4 December 2022

Granville's(not so sharp,) rule and trinitarian's lack of self awareness.

In an attempt to prove the trinity doctrine, Granville Sharp made up a rule in 1798. It is often called “Sharp’s Rule” by trinitarians. It says, in effect, that when two or more words (nouns) are joined by the word “and” they all refer to the same PERSON if the word “the” (the article) comes before the first noun and not before the other noun(s): “THE king AND _master of the castle.” 

That trinitarians ,even presently , imagine that this "rule", even if we grant that it is not suspect, could possibly be of any use as evidence of their doctrine says volumes about their total lack of self awareness. All of the creeds go to great lengths to state that no person of the trinity is numerically identical to any other person of the trinity. Thus at best ,Sharp's "rule" can be used to make a weak case for modalism which is denounced as the blackest heresy by Trinitarians.

Darwinism's failure as a predictive model IV

 Competition is greatest among neighbors 

Cornelius G Hunter 

rwin’s basic theory of evolution, by itself, did not account for the tree-like, hierarchical pattern the species were thought to form. Darwin was keenly aware of this shortcoming and wrestled with it for years. He finally conceived of a solution for why modified offspring would continue to evolve away and diverge from their parents. The principle of divergence, the last major theoretical addition before Darwin published his book, held that competition tends to be strongest between the more closely related organisms. This would cause a splitting and divergence, resulting in the traditional evolutionary tree pattern. (Desmond and Moore 1991, 419-420; Ridley, 378-379)


But no such trend has been observed. In a major study of competition between freshwater green algae species, the level of competition between pairs of species was found to be uncorrelated with the evolutionary distance between the pair of species. As the researchers explained, Darwin “argued that closely related species should compete more strongly and be less likely to coexist. For much of the last century, Darwin’s hypothesis has been taken at face value […] Our results add to a growing body of literature that fails to support Darwin’s original competition-relatedness hypothesis.” (Venail, et. al., 2, 9) The team spent months trying to resolve the problem, but to no avail. As one of the researchers explained: It was completely unexpected. When we saw the results, we said “this can’t be.” We sat there banging our heads against the wall. Darwin’s hypothesis has been with us for so long, how can it not be right? … When we started coming up with numbers that showed he [Darwin] wasn’t right, we were completely baffled. … We should be able to look at the Tree of Life, and evolution should make it clear who will win in competition and who will lose. But the traits that regulate competition can’t be predicted from the Tree of Life. (Cimons)


Why this long-standing prediction was not confirmed remains unknown. Apparently there are more complicating factors that influence competition in addition to evolutionary relatedness. 

References 

Cimons, Marlene. 2014. “Old Idea About Ecology Questioned by New Findings.” National Science Foundation.


Desmond, Adrian, James Moore. 1991. Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. New York: W. W. Norton.


Ridley, Mark. 1993. Evolution. Boston: Blackwell Scientific.

Venail , P.A., A. Narwani , K. Fritschie, M. A. Alexandrou, T. H. Oakley, B. J. Cardinale. 2014. “The influence of phylogenetic relatedness on competition and facilitation among freshwater algae in a mesocosm experiment.” Journal of Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12271.

Surrendering to dying of the light?

We Aren’t an Anti-Suicide Culture Anymore 

Wesley J. Smith 

Oh, sure. We bemoan the suicide of veterans and teenagers — still — but the elderly, ill, and disabled? Not so much.


The assisted-suicide movement boosts suicide in many forms. One of the most insidious is known in euthanasia parlance as VSED, which stands for “voluntary stop eating and drinking.” The idea is for people who want to die to starve and dehydrate themselves to death — with doctors palliating the agony of such a course. The euthanasia movement particularly targets the elderly for this type of advocacy. 

A Matter of Autonomy 

The Washington Post Magazine now tells the tale of one such death of an elderly man, depicting the event as merely a matter of autonomy (with the implied message that assisted suicide should be legalized so people who want to die don’t have to go to such extreme measures): 

Ben Griffith rose before the sun the morning of March 18, 2022, packed his car and began the long drive from his house in Frankfort, Ky., to suburban Kansas City, Mo. The time had come to help his father die.


