Ignorance is blitz

By Phil Plait | March 8, 2008 9:37 am

I happened to notice I was getting some traffic sent my way from Voxday, an ultraconservative blogger who has a history of saying ridiculous things — sometimes so ridiculous it’s indistinguishable from satire. Unfortunately, of course, willful ignorance has quite an audience these days, and just in case it’s not satire, I decided to reply.

He was writing about my blog post where I discussed the WMAP results showing the age of the universe, and that normal matter and energy are only 5% of what we can directly see:

The Bad Astronomer doesn’t realize that science is undermining the basis for materialism:

The energy budget of the Universe is the total amount of energy and matter in the whole cosmos added up. Together with some other observations, WMAP has been able to determine just how much of that budget is occupied by dark energy, dark matter, and normal matter. What they got was: the Universe is 72.1% dark energy, 23.3% dark matter, and 4.62% normal matter. You read that right: everything you can see, taste, hear, touch, just sense in any way… is less than 5% of the whole Universe.

In other words, even by its own lights, science and rational materialist philosophy is only relevant to five percent of what we currently consider to be all known Creation. Combined with its complete inapplicability to abstract concepts such as justice, equality and freedom, this shows that even attempting to build a social order on a secular basis is not only doomed to failure, but is quite arguably insane.

Insane? Only if your grip on reality is tenuous in the first place.

I wrote a comment back to him on his blog entry. Here is what I said:

Your conclusions are way off the mark, for two reasons: you misinterpreted/misunderstood what scientists did, and then you misapplied it.

First, 5% of the Universe is normal matter and energy. About 23% or so is dark matter. While we don’t know precisely what it’s made of, its existence has been conclusively proven, and it was using scientific methods that proved it (its existence was speculated due to odd motions of galaxies, its impact on observations predicted and then confirmed).

Same with dark energy. We don’t know what it is, but scientific observations and prediction show us it exists. We have independent lines of evidence for it now as well.

It’s not just to balance the equations. We have actual observations showing these things exist, just like we have observations that electrons and neutrinos exist.

So actually, “science and rational materialist philosophy” applies to the whole Universe.

Second, evolutionary biology does in fact explain our concepts of justice, equality, and freedom. Just because you say it doesn’t doesn’t mean it doesn’t. We evolved these concepts as prehistoric humans and the species we evolved from developed into tribal cultures. Those concepts helped ensure our survival, so we adapted to include them in our daily lives.

Third, about building a secular society… The US, despite claims by the far right, actually was and is built on a secular basis, and that is not only written in the Constitution, but in the very first right it lays out. Secular in this case doesn’t mean non-religious, it means not favoring any particular religion.

That’s the way it should be.

It’s clear to me that you don’t really understand anything at all about science, the scientific method, and how successful it is in understanding the world and universe around us. There are many books and websites devoted to just these topics; before drawing wildly inaccurate conclusions based on scant reading, you should research these topics.

Some of his commenters on that post basically parrot his own words, and grossly misunderstand what the WMAP results mean, so it’ll be be interesting to see what they reply.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Astronomy, Piece of mind

Comments (157)

  1. Daffy

    The American Religious Right and the Taliban. Isn’t it nice that two such disparate groups can work so hard for the exact same goals?

    Kinda makes ya proud.

  2. owlbear1

    Whatever the reply they come up with the source will be same:

    ?????? ?????

  3. For centuries the church maintained that the sun revolved around the Earth. And when some astronomers first dared suggest that it was actually the other way around, they were tortured or sentenced to death for heresy. Yet in the end truth and reason won out, and we now accept (well, most of us do) that it is the Earth that revolves around the sun.

    For me at least, that about sums up religion’s credibility when it comes to explaining the universe.

  4. owlbear1

    Whatever the reply they come up with the source will be same:

    Thin air…

  5. Harry

    Beautiful comment and well said. Wish I could have said it as well. I agree with owlbear1 that in all likelyhood the religious right will still not understand. Good job and keep it up.

  6. Dennis

    Why bother with him? Isn’t it better to leave him and other hypochristians to their airport-bathroom-foot-tapping reality? The reason they need a god is to help with the guilt and to ensure them that everyone else will be condemned to hell with them. Afterall, no-one is truly moral unless they have a threat of punishment hanging over their head, right? And only a true loving father like Yahweh could provide such loving eternal punishment, right?

  7. “Rolling in the mud with the pig again?”

    I just had to include that “idea” that I heard from BA blog; it applies here really well. But I appreciate the effort — too bad those guys won’t.

  8. The US … actually was and is built on a secular basis, and that is not only written in the Constitution, but in the very first right it lays out.

    Phil, I agree in the importance of this foundational principle, but could you stop promoting the canard that the ordering of the Bill of Rights had anything to do with “importance”? They were ten amendments ordered by the sections of the constitution to which they applied. The First Amendment is first because it speaks to Article I of the Constitution and the legislative powers of Congress, not because it was held to be any more important than the others.

    Oh, and that’s another thing. The Establishment Clause (one of many in the First Amendment) was not written in the Constitution originally. That’s why it was amended.

    You’re letting your ranting get in the way of grade-school civics lessons here.

  9. “could you stop promoting the canard that the ordering of the Bill of Rights had anything to do with “importance”?”

    The way I understood it (and I could be wrong about his intent) was that Phil mentioned that it was first not to underscore its importance, but to accentuate how difficult it is to miss. Regardless of why it’s first, it’s still the first thing you’re likely to see upon reading the Bill of Rights and as such should make a bigger impression upon certain people who choose to ignore it. It’s like saying you don’t know the name of the narrator in Moby Dick. “Call me Ishmael” is not by any means the most important line in the book, but is undoubtedly its most well-known line purely by virtue of having been first.

  10. No, I’ll admit that I thought it was first because freedom of speech and the Establishment clause were most important. I’ll have to read more about the Constitution’s history (it’s been a while) and see what’s what with this.

    Still, if I had to pick the most important parts of the Bill of Rights, that would have been first anyway.

  11. Well,I admire your patience Phil.I had a long protracted email debate with a ‘religioner’ recently but it just left me feeling slightly depressed.Whatever cognitive dissonance they have going on leads to a willful ignorance…they just don’t listen.Pearls before swine and all that.Still,keep it up!Someones gotta do it…even if my own patience is flagging!

  12. Dan

    Owlbear: they actually have three main sources:

    1. The Bible
    2. Thin air
    3. Each other.

    If you look into YEC quote-mining, you’ll see what I mean with #3.

  13. -R

    I get a 502 error when I try to go to voxday’s blog :O(.

  14. Celtic_Evolution

    Umm… speaking of rants… sheesh, John Armstrong, take a nap.

    “The First Amendment is first because it speaks to Article I of the Constitution and the legislative powers of Congress, not because it was held to be any more important than the others.”

    Huh? The First Amendment is first because it speaks to Article 1 of the constitution? And I suppose the Second amendment is second cause it deals with Article 2?? Never learned THAT one in grade school civics. That’s just plain silliness. In fact you’ll find with a little research that the first amendment was actually the *third* amendment listed in the original draft. The original first amendment dealt with the number and appointment of the House of Representitives. So before you climb your high horse to criticize BA… you may want to get a little more than a grade-school civics lesson.

    And second, where oh where do you see any mention of the “Establishment Clause” in his post? I must have missed it. Why are you ranting about that?

    That having been said, from a purely pedantic standpoint, John Armstrong is right in that you point out the constitution but actually follow it up by referring to the Bill of Rights.

    I think anyone reading it got the point, however.

  15. Good work, Phil. Keep at them! They shouldn’t be allowed to spout nonsense and get away with it!
    Praise Darwin!
    Rich

  16. Brango

    Phil, I fully understand your predicament here.

    We are dealing with people who have an agenda for believing in what they believe. Do not think for one moment that there is any semblance of actual personal belief in what they say beyond their own pathetic need to control their world by trying to convince everyone that what they say is the truth.

    Science quite simply gets in the way of their agenda. They have absolutely no chance of being right against the undeniable truth that science presents, so they generate as much noise as they can in an attempt to drown out the truth.

    Put yourself in this position: you are a magic cookie salesman with the respect and adoration of the entire villiage from spreading your magic cookie love. One day, a villiager finds some sugar and adds it to his own cookies. He has found the secret of your magic and has no more need for your cookie services. Then another villiager finds sugar, and another, and another…

    Soon your respect and adoration wanes along with your profits. What do you do? Do you accept people know the truth of the sugar? Or do you you tell lies about the sugar to make your magic sound like it is some mystical super sugar that only you the path to?

    I know it’s not right to mock the afflicted, but I suggest you deal with this ultraconservative as you would the magic cookie salesman. Let him make all the noise he wants. Laugh it off! Not only do you know his magic is just sugar, you know what sugar is made of!

  17. Celtic_Evolution

    BA -

    Read my post above… The First amendment being first has nothing to do with it applying to Article 1. It *does* apply to Article 1 but that’s not why it was first. As I said above, it was originally third. The original first was never ratified and the original second was later ratified as the 27th Amendment. The order of the amendments was, by all accounts, in order of the importance of the issues that threatened to derail ratification of the Constitution by all states. Although this is not definitivey stated in any literature I’ve ever read. Although I’d be happy, as always, for someone to point me to literature proving that last statement wrong.

  18. tacitus

    You’re letting your ranting get in the way of grade-school civics lessons here.

    Ranting? What ranting? That was a very well constructed response. It is possible to make a mistake without ranting, you know.

    I do chuckle sometimes, though, when right-wing fundamentalists hold up the Constitution as a sacred document (I’ve seen pastors who will claim that the Bible and the Constitution are the only two historical documents that really matter).

    To them, the Constitution has become nothing more than a buzz word to invoke when those horrible liberals attempt to make changes to laws that do not meet with their outmoded concept of morality. They don’t really understand the history of the document (mainly because they swallow the lies of people like David Barton who has made a career out of promoting pseudo-history) and they refuse to grasp the idea that it was deliberately created as an entirely secular document.

    It is actually quite remarkable, for it’s time, that there is no religion invoked in the Constitution. After all, virtually all of the other compacts and constitutions of the time were run through with religion, and American society was throughly permeated with it, from top to bottom. That fact alone should give them pause for thought, but since it goes inconveniently against their priorities, it’s dismissed as a triviality.

  19. Pythor

    “First, 5% of the Universe is normal matter and energy. About 23% or so is dark matter. While we don’t know precisely what it’s made of, its existence has been conclusively proven, and it was using scientific methods that proved it (its existence was speculated due to odd motions of galaxies, its impact on observations predicted and then confirmed).”

    So what do you think about this and this?

  20. Radwaste

    Folks, I have been presenting the case for reason for years on a couple of forums, and the most appalling thing I have learned is that professing Christians lie, lie big, lie constantly and repeat their lies when called on matters of fact. Reality is to be feared. Several of these people have at least the clinical description of a phobia about seeking the truth of any matter. As a phobia is an unreasoning fear, it is unlikely that anything short of personal epiphany will dent the layers of armor erected against reality.

    All I do now is post links to Cassini, NOAA, USGS, CHEMnetBASE, NIST and other things which show just how much farther the investigative process has gone beyond them. Unfortunately, technology has uttered the ultimate insult: these people cannot understand it, and therefore it must be false and feared.

  21. Brango

    Astronomer said: “the guy is right you ignorant egotistical jackass!”

    When all else fails, the factless resort to insult.

    After all, insult is noise too, right!

  22. CS

    “your degrading astronomy ”

    And you, Astronomer, are degrading English.
    Are you sure you understand what Phil writes about?

  23. JG

    Why do some Christians insist on a lazy God who created an uncomplicated universe in seven days, only 6000 years ago? God, having infinite power and wisdom, created the universe as it is. Yes, the Bible says seven days, but the Old Testament says a lot of things that I don’t see the far-right preaching or practicing.

    I have trouble with an infinite and all powerful God that limits Him/Herself to taking the easy route. Seems like a contradiction, and I think the Bible would support me on that.

  24. Badger3k

    I wondered how long it would take for the vox-tards to show up. I’m not sure what the Astrologer – er, “Astronomer” was ranting about – did anyone make any sense out of that, but I can guess where he came from. Vox is a rather repulsive toad of a human being, and his sycophants aren’t much better. Dispatches (among other of the Scienceblogs) regularly delves into the delusions of this guy, and anybody wanting to see more of his ignorance should also go there.

    Good luck Phil – I’ll have to flag this to come back to and see if/when the hordes descend. To end with an insult of my own: when the voxxers descend, watch the collective IQ of the posts drop precipitously.

  25. Cory

    I try to live the Mark Twain’ism ‘- “I try to never argue with a fool – those watching might not be able to tell the difference…”.
    Your post, though, was excellent.

  26. Hank

    Thanks for taking the time to at least put correct information out there. Hopefully it’ll reach someone who needs to read it. Vox Day didn’t reason his way into his current corner, of that I am fairly certain.

  27. Daffy

    “Why do some Christians insist on a lazy God who created an uncomplicated universe in seven days, only 6000 years ago? God, having infinite power and wisdom, created the universe as it is. Yes, the Bible says seven days, but the Old Testament says a lot of things that I don’t see the far-right preaching or practicing.”

    Because studying Bible verses is easy…studying science is hard.

    That’s it.

  28. TaoMacGuy

    Ah, sometimes I *envy* far-right fundamentalists and their “intellectual” safe harbor of “arguing” from a conclusion.

    Facts and reality be damned, I’ve have tautology on my side!

    Sigh.

  29. I noticed the banner on Voxday reads Vox Popoli. Is this a wordplay I am unaware of, or did he misspell his own pseudonym?

  30. Andy James

    What amuses me about the conservo-goon is his lack of comments. They dont want the comments, because they cannot defend what they write. Goes to show what a fraud they really are.

    I doubt that fool realizes it is the properties of the material universe which are used to measure the rest of it. Also that the entire universe is made of stuff, material stuff. Dark matter is not make of angels or demons or gnomes or unicorns. Its going to be an odd form of matter or space time property.

  31. Mark Hansen

    Ah, Astronomer is back and just regurgitating his/her previous deleted post from another thread with a fresh layer of insult on top.
    Astronomer, read this next bit carefully:
    TU24.org’s scare-mongering was wrong and unscientific. Live with it.

  32. “When all else fails, the factless resort to insult.” – Barton

    Sig-worthy!

