Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Greatest Show on Earth vs. "The Whole Show": Dawkin's Channels His Inner Wendy

For a review of Richard Dawkin's latest, and an example of great writing, go here.

Money quote: “Possibly the single most incompetent logical argument ever made for or against anything in the whole history of the human race.”

Now that's a quote worth waiting for!

I was going to tell you the context, but I think I'll just let you read the review. Hint: it is not describing Dawkin's current book.

And that's the way the Ball bounces.

Trivia question. We all know The Greatest Show on Earth refers to Dawkin's latest book. But, can any astute reader of the Ball Bounces catch what the reference to "The Whole Show" is referring to? 50 bonus points and free 1-year subscription to this blog if you can get it.

27 comments:

Joe said...

Now why does 'The Greatest Show on Earth' and 'There is a sucker born every minute' seem so related? Apart from Dawkin's Disciples that is.

philosoraptor said...

I am throwing the gauntlet down. There is a heated creationism/ID discussion going on at Pharyngula with real scientists who know their stuff. I assert that you guys have no idea what you're talking about, so prove me wrong. Consider it an opportunity to correct all the deluded scientists.

By the way, if you feel that your side is being under-represented on that website, feel free to vocally invite all of your creationist or ID intellectual leaders there as well. It won't be their first time there, just so you know. Do a search on the site if you want. Everytime they show up they get schooled, because you don't get any leeway for being stupid or deluded at Pharyngula.

The challenge has been made, so it's your turn to strap on a pair and go and defend your integrity.

Cheers

Joe said...

About 2000 years ago a bald headed Jewish guy went to Mars Hill to argue with the Philosophers. He was summarily dismissed because he didn't meet their criteria.

So Philosoraptor here's a question for you. Whose arguments have stood the test of time. The unknown philosophers and philosophies of Mars Hill or that goofy little bald headed Jew ST Paul?

RkBall said...

Philo. Thanks for the gauntlet. I'll pass. Here's why.

The author of the article in question accepts the entire "story" of darwinian evolution, while apparently rejecting, as I do, the sufficiency of the darwinian mechanism to explain life as we know and experience it. So, he's not arguing with the scientists. His quarrel, like mine, would be with the epistemological limitations of science itself.

Since science as currently practiced employs methodological naturalism, i.e, limiting its search and allowable explanations to natural causes, there is no room in scientific exploration for a supernatural explanation of any caused natural phenomenon. There's probably no room for a merely immaterial cause as well.

That being the case, assuming for the sake of argument that there are supernatural reasons, purposes, causes, and effects, and/or real immaterial entities, a scientific hypothesis may be valid scientifically, because it's as good as you are going to get, yet wrong in absolute terms.

And that is the crux of the problem with darwinian explanations. It's a "just so" story that lacks plausibility. Life just happens to happen. Eyes just happen to emerge because seeing has survival benefits. Brains just happen to form! Livers! Hearts! Lungs! Consciousness emerges from the dark gloom of a dead insentient universe. Brains are wired for rationality, while the universe as a whole remains strictly mindless and irrational. Moral sense is embedded into us by a care-nothing, amoral process.

Darwinian explanations can't even begin to provide a plausible explanation for this. The darwinian mechanism is weighed in the balance -- and found wanting by reasonable persons.

So, it doesn't matter how smart you are or how much science you know. When you have by definition taken supernatural and/or immaterial explanations off the table, you are operating with a hopelessly restricted toolkit for assessing reality.

Science may work well for determining e.g., when water freezes, but it doesn't work nearly as well with answering why there is water in the first place, or when you are dealing with

- why there is something rather than nothing

- why this cosmos rather than a different, untuned, chaotic cosmos

- how this cosmos

- how life, and why life

- how higher-order capabilities like self-consciousness, mind, rationality, moral sense, etc. can emerge from dead matter by an uncreated, undirected, purposeless, amoral, mindless process

So, science may do really well at the bits and bytes level, but it is hopeless in providing an explanation for "The Whole Show"

Anyone who restricts their inquisitiveness to asking "how" questions, while forsaking "why" questions is operating from a deep impoverished starting point.

RkBall said...

To condense my argument: using science, you cannot use supernatural (and, probably, immaterial) explanations to explain life, and, without recourse to these, reality as it exists and we experience it, is inadequately explained.

"Everything that comes to exist must have a sufficient cause."

* "Nothing" is an insufficient cause of the universe.

* Uncreated, undirected chemical reactions are an insufficient cause for the origin of life.

* Darwinian explanations are an insufficient cause for life as it has emerged on earth -- especially, man.

Joe said...