Months earlier, when John Griffith made clear to his three sons that he would end his life by denying himself food and drink rather than go into an assisted-living facility, his two older sons objected. Only Ben, the youngest at 67, agreed to keep vigil with his 99-year-old father. Now that John’s quality of life had deteriorated to the point where he would rather die than have his misery prolonged with unwanted treatment in assisted living, Ben was heading to his father’s house. 

Be clear. VSED is suicide every bit as much as if the suicidal person jumped off a bridge. That means that the Post story violated most of the WHO Media Suicide Guidelines on reporting:


Don’t place stories about suicide prominently and don’t unduly repeat such stories.

Don’t use language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide, or presents it as a constructive solution to problems.

Don’t explicitly describe the method used.

Don’t provide details about the site/location.

Don’t use sensational headlines.

Don’t use photographs, video footage or social media links.

Moreover, the story fails to inform readers where and how to access suicide-prevention services, which suicide-prevention experts urge be included in every story about a suicide death. 

Encouraged to Die 

The story shows how a person committing VSED may be, shall we say, encouraged, to continue on that deadly course in instructions provided by euthanasia boosters to caregivers: 

Ben arrived at his father’s townhouse in Gladstone, Mo., about 3 o’clock the afternoon of March 18, having driven the better part of 11 hours. He had braced himself for the ordeal, knowing it could become more difficult if his father wavered and requested food or water. Ben could not deny him that. “It’s voluntary,” Ben says. “If a person wants food or water, you give it to him. I had done my homework with Compassion & Choices and read their list of guidance. It says remind the person, ‘Dad, you know you’re doing VSED. If you take ice chips or water, it’s going to delay the process.’ I prepared before I left for that.” 

One final point. The reporter depicts the VSED suicide as merely a matter of refusing medical treatment. But this was not a case of a patient refusing tube feeding, which under the law is deemed a medical treatment that can be withdrawn — just ask Terri Schiavo.


No, a man stopped taking sustenance when he was capable of so doing and thus died by dehydration/starvation. From what I could discern, the man wasn’t otherwise terminally ill. He was in assisted living. The only medical treatment provided was by misguided hospice personnel who made it easier for the man to die by making the dehydration physically bearable. But for those actions, he wouldn’t have even needed hospice care.


Morally, that’s another way of assisting suicide, and it furthers the purpose of whoever alerted the reporter to the story — which is to give unhappy elderly people lethal ideas.  

Ps. It does seem at times that those who subscribe to notions like unconditional immortality and reductive spiritualism don't think through those premises to their logical conclusion. If we take as a given that the true self is an immortal spirit temporarily imprisoned in a physical form which has nothing to do with our identity/personhood then strictly speaking there is no death and hence no homicide/suicide. Might the thought that life is inherently limitless and concretely distinct from the vessel containing it cause sum to devalue that vessel?(postscript mine)

 

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Reductive materialists try to define their problem away?

Sabine Hossenfelder, Taking on Consciousness, Tackles Panpsychism 

Denyse O'Leary

 Recently, I’ve been looking (here and here) at theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder’s argument that quantum mechanics does not show that consciousness is essential for understanding the universe. The topic has become very interesting because of the growth of panpsychism in science — which Hossenfelder references in the video.


Panpsychism is the belief that all of nature participates in some way in consciousness but that it is most highly developed in humans. Many prefer it to materialism because the panpsychist does not need to show that human consciousness is some kind of illusion that we evolved to believe in (?). It is part of the normal functioning of the universe even if we don’t understand how it works.


To see what’s at stake here, consider the concept of the “Hard Problem of Consciousness.” Why is it a “hard problem”? It’s only that if we assume a universe that should not have consciousness but, unaccountably, does. 

Changing Our Assumptions 

Suppose we change our assumptions and assume that consciousness is a normal part of the universe that requires no special explanation in principle? The panpsychist can approach the question of human consciousness as a much more restricted one because the goal has changed: It is no longer to explain the existence of consciousness in principle, only how it comes to exist in a certain way in humans.