  33. Ragutis

    Phil, you suck at censoring. I mean, if you’re deleting Astronomer’s comments, you’re doing a really poor job. I can still see them. :(

    Are you sure you’re a moderator?

    You’re degrading censorship! Maybe you should not be in the deletion business.

  34. Tom Marking

    “Second, evolutionary biology does in fact explain our concepts of justice, equality, and freedom. Just because you say it doesn’t doesn’t mean it doesn’t. We evolved these concepts as prehistoric humans and the species we evolved from developed into tribal cultures. Those concepts helped ensure our survival, so we adapted to include them in our daily lives.”

    Hmmm, I think that’s very questionable. Different cultures developed vastly different concepts of religion, morality, etc. Some cultures thought that ritual cannibalism was moral. Western culture sees cannibalism as abhorrent. How could natural selection explain such radically different moralities within the same species? I don’t think it can.

  35. I know this was already probably written a million times but still – it’s annoying when they try to ignore the scientific proof not basing their opinion, just saying “it’s in the bible” or “the scientists made it up because it’s convenient”…

    By the way, there are two mistakes: one with the “popoli”, the other with “day”. It couldn’t get more messed up than two mistakes. Or could it?.. :D

  36. Ron

    Ah hell, here I go wrestling with a pig … Aside from being intellectually challenged, Astronomer could use some time with (1) a spelling coach and (2) a grammer teacher.

    Furthermore, Astronomer could use some time with a progressive religious leader or atheist for some basic moral education — name calling is inappropriate.

    Great blog

  37. How could natural selection explain such radically different moralities within the same species? I don’t think it can.

    Different environments. For example, in a food-rich versus a food-scarce environment, entirely different traits will be selected for. Recall that natural selection is about the fittest organisms doing better in a specific environment.

    Not to mention that social dynamics start to play a dominant role in the (social) evolution of societies.

    I’m not an expert at biology or sociology but that seems like a start of the answer to me.

  38. I don’t understand how people can use the discoveries of science to argue that science is broken. It’s bass ackwards, that’s what it is.

  39. Tom Marking

    Concepts such as justice, equality, freedom, morality, etc. are not heritable traits. They are not passed down from one generation to the next through the genes. Instead, they are learned by generation N + 1 from generation N via the mechanism of language. Because they are not heritable traits they are not covered by the theory of biological evolution. Unless you want to talk about a theory of cultural evolution but that’s a whole different theory and much more controversial. I’m not sure what BA was referring to there – if he intended to say they were covered under the biological theory of evolution or the cultural theory of evolution. It needs more clarification.

  40. Brango

    Halcyon Dayz said:

    You’re quite welcome to use it, Halcyon… but the name’s Brango!

  41. Rachel

    lolife said: “Different environments. For example, in a food-rich versus a food-scarce environment, entirely different traits will be selected for. Recall that natural selection is about the fittest organisms doing better in a specific environment.”

    I’m no expert, neither, but another plausible answer is our social values evolved back when we were all in the same environment. We’ve just carried it along since then since there’s no selective pressure to get rid of it.

    So people are inclined to create social rules, and follow them, and make others follow them. We do it constantly. Everybody’s been in a group (work, school, circle of friends) where you can say or do certain things and not others.

    Just take that inclination, add some isolation from other groups, and let percolate for a couple hundred years or so. Poof, culture!

    Well, I’m sure it’s a *bit* more complicated than that, but it’s at least plausible.

  42. Carl

    As a christian myself, what disturbs me most about Creationism/ID is that isn’t just bad science, it’s also bad theology. It’s such bad theology that theologians actually have a Bad Name for it: the God of the Gaps.

    For as long as we have records, there have been people who claim that whatever science can’t explain yet must be the work of God. Their unfortunate problem is that , as time goes, by science explains more and more, until they are left conceding 99.8% of biology to science while ludicrously clinging to the remaining flagellum… until that too falls to explanation. The same is true of every other field of science. Pinning your hopes of proof of God’s handiwork on tinier and tinier as-yet-unaddressed problems is, quite simply, a losing strategy.

  43. Carl

    @Tom Marking:

    Surely the existence of varying moralities is powerful evidence FOR evolution and AGAINST the hand of God? If morality were divinely sourced, surely it would be identical everywhere and at all times (as fundamentalists are fond of claiming that it “in fact” is). Only an evolutionary process that allows for the emergence of the most effective morality in different environments can explain the existence of divergent moral standards in different times and places.

  44. Matt Penfold

    “Concepts such as justice, equality, freedom, morality, etc. are not heritable traits. They are not passed down from one generation to the next through the genes. Instead, they are learned by generation N + 1 from generation N via the mechanism of language. Because they are not heritable traits they are not covered by the theory of biological evolution. Unless you want to talk about a theory of cultural evolution but that’s a whole different theory and much more controversial. I’m not sure what BA was referring to there – if he intended to say they were covered under the biological theory of evolution or the cultural theory of evolution. It needs more clarification.”

    You are setting up a straw man here, I suspect on purpose.

    You really should go and read some of the literature of the evolution of morality. You may even come to realise that it is not only humans who show evidence of morality, the other apes do as well.

    The topic is a complex one, not lending itself to being answered in just a paragraph or two. To start with I suggest you read “The Origin of Virtue” by Matt Ridley.

  45. Without biology there wouldn’t be any sociology.
    Social rules aren’t created. They evolve from a need.
    It is an interaction between genes, environment, and memes.

    @Brango
    Oops! How did that happen?

  46. Celtic_Evolution:

    I didn’t say it was a numerical lineup, only that the Bill of Rights is ordered by the sections of the constitution they amend. In fact, the first article in the original bill (which was not ratified) dealt with the ratio of representatives to citizens, and the second (which wasn’t ratified until 1992) dealt with how congress can vote itself a pay raise. These delineations on congressional power apply to subsections of Article I before those that the First Amendment applies to.

    Besides, if you hold that the order corresponds to importance then it’s more important that people be allowed to own guns than it is that they be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, and more important than due process of law in the judicial system. But the Fourth Amendment speaks to the powers of the executive branch, which was laid out in Article II of the Constitution, and the Fifth Amendment speaks to the judicial branch (Article III).

    The point is that if we’re going to insist that those against whom we argue stick to facts, then we must stick to facts ourselves. I know that there are a lot of people out there who think that we should take our gloves off like the creationists do, but we’re better than that. We can and will win with truth on our side, not by what feels right.

  47. PeaceLovingReligious

    @Daffy:
    “American Religious Right == another Taliban” is the most apt and precise way of describing the situation. They sound sooooooooooooo similar. How I wish some of the fence-sitters listened to that line of reason.

    Mike J on the other post was quite right – People typically don’t like hating and fighting, unless they’re brought up in such an atmosphere.

    Remember, the Bible has been repeatedly modified throughout history by the rulers and oppressors of the day. Not one of those jerks knew what the Bible actually said or cared about what Jesus actually said.

    The church was a seat of **power** and the Bible was the constitution. The Right-wing lawmakers of that day deliberately amended that constitution adding more and more crap, much like today’s Far Right adds more and more laws to deny personal liberty to citizens.
    The similarity is just too much to ignore.

    Guess what – 200 years down the line, folks will be saying -
    “yeah, the far right Reps of that time added compulsory brain scanning, street surveillance and electronic surveillance to keep the public at large afraid at all times so as to make them accept anything in the name of security. Those were such bad times!”
    Actually, on second thought, I really hope they’ll be saying this.

    *************************************
    The revenge of the scientific community is not by talking peacefully and presenting mathematical proofs, but,
    BY GETTING CONCRETE HISTORICAL EVIDENCE OF THE DELIBERATE MODIFICATION OF BIBLICAL TEXT BY MEDIEVAL BARBARIANS.

    PUT THAT ON WIKILEAKS – SCANNED AS IMAGES.
    AND DO A GODDAMN **VERSION DIFF** ON THE BIBLE TEXT.
    Nothing more is needed.
    *************************************

    I hope at least one in ten historians is rational. It’s a science after all.
    A few such proofs of disparate copies of the Bible, dug up from ruins or obtained from ignored churches is enough to shake up the dirty, rotten hate-empire built in the name of Jesus.

    Jesus Christ! He could cure people of their diseases by merely uttering words, and he suffered all that pain of crucifiction just to show that He was beyond pain and death – that His state was more than human – that there exists a higher power – which we call God – and these rogues changed that to “Jesus suffered for us to save us from our sins”

    Which decent or ethically minded parent would want his/her children to be opportunist criminals having the backing of an eternal refuge of pardon by means of a said divine savior who _already_ suffered for sins not yet committed, **centuries in advance**?
    isn’t that better than WMAP itself?
    Jesus knows the future of the next 2000+ years – of each and every crime yet to be committed by billions of humans yet to be born!
    What? Just what?

    Also, isn’t that like telling the kids – go break the law, I’ll pay the fines and handle the courts. Would someone as ethical and enlightened as Jesus Himself ever say something so shamelessly irresponsible?
    Quite the opposite.
    He would more likely say – “I love you, and I’ll help you in every way, but on one condition – you have to live fairly and cleanly.”

    Isn’t that what the Ten Commandments say? What on Earth shows that the Ten commandments are being followed perfectly by the Reps or the GOP? Give me ONE example, please.

    Agreed, Bill Clinton trangressed the most spectacular of them, but he doesn’t talk of the Bible, does he? I’m not for one moment saying that you should trust a politician – that’s plain foolish. But if you have to choose, please choose the lesser evil to rule your life – like, y’know you shouldn’t go out there and vote to screw your own happiness, right?
    At least the sin-forgiving theory stops its madness there, surely?
    Surely, you shouldn’t hate *yourself* right?

    Someone get the old Bibles and do a public diff of the texts, please.
    Then we’ll discuss at length.

  48. Dark Jaguar

    I will say I’m with Richard Dawkins when I say that evolution explaining why we have a sense of justice doesn’t do a whit to say whether we should keep it. It’s a “why” not an “aught” and all that.

    That said, I’d much rather keep that. One big annoyance with some of the critics of science is how often they look at science and say “if you think this is true, these are the moral consequences”. I’d be terrified if anyone tried to get a moral system from scientific theory. For example, evolution just says the reality of how it IS, not that morally we SHOULD work towards evolution. Quite frankly I think we will soon reach a point where evolution is replaced with direct genetic alteration, and all life will be the better for it. Evolution is reality, but it’s not a moral system to look up to and apply, it’s a messy haphazard system that never considers the future and sometimes gets creatures stuck in evolutionary deadends, and as much as it can be credited for our intelligence and our empathy it can also be credited for our darker aspects. Replacing it with a worldwide technological monitering and alteration system would go a long way to improving our environment and our current situation by an incredible margin. It just remains to be seen if we are capable of it.

  49. Christian X Burnham

    I’m a strong secularist and would go a little beyond the BA’s defn.

    Secularism also means that it’s not ethical to use religious-based arguments in politics, because by doing so you are effectively excluding those who do not share your faith.

    This means that politics (like science) should be non-religious. What it doesn’t mean is that the religious should be discriminated against.

    Many people have no problems understanding secularism in science. They understand that it would be folly if scientists were allowed to use their religious views to back up conclusions in their papers. They also understand that keeping religion out of science isn’t anything to do with being prejudiced against the religious.

    It’s much more difficult to convince people that government also works best as a secular entity.

  50. Matt Penfold

    “I’m a strong secularist and would go a little beyond the BA’s defn.

    Secularism also means that it’s not ethical to use religious-based arguments in politics, because by doing so you are effectively excluding those who do not share your faith.

    This means that politics (like science) should be non-religious. What it doesn’t mean is that the religious should be discriminated against.

    Many people have no problems understanding secularism in science. They understand that it would be folly if scientists were allowed to use their religious views to back up conclusions in their papers. They also understand that keeping religion out of science isn’t anything to do with being prejudiced against the religious.

    It’s much more difficult to convince people that government also works best as a secular entity.”

    I would say that is pretty much the case we have in the UK, at least in terms of the main political parties. That said we do have politicians who object to abortion laws, gay rights etc on religious grounds, but these politicians do tend to be regarded with some suspicion by many. Some Church leaders, such as the Chief Rabbi and some Anglican Bishops, understand that they need to muster something more than just scripture to support them if they want to advocate a particular social policy.

  51. MartinM

    In other words, even by its own lights, science and rational materialist philosophy is only relevant to five percent of what we currently consider to be all known Creation.

    This is the kind of concentrated, weapons-grade stupidity that leaves one wondering if the writer was frequently dropped on his head as a child.

    Where do the figures for the composition of the Universe come from? From a model which describes how normal matter, dark matter, and dark energy interact with CMB photons to produce anisotropy. Were science not ‘relevant’ to dark matter and dark energy, no such model would exist, and no predictions would be possible.

  52. Christian X Burnham

    DJ

    Evolution is only a partial explanation for morality, and Dawkins talks about this.

    Our large brains were evolved for empathy so that we can cooperate with and survive each-other in groups.

    But, big brains and a natural empathy aren’t always enough. Morality also comes from a continuing discussion as a society as to what is right and wrong. Modern morality is the result of an enormous amount of argument, fact-checking, philosophy, deep thinking and hard-knocks.

    We are all aware that our moral sense can be co-opted, such that good people can do horrific things. As Dawkins has written, the suicide bombers who flew into the Twin Towers on 9-11, were being moral by their own twisted standards.

  53. Christian X Burnham

    Oh and lastly:

    Rah! rah! rah! Huzah! Go BA!

    I’m always thrilled when I see a defense of secularism. Secularism is one of the most important developments in our history, which has been vital to the development of both science and Western democracies.

    We need more people standing up for secularism. Pity we won’t all be able to write as eloquently as the BA.

  54. Matt Penfold

    Humans are not the only species that exhibits moral behaviour. Chimps certainly do, although their morality is nothing like as developed as ours.

  55. Tom Marking

    “How could natural selection explain such radically different moralities within the same species? I don’t think it can.”

    “Different environments. For example, in a food-rich versus a food-scarce environment, entirely different traits will be selected for.”

    Take the case of New Zealand. The original inhabitants were the Maoris who were cannibals. English settlers arrived in the early 19th century and established an English colony. Did the English colonists become cannibals? Answer: No. Why not? It’s the same environment. If biological evolution was driving the whole process then the same environment should have produced the same system of morality.

  56. OtherRob

    @Andy James:

    “Dark matter is not make of angels or demons or gnomes or unicorns. Its going to be an odd form of matter or space time property.”