BTW philosoraptor do you really consider that as 'heated discussion'? Its a bunch of juveniles throwing 'evolutionist' bromides back and forth. It offers no answers and does nothing to advance either position, evolutionist or creationist.

philosoraptor said...

Do you guys seriously believe that your 'arguments' haven't been completely nullified by qualified scientists?

I'll focus on the two pseudoscientific assertions you've made, and skip the philosophical mumbo jumbo (that has also been roundly spanked at places such as here):

Uncreated, undirected chemical reactions are an insufficient cause for the origin of life.

* Darwinian explanations are an insufficient cause for life as it has emerged on earth -- especially, man.


And I'll ask: where's your evidence for these claims? You claim to debunk scientific claims, but scientific claims require evidence, and you have nothing to back up these ridiculous, ill-formed assertions. You see, you want to play scientist but you have no idea what you're doing. It would be funny were it not a frighteningly dangerous affront to the rational principles that have guided us from stone-age mysticism to our advanced post-Enlightment societies. It also makes you look like an immense fool to anyone who actually is knowledgeable.

Finally, I should add that at least those above two pseudoscientific assertions are exactly the sort of things that you should present to the people at Pharyngula. You won't, because you would get slaughtered; and neither would the morons at the Discovery Institute (or wherever else you get your pseudoscientific garbage you read), because they would also get schooled.

If you REALLY want to stick to theology. how about contemplating the validity of non-statements about the nature of God's existence, like this gem from Karen Armstrong: "God is no being".

It is logically equivalent to "No being is God", which is a perfect example of the craptacular word games that theologists play in order to maintain the charade with the nonthinking believers.

philosoraptor said...

Joe, it's a routine visit to the site by a bunch of creotards and IDiots, who pop by, make unsupported claims and assertions (not unlike the ones above from RKBall), and then disappear after they get their collective asses paddled.

Face it: Science wins, and you lose. The sooner the reality sinks in, the sooner you start to live an honest intellectually fulfilling life.

lastchancetosee said...

I disagree about the scientific method failing where "supernatural causes" are concerned.

Either these "supernatural causes" have a detectable effect on our world - then they are detectable via the scientific method. Or they have not, then their existence is a) irrelevant to our world and b) like Russel's Teapot unknowable.

Let's go with the former: If there are "supernatural causes" then we can detect them.
Now, since the assumptions involved in these "supernatural causes" are so tremendously huge, they can only be as the very last resort. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence.
Simply hitting some fact that hasn't been explained yet isn't enough, one would have to show that it is unexplainable.
That is why the supernatural is never included in scientific thoughts - because to include it would create many more problems than it would solve.

Now, concerning the beginning of the universe. This definitely is a big, unanswered question (and one where I'm not entirely convinced that it is answerable by us, but we'll find out, hopefully). But what makes you think that your designer solves it?

The rest, origin of life, evolution of man etc.: While we certainly do not know all the specifics of how this happened, we have demonstrated processes that are capable of producing the desired outcome. Therefore it is unacceptable to presume some supernatural force at work.

You have never demonstrated (or even tried todemonstrate) that the driving forces behind evolution are insufficient causes for life today or that known chemical processes are insufficient causes for the beginning of life.

Joe said...

Philostine ole boy are you ever wrong.

Science is always "up for review" not "always wins".

Darwin proposed a theory which seemed plausible at the time of its publication but more recent discoveries have shown how naive Darwin actually was.

I throw the same challenge at you. Can you in your own words explain the development of DNA from 'natural causes'.

Joe said...

"Either these "supernatural causes" have a detectable effect on our world - then they are detectable via the scientific method."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha

Have you not been following the discussion here? That is exactly what Richard and I have been pointing out. There are many many many effects for which the only logical Cause is Supernature.

Can I let you in on a little secret last to see?

Just because you slept through dawn doesn't mean the sun didn't rise. In other words denying the evidence doesn't prove your case.

RkBall said...

"* Darwinian explanations are an insufficient cause for life as it has emerged on earth -- especially, man.


Philo: And I'll ask: where's your evidence for these claims?

Ball:

From the evident existence of "me", myself, as a teleologically-oriented, causal entity with real free-will, which cannot be adequately accounted for by reductionist science.

From software engineering: what goes out must have come in, i.e,, you must have sufficient inputs to produce a given outcome. Zapped mud is an insufficient input to produce musings, morality, and Mozart.



Philo: You claim to debunk scientific claims, but scientific claims require evidence, and you have nothing to back up these ridiculous, ill-formed assertions.

I am simply pointing out that the darwinian mechanism is woefully inadequate to account for the results achieved -- it is the darwinian mechanism that needs to be defended, not my critique of it.