Anyway, in “Does Consciousness Influence Quantum Effects?” (November 19, 2022), Hossenfelder talks about some of the theories in this area:

For example, just a few months ago, David Chalmers and Kelvin MacQueen wrote a paper about this. They proposed to address the issues of the Wigner–von Neuman interpretation by using a particular mathematical model for consciousness, that is integrated information theory, IIT for short. We briefly talked about IIT in an earlier video. The basic idea is that each system is assigned a quantity, big Psi, that you can calculate from how well-connected the system is, and how it processes information. The bigger Psi, the more conscious the system. (8:11)


In this theory, consciousness it’s not binary, it’s not on or off, it’s gradual. This is why Christof Koch, one of the proponents of Integrated Information Theory, thinks it’s a panpsychist theory. Everything is a little bit conscious; it’s just that humans are a little bit more conscious than carrots. I want to apologize to all carrots who are watching. (8:36) 

But carrots aren’t watching. 

And That Is the Point 

Christof Koch of the Allen Institute is a proponent of the admittedly panpsychist Integrated Information Theory (IIT), originally developed by fellow neuroscientist Giulio Tonioni.


David Chalmers first coined the expression “hard problem of consciousness” in 1995. Chalmers and MacQueen’s paper is here: They write, “Does consciousness collapse the quantum wave function? This idea was taken seriously by John von Neumann and Eugene Wigner but is now widely dismissed. We develop the idea by combining a mathematical theory of consciousness (integrated information theory) with an account of quantum collapse dynamics (continuous spontaneous localization). Simple versions of the theory are falsified by the quantum Zeno effect, but more complex versions remain compatible with empirical evidence. In principle, versions of the theory can be tested by experiments with quantum computers. The upshot is not that consciousness-collapse interpretations are clearly correct, but that there is a research program here worth exploring.”

Read the rest at Mind matters

File under "well said" LXXXVI

"Such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves." 

Thomas Hobbes 

 

Why attempts to school JEHOVAH never age well.

 Listen: “Design Errors” in the Human Body? 

Evolution News 

On a classic ID the Future episode, engineer Steve Laufmann critiques an article by Nathan Lents, ““The Botch of the Human Body.” The article purports to show that so-called “design errors” in the human body prove it wasn’t designed. Laufmann describes five ways Lents’s argument is a “bizarre blend of ignorance and arrogance.” For instance, Lents often ignores something basic to engineering — the necessity of design tradeoffs. For a more in-depth response to Lents and to others making similar bad-design arguments for mindless evolution, see Laufmann’s new book, co-authored with physician Howard Glicksman, Your designed body 

Download the podcast or listen to it here.


David Berlinski on why we can dare to deny Darwin.

  The Deniable Darwin.


The fossil record is incomplete, the reasoning flawed; is the theory of evolution fit to survive?


DAVID BERLINSKI JUNE 1, 1994 INTELLIGENT DESIGN. 


CHARLES DARWIN presented On the Origin of Species to a disbelieving world in 1859 — three years after Clerk Maxwell had published “On Faraday’s Lines of Force,” the first of his papers on the electromagnetic field. Maxwell’s theory has by a process of absorption become part of quantum field theory, and so a part of the great canonical structure created by mathematical physics.




By contrast, the final triumph of Darwinian theory, although vividly imagined by biologists, remains, along with world peace and Esperanto, on the eschatological horizon of contemporary thought.




“It is just a matter of time,” one biologist wrote recently, reposing his faith in a receding hereafter, “before this fruitful concept comes to be accepted by the public as wholeheartedly as it has accepted the spherical earth and the sun-centered solar system.” Time, however, is what evolutionary biologists have long had, and if general acceptance has not come by now, it is hard to know when it ever will.




IN ITS most familiar, textbook form, Darwin’s theory subordinates itself to a haunting and fantastic image, one in which life on earth is represented as a tree. So graphic has this image become that some biologists have persuaded themselves they can see the flowering tree standing on a dusty plain, the mammalian twig obliterating itself by anastomosis into a reptilian branch and so backward to the amphibia and then the fish, the sturdy chordate line–our line, cosa nostra–moving by slithering stages into the still more primitive trunk of life and so downward to the single irresistible cell that from within its folded chromosomes foretold the living future. 