    Considering the ratios of dark matter, dark energy, and “regular” matter. *We’re* the odd form of matter….

  57. Tom Marking

    “You really should go and read some of the literature of the evolution of morality. You may even come to realise that it is not only humans who show evidence of morality, the other apes do as well.”

    And I would suggest that you read or watch Chapter 11 of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series which is called “The Persistence of Memory”. In this chatper Sagan is careful to distinguish between the gene library controlled by DNA and the brain library which is changeable. On page 278 he says:

    “Emotions and ritualized behavior patterns are built deeply into us. They are part of our humanity. But they are not characteristically human. Many other animals have feelings. What distinguishes our species is thought. The cerebral cortex is a liberation. We need no longer be trapped in the genetically inherited behavior patterns of lizards and baboons. We are, each of us, largely responsible for what gets put into our brains, for what, as adults, we wind up caring for and knowing about. No longer at the mercy of the reptile brain, we can change ourselves.”

    Powerful words from one of the most original thinkers of our species.

  58. Tom Marking

    “Surely the existence of varying moralities is powerful evidence FOR evolution and AGAINST the hand of God? If morality were divinely sourced, surely it would be identical everywhere and at all times”

    Certainly the existence of many mutually contradictory moralities and religions is evidence against the existence of God, although not conclusive. But I fail to see how it supports the theory of evolution unless it can be demonstrated that systems of morality are passed from one generation to the next exclusively through the genes. That does not appear to be the case.

    I get so tired of what I call Swiss Army Knife evolutionists who seek to apply the theory of evolution way beyond its intended bounds. Any theory stretched beyond its limits ends up looking silly. For example:

    Premise 1: The theory of evolution explains how the human brain evolved

    Premise 2: The human brain controls human psychology

    Premise 3: Economics is based on human psychology

    Premise 4: The price of commodities is part of economics

    Premise 5: Chinese wheat is an economic commodity

    Conclusion: The theory of evolution can explain the price of wheat in China

    Some of the arguments being presented about evolution and human morality strike me in the same vein.

  59. Christian X Burnham

    TM: Even scary old Richard Dawkins has written that evolution is not a full explanation for our entire modern morality. Maybe you’re attacking straw men.

  60. Hi, Phil! We’ve never talked before, but I’m often lurking at PZ’s place and I’ve had some fairly intense interaction with Vox in the past. In his post, he asked me for my thoughts about his reply to this post.

    I posted the following on both his site and mine:

    In brief, I think that Phil’s comments were intemperate and, taken literally, pretty much impossible to defend. He’s on pretty solid ground when he’s talking about the existence of dark matter and dark energy, but his brief on evolutionary biology runs far afield.

    I would say that evolutionary biology provides a conceptual framework to evaluate the degree to which ethical principles/cultural mores etc. are consonant with or (more controversially) derived from our biology. It’s a valid research program within evolutionary biology, but to claim that the reigning model in which the program is nested ‘explains’ ethical concepts in and of itself is a rhetorical overreach, likely prompted by his own beliefs.

    Anyway, I invite replies to my blog. By the way, as an aside, anyone who can even try to hang with PZ in blogging-related friendly competition is a person I have to tip my hat to. Peace…SH

  61. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    And when some astronomers first dared suggest that it was actually the other way around, they were tortured or sentenced to death for heresy.

    Um, what astronomers would that be?

    Giordano Bruno was burned at a stake because he was an “heretic”, i.e. held opinions contrary to a church. Only 1 out of 8 accusations was about his cosmology.

    Galileo Galilei was put in house arrest for the remainder of his life. (Arguably a kind of torture.)

  62. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Pythor:

    So what do you think about this and this?

    I’m not a cosmologist, but AFAIU the analysis behind the cosmological concordance model (essentially microwave background, baryon acoustic oscillations, and super nova data) isn’t very sensitive to the details of gravitation theory. And the newly released WMAP 5 year data confirms the predictions of the very simplest model for the third time, with lower uncertainty.

    The unexplained spacecraft accelerations of the first link are interesting if they stand up, but it is hard to see how they would affect the concordance model. The MOND theory of the second link isn’t only refuted by the concordance model, direct observations of dark matter such as in the Bullet cluster is IIRC rejecting MOND outright.

    What is really interesting with the latest data is that it has started to constrain models of inflation. Among other things simple eternal inflation models are more or less rejected, and the earlier tendency to a negative spatial curvature (which AFAIU in some inflation models hinted at multiverses) is gone making the flat universe model consistent and possibly infinite.

  63. Christian X Burnham

    SH (OM).

    You’re mostly criticizing the BA for concepts which he left out of a two sentence summary. In short, you’re being a little pedantic.

    It’s fine to expand upon the BA’s short summary, but to claim his ignorance based on a couple of sentences is a little overboard.

    As far as I know, the BA doesn’t claim to be an expert on evolutionary biology.

    Also, if you had read the comments, you would see that some of us have already been discussing this topic.

  64. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Tom Marking:

    I get so tired of what I call Swiss Army Knife evolutionists who seek to apply the theory of evolution way beyond its intended bounds.

    First, what do you mean with “evolutionists”? There isn’t any such group in science or society.

    Second, a theory doesn’t “intend bounds”. The boundaries of a theory’s applications is set by its ability to make testable predictions, and that is in all cases a knowledge that comes by investigating the theory and its data. For example, your silly chain of “premises”, that really is results, ends as far as evolution goes after the first step. The rest is outside the theory, so your claim (“conclusion”) doesn’t stand up.

    Third, if you mean biologists, they don’t tend to suggest untestable claims.
    The area that IMHO does this is psychology and sociology, where for example evolutionary psychology and sociobiology seems to be making claims without testing them fully. And yes, so called “just so” stories are both really annoying and points to immaturity of a field. But biology and especially evolution is long since mature.

  65. Take the case of New Zealand. The original inhabitants were the Maoris who were cannibals. English settlers arrived in the early 19th century and established an English colony. Did the English colonists become cannibals? Answer: No. Why not? It’s the same environment. If biological evolution was driving the whole process then the same environment should have produced the same system of morality.

    The environment was changed.

    It now had Englishmen in it.
    They brought better farming technology, and they also tended to shoot cannibals.
    Survival of the best adapted. ;)

    Only 1 out of 8 accusations was about his cosmology.

    In other words, thinking for yourself gets you killed.
    It’s barbarism, and you are trying to defend it.

  66. Pythor, the Bullet Cluster put the nail in the coffin of MOND, for one (it was dying pretty well on its own before that, too).

    The anomalous acceleration of spacecraft is very interesting, but I don’t think dark matter or a re-evaluation of gravity is in order yet. People are still working on more mundane explanations.

    MartinM, the phrase “weapons-grade stupidity” is brilliant. I rarely use such words, but man, I’m sorely tempted. :-)

    Scott, in my reply to VoxDay I wasn’t trying to be completely thorough. What I have read of evolutionary biology (Dawkins, PZ, and others) does seem to indicate that our social mores (justice, fairness, etc) were evolutionarily reinforced when we became a tribal species. I’m not saying the door is shut on all that, just that the framework is in place, and therefore it’s not at all correct to say there is no other explanation than God.

  67. I just went and read the copious comments on the Vox article. They’re an interesting mix, I’d say. Some people are dismissive, of course, as you’d expect. Some people are curious about dark matter and energy, others about what I said about evolution. I see my friend lolife jumped in to explain the Dark Twins. Good on ya!

    Vox posted a second time, calling me out for my use of evolutionary biology to explain justice et al. I have but a layman’s knowledge of those topics, but I have read about them, and from what I’ve read it is in fact possible to evolve a sense of justice. I’ll have to get PZ involved in this, if he’s willing. Michael Shermer has written about this as well, quite extensively too.

    But anyway, I think it’s funny that VoxDay a) didn’t (because he couldn’t) refute what I said about the astronomy aspects of his post, and b) declares by fiat that I am wrong about evolution, without providing any actual rebuttal or evidence. Again, just because he says so doesn’t mean it is so.

    Arguing with people like that really is a waste of time, except that they sometimes command an audience, many of whom are capable of learning. I was reticent to wade into Vox’s quagmire of twisted logic, since I’ve seen what he’s done in the past. But he started this by grossly misunderstanding what I wrote, and then grossly misapplying it, and I felt I had to say something. He’ll never figure this stuff out, and more’s the pity. But I’ve had my say.

    If someone has any actual data or evidence to rebut what I wrote about evolution, please post it, as I’d like to see it. I actually do want to learn more about the reality of the Universe around us.

  68. Tom Marking

    “TM: Even scary old Richard Dawkins has written that evolution is not a full explanation for our entire modern morality. Maybe you’re attacking straw men.”

    Christian, if it’s a strawman then it’s a strawman of BA’s making, not mine. Note what he said:

    “evolutionary biology does in fact explain our concepts of justice, equality, and freedom.”

    There was no qualifier “partially” or “incompletely” or anything like that in the original statement. That’s what I was commenting on. BTW, Dawkins doesn’t scare me at all even though he is a jerk personality-wise. I agree with a lot of what he has to say.

  69. Tom Marking

    “First, what do you mean with “evolutionists”?”

    O.K. Evolutionary biologists and their proponents in blogs such as this one if you want to be more precise about it.

    “For example, your silly chain of “premises”, that really is results, ends as far as evolution goes after the first step.”

    Not so according to the original post. The theory of evolution goes far beyond how the human brain evolved and can now even explain the systems of human morality now in use throughout the world (a claim I am quite skeptical of and hence the chain of “silly” premises).

    “Third, if you mean biologists, they don’t tend to suggest untestable claims.”

    Where did the claim that evolutionary biology can explain human morality originate from? Was it really from the biologists or maybe from the popularizers? In any case, how do they propose that the new theory be tested and what can falsify it?

  70. The CronoLink

    Then BA, what about the questions posed to you by Vox Day on his response on his blog?

    Now, do provide the scientific evidence for this evolution of justice, equality and freedom, BA.
    What was the mechanism of this “evolution”?
    How fast did these concepts evolve, and from what?
    At what museum may we view the memetic fossil evidence?
    And given the clear empirical evidence that a belief in God is hugely beneficial for the rate of human propagation, aren’t you really offering a proof of God here?

    Because, taken by your own words you have stated that

    evolutionary biology does in fact explain our concepts of justice, equality, and freedom.

    And that we have

    evolved these concepts as prehistoric humans and the species we evolved from developed into tribal cultures. Those concepts helped ensure our survival, so we adapted to include them in our daily lives.

    Since you sound so sure, there should be no problem for you to offer such empirical evidence; otherwise then you should hear yourself more often:

    Just because BA says it does, doesn’t mean it does.

  71. Christian X Burnham

    TM: You’re being petty. Uh, with respect.

    I think we’re all on the same page. Evolution doesn’t explain all the fine-grained details of our morality, but it certainly helps explain the coarse-grained desire for we have to cooperate with one another.

    If you doubt that, then you’re choosing to ignore much of anthropology , sociology, psychology and biology, not to mention all the mathematical modeling of how cooperativity has developed.

    Our brains were shaped by evolution. It would be surprising if there were any aspect of our shared thinking which doesn’t in some way have an underlying evolutionary or biological rationale.
    —————————
    BA:

    Read both of the following for differing perspectives on how evolution shapes our culture.

    Take the red pill and read: ‘The Blank Slate’, by Steven Pinker.

    Take the blue pill and read: ‘Guns Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond.

    Each is the antidote to the other, and it’s dangerous to read one without the other.

    Pinker is absolutely convincing regarding the role genetics has on human behavior and morality.

    Diamond is absolutely convincing about the role geography has played in the differing technological gains between societies.

  72. Quiet Desperation

    “American Religious Right == another Taliban” is the most apt and precise way of describing the situation. They sound sooooooooooooo similar. How I wish some of the fence-sitters listened to that line of reason.

    No, it’s an utterly retarded way to put it, and does much harm to the cause of reason and skepticism. Not to mention it demonstrates a near complete ignorance of what the Taliban was really about.

    Will you people ever [bleeping] learn that the name calling and hyperbolic comparisons do nothing more than cause the other side (and many of the fence sitters) to circle the wagons? Will you EVER learn this? It happens every time.

    You claim to be scientific, but you keep making the same error over and over.

    Too many self proclaimed skeptics are very short on actual reasoning capabilities and critical thinking, and I wish you’d go find another hobby because you make it really hard for the rest of us.

  73. lilrude

    Define “outmoded morality?”
    Are you suggesting that morality is based on trend, or what?
    Clearly, your parent’s definition of morality differed from yours.
    Is there ANY standard?
    Or do we go with whatever is popular?

  74. Jeffersonian

    Ahhh, the old “America is a Christian country and that’s why we have justice, equality, freedom” canard. As if Christianity itself would invent/promote democracy and basic human rights. No, I’m afraid the evidence is quite the contrary. If you want to examine what happens when you lose secularism, there are several examples presently around the globe…countries which Voxday would surely support. Voxday writes like the typical right-winger xtian who loves all the freedoms and oppotunities American secularism has given him while being quick to declare his hatred for those same values. <Hank Hill>Love it or leave it Voxday!</Hank Hill>.

    @Brango
    Succinct! (Though I don’t agree that extremism should be laughed off; it’s dangerous and it’s very restriction of discourse does cause death and worse).

    @Daffyon
    “Because studying Bible verses is easy…studying science is hard.”
    Or in this case, ignoring the bible is almost as easy as parroting each each other. Just challenge a YEC to show you where the bible states the age of the earth.

    @Tom Mark
    “Hmmm, I think that’s very questionable.”
    Still, their very survival illustrates the point, no? Morality isn’t inclusive of survival,no two people ever fully agree on morality. Why is it more/less than a facet of social evolution? If you were the last man on Earth, what would morality consist of?

    @Carlon
    “as time goes, by science explains more and more, until they are left conceding 99.8% of biology to science while ludicrously clinging to the remaining flagellum”
    Except that YEC is relatively new. They will always invent new controversy now that they can not rely on being a source of knowledge.
    Google: George McCready Price and Henry Morris to see new flagellum.

    @Carl
    “Surely the existence of varying moralities is powerful evidence FOR evolution and AGAINST the hand of God? If morality were divinely sourced, surely it would be identical everywhere and at all times”
    And voila! That’s why we have most of our wars; the omniscient benevolent god of the xtians only cared about Europeans (who became Americans) and apparently had no interest in, say, China. Moslems are exactly the same with slightly changed locations. Nobody invents a religion that claims “God chose somebody else but not us

  75. The Barber of Civility

    I find it truly depressing that so much of this debate ends up in name calling and posters on all sides (not all posters) speaking in absolutes. There are no absolutes in science. We are always coming up with better ways to define things, but all explanations (+/- x%) have a margin of error.