Just because someone says, you take stardust and water, shake it in a jar, keep shaking, keep shaking, and eventually you'll get a man does not mean either that a) this is actually possible or b) this actually happened.


Philo: You see, you want to play scientist but you have no idea what you're doing.'

Ball: No, I have no desire whatsoever to play scientist and this is not what I am doing. I have also been a critic of the AGW science, and my intuitions, based on life experience and common sense reasoning, are panning out pretty well.

RkBall said...

philo: jumbo (that has also been roundly spanked at places such as here):

Thanks for the link. It'll take me some time to get through it.

RkBall said...

"You have never demonstrated (or even tried todemonstrate) that the driving forces behind evolution are insufficient causes for life today or that known chemical processes are insufficient causes for the beginning of life."

There are no "driving forces", that's the problem. There's no Driver, and no driving. There's just undirected, purposeless mutations and a culling process (natural selection). The culling process makes sense, because it is a virtual tautology -- the things that are survivable survive, the things that are not, don't.

There's just no driving force. And the idea of an exquisite racheting mechanism, where every incremental improvement (and that's the wrong word because there is no goal) gets kept, is completely inadequate, even conceptually, to explain the exquisite development of complex organs and the even more improbable emergence of consciousness.

You can say well, darwinism did it, but that's as much a faith statement as saying God did it. At least with God you've got sufficiency of cause and an adequate explanation for evident design and the results -- creatures who are purposeful, design-oriented, and moral.

Given the broader context of a Big Bang cosmology where matter, energy, space, and time all popped into being, prior to which there was nothing, and the evident fine-tuning of the universe for life (the fix is in), the inexplicable origin of life (with the gap going from an inch in Darwin's day to a mile now), darwinism, in the context of The Big Show is a petty little explanation that amounts to little more than wishful thinking on the part of those who don't like the evident implications of theism -- and in saying all this, I am not denying that evolution has occurred.

RkBall said...

Let's go with the former: If there are "supernatural causes" then we can detect them.

YEs, and here's a partial list:

* the existence of the universe

* the laws of physics

* the laws of chemistry

* life that exhibits evidence of design

* creatures that exhibit consciousness, personhood, free will, and moral sense

* all natural processes, including evolutionary processes

* the resurrection of Christ

The practice of science itself depends upon assumptions that are grounded in an orderly universe acting according to predictable laws, knowable by the scientist because human beings have been given the capacity to observe, question, wonder, ponder, seek, use reason, etc.

It's like your mother has baked you a cake and you spend all your time with the chemistry set your mother got for you analyzing the cake and saying, no evidence of a mother here!

RkBall said...

"Now, concerning the beginning of the universe. This definitely is a big, unanswered question... But what makes you think that your designer solves it?"

God provides a sufficient cause. Not just for the beginning of the universe, but its order, its evident rationality, its evident design, our consciousness, moral sense, etc.

RkBall said...

Philo and Lc2c. Thanks for doing this. I appreciate your insights and challenges.

Great link from philo. I've added it to my to-do list. I've still got to post something on Abraham's Test.

Joe said...

For those who are looking for sufficient cause in nature.

If DNA were formed from chemical reactions alone we would see a repeat pattern such as:

abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

After all a only attracts b which only attracts c and so on.

When we look at DNA we notice the same letters but some unknown cause has produced the following:

mary had a little lamb
its fleece was white as snow

I hope everyone notices not only does the unknown cause create a different pattern but it actually over rides the known cause.

Then to top it all off not only does the unknown cause create a different pattern it also creates a pattern that transmits information.

Now it is to be admitted that given enough time and enough scrambling of the original pattern the second pattern may come into being. However it would not stay in that second pattern because the natural forces would pull it right back to the original pattern.

This also ignores the fact that the second pattern not only exists but transmits information. But that information is only acted upon when this most mysterious of all forces LIFE is in receipt of said information. The pattern in a dead DNA does not change but its information is no longer transmitted. What is it that causes and enables these things to happen. Somehow a lightening bolt in a mud bath just doesn't cut it. Especially when you consider that each letter (chemical in DNA) is a tiny molecule yet the string of molecules is almost 2 meters long.

So not only does the unknown cause put the information package together but the pattern is extremely varied and extremely large. To top it all off that same unknown force or something akin to it causes something else to read the information contained in the pattern and act upon it going even so far as recreating a pattern identical to the first pattern out of raw material. How durable is that pattern? Some scientists believe that they can trace the pattern back over millions if not billions of years.