This is nonsense, of course. That densely reticulated tree, with its lavish foliage, is an intellectual construct, one expressing the hypothesis of descent with modification.




Evolution is a process, one stretching over four billion years. It has not been observed. The past has gone to where the past inevitably goes. The future has not arrived. The present reveals only the detritus of time and chance: the fossil record, and the comparative anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of different organisms and creatures. Like every other scientific theory, the theory of evolution lies at the end of an inferential trail.




The facts in favor of evolution are often held to be incontrovertible; prominent biologists shake their heads at the obduracy of those who would dispute them. Those facts, however, have been rather less forthcoming than evolutionary biologists might have hoped. If life progressed by an accumulation of small changes, as they say it has, the fossil record should reflect its flow, the dead stacked up in barely separated strata. But for well over 150 years, the dead have been remarkably diffident about confirming Darwin’s theory. Their bones lie suspended in the sands of time-theromorphs and therapsids and things that must have gibbered and then squeaked; but there are gaps in the graveyard, places where there should be intermediate forms but where there is nothing whatsoever instead.(1)  


Before the Cambrian era, a brief 600 million years ago, very little is inscribed in the fossil record; but then, signaled by what I imagine as a spectral puff of smoke and a deafening ta-da!, an astonishing number of novel biological structures come into creation, and they come into creation at once.




Thereafter, the major transitional sequences are incomplete. Important inferences begin auspiciously, but then trail off, the ancestral connection between Eusthenopteron and Ichthyostega, for example–the great hinge between the fish and the amphibia–turning on the interpretation of small grooves within Eusthenopteron’s intercalary bones. Most species enter the evolutionary order fully formed and then depart unchanged. Where there should be evolution, there is stasis instead–the term is used by the paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge in developing their theory of “punctuated equilibria”–with the fire alarms of change going off suddenly during a long night in which nothing happens.




The fundamental core of Darwinian doctrine, the philosopher Daniel Dennett has buoyantly affirmed, “is no longer in dispute among scientists.” Such is the party line, useful on those occasions when biologists must present a single face to their public. But it was to the dead that Darwin pointed for confirmation of his theory; the fact that paleontology does not entirely support his doctrine has been a secret of long standing among paleontologists. “The known fossil record,” Steven Stanley observes, “fails to document a single example of phyletic evolution accomplishing a major morphologic transition and hence offers no evidence that the gradualistic model can be valid.” 


Small wonder, then, that when the spotlight of publicity is dimmed, evolutionary biologists evince a feral streak, Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, Richard Dawkins, and John Maynard Smith abusing one another roundly like wrestlers grappling in the dark. 


Pause for the Logician 


SWIMMING IN the soundless sea, the shark has survived for millions of years, sleek as a knife blade and twice as dull. The shark is an organism wonderfully adapted to its environment. Pause. And then the bright brittle voice of logical folly intrudes: after all, it has survived for millions of years.




This exchange should be deeply embarrassing to evolutionary biologists. And yet, time and again, biologists do explain the survival of an organism by reference to its fitness and the fitness of an organism by reference to its survival, the friction between concepts kindling nothing more illuminating than the observation that some creatures have been around for a very long time. “Those individuals that have the most offspring,” writes Ernst Mayr, the distinguished zoologist, “are by definition . . . the fittest ones.” And in Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, Tim Berra states that “[f]itness in the Darwinian sense means reproductive fitness-leaving at least enough offspring to spread or sustain the species in nature.” 


This is not a parody of evolutionary thinking; it is evolutionary thinking. Que sera, sera.




Evolutionary thought is suffused in general with an unwholesome glow. “The belief that an organ so perfect as the eye,” Darwin wrote, “could have been formed by natural selection is enough to stagger anyone.” It is. The problem is obvious. “What good,” Stephen Jay Gould asked dramatically, “is 5 percent of an eye?” He termed this question “excellent.”