    It also depresses me that so many posters deny that both religion and science can coexist.

    Couldn’t God have created all this with a set of rules that we are supposed to yearn to discover through the curiosity that we were given?

    Couldn’t God have created the universe 5K or 6K years ago with all of the evidence in place to indicate that the universe is billions of years old? It seems to me that an all-knowing being could have created the universe one micro-second before I wrote this post, and that all the discussion prior to my post didn’t exist until God created it.

    Or maybe God created the universe 13.73 +/- .12 billion years ago, with evidence (of some sort) that indicates it is only 5,000 years old?

    And so what, either way? It seems to me that we have curiosity, and that we should use it to discover whatever we can, otherwise it would be a pretty boring existence (in my opinion). And, after all, that may be our purpose in the universe (to discover, not to be bored).

    I’m not saying there is a God. I don’t know if there is one, or many, or none. All I’m saying is that neither side is necessarily correct without the other side. And maybe we should all step back and really look at each other as people. warts and all.

    Then, maybe, we can have a meaningful discussion.

  76. The Barber of Civility

    I do realize that many of the pro-science posts here do not say there is no God. What they argue against is the use of “God” by others to refute scientific observation. I just want us to try to find common ground to discuss this from, not to be right, but to learn and discover.

  77. LawnBoy

    I’ve been playing with the pigs on this one, and now there’s to the point of saying that a prediction doesn’t count as a prediction if you are hypothesizing about the (future) result of an experiment that would expose something that was objectively already true.

    So, for example, the accurate prediction of the location and existence of the Tiktaalik fossil that led directly to a discovery doesn’t count because the fossil was in place before the prediction was made.

    They use that to discount, well, most of the predictions ever made in all non-lab-based scientific disciplines.

    Sigh.

  78. Big Bill

    I swore I would never get into one of these white frat boy college rant sessions after I left college. I can almost see y’all huffin’ and puffin’ over your half-filled plastic beer cups shouting out comments about “hyperChristians” and “death cult of Jesus”, etc.

    Bottom line, science roolz and y’all are going extinct. Why? You don’t make babies, and the Muslims and evil Christians and Jews do. “God” tells them to.

    You manufacture and live in such a materialistic, mechanistic, consumerist world that your own women don’t want to bear your children, they would rather scr*w a vibrating battery-powered plastic stick if they want to come rather than take a risk at having more than 1.2 of your children, well below the replacement rate of 2.1 kids.

    You are right in one respect: humans are just animals and have the moral significance in the Universe (sans God) of pond scum. Thing is, having established that, your women don’t want to collectively waste their lives squirting out and raising the moral equivalent of pond scum when the alternative is Having Sex, Eating Food, and Buying Fun Stuff.

    PS: You have already sold Vox Day. He has no wife, no kids and will likely die childless is some SRO, passionately punching away at a computer keyboard just like y’all.

  79. Zeno

    Big Bill:

    You are so right about everything except Vox Day. He has a beautiful and intelligent blond supermodel wife and some kids, one of whom has already written a book, and lives in a villa on a lake in Italy, sipping amaretto and driving a Lamberghini.
    .

  80. The Second Law of Conservation of Energy prevents this blog from existing. So there !!!

  81. Even scary old Richard Dawkins has written that evolution is not a full explanation for our entire modern morality.

    Because it is not and cannot. This is why the field of “evolutionary psychology” is not one of my faves. Evolutionary cause and effect needs to be examined at the macro scale using statistical probability over extreme time scales. The theory of evolution does not and cannot explain most facets of modern human behavior.

  82. Celtic_Evolution

    Big Bill -

    So how much time did you just spend punching away at a computer keyboard to pick on any of us punching away at a computer keyboard? Ever been hit by an irony board?

    Was there a point in any of your off-topic rant that came close to adding to the discussion? If not… why oh why did you even bother wasting your time? Seems like such a fruitless exercise for one so enlightened as yourself to take the time to berate and belittle us dopes and tell us about why “our women” won’t mate with us (one of the funnier posts I’ve read here in a while by the way… thanks for the chuckle)… by the way, you speak of “our women”… are you of another species? Or do you have your own set of women?

  83. Tom Marking

    “Our brains were shaped by evolution. It would be surprising if there were any aspect of our shared thinking which doesn’t in some way have an underlying evolutionary or biological rationale.”

    Christian, since you seem to be familiar with the works of Steven Pinker then I would suggest you check out what he has to say about the concept of exaptation – which is the usage of an organ for a purpose different than the purpose it was evolved for. “How the Mind Works”, pp 36-37, pp 169-172, p 301 has a good discussion on the topic.

    Basically, in the case of the human brain we see that it can play chess, solve calculus problems, program a digital computer, etc., etc. These are all exaptations because all of these abilities were totally non-adaptive in the environment in which the human brain evolved (i.e., Pleistocene era Ice Age or savannah environment). So in other words, the fact that the human brain can do these things is an accidental byproduct of its abilities to do other behaviors in the past which were adaptive. I think it’s highly probable that modern religion and modern morality are also exaptations and are not directly evolved features of the brain.

  84. Tom Marking

    “they would rather scr*w a vibrating battery-powered plastic stick if they want to come rather than take a risk at having more than 1.2 of your children”

    Truly obnoxious poster. Is this one of Vox’s guys or did he crawl out from underneath some random rock somewhere?

  85. Robert

    Here’s a funny bit for Big Bill – my husband and I are raising two sons. Both adopted, of course – my posted name is my actual name. Yup, two men, married to each other, raising two boys. Imagine the cumulative cultural impact that could have. They’re being raised to consider intelligence, honesty, courtesy, curiousity, courage, integrity, decency and a healthy sense of humor as cultural values – oh yes, and love for your family, neighbors and friends.

    The horror, the horror! And in closing, what was that bumf about
    ‘your own women’? The good old traditional-cultural division between human beings and women? Check your calendar, it’s 2008.

  86. Bad

    Don’t forget that according to Vox Day’s theology, angels and daemons are fighting out bloody invisible battles with supernatural machine guns all around us all the time. His grappling with science is all just his part in that epic struggle, where he’s playing the part of John Rambo and Jesus all in one.

    In other words, Phil, you’re not even fighting remotely the same battle as he is.

  87. Kevin

    “# Lugosion 08 Mar 2008 at 9:52 am
    For centuries the church maintained that the sun revolved around the Earth. And when some astronomers first dared suggest that it was actually the other way around, they were tortured or sentenced to death for heresy. Yet in the end truth and reason won out, and we now accept (well, most of us do) that it is the Earth that revolves around the sun.”

    foolish secular atheist!

    http://blogs4brownback.wordpress.com/2007/05/18/heliocentrism-is-an-atheist-doctrine/#comment-67968

    http://blogs4brownback.wordpress.com/2007/05/18/heliocentrism-is-an-atheist-doctrine/#comment-67968

  88. Olorin

    The mere mention of “Vox Day” and his “Vox Popoli” blog should show his ignorance.

    Spelled properly, “Vox populi, vox dei” is an anti-religious saying. It reminds us that the proclamations of “god” are really only what people want.

  89. Bob

    Olorin,

    The full quote from Wikipedia:

    “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.”

  90. Colin

    Just to note logical distinctions.

    Voxday’s argument seems to be

    (a) the nature of the universe determines questions of ethics and social order.

    (b) contemporary secularist thought depends on the authority physical science.

    (c) however physical science has shown that it grasps only 5% of the physical universe, so it’s 95% false.

    Now (c) is patently nuts on its own terms, and exhibits the deep epistemological instability of this kind of anti-scientist, who at one moment denies the authority of science and at the next moment invokes it. It’s an obvious target of mockery and wonderment.

    But there is no reason to accept (a) or (b) either, on which Phil agrees with Voxday.

    There’s a crucial waffle in Phil’s “evolutionary biology does in fact explain our concepts of justice, equality, and freedom.” There is a long history of people using stories about animals to talk about people, and sociobiology is the latest episode in that history. It is dead easy to construct hundreds of explanations linking anything people do to stories about monkeys, much harder to demonstrate the truth of those explanations, and you generally find that sociobiologists have aprioristically smuggled in an axiom that everything in the cultural, meanings-making sphere must have a noncultural explanation.

    And the fact that most of y’all are both secularists and natural scientists leads to a somewhat uncritical conflation of the two. The intellectual and political history is a lot more complex than that.

  91. John Armstrong: “The Establishment Clause (one of many in the First Amendment) was not written in the Constitution originally. That’s why it was amended.”

    hmmm … do you intend the imply that amendments are of less importance than the original content?

    I hope not.

  92. Vox

    Actually, Vox doesn’t agree with Phil. At all. None of it reflects my beliefs, I was simply following the logic suggested by his original post. Why do people constantly confuse my mocking of obvious illogic with my own beliefs? When I point out that the correct logical conclusion of Sam Harris’s extinction equation is that science should be eliminated, I’m neither stating a personal belief that science should be eliminated nor accepting Harris’s equation, I’m simply pointing out that Harris is can’t handle basic logic and his extinction equation is stupid.

    I neither know much nor care at all about dark whatever. I don’t believe that it is God, Spirit Energy or the hammer Mjolnir – although I’d be curious to know how scientists are certain it is not the hammer Mjolnir. It seems that Phil carelessly misspoke several times, not only about evolution, but also in setting up a contradiction between the actual observations of that which cannot be sensed in any way. If it is material and can be observed, then it is fodder for rational materialism.

    Of course, Phil still hasn’t shown how belief in the existence of certain abstract concepts can be justified by rational materialist philosophy while the existence of others are rejected. Is equality best categorized as normal matter, dark matter or dark energy?

  93. Oh Vox, you really don’t get it do you?

    Where did I say matter had anything to do with equality? You were the one conflating our not knowing what makes up dark matter and energy with abstract concepts of justice and equality, not me. And you were wrong in your premise and your application.

    And after posting on your own blog, on PZ’s, and here, you still haven’t rebutted anything I wrote with any actual evidence. You just claim I’m wrong, and that’s that.

    So how about it? Care to actually defend yourself?

  94. A J Ayer, the famous empiricist, defended empiricism and materialism while attacking rational thought. Why? Because rational thought supported empiricism, but disproved materialism. So empiricism, which is a valid technique and not a worldview or philosophy, was seen to be rational, while materialism, which is a worldview and a philosophy which is unsupportable both empirically and rationally, is not rational. Is rational thought wrong, or is materialism wrong?

    So Ayer, in his zeal to preserve the worldview of materialism, denied rational thought, and set out to destroy it in his book, “Truth Language and Logic”. Later in life, Ayer came to refute much of his position against rational thought, while still not accepting it.

    Materialism is not rational; it is a parasitic worldview on empiricism and is damaging to it.

  95. Oh no Big Bill. You’d better wash up. You might catch “teh gay” from reading about old evil Robert and he fulfilling the damned homosexual agenda.

    Serious big bill that was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. I’ll have you know that I use that battery power stick on my wife as well as my own non plastic one.

    Grow up. That few sentences of foul smelling vomit you just threw up on the internet was neither accurate or based in anything but your own little dark fantasies.

  96. A philosophy student

    “Of course, Phil still hasn’t shown how belief in the existence of certain abstract concepts can be justified by rational materialist philosophy while the existence of others are rejected. Is equality best categorized as normal matter, dark matter or dark energy?”

    -Why is the burden on Phil to show that belief in “abstract concepts” is consistent with materialism? There are mountains of philosophical litterature that have conclusively argued for this point. Look, for instance, at Rudolf Carnap’s 1950 essay “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology,” which does a fantastic job of showing that we can believe in the existence of abstract entites on a completely empirical basis.

    Why we must categorize abstract entities as a type of matter in order to be materialists is unclear to me. Hasn’t Vox ever heard of the notion of emergence? Why couldn’t abstract entities like our conception of equality and justice simply emerge from the physical world? If the view that Phil presented, i.e. the view that evolutionary psychology holds, then abstract concepts like equality and justice EMERGE from evolutionary processes, specifically the evolutionary history of humanity. Of course our conception of justice isn’t a kind of matter and so it’s not material, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t exist a mechanism in the physical world by which the concept of justice arose in a completely natural way.

  97. David Marjanovi?

    If you are saying that God created the universe 6010 years ago (or last Thursday) and planted evidence throughout it that it’s actually 13.7 billion years old, you are saying God is a liar…

    The French have managed to raise their birth rate to 2.1 children per woman. That’s right, the godless French. How? Through socialism. *mwa ha ha ha haaaaah…* You see, some people — many people, in fact — actually want to have children, so if you provide kindergarten places, crèches and the like, they’ll have children, and that’s what is happening.

  98. David Marjanovi?

    Test: &263;

    (That’s the HTML entity for the letter at the end of my name.)

    ———————

    Materialism is not rational; it is a parasitic worldview on empiricism and is damaging to it.

    Care to explain?

    Hasn’t Vox ever heard of

    There’s surprisingly little he has ever heard of…

  99. David Marjanovi?

    Oops: ć

    This should work.

  100. David Marjanovi?
  101. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Tom Marking:

    Evolutionary biologists and their proponents in blogs such as this one if you want to be more precise about it.

    Fine. But the problem is that this isn’t a social group. Most educated people would support science when they get around to it, and evolution is biology. It is a label that creationists (a group defined by their beliefs) like to smear on others, which is why I reacted.

    The theory of evolution goes far beyond how the human brain evolved and can now even explain the systems of human morality

    Yes, evolution explains some of the underpinnings of morality. But that is a set of predictions from the theory (kin selection et cetera). Your chain of premises are not – you can derive the conclusion as a prediction from the original theory.

    In any case, how do they propose that the new theory be tested and what can falsify it?

    Ah, a fair, reasonable and relevant question!

    IANAB, and don’t know the status of these theories, but perhaps references here can help. As Phil says, evolutionary biologists like Dawkins, PZ, et cetera indicates this.

    And frankly, as other related species shows the same type of moral behavior, it is much easier to accept that evolution predisposes us for morality than that each species learns this as their cultural behavior.