But of course SDC, Last to see, Dinolover etc ignore all the evidence and choose to believe that 'from nothing, by nothing, for nothing' is a sufficient explanation of it all.

RkBall said...

For a more erudite discussion on this, sans name-calling, go to

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/01/07/re-a-walk-to-the-moon/

philosoraptor said...

RKBall,

If you think that the link you provided above provides anything new to the discussion, you really need to read more about evolutionary biology.

The concept of irreducible complexity has been discredited over and over again...even Behe's own testimony in a court of law couldn't save it.

As for the other assertions you make, they are far from being scientific. They are nothing but hollow assertions and lack any evidence whatsoever. They are statements and nothing more. There is no theoretical underpinning and no experimental data.

You and Joe talk about information and complexity, and yet you haven't the foggiest idea what those words mean. Please give me a definition of information or complexity that can be quantified and measured. Are you talking about mutual information, relative entropy, kolmogorov complexity, physical complexity, algorithmic information, Renyi entropy, functional information...? How do I calculate the amount of information? How do you calculate the complexity? How have you proven that evolutionary adaptation doesn't increase information, and if you have, how come you haven't published this? It would be groundbreaking.

The truth is you are playing the theologians game. You are regurgitating rhetorical nonsense and calling it empirical fact. If they were interesting assertions, then it wouldn't really matter. As it is, these are all boring and tedious things that have been brought back to the discussion over and over, and have always been found lacking.

RkBall said...

"The concept of irreducible complexity has been discredited over and over again...even Behe's own testimony in a court of law couldn't save it."

You should know that a court of law has nothing whatsoever to do in determining scientific validity -- any more than if some judge decided that AGW was a hoax. At best, the court of law argument deals with philosophical issues -- which you guys always want to avoid if favor of "empirical data".

RkBall said...

"You and Joe talk about information and complexity, and yet you haven't the foggiest idea what those words mean."

Well, I have had a successful 30 year career in software engineering spanning five continents, so I might know a little bit.

RkBall said...

"As it is, these are all boring and tedious things..."

Now, boring is an interesting concept. I wonder what evolutionary advantage it gives?

But, you must provide empirical data on boredom -- how it can be quantified and measured. Until you do, we cannot discuss it -- unless and until it can be measured in a scientist's test-tube, it does not exist.

Joe_Agnost said...

Ball blurts: "I have had a successful 30 year career in software engineering spanning five continents, so I might know a little bit."

And yet you still neglect to answer the question that was asked of you...

Ball fails even more with: "you must provide empirical data on boredom -- how it can be quantified and measured."

You really are out to lunch. Philo made a ~statement~ not a scientific claim. That you don't know the difference is evident by reading your blog.

You are so out of your league on these matters - you should probably stick to useless activities like praying and such.

RkBall said...

Joe Agnost -- good to have you back. I thought you had moved on to greener pastures.

Joe_Agnost said...

Ball wrote: "good to have you back. I thought you had moved on to greener pastures."

I check in once in a while to see how you're butchering science. Sometimes your comments are too... um... (is 'stupid' too harsh?)... to let pass.

philosoraptor said...

You should know that a court of law has nothing whatsoever to do in determining scientific validity

Well it carries a bit more weight when he is cross examined with scientific evidence that counters his claim, and he cannot support it. Also, he himself indicated during the trial that he hasn't read ANY of the literature that discredits his claims, so how can he be considered credible, even if his ideas are correct? If he took the time to review the opposition to his ideas, and he provided his own explanations to the opposition, then perhaps he would get respect. But he hasn't even READ about research that discredits his work, let alone responded. He avoids it. That is intellectually dishonest.

Well, I have had a successful 30 year career in software engineering spanning five continents, so I might know a little bit.

Define mutual information and explain its relationship to relative entropy. I trust that you will be honest and not refer to Wikipedia or something similar.

Now, boring is an interesting concept. I wonder what evolutionary advantage it gives?

Not everything confers an evolutionary advantage. Some things are neutral adaptations. In the case of boredom...seen as the anxiety associated with lack of activity, it could feasibly have a very strong adaptive value. Creativity and curiosity are what drive our rational capacity and bring us to face new challenges. Boredom could easily be seen as anxiety or unease designed to spur us to activity - the activity being evolutionary advantageous.

In any case, designing an experiment to measure boredom and its relation to evolution would be difficult, to say the least. Perhaps you could come up with a clever way to do it? In most cases evolutionary psychology experiments are very tricky to design and even trickier to execute. They tend to give inconclusive results owing to the difficulty of assessing psychology and quantifying the states. As we discover more and more about neuropsychology, we will be able to define this states with more accuracy and develop better and better experiments to measure them.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"