The question, retorted the Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, the most prominent representative of ultra-Darwinians, “is not excellent at all”:




Vision that is 5 percent as good as yours or mine is very much worth having in comparison with no vision at all. And 6 percent is better than 5, 7 percent better than 6, and so on up the gradual, continuous series.




But Dawkins, replied Phillip Johnson in turn, had carelessly assumed that 5 percent of an eye would see 5 percent as well as an eye, and that is an assumption for which there is little evidence. (A professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, Johnson has a gift for appealing to the evidence when his opponents invoke theory, and vice versa.) 


Having been conducted for more than a century, exchanges of this sort may continue for centuries more; but the debate is an exercise in irrelevance. What is at work in sight is a visual system, one that involves not only the anatomical structures of the eye and forebrain, but the remarkably detailed and poorly understood algorithms required to make these structures work.




“When we examine the visual mechanism closely,” Karen K. de Valois remarked recently in Science, “although we understand much about its component parts, we fail to fathom the ways in which they fit together to produce the whole of our complex visual perception.”




These facts suggest a chastening reformulation of Gould’s “excellent” question, one adapted to reality: could a system we do not completely understand be constructed by means of a process we cannot completely specify?




The intellectually responsible answer to this question is that we do not know–we have no way of knowing. But that is not the answer evolutionary theorists accept. According to Daniel Dennett (in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea), Dawkins is “almost certainly right” to uphold the incremental view, because “Darwinism is basically on the right track.” In this, he echoes the philosopher Kim Sterenly, who is also persuaded that “something like Dawkins’s stories have got to be right” (emphasis added). After all, she asserts, “natural selection is the only possible explanation of complex adaptation.” 


Dawkins himself has maintained that those who do not believe a complex biological structure may be constructed in small steps are expressing merely their own sense of “personal incredulity.” But in countering their animadversions he appeals to his own ability to believe almost anything. Commenting on the (very plausible) claim that spiders could not have acquired their web-spinning behavior by a Darwinian mechanism, Dawkins writes: “It is not impossible at all. That is what I firmly believe and I have some experience of spiders and their webs.” It is painful to see this advanced as an argument. 


Unflagging Success 


DARWIN CONCEIVED of evolution in terms of small variations among organisms, variations which by a process of accretion allow one species to change continuously into another. This suggests a view in which living creatures are spread out smoothly over the great manifold of biological possibilities, like colors merging imperceptibly in a color chart.




Life, however, is absolutely nothing like this. Wherever one looks there is singularity, quirkiness, oddness, defiant individuality, and just plain weirdness. The male redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti), for example, is often consumed during copulation. Such is sexual cannibalism–the result, biologists have long assumed, of “predatory females overcoming the defenses of weaker males.” But it now appears that among Latrodectus basselti, the male is complicit in his own consumption. Having achieved intromission, this schnook performs a characteristic somersault, placing his abdomen directly over his partner’s mouth. Such is sexual suicide-awfulness taken to a higher power.(2) 


It might seem that sexual suicide confers no advantage on the spider, the male passing from ecstasy to extinction in the course of one and the same act. But spiders willing to pay for love are apparently favored by female spiders (no surprise, there); and female spiders with whom they mate, entomologists claim, are less likely to mate again. The male spider perishes; his preposterous line persists.




This explanation resolves one question only at the cost of inviting another: why such bizarre behavior? In no other Latrodectus species does the male perform that obliging somersault, offering his partner the oblation of his life as well as his love. Are there general principles that specify sexual suicide among this species, but that forbid sexual suicide elsewhere? If so, what are they?




Once asked, such questions tend to multiply like party guests. If evolutionary theory cannot answer them, what, then, is its use? Why is the Pitcher plant carnivorous, but not the thorn bush, and why does the Pacific salmon require fresh water to spawn, but not the Chilean sea bass? Why has the British thrush learned to hammer snails upon rocks, but not the British blackbird, which often starves to death in the midst of plenty? Why did the firefly discover bioluminescence, but not the wasp or the warrior ant; why do the bees do their dance, but not the spider or the flies; and why are women, but not cats, born without the sleek tails that would make them even more alluring than they already are? 