    One thing I do know, is that recent research shows that chimps are better rational agents in the economical sense than humans. (It is googleable.) IIRC they haven’t evolved to be so altruistic as humans. It is now established in other research that humans have evolved much the last 40 ky and especially the 10 ky since agriculture and settlements become important, so a differing degree of altruism between species aren’t all that brow raising IMHO.

  102. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Stan:

    Materialism is not rational

    “Materialism” is, I believe, a theological concept, or at least beloved by apologists.

    Most scientists are realists (there is a stable reality, as our observations suggests) AFAIU, and statistics says most are “monists”/atheists (there is only one coherent set of laws, as our observations suggests).

    These observations seems rational to me, and I have to assume to the scientists who individually comes to such conclusions. It seems more irrational to use other systems alongside the empirical, such as taking ideas of supernaturalistic dualism seriously.

  103. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    you can derive the conclusion

    You can’t derive

  104. Ribozyme

    Re A Philosophy Student (09 Mar 2008 at 4:57 pm):

    Carnap’s Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology.

  105. SteelReso

    Having read the first half of Vox Days book, and subsequently having perused the comments regarding it on the dawkins website I now find a curious similiarity in the comments here. A lot of irrational diatribes and very little substanatial discourse. (Basically, a lot of Christian haters. Just an observation.) I guess I can add some inconsequential musings myself.

    Now I am not qualified to comment on dark matter or dark meat, for that matter, but I can put in my 2 cents regarding one paragraph from the article.

    “The US, despite claims by the far right, actually was and is built on a secular basis, and that is not only written in the Constitution, but in the very first right it lays out. ”

    I have met very few on the right, or left for that matter, that would disagree that the Constitution is a secular document, all anti-right hysteria notwithstanding. However, to say that the US, meaning the “United States” were built on a secular basis is simply incorrect IMHO. I believe it is safe to say that the several states were federated under a secular constitution, but most of the states themselves had plenty to say regarding religion.

    * The New Jersey Constitution of 1776 restricted public office to all but Protestants by its religious test/oath.
    * The Delaware Constitution of 1776 demanded an acceptance of the Trinity by its religious test/oath.
    * The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 had a similar test/oath.
    * The Maryland Constitution of 1776 had such a test/oath.
    * The North Carolina Constitution of 1776 had a test/oath that restricted all but Protestants from public office.
    * The Georgia Constitution of 1777 used an oath/test to screen out all but Protestants.
    * The Vermont state charter/constitution of 1777 echoed the Pennsylvania Constitution regarding a test/oath.
    * The South Carolina Constitution of 1778 had such a test/oath allowing only Protestants to hold office.
    * The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 and New Hampshire Constitution of 1784 restricted such office holders to Protestants.
    * Only Virginia and New York did not have such religious tests/oaths during this time period.

    ( http://candst.tripod.com/cnstntro.htm)

    I think it is safe to say that the states wanted to keep matters of religion to themselves and not have some higher government dictate to them anything regarding religion. Hence “Congress shall make not law…”. ‘Congress’ being the operational word here. Combine that with that business about limited powers that are enumerated and you start to get the picture. People didn’t want a federal government messing with their religion. That didn’t mean that they were necessarily opposed to a state government having some latitude in that regard.
    You may wonder of what relevance is that at all to dark matter and dark energy. None whatsoever. However, I was wondering. If the “Normal” matter/energy is 4.62% of the Universe and the rest is “Dark” wouldn’t that make the “Dark” part normal and the rest “Light”? At least more normal. I mean, we don’t go to China and say that there are .05% “normal” people and the rest are Chinese, do we? What goes on in the “dark” part anyway? Who lives there and what do they believe? Do they hate Christians too?

    By the way. I went to Church today myself. Can you believe it! All the Pastor wanted to talk about was how we should try to be the best people we can be. Oh, and he kept going on about feeding some starving children, as if we were supposed to pony up some of our hard earned cash or something. I mean, what is my secular government for if not to feed the starving children. Why should I bother. Funny part is that a bunch of those idiots buy into that stuff and cough up cash just to send to some brats in Mexico. Shouldn’t natural selection be left alone? Go figure. Well, gotta go. It’s been fun.

  106. Tom Marking

    Not saying I support this position but this is a very interesting article which points out the flaws in the evolutionary arguments concerning morality:

    http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5237

    .
    .
    .
    So, in abbreviated form, the reasoning goes like this: I ought to be unselfish because it is better for the group, which is better for the species, which is better for me. So why ought I be unselfish? Because it is better for me. But looking at what is better for me, is selfishness. So all of this so-called description of where morality comes from, gets reduced to this ludicrous statement: I morally ought to be unselfish so that I can be more thoroughly selfish. That is silly. Because we know that morality can’t be reduced to selfishness. Why do we know that? Because our moral rules are against selfishness and for altruism. They are against selfishness and for the opposite. When you think about what it is that morality entails, you don’t believe that morality is really about being selfish. Morality is about being unselfish, or at least it entails that. Which makes my point that this description, based on evolution, does not do the job. It doesn’t explain what it is supposedly meant to explain. It doesn’t explain morality. It is simply reduced to a promotion of selfishness which isn’t morality at all.
    .
    .
    .

  107. JimC

    All this armchair discussion about ‘morality’ misses the point entirely. Morals don’t actually exist. Morals, morality, etc are simply flashwords like ‘traditional family’. It’s an illusion.

    Now what does exist are behaviours, animal behaviours. Behaviours that are present in every single primate species. Our opinion of these behaviours within our society we call morals. But the ‘morals’ are rally just opinions on natural behaviours within the group. Some lead to group harmony, safety, and success others disharmony, danger, and failure.

    It is easy to see and ,using other animals as a guide, envision/test a selection process which weeds out less desirable behaviour in favor of desirable behaviour.

    Your opinion of these behaviours is why the same behaviour may be ok in one society and not ok in another despite being identical in reality.

    Humans act as humans do worldwide. Only the opinions change. But to debate where ‘morality’ comes from rather misses the point.

  108. Excluded Layman

    JimC is exactly right:
    Morality is defined primarily (as my cursory dictionary delve shows) as a system of morals, the quality of being in accord with such a system, and good conduct itself (presumably as defined by the aforementioned system). Morals in that sense are principles or rules “of, pertaining to, or concerned with” good behaviour. “Good” of course being subjective, and therefore subject to change. [Consider that a Reference For Emphasis/Truth]

    Tom Marking’s link to that Stand to Reason transcript unfortunately does not deliver as advertised. Though interestingly, however condescending it’s intended to sound, this is actually pretty close to the naturalistic conclusion:

    “That which we think is morality, or that which we call morality, turns out to be a description of animals conditioned by their environment to act in certain ways that benefit the survival of the species. We have just given that conduct a label. We call it morality. That is offered as a sufficient, adequate and complete description of how the behavior that we call moral behavior actually came about.”

    Well, the last sentence is pretty presumptuous, and it would be more accurate without it, but it’s still almost there. This happens again near the conclusion (in the paragraph quoted by Tom, in fact):

    “I ought to be unselfish because it is better for the group, which is better for the species, which is better for me. So why ought I be unselfish? Because it is better for me. But looking at what is better for me, is selfishness.”

    Again, this is so close to the mark that it’s almost surprising when the conclusion of the criticism doesn’t follow. I say almost because it was more mild that surprise, more like “unexpectedly pleasant”. At any rate, the piece argues two points (that I can find):

    -evolutionary explanations of morality are not adequate because they do not consider the future, “merely descriptions of past behaviour”

    -naturalistic explanations aren’t actually looking at morality, but instead have explained something else; indeed, they can do nothing else for “[morality is] against selfishness and for altruism” and naturalism arrives at an inherently selfish motivations

    As phrased by the author, the first is an implicit appeal to consequences while describing the target of rebuttal (though not affecting the premise in this case, it’s still bad form to poison wells), and then in reply, a non sequitur/tautology: Since morality involves looking at how we ought to behave in the future, if evolutionary explanations don’t explain that quality of morality, then they don’t explain that.

    Perhaps he meant to say that consequences are considered by the individual implementing morality, and despite this being a fundamental component of moral judgment, such consideration isn’t touched on by evolutionary explanations. That, to my mind, is making the same point as the original piece intends (inadequacy of explanation resulting in the naturalistic model falling on the wrong side of Occam’s Razor). Since a tautology isn’t an argument, and this is my best guess as to intended meaning, I will use this straw man as my target.

    Even if the premise is true, and consideration of consequences isn’t covered in evolutionary models, I would argue, nonetheless, that it’s unnecessary in discussion of emergence. Consideration is not a selectable trait of higher scope than that which is being considered. IE. If a consequence is detrimental, consideration will be beneficial only if it limits frequency of that consequence, and vice versa only if it promotes frequency of a beneficial consequence. A neutral consequence can be considered a billion different ways (if at all) without it mattering in the slightest. The consequence must cause selection before consideration can matter, so wherever consequence leads, consideration will eventually come to reflect that, (epi)genetically or memetically.

    In non-emergence discussions, consequence-consideration is still basically moot, despite personal importance to individuals, since the overall effect is of a populace with behavioural traits competing against others with different traits. The collective behaviour is what’s important; the consideration just sets the frequency of individual behaviours being expressed in a given population, and can be adequately summed up with a measure of that frequency as a statistical weight on the respective trait.

    As for the second argument, there’s an error of scope here that leads to fallacious equivocation. Selfishness can be defined narrowly as behaviour which returns benefit solely to the self, or it can be defined with wider scope as any behaviour which primarily returns–or primarily intends to return–benefit to the self. The author explicitly states that his idea of morality is the narrow definition, whereas the model he criticizes uses the other. Natural selection would definitely promote wide-scope selfish behaviour–that just happens to confer a benefit to other members of that population–over narrow-scope since the population has a new advantage: Synergy.

    All it takes is a side effect to a strictly self-benefiting mechanism to either be helpful to others out-of-the-box, or become altered such that it is. That’s it.

  109. Excluded Layman

    Wow, that didn’t look that long in the edit box. For somebody who doesn’t know what they’re talking about I can sure ramble on.

    But where’s this verbosity when I need to write essays and reports? *sigh*

  110. Vox

    The French have managed to raise their birth rate to 2.1 children per woman. That’s right, the godless French. How? Through socialism.

    Only if socialism = importing Muslisms. Haven’t been to Paris or even read a French newspaper lately, have you.

    Where did I say matter had anything to do with equality?

    You didn’t, it was implied in your inaccurate statement that “evolutionary biology does in fact explain our concepts of justice, equality, and freedom”. Feel free to correct me if I am incorrect and you believe either 1) equality is a material substance, or, 2) you believe that equality does not exist. Otherwise, my assumption that you believe in the existence of an immaterial thing called equality stands.

    You were the one conflating our not knowing what makes up dark matter and energy with abstract concepts of justice and equality, not me.

    Absolutely. That’s why I said that you didn’t “realize that science is undermining the basis for materialism.” I certainly don’t hold you responsible for things I am saying you don’t realize.

    And you were wrong in your premise and your application.

    A premise based solely upon your initial statement. If the premise is wrong, the logical conclusion is wrong too. So, are you now saying that it is not true that “everything you can see, taste, hear, touch, just sense in any way… is less than 5% of the whole Universe.” I presume you are now saying that what cannot be sensed in any way can nevertheless be observed. Have these observations of dark matter and dark energy taken place since 2004, when this list of scientists declared that “The big bang today relies on a growing number of hypothetical entities, things that we have never observed– inflation, dark matter and dark energy are the most prominent examples.”?

    It’s entirely possible that I’m wrong, of course. If dark energy and dark matter are material phenomena, then one can’t use them to criticize belief in other immaterial phenomena. My impression, based on your statement about how we cannot sense 95 percent of the universe in any way, was that it is immaterial. This impression was supported by the statements of other scientists; not being a cosmologist, I simply make use of the information I am provided.

  111. I disagree absolutely that morality stems from our evolution. If that were so, why should we pay attention to it? Mice and lions have an evolutionarily derived imperative to kill children of other fathers. If we had that instinct, would it be right to indulge it?

    The fact is, any argument that morality is rooted in evolution suffers from the fallacy that what is must be what’s good. Counterexamples are trivially easy. Millions of third-world children die of starvation; does that mean starving children is good?

    Ultimately, I disagree with Heinlein that morality is rooted in survival, and that’s what any morality-is-from-evolution argument must ultimately lead to. I don’t think species survival is the be-all and end-all of good and just behavior, nor should it be.

  112. Lugosi writes:

    [[For centuries the church maintained that the sun revolved around the Earth. And when some astronomers first dared suggest that it was actually the other way around, they were tortured or sentenced to death for heresy.]]

    Which astronomers were tortured or sentenced to death for promoting heliocentrism? Copernicus? Galileo? Kepler?

  113. Radwaste writes:

    [[professing Christians lie, lie big, lie constantly and repeat their lies when called on matters of fact.]]

    All of them?

    Do they drink the blood of atheist babies, too?

  114. Carl writes:

    [[If morality were divinely sourced, surely it would be identical everywhere and at all times ]]

    You’re confusing morality with human codes of morality. There are different theories about morality; there is no prima facie reason to believe they are all equally right.

  115. PeaceLovingReligious writes:

    [[the Bible has been repeatedly modified throughout history by the rulers and oppressors of the day.]]

    Ah, the conspiracy theory of Biblical inspiration.

    Who “modified” the Bible, Peace? Do you mean, by any change, “translated” the Bible? What was “modified?” Did somebody cut something out and replace it, using medieval paste and scissors, and without other people with Bibles noticing?

    Your view of the situation is rather like the 911 Truthers view of 9/11.

  116. Dark Jaguar posts:

    [[I’d be terrified if anyone tried to get a moral system from scientific theory. For example, evolution just says the reality of how it IS, not that morally we SHOULD work towards evolution.]]

    Amen and amen! Science and morality are two different spheres. Science is supposed to find how stuff works, not what people should do. Heck, we’re evolved to be nomadic hunter-gatherers living from feast to famine in tribes of 30-40 people. Anyone here want to adopt that lifestyle?

  117. Mark Borok

    “My impression, based on your statement about how we cannot sense 95 percent of the universe in any way, was that it is immaterial.”

    We can’t sense subatomic particles directly either, but we know that they are material (that is, they make up the material universe, so by definition they must be material). We also can’t “sense” black holes, except by their gravitational effects, yet we assume that they are made of matter, as predicted by relativity. Same goes for many recently discovered planets.

  118. Creationists do love their lists of scientists, don’t they.

    There are at least two doubles.

    The only astronomers I recognise are the well known ‘eccentrics’ Arp and Van Flanders.
    (No surprise there.)

    Anyways, the important question is: What is their evidence?

  119. CXB repeats the core (incorrect) belief of sociobiology:

    [[Our brains were shaped by evolution. It would be surprising if there were any aspect of our shared thinking which doesn’t in some way have an underlying evolutionary or biological rationale.]]

    You (and Dawkins, and others of this sort) miss the point that the human evolutionary specialization is flexibility of behavior. We are not robots following canned programs; we are programmable. We can reason, and modify our behavior accordingly. Sociobiology, ultimately, is an argument that human beings don’t think.

    Might we have evolutionary predispositions to behave in particular ways? Undoubtedly. A soldier’s survival instinct may well tell him to get the hell off the battlefield as fast as possible. But his training, and perhaps his ideological commitment, will keep him there.

    Studies of firefights in previous wars show that, from at least the Civil War to World War I, the vast majority of shots taken missed, apparently because the people firing them would not aim at other people (see if you can find a copy of Dave Grossman’s book “On Killing” for an explanation of how they came to that conclusion from the forensic and documentary evidence). Most people, interestingly, are very reluctant to kill other people. The aiming-and-firing rate has been as low as 20% in some major battles.

    In World War II it was higher. In Viet Nam it was higher still. It’s now greater than 70% in most engagements.

    Do you think two generations of human reproduction were enough to make a change that sweeping? They were not. People analyzed what was happening, tried different approaches, and kept what worked. They could raise the participation rate a bit by encouraging savagery, hatred of the enemy, etc. But that involved a lot of effort for very little return.

    When they put the duty to fire in terms of protecting your buddies, looking out for the unit, and not letting others do your work, they were able to triple participation rates. And the soldiers with those rates had essentially the same genes as their grandfathers. It was a cultural change and a change in training — deliberate reprogramming of human behavior.

    We are not prisoners of our genes. We can learn. And we can teach. Otherwise there would be little reason for this blog, or any blog.

  120. David Marjanovi posts:

    [[***Materialism is not rational; it is a parasitic worldview on empiricism and is damaging to it.***

    Care to explain?]]

    He may be referring to C.S. Lewis’s proof that materialism is self-refuting.

    If Epicurus and Lucretius are right that all that exists is merely “atoms and the void,” and our thoughts are merely the results of our present brain chemistry, why do we trust our thoughts?

    When someone says something nasty, we become angry or upset. But if we learn that the person said it because they had a piece of bone or a tumor pressing on their brain, we discount it and treat them charitably. We ignore things someone says in a high fever. We discount any thought that procedes from a recognizable physical cause.

    But if materialism is correct, all thoughts are in that category! As J.B.S. Haldane put it, “If my thoughts are merely the motions of atoms in my brain, then I have no reason to trust my thoughts… and therefore no reason to believe my brain to be made of atoms.” Materialism is self-refuting. It cuts its own throat. It is an argument that no arguments are valid.

    You can’t say that we might have evolved, by natural selection, brains capable of correct abstract reasoning. Every specific facet of brain-related abstract reasoning we’ve looked into indicates that we have built-in distortions of perception and reasoning. Look at BA’s posts on pareidolia. We evolved to see a tiger in the bushes even when there is no tiger there. Pinker’s books talk about a lot of this, but he fails to make the leap to the obvious conclusion — that human thought, as far as we can tell from scientific examination of the brain and senses, is not reliable. But if that’s so, then our scientific examinations of the brain and senses are not reliable, either. We must assume reason works in order for any conclusions at all to be trustworthy, and for reason to work, it must be more than, or different than, the mere functioning of our brains.

    Materialism is not rational. It leads to a contradiction. So whatever the real explanation for the universe is, we can be confident that it must be something other than materialism.

  121. Ted’s — er, “Vox’s” whole position re: what he considers to be “immaterial phenomena” is little more than a tortuous, overworked variant on the old God of the Gaps argument. (“Science can’t explain this…so…”) He seems to think that “immaterial phenomena” like ideas are “things” just like material phenomena, only they are the kinds of things that cannot exist in the material universe, and are thus evidence of some “immaterial” realm in which they do exist. And if someone is willing to believe in the existence of one “material” thing, like “justice,” then you’ve got no rational basis for not going whole hog and believing in other material things, like, you know…GOD!

    At least that appears to be Ted’s argument. If it exists, and science can’t catalogue it as a “material phenomena,” then the immaterial exists, and by extension, God exists too. If I’m misstating Ted’s position, sorry. Put it down to its innate absurdity.

    This is reminiscent of a lot of Christians who ask me, “Well, do you believe in love?” It’s an exercise in button-mashing, really. If our minds are the products of our physical brains — and I see no reason to think otherwise — and our minds can think of abstract ideas and emotional states like love and justice, then why is it hard to understand that we as physical beings can create ideas which, in and of themselves my not be “material,” but the results of which are felt and understood in material ways? “Justice” may not be “material” in the sense you can’t hold it in your hand like a coffee cup, but as a concept it does have material results in the way people interact with one another, solve problems, deal with crime and inequality in our society. Ted’s comprehension of what he considers “immaterial” is woefully shallow, and shows a very literal-minded way of thinking.

    Clearly it takes a limited intellect to think that science is undermining itself simply because we’ve found that a large portion of the universe is presently unknown and undetectable to us. For one thing, it took the scientific method to discover that, and moreover, what is undetectable today may not be so tomorrow. Thirty years ago we had no way of detecting dark energy. “Vox” is just one more example of the kind of scientific illiterate who thinks that, because science doesn’t know about something now, it never will…and that’s the gap where we plug in God. As Chuck D hissownself once said, it is those who know little, not those who know much, who assert that this or that question will never be solved by science.

  122. Correction — In my first paragraph above, that should have read:

    And if someone is willing to believe in the existence of one “immaterial” thing, like “justice,” then you’ve got no rational basis for not going whole hog and believing in other material things, like, you know…GOD!

  123. The fact is, any argument that morality is rooted in evolution suffers from the fallacy that what is must be what’s good. Counterexamples are trivially easy. Millions of third-world children die of starvation; does that mean starving children is good?

    This argument makes no sense at all. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that morality is roughly our sense of what’s “good.” The claim is that this sense evolved. How does it follow that this sense would consider everything else that’s a product of evolution to be “good”? You’ve made a huge leap with no connecting arguments.

    (I’m not trying to argue for the evolution of morality here; I’m simply uncomfortable with the major gaps in your argument.)

  124. Bah, messed up my blockquote tags. The quote-within-a-quote is my statement.

  125. “If my thoughts are merely the motions of atoms in my brain, then I have no reason to trust my thoughts… and therefore no reason to believe my brain to be made of atoms.” Materialism is self-refuting. It cuts its own throat. It is an argument that no arguments are valid.

    If my thoughts are the product of atomic motion, then so is my trust in those thoughts. How does it follow that I should not trust my thoughts? Logical leaps galore here.

    …human thought, as far as we can tell from scientific examination of the brain and senses, is not reliable. But if that’s so, then our scientific examinations of the brain and senses are not reliable, either.

    But it’s not reliable in specific, observable, predictable ways. Once we know where we’re unreliable, we can correct for that. If it turns out we’re unreliable in unpredictable ways, then there really is no reason to trust anything we do or think. But I suspect we wouldn’t have lasted long as a species if that were the case.

  126. Tom Marking

    “Natural selection would definitely promote wide-scope selfish behaviour–that just happens to confer a benefit to other members of that population–over narrow-scope since the population has a new advantage: Synergy.”

    “All it takes is a side effect to a strictly self-benefiting mechanism to either be helpful to others out-of-the-box, or become altered such that it is. That’s it.”

    This sounds suspiciously like an exaptation – an accidental side effect of an adaptation. Natural selection cannot ever promote or favor an exaptation. If it could then it would be an adaptation, not an exaptation. It is also incorrect to say that natural selection explains the exaptation since they are accidental and essentially random. Unless one wants to claim that we can explain the outcome of a coin toss by saying it’s random.

  127. JImC

    disagree absolutely that morality stems from our evolution. If that were so, why should we pay attention to it? Mice and lions have an evolutionarily derived imperative to kill children of other fathers. If we had that instinct, would it be right to indulge it?

    Again you miss the point. Morality is a word to describe behaviour. It’s the behaviour that either benefits the group or hurts it. Your wrong about mice of course but it’s irrevelant in any event as we are not mice or lions but primates. Our social structure is entirely different. And it’s not as if our species doesn’t kill often and for a variety of reasons some we deem moral and others not.

    The fact is, any argument that morality is rooted in evolution suffers from the fallacy that what is must be what’s good. Counterexamples are trivially easy. Millions of third-world children die of starvation; does that mean starving children is good?

    This is so shallow in it’s thinking and lacking in understanding it’s just silly. Your fallacy isn’t a fallacy and your example is incorrent. Human behaviour is selected for or against. Millions dying of starvation is not an example of morality anymore than deer dying in the forest is either. It’s a natural event. Your conflation is rather weak.

    Ultimately, I disagree with Heinlein that morality is rooted in survival, and that’s what any morality-is-from-evolution argument must ultimately lead to. I don’t think species survival is the be-all and end-all of good and just behavior, nor should it be.

    No one says it is. It’s behaviour that you proffer an opinion on. your problem is your looking at the opinion as the fact rather than the behaviour.

  128. You can’t say that we might have evolved, by natural selection, brains capable of correct abstract reasoning. Every specific facet of brain-related abstract reasoning we’ve looked into indicates that we have built-in distortions of perception and reasoning.

    Barton, this is inane. Why can’t we say this? A sentient species that never engaged in correct abstract reasoning (or even a nonsentient one — it’s abstract reasoning for an animal to decide that fire is a thing to be afraid of) wouldn’t survive long, let alone build civilizations. On the other hand, if your implied argument is true — that the fact we can reason correctly some of the time is somehow evidence of an ineffable external force influencing our brains to think properly — then why doesn’t that work all the time? Does this thing you don’t really describe except for its being “more than the functioning of our brains” make decisions as to whose thoughts to influence and whose not to? If there is some external influence guiding our thoughts that is independent of brain function, where does it come from, and why doesn’t it apply itself consistently across the board? Why isn’t everyone rational all the time? Based on the premise of your own argument, why should we trust it?

    The fact that people can reason both incorrectly and correctly is, to me, an ideal argument that our minds underwent the imperfect but wholly natural process of evolving. To suggest that during those times we reason properly, it’s because we’re getting zapped with positive vibes or healthy brain rays from The Beyond (or whatever it is you’re saying), is not merely silly, but scientifically, you’d have to say it violates Occam’s Razor at the very least.

    I don’t think it’s so much materialism that is irrational and contradictory as your bizarre caricature of it.

  129. Tom Marking

    “Morality is a word to describe behaviour”

    Is it? That’s certainly the behaviorist agenda and people like B.F. Skinner would be quite comfortable with it. But I’m sure not everyone on this board would agree with that definition. A rock falling down a hillside is exhibiting physical behavior but we would look rather silly claiming that the rock’s behavior was moral or immoral.

    In order for the behavior of the entity in question to be classified as moral/immoral don’t the following properties have to apply to the entity itself:

    1.) the entity is conscious of its actions
    2.) the entity has some insight into the future and can choose between alternative actions
    3.) the entity can foresee (at least to some degree) the consequences of its actions

    Those are the minimum requirements and the falling rock doesn’t meet them, nor does the amoeba slithering its way through the drop of water. It’s not clear to what extent the higher primates such as chimpanzees do or do not meet these requirements. It is also not clear to what extent man-made constructions such as artificial intelligence programs do or do not meet these requirements. So I would disagree with the notion that morality is a word to describe behavior in general. It has a lot to do with the capabilities of the entity performing the behavior.

  130. JImC

    I’m sure not everyone on this board would agree with that definition. A rock falling down a hillside is exhibiting physical behavior but we would look rather silly claiming that the rock’s behavior was moral or immoral.

    Then they are simply wrong. Your continued lack of understanding is based on incorrect presuppositions. A rock is not an animal. It does not exhibit behaviour. A rock falling down the hill is a physical action and hence is a poor analogy.

    In order for the behavior of the entity in question to be classified as moral/immoral don’t the following properties have to apply to the entity itself:

    1.) the entity is conscious of its actions
    2.) the entity has some insight into the future and can choose between alternative actions
    3.) the entity can foresee (at least to some degree) the consequences of its actions

    No. In hindsight you may analyze a behaviour using these questions and the result may allow you to choose based on your view a moral/immoral opinion. But the behaviour remains just that as an observation. It’s your opinion of the action we term ‘moral/immoral’. The precept itself doesn’t exist.

    But I think 1-3 pretty much describe more than a few animal species and that number grows every year as we advance into behavioural studies.

    Those are the minimum requirements and the falling rock doesn’t meet them, nor does the amoeba slithering its way through the drop of water. It’s not clear to what extent the higher primates such as chimpanzees do or do not meet these requirements. It is also not clear to what extent man-made constructions such as artificial intelligence programs do or do not meet these requirements. So I would disagree with the notion that morality is a word to describe behavior in general. It has a lot to do with the capabilities of the entity performing the behavior.

    No again. Even a ‘higher’ performing entity performs behaviours innate to it’s being. All you are ever seeing is behaviour. All ‘morality’ boils down to is other members of the primate groups analysis on said behaviours good or bad.

    A better way of looking at this is from the outside in. When we study animals we observe them for long periods of time in various scenarios and we watch the choices they make. They can have the same scenario 10 times and choose different paths 5 different times. Eventually however they can learn that some paths lead to more success in regards to safety, food, etc. These learned traits can then be passed on to their offspring who will be confronted with their own sets of choices as well. So the behaviour is partly genetic and partly learned.

    Imagine a space alien doing the same to the human race. They would see the same thing without any concept of ‘morals’ but rather see the behaviour and the choice. Over time the human animal learns the same way and passes the information on to the offspring. Morals vary among nations and cultures because the opinions of the individuals in the group are different from another group. But the human behaviour remains the constant. That is because we all come from the same base stock.

  131. 1000xZero

    @Robert “my husband and I are raising two sons who are adopted”

    With all due respect, how does this disprove Big Bill or Vox on the fact that you are a species on its way to extinction?