Why? Yes, why? The question, simple, clear, intellectually respectable, was put to the Nobel laureate George Wald. “Various organisms try various things,” he finally answered, his words functioning as a verbal shrug, “they keep what works and discard the rest.”




But suppose the manifold of life were to be given a good solid yank, so that the Chilean sea bass but not the Pacific salmon required fresh water to spawn, or that ants but not fireflies flickered enticingly at twilight, or that women but not cats were born with lush tails. What then? An inversion of life’s fundamental facts would, I suspect, present evolutionary biologists with few difficulties. Various organisms try various things. This idea is adapted to any contingency whatsoever, an interesting example of a Darwinian mechanism in the development of Darwinian thought itself.




A comparison with geology is instructive. No geological theory makes it possible to specify precisely a particular mountain’s shape; but the underlying process of upthrust and crumbling is well understood, and geologists can specify something like a mountain’s generic shape. This provides geological theory with a firm connection to reality. A mountain arranging itself in the shape of the letter “A” is not a physically possible object; it is excluded by geological theory.




The theory of evolution, by contrast, is incapable of ruling anything out of court. That job must be done by nature. But a theory that can confront any contingency with unflagging success cannot be falsified. Its control of the facts is an illusion. 


Sheer Dumb Luck 


CHANCE ALONE,” the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Jacques Monod once wrote, “is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, is at the very root of the stupendous edifice of creation.”




The sentiment expressed by these words has come to vex evolutionary biologists. “This belief,” Richard Dawkins writes, “that Darwinian evolution is ‘random,’ is not merely false. It is the exact opposite of the truth.” But Monod is right and Dawkins wrong. Chance lies at the beating heart of evolutionary theory, just as it lies at the beating heart of thermodynamics.




It is the second law of thermodynamics that holds dominion over the temporal organization of the universe, and what the law has to say we find verified by ordinary experience at every turn. Things fall apart. Energy, like talent, tends to squander itself. Liquids go from hot to lukewarm. And so does love. Disorder and despair overwhelm the human enterprise, filling our rooms and our lives with clutter. Decay is unyielding. Things go from bad to worse. And overall, they go only from bad to worse. 


These grim certainties the second law abbreviates in the solemn and awful declaration that the entropy of the universe is tending toward a maximum. The final state in which entropy is maximized is simply more likely than any other state. The disintegration of my face reflects nothing more compelling than the odds. Sheer dumb luck.




But if things fall apart, they also come together. Life appears to offer at least a temporary rebuke to the second law of thermodynamics. Although biologists are unanimous in arguing that evolution has no goal, fixed from the first, it remains true nonetheless that living creatures have organized themselves into ever more elaborate and flexible structures. If their complexity is increasing, the entropy that surrounds them is decreasing. Whatever the universe-as-a-whole may be doing–time fusing incomprehensibly with space, the great stars exploding indignantly–biologically things have gone from bad to better, the show organized, or so it would seem, as a counterexample to the prevailing winds of fate.




How so? The question has historically been the pivot on which the assumption of religious belief has turned. How so? “God said: ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let fowl fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.”‘ That is how so. And who on the basis of experience would be inclined to disagree? The structures of life are complex, and complex structures get made in this, the purely human world, only by a process of deliberate design. An act of intelligence is required to bring even a thimble into being; why should the artifacts of life be different? 


Darwin’s theory of evolution rejects this counsel of experience and intuition. Instead, the theory forges, at least in spirit, a perverse connection with the second law itself, arguing that precisely the same force that explains one turn of the cosmic wheel explains another: sheer dumb luck.




If the universe is for reasons of sheer dumb luck committed ultimately to a state of cosmic listlessness, it is also by sheer dumb luck that life first emerged on earth, the chemicals in the pre-biotic seas or soup illuminated and then invigorated by a fateful flash of lightning. It is again by sheer dumb luck that the first self-reproducing systems were created. The dense and ropy chains of RNA–they were created by sheer dumb luck, and sheer dumb luck drove the primitive chemicals of life to form a living cell. It is sheer dumb luck that alters the genetic message so that, from infernal nonsense, meaning for a moment emerges; and sheer dumb luck again that endows life with its opportunities, the space of possibilities over which natural selection plays, sheer dumb luck creating the mammalian eye and the marsupial pouch, sheer dumb luck again endowing the elephant’s sensitive nose with nerves and the orchid’s translucent petal with blush.