    You did not beget (oh I like that Biblical word) any children. You are simply raising 2 children from 2 people who are not you or your husband’s offspring. Homosexuals are incapable of reproduction hence a genetic dead end if I believed that homosexuality’s cause was genetic.

  132. You did not beget (oh I like that Biblical word) any children. You are simply raising 2 children from 2 people who are not you or your husband’s offspring. Homosexuals are incapable of reproduction hence a genetic dead end if I believed that homosexuality’s cause was genetic.

    Don’t be a complete idiot. Of course homosexuals are capable, physically, of reproduction. A gay man’s sperm is every bit as capable of fertilizing an ovum as a straight man’s. It’s just that, being gay, gay men and gay women don’t have straight sex. And the reason they’re gay is, in all likelihood, a genetic predisposition. A gay person didn’t wake up one morning and decide, “I think I’ll be homosexual,” any more than straight people “choose” to be heterosexual.

  133. Tom Marking

    “No again. Even a ‘higher’ performing entity performs behaviours innate to it’s being. All you are ever seeing is behaviour. All ‘morality’ boils down to is other members of the primate groups analysis on said behaviours good or bad.”

    I posted a longer reply but it apparently didn’t make it. What you seem to be saying is that the behavior itself has no intrinsic morality or immorality. It is only the opinion of the group that matters. Of course, several corallaries would follow from such a view such as:

    1.) Actions that the group doesn’t know about are neither moral nor immoral. E.g., a murderer who can keep his actions hidden is performing neither a moral nor an immoral action since the group cannot judge them.

    2.) If the group disagrees on whether the action is moral or immoral then what does that mean? Say, half the group approves and half the group disapproves? Since there is no consensus what is the status of the behavior being analyzed?

    And there are a variety of other objections to this notion along the same lines.

    And even if we were to accept this explanation it still goes no further in proving that natural selection explains it. If the opinion concerning the behavior is the relevant factor behind morality and not the behavior itself, then you still haven’t proven that natural selection can explain the opinions of the primate group. Indeed, you’ve made the explanation much more difficult, unless you’re saying that the assertion that the opinions constitute the morality is the explanation – which has absolutely no predictive power whatsoever.

  134. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Now what does exist are behaviours, animal behaviours. Behaviours that are present in every single primate species. Our opinion of these behaviours within our society we call morals.

    I agree fully. We are discussing behaviors that we call “moral”, why some related animals adhere to such behavior, and how evolution explains this.

    But if that’s so, then our scientific examinations of the brain and senses are not reliable, either.

    I don’t see any problems with the reliability of neuroscience. I do see a lot of problems with philosophical musings on science though. :-P

    What you call materialism and I call monism for lack of a better descriptor seems perfectly compatible with science as we know it. And it should be, as it uses prediction and parsimony on observation as other theories.

  135. Tom
    “1.) Actions that the group doesn’t know about are neither moral nor immoral. E.g., a murderer who can keep his actions hidden is performing neither a moral nor an immoral action since the group cannot judge them.

    2.) If the group disagrees on whether the action is moral or immoral then what does that mean? Say, half the group approves and half the group disapproves? Since there is no consensus what is the status of the behavior being analyzed?”

    How so? Number one is a pretty nice strawman, since it seems to assume that, since morality is decided pretty much by society in general (whether this is three or three billion is irrelevant), that is means a behavior or action must be seen to be judged? Is this seriously what you are claiming? Humans long ago decided that unjustified killing is wrong (even though the justification varies immensely), then we can call it murder and still say it is wrong, even if we do not see anyone commit it. We can deal in such abstracts and hypotheticals without problems. We have an evolved sense of the basic guidelines for morality (cooperation, guilt, etc – research primatology and behavior – chimps especially show evidence of highly evolved social behavior), and these are modified by the society we live in.

    As for number two, that is called society. Years ago (or as it is in certain backwards countries) women were immoral for showing any part of their body, or for doing such things as working, or talking to men, or asking them out, or even (gasp) enjoying sex. It was immoral for different “races” to marry. These days, some think it is immoral for two people of the same sex to have the same legal rights as two people of opposite sexes in a legal ceremony we call “marriage”. People still say argue that some things (pictures of nude men or women, perhaps) are immoral. Others disagree. Even in extreme cases (say, adults having sex with children), people will argue for the morality of that. So there is no uniform standard of morality that all people accept – and there (to the best of our knowledge of people) will probably never be. So if several people disagree over morals, then there will be a disagreement until the society moves in one direction or another (the latest studies I have seen indicate that younger people are more accepting and tolerant of gays than older, so the society may move towards the decision that their actions are moral). That’s how it always seems to work.

    I’m not sure if I understood you correctly, and if not, then sorry.

    Other than that, for general snits and grins, some more recommendations on behavior, morality and evolution:

    The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture; Matt Ridley, Perennial, 2003; ISBN: 0-06-000679-x

    Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right & Wrong; Marc D Hauser, HarperCollins, 2006; ISBN: 0-06-078070-3

    The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation; Matt Ridley, Penguin, 1996; ISBN: 0-14-026445-0

    Our Inner Ape, A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are; Frans De Waal, Riverhead Books, 2005; ISBN: 1-57322-312-3

    The Science of Good & Evil; Michael Shermer, Owl Books, 2004; ISBN: 0-8050-7769-3

    Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors; Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan, Ballantine, 1992; ISBN: 0-345-38472-5

    The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal; Jared Diamond, Harper Perennial, 2000; ISBN: 0-06-098403-1

    Sorry about the font – copied it from my reading list.

  136. PeaceLovingReligious

    @ Quiet Desperationon 09 Mar 2008 at 1:25 am
    ——————————————-
    Will you people ever [bleeping] learn that the name calling and hyperbolic comparisons do nothing more than cause the other side (and many of the fence sitters) to circle the wagons? Will you EVER learn this? It happens every time.
    ——————————————-
    I have no demographics or intricate knowledge of the brain’s inner workings to prove this way or that. I _do_ know that people typically accept what’s told strongly, if they aren’t really bothered about the subject. I may be wrong. And this emphatic-stating completely cleans up your soft reasoning voice. That’s my learning from my daily dealings in business, social work, and to quite an extent in computers as well. Hence the need to state strongly.
    Stating strongly shouldn’t be mistaken with making tall claims.

    You claim to be scientific, but you keep making the same error over and over.
    —————————-
    Pointed questioning does force some people to think.

    Too many self proclaimed skeptics are very short on actual reasoning capabilities and critical thinking, and I wish you’d go find another hobby because you make it really hard for the rest of us.
    ——————————
    When you know facts and you know factual, statistical patterns, reasoning hould be the smallest part of the effort. I’m not discussign philosophy here. Applying this sentence of mine for or against each of the topics touched upon in this lengthy debate will produce unexpected results. Please be reasonable.

    Assuming as you say, that nothing else in my post produces any positive effect, this has:
    GETTING CONCRETE HISTORICAL EVIDENCE OF THE DELIBERATE MODIFICATION OF BIBLICAL TEXT BY MEDIEVAL BARBARIANS.
    PUT THAT ON WIKILEAKS – SCANNED AS IMAGES.
    AND DO A GODDAMN **VERSION DIFF** ON THE BIBLE TEXT.

    And the guys who might undertake this aren’t fence-sitters who are short on facts, skills, and position in society. Obviously, wikileaks, for one.

    Yet if you feel I harmed the peaceful debate so very globally, you should see what happens when people from this camp do not shout loudly enough – heard of EFF?

    @ The Barber of Civilityon 09 Mar 2008 at 6:35 am
    I find it truly depressing that so much of this debate ends up in name calling and posters on all sides (not all posters) speaking in absolutes. There are no absolutes in science. We are always coming up with better ways to define things, but all explanations (+/- x%) have a margin of error.
    It also depresses me that so many posters deny that both religion and science can coexist.
    ————–
    True. Religion presents questions for scientists to answer. Forming two camps is not the optimum solution for us humans. But the *fact* of the day is that Religion is being blatantly misused by some crooked leaders, from each continent, and from almost each major religion. And people *do* listen to their falsehoods.

    @SteelReso: THANKS!! More of these, please.

    @ Barton Paul Levensonon 10 Mar 2008 at 8:46 am
    Ah, the conspiracy theory of Biblical inspiration.
    Who “modified” the Bible, Peace? Do you mean, by any change, “translated” the Bible? What was “modified?” Did somebody cut something out and replace it, using medieval paste and scissors, and without other people with Bibles noticing?
    Your view of the situation is rather like the 911 Truthers view of 9/11.
    —————————————
    How it’s done:
    1) take version 1, read it up.
    2) See which part can be modified due to distortion – “Chinese whispers” has been a statistical fact of human communication, whether written word or oral, wildly successful prior to invention of today’s near-fool-proof data storage methods. I’m talking of 1 AD to 1700 AD, and after as well, depending on the political importance of the text in question. Your own _name_ has a few __clues__.
    Examples: Pavel, Paulo, Paul, Pauli. Leonardo, Lenard.
    Johanssen, Johanson, Johnson. Abraham, Ibrahim, Brahma.
    Damian, Damjan. Kris, Chris, Rijkaard, Richard, Ricardo, Kryzstzof.
    Isn;t your name supposed to be a unique key (since you are a programmer after all – btw, great site, some of the observations on your website are spot-on, statistically right, or very intuitive. But proofs are proofs. So intuitive doesn;t prove anything. Other parts very thought-provoking.)

    @ Barton Paul Levensonon 10 Mar 2008 at 8:39 am
    All of them?
    Do they drink the blood of atheist babies, too?
    ———————–
    They _do_ spill some of that blood on occasion today, and in history, _lots_ of independently verifable sources point to large-scale blood-spilling of atheists’ babies and wives. Factually correct.

    For all else, a few words: re-birth, google, thomas andrews, Titanic, Charles Robert Richet, for instance.

    Finally, we only see between 4000 to 7000 Angtrom, IIRC.
    The rest, as they sadly don’t say, is _mystery_.
    Enough for an intelligent thinker to start at least one new branch of science.

    I could express my views on more detail, but i have work like everyone else and i prefer doing deeds to talking words.
    That’s the end of my “chatter”, so be happy.
    win-win.

  137. Tom Marking

    “that is means a behavior or action must be seen to be judged? Is this seriously what you are claiming? Humans long ago decided that unjustified killing is wrong (even though the justification varies immensely), then we can call it murder and still say it is wrong, even if we do not see anyone commit it.”

    No, I’m NOT claiming it. It’s what JImC is claiming. Please pay attention to the posts I’m replying to.

    “So there is no uniform standard of morality that all people accept – and there (to the best of our knowledge of people) will probably never be.”

    You’re proving my point which is that natural selection cannot explain these differences in moralities among the various cultures of the earth. If you take a Hottentot out of the Kalahari desert and a Englishman out of Piccadilly Circus and examine their brains how different will they be? Not much, at least structurally. They both have cerebellums, cerebral cortexes, Broca areas, etc., etc. They have both been evolved by natural selection to be essentially the same organ.

    Now compare the moral systems of the Hottentot and the Englishman. What do you find? Vast differences. The brains are functionally the same. So you still believe BA’s assertion that natural selection explains morality?

  138. JimC

    1.) Actions that the group doesn’t know about are neither moral nor immoral. E.g., a murderer who can keep his actions hidden is performing neither a moral nor an immoral action since the group cannot judge them.

    Ug, Tom I really don’t see how this is difficult. The murderer hides his action because he KNOWS the group does not approve. It still doesn’t change the behaviour. The society has already taught him this.

    2.) If the group disagrees on whether the action is moral or immoral then what does that mean? Say, half the group approves and half the group disapproves? Since there is no consensus what is the status of the behavior being analyzed?

    Then there is no concensus on the opinion. This is not even remotely an objection.

    And there are a variety of other objections to this notion along the same lines.

    Neither of these even remotely touch on the premise. They are irrevelant.

    And even if we were to accept this explanation it still goes no further in proving that natural selection explains it. If the opinion concerning the behavior is the relevant factor behind morality and not the behavior itself, then you still haven’t proven that natural selection can explain the opinions of the primate group.

    Using the scientific method we can make observations of other primate groups and attain a large amount of evidence as to how behaviour of one is influenced by social and group dynamics in primate societies. By tracing the origins we can show a strong selective pressure for much of what we are speaking about in this discussion.

    Indeed, you’ve made the explanation much more difficult, unless you’re saying that the assertion that the opinions constitute the morality is the explanation – which has absolutely no predictive power whatsoever.

    Your missing the point. The ‘morals’ people toss around are opinions nothing more. The behaviours that allow for peaceful and productive primate group living are selected for and against and learned from generation to generation. The opinions of these behaviours vary from group to group, location to location. Like it or not what you consider moral may not be shared by the fellow 1 town over. Morality as commonly used is simply opinion and that changes with the wind.

    And actually Badger was complementing my main point quite nicely.

  139. JimC

    You’re proving my point which is that natural selection cannot explain these differences in moralities among the various cultures of the earth. If you take a Hottentot out of the Kalahari desert and a Englishman out of Piccadilly Circus and examine their brains how different will they be? Not much, at least structurally. They both have cerebellums, cerebral cortexes, Broca areas, etc., etc. They have both been evolved by natural selection to be essentially the same organ.

    Now compare the moral systems of the Hottentot and the Englishman. What do you find? Vast differences. The brains are functionally the same. So you still believe BA’s assertion that natural selection explains morality?

    Tom-

    Seriously. Natural selection produces alot of differences not just in physical functions but also in terms of behaviour. In fact it is often one of the precursors for the division of a species when the group seperates and identical organisms learn such different behaviours to become unrecognizable by their former group.

    The problem isn’t that evolution provides a solid framework for the evolution of morality in this discussion but your cursory understanding of the science. Nothing wrong with that but it makes further discussion of limited value.

  140. Tom Marking

    “Your missing the point. The ‘morals’ people toss around are opinions nothing more.”

    Jim, if you’re going to use the behaviorist paradigm then please, at least be consistent about it. These “opinions” you cite are not observable and thus meaningless in a behaviorist system. You must have observable behavior in order to draw any conclusions in behaviorist theory.

    “Ug, Tom I really don’t see how this is difficult. The murderer hides his action because he KNOWS the group does not approve.”

    Again, is this KNOWLEDGE of the murderer observable? Answer: No. Is the hidden action of the murderer available for analysis by the group? Answer: No.

    “Morality as commonly used is simply opinion and that changes with the wind.”