Amazing. Sheer dumb luck. 


Life, Complex Life 


PHYSICISTS ARE persuaded that things are in the end simple; biologists that they are not. A good deal depends on where one looks. Wherever the biologist looks, there is complexity beyond complexity, the entanglement of things ramifying downward from the organism to the cell. In a superbly elaborated figure, the Australian biologist Michael Denton compares a single cell to an immense automated factory, one the size of a large city:




On the surface of the cell we would see millions of openings, like the portholes of a vast space ship, opening and closing to allow a continual stream of materials to flow in and out. If we were to enter one of these openings we would find ourselves in a world of supreme technology and bewildering complexity. We would see endless highly organized corridors and conduits branching in every direction away from the perimeter of the cell, some leading to the central memory bank in the nucleus and others to assembly plants and processing units. The nucleus itself would be a vast spherical chamber more than a kilometer in diameter, resembling a geodesic dome inside of which we would see, all neatly stacked together in ordered arrays, the miles of coiled chains of the DNA molecule . . . . We would notice that the simplest of the functional components of the cell, the protein molecules, were, astonishingly, complex pieces of molecular machinery . . . . Yet the life of the cell depends on the integrated activities of thousands, certainly tens, and probably hundreds of thousands of different protein molecules. 


And whatever the complexity of the cell, it is insignificant in comparison with the mammalian nervous system; and beyond that, far impossibly ahead, there is the human mind, an instrument like no other in the biological world, conscious, flexible, penetrating, inscrutable, and profound.




It is here that the door of doubt begins to swing. Chance and complexity are countervailing forces; they work at cross-purposes. This circumstance the English theologian William Paley (1743-1805) made the gravamen of his well-known argument from design:




Nor would any man in his senses think the existence of the watch, with its various machinery, accounted for, by being told that it was one out of possible combinations of material forms; that whatever he had found in the place where he found the watch, must have contained some internal configuration or other, and that this configuration might be the structure now exhibited, viz., of the works of a watch, as well as a different structure. It is worth remarking, it is simply a fact, that this courtly and old-fashioned argument is entirely compelling. We never attribute the existence of a complex artifact to chance. And for obvious reasons: complex objects are useful islands, isolated amid an archipelago of useless possibilities. Of the thousands of ways in which a watch might be assembled from its constituents, only one is liable to work. It is unreasonable to attribute the existence of a watch to chance, if only because it is unlikely. An artifact is the overflow in matter of the mental motions of intention, deliberate design, planning, and coordination. The inferential spool runs backward, and it runs irresistibly from a complex object to the contrived, the artificial, circumstances that brought it into being. 


Paley allowed the conclusion of his argument to drift from man-made to biological artifacts, a human eye or kidney falling under the same classification as a watch. “Every indication of contrivance,” he wrote, “every manifestation of design, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.




In this drifting, Darwinists see dangerous signs of a non sequitur. There is a tight connection, they acknowledge, between what a watch is and how it is made; but the connection unravels at the human eye–or any other organ, disposition, body plan, or strategy–if only because another and a simpler explanation is available. Among living creatures, say Darwinists, the design persists even as the designer disappears.




“Paley’s argument,” Dawkins writes, “is made with passionate sincerity and is informed by the best biological scholarship of his day, but it is wrong, gloriously and utterly wrong.”




The enormous confidence this quotation expresses must be juxtaposed against the weight of intuition it displaces. It is true that intuition is often wrong-quantum theory is intuition’s graveyard. But quantum theory is remote from experience; our intuitions in biology lie closer to the bone. We are ourselves such stuff as genes are made on, and while this does not establish that our assessments of time and chance must be correct, it does suggest that they may be pertinent.