    Oh really, and does natural selection act this way? Can natural selection build a behavior or an opinion on Monday and then completely change it on Tuesday? Answer: No, it cannot. Got two words for you: BRAIN PLASTICITY.

  141. JimC

    Jim, if you’re going to use the behaviorist paradigm then please, at least be consistent about it. These “opinions” you cite are not observable and thus meaningless in a behaviorist system. You must have observable behavior in order to draw any conclusions in behaviorist theory.

    Thats exactly what I’ve been saying. The opinions are meaningless(well not to those who hold them) and ‘morality’ as a word is as well. Observable behaviour is all you ever actually have and the observable actions of the social group. From this we can make hypothesis and evidence based inferences. if someone says you are of good ‘moral’ character they are saying that you exhibit behaviour that is, in their opinion, consistent with group actions as they perceive them. That is all.

    Again, is this KNOWLEDGE of the murderer observable? Answer: No. Is the hidden action of the murderer available for analysis by the group? Answer: No.

    ? ?The knowledge of the murderer is when he is observed murdering or a member of the group is missing. The hidden action isn’t available but most murders aren’t hidden and certainly aren’t in most primate societies where the origin of it’s distaste would have likely originated.

    Again the murderer hiding his action shows he is aware what the groups overall stance on the behaviour is and perhaps the punishments that may be levied for the action.

    Oh really, and does natural selection act this way? Can natural selection build a behavior or an opinion on Monday and then completely change it on Tuesday? Answer: No, it cannot. Got two words for you: BRAIN PLASTICITY.

    You simply don’t understand all the mechanisms of natural selection and learned behaviour. And your misunderstanding a point I’ve made again and again. It’s the behaviour that matters not the opinion. The opinion is fluid based on the time and needs of the group. Hence the varying ‘morals’ of time period to time period. What is perfectly moral today may not be 50 years from now or in the reverse. But all that has changed is the opinion on the same behaviour.

    The behaviour remains constant. Same culture to culture. The behaviour is the common ground and likely a result of selective pressure. That each group views such behaviour in a different light for a variety of reasons is neither suprising nor unexpected as it occurs in all species that are seperated from a primary or original population.

  142. Brian Macker

    Right on “Quiet Desperation”! True for most christians and the american right is not the Taliban. Except perhaps for maybe Reconstructionists and people like Gary North. The puritains however, they were very very similar to the Taliban.

  143. Tom Marking posts:

    [[“Natural selection would definitely promote wide-scope selfish behaviour–that just happens to confer a benefit to other members of that population–over narrow-scope since the population has a new advantage: Synergy.”
    “All it takes is a side effect to a strictly self-benefiting mechanism to either be helpful to others out-of-the-box, or become altered such that it is. That’s it.”
    This sounds suspiciously like an exaptation - an accidental side effect of an adaptation. Natural selection cannot ever promote or favor an exaptation. If it could then it would be an adaptation, not an exaptation. It is also incorrect to say that natural selection explains the exaptation since they are accidental and essentially random. Unless one wants to claim that we can explain the outcome of a coin toss by saying it’s random.
    ]]

    You miss the beauty of the sociobiological scheme. If a behavior can be plausibly described as self-beneficial, it’s genetically-based behavior. If not, it’s genetically-based behavior misfiring. Check Dawkins’s books for repeated examples of this kind of reasoning. Tails I win, heads you lose. This is one of my biggest objections to considering sociobiology as a science — it’s unfalsifiable. Whatever the evidence, you can always come up with a reason why it’s genetic.

  144. JimC and Martin — you miss my point. If my thoughts are just the result of what’s presently happening in my body, why should I consider those thoughts reliable? Presumably if I had eaten something different half an hour ago I would be having different thoughts. All thoughts would then precede from earlier causes, none of which are rational; they would merely be what I had to think at a particular time. Where is the connection between such a thought and objective reality?

    Charles Darwin said: “With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

    JBS Haldane: “If my thoughts are merely the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to trust my thoughts… and therefore no reason to believe my brain to be made of atoms.”

    Patricia Churchland: “Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. . . . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”

    Alvin Plantinga: “[F]rom a naturalist point of view the thought that our cognitive faculties are reliable (produce a preponderance of true beliefs) would be at best a naïve hope. The naturalist can be reasonably sure that the neurophysiology underlying belief formation is adaptive: but nothing follows about the truth of the beliefs depending on that neurophysiology. In fact he’d have to hold that it is unlikely, given unguided evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable. It’s as likely, given unguided evolution, that we live in a sort of dream world as that we actually know something about ourselves and our world.”

  145. Badger3k writes:

    [[So there is no uniform standard of morality that all people accept - and there (to the best of our knowledge of people) will probably never be.]]

    You can’t claim both that morality is derived from our natural selection history, and is thus genetic, and that humans can’t agree on morality. It has to be one or the other. If A is true B is false and vice versa.

  146. PeaceLovingReligious posts:

    [[Examples: Pavel, Paulo, Paul, Pauli. Leonardo, Lenard.
    Johanssen, Johanson, Johnson. Abraham, Ibrahim, Brahma.
    ]]

    Ah. So the fact that the way names are written has changed throughout history proves that people rewrote the Bible? You seem to have a few intermediate logical steps missing there.

    [[@ Barton Paul Levensonon 10 Mar 2008 at 8:39 am
    All of them?
    Do they drink the blood of atheist babies, too?
    ———————–
    They _do_ spill some of that blood on occasion today, and in history, _lots_ of independently verifable sources point to large-scale blood-spilling of atheists’ babies and wives. Factually correct.
    ]]

    So it’s factually correct that all Christians lie (the original contention), and all Christians drink the blood of atheist babies.

    I assume you also think that all Jews are greedy, that all blacks are criminals, and that all women are lousy drivers?

    Do you understand what “fallacy of composition” means? Have you ever taken a course in formal logic? Do you realize why most people nowadays tend to disregard the arguments of bigots?

  147. JimC posts:

    [[The opinion is fluid based on the time and needs of the group. Hence the varying ‘morals’ of time period to time period. What is perfectly moral today may not be 50 years from now or in the reverse.]]

    If the group defines what is moral, what about those who defy the group, but are later accepted by the group as having been right? M.L. King, Jr., comes to mind.

    I dispute that it is the consensus of the group that makes an action right or wrong. You’ve claimed this repeatedly, but you haven’t offered anything approaching a logical proof for it.

    If you want to say “What is perfectly moral today may not BE CONSIDERED SO 50 years from now” you have a point. But if you’re saying “What is perfectly moral today may not BE SO 50 years from now” your point, I think is incoherent.

  148. Tom Marking

    JimC: “Morals don’t actually exist.”

    BA: “Evolutionary biology does in fact explain our concepts of justice, equality, and freedom”

    BA: “What I have read of evolutionary biology (Dawkins, PZ, and others) does seem to indicate that our social mores (justice, fairness, etc) were evolutionarily reinforced when we became a tribal species.”

    Dang it!, Don’t know why I didn’t see this in the first place. Doh! (Homer Simpson version). Jim, your argument is with BA who claims that the theory of evolution explains something you think is nonexistent. I’ll let you two fight that one out. LOL.

    My position is contrary to both sides: Morals do exist and evolution does not explain them. Note, this is not a claim that some deity does explain them.

  149. Tom Marking

    “You can’t claim both that morality is derived from our natural selection history, and is thus genetic, and that humans can’t agree on morality. It has to be one or the other.”

    Thank you. Barton, it’s not even clear if these folks are supporting BA’s initial position which is what I thought we were arguing about.

  150. All thoughts would then precede from earlier causes, none of which are rational; they would merely be what I had to think at a particular time. Where is the connection between such a thought and objective reality?

    If all thoughts precede from earlier causes, then those thoughts are directly connected to objective reality — they’re a product of objective reality.

    When you say “none of which are rational”, to what are you referring? Calling “earlier causes” rational or non-rational is making a category error. Calling the thoughts non-rational is begging the question.

  151. PeaceLovingReligious

    [[PeaceLovingReligious posts:

    Examples: Pavel, Paulo, Paul, Pauli. Leonardo, Lenard.
    Johanssen, Johanson, Johnson. Abraham, Ibrahim, Brahma.]]

    Ah. So the fact that the way names are written has changed throughout history proves that people rewrote the Bible? You seem to have a few intermediate logical steps missing there.

    [[@ Barton Paul Levensonon 10 Mar 2008 at 8:39 am
    All of them?
    Do they drink the blood of atheist babies, too?
    ———————–
    They _do_ spill some of that blood on occasion today, and in history, _lots_ of independently verifable sources point to large-scale blood-spilling of atheists’ babies and wives. Factually correct.]]

    [[So it’s factually correct that all Christians lie (the original contention), ]]
    Hardly did I contend that. I can’t even see where *I* wrote that.
    This is what I did write:
    [[Remember, the Bible has been repeatedly modified throughout history by the rulers and oppressors of the day. Not one of those jerks knew what the Bible actually said or cared about what Jesus actually said.

    The church was a seat of **power** and the Bible was the constitution. The Right-wing lawmakers of that day deliberately amended that constitution adding more and more crap, much like today’s Far Right adds more and more laws to deny personal liberty to citizens.
    The similarity is just too much to ignore.]]
    Are you trying to say that saying this: “the rulers and oppressors of the day”
    is exactly the same as saying this: “all Christians lie (the original contention)”

    Or that this: “The Right-wing lawmakers of that day deliberately amended that constitution adding more and more crap, much like today’s Far Right adds more and more laws to deny personal liberty to citizens.”
    also means this:”all Christians lie (the original contention)”

    Far from what you assume I say, I actually typed this:
    “Mike J on the other post was quite right – People typically don’t like hating and fighting, unless they’re brought up in such an atmosphere.”

    I did make one mistake: “What on Earth shows that the Ten commandments are being followed perfectly by the Reps or the GOP? Give me ONE example, please.”

    There ARE good Reps and there are good people in the GOP who really believe in a good, reasonable Lord and want people in general to live happily. My apologies to those Republicans and members of the GOP.

    Still, I NEVER said “all Christians”.

    May I expect a similar apology…?

    You seem to not deifferentiate between me and the “stereotype” Rationalist/non-religious/Christian-basher categories that you have eloquently described on your website.

    I’m *NOT* giving you the same crap that you claim they do. Do you notice that?

    [[and all Christians drink the blood of atheist babies.]]
    Just where did I say that?
    This and the above claim clearly prove that you have a habit of classifying people probably thinking that classifying them is the best way to discuss things. It is _not_.

    I am not your stereotype as you can clearly see.
    I pray to God daily. I fight with Him too, however amusing or abusive He (and maybe His group of higher beings) may find that.
    What is fair is fair, what is not is not. God or Demon or Satan or Barton or PeaceLovingReligious.
    Chiefly, I don’t stretch sentences of others, put in incorrect words of my own
    and then say that *their* sentences are incorrect.

    [[I assume you also think that all Jews are greedy, ]]
    Precisely the problem with your categorization habit. I admire good Jews and clearly realize the torment that the majority of them have been facing at the hands of their small-minded corrupt leaders. Who would want half a century of war with a neighboring anarchy?

    [[that all blacks are criminals,]]
    Please give me a break. Just what are you trying to force in my name? Where did I say this?

    [[and that all women are lousy drivers?]]
    Again, where did I say that?

    I learnt a few good conventions from you, right away.
    The double square brackets – “[[" and "]]”
    Will you say of this frank admission as a hidden assault in some sarcastic way?
    It is not. Really, it is not.

    I’m not here for personal vendetta.
    That activity is damaging to *my* being (the source) more than it is to yours (the target).

    [[Do you understand what “fallacy of composition” means?]]
    pretty much.
    Do you know of “Guilt By Association”?
    See these:
    http://www.stallman.org/archives/2004-jan-apr.html#29%20March%202004%20(Guilt%20by%20Association)
    http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=show_mesg&forum=102&topic_id=3181284&mesg_id=3182944

    [[ Have you ever taken a course in formal logic?]]
    Many. Scored well too. 100% in one.

    [[Do you realize why most people nowadays tend to disregard the arguments of bigots?]]
    *sigh* More reverse-hate.
    I would love to start a blog explaining my views on each of the wrong arguments you have used to probably classify me as a “bigot” – without ever naming either you or me in the process, All the while getting the message clearly across to the ignorant fence-sitter. The reader must decide on his own, but he needs all the help from either side (assuming fairly, that both sides are correct or at least should be treated as so till one of them makes a clear obvious mistake in argument)

    But all that takes one hell of a lot of time, dear.

    Right now, I’m working on about _three_ really neat projects that help common folk get more say than “the powerful few” in those fields and those, you will agree, are far more tempting to invest my time and energy on than cleaning up the lazy categorizing habits of *one* single incorrectly thinking “convert from left to right”.
    Sorry if it sounds personal, but I have to defend myself and my views.
    Nothing personal, i take the “forgive thy enemy” words seriously, because of the most important thumb rule in social life- “love the sinner, but not the sin”

    Another thing, many of your claims on your website declaring the reasons why your stand makes sense, use one particularly powerful tool of argument – I’ll call it the “SurelyYoureJokingFeynman” tool.

    Read up the book “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” by Dr. Richard Feynman.
    One gem of a scientist he was. And brutally, ruthlessly frank about everything.
    Being a scientist, a physicist and a mathematician, his words could never be disputed.
    Either he spoke like that or he would not speak at all.
    And, as far as I know, on matters of public or scientific importance, in widely published literature quoting him, he never flinched from speaking where it was needed of him to speak. So he had a conscience and a stong sense of duty too.
    His ruthless analysis of the space shuttle disaster is stuff of legend.
    Do read that as well.

    The SurelyYoureJokingFeynman technique involves openly admitting your crime in such an unexpectedly emphatic way that people think you are joking. When in fact you actually are not. People use your stated reputation, gauge your declaration, and imemdiately conclude that it is humor. In his specific case, he actually did steal the door in question, since he was a notorious prankster as well. And he safely got out of it by stating upfront that he had, in fact, stolen the door. People thought that he was surely joking.

    Another technique you use (or misuse, to state it un-mathematically) is, as a I said above, taking the sentence of the person you argue with, add your own words, and then criticise the person for those added words.

    In effect, as I now realize, you have, by your above reply, directly **demonstrated** one among the many techniques used by the medieval power-hungry class and the present-day hypocritical section of the far-right ruling class. It was exactly by “pulling fast ones” like this tehcnique that the Bible was modified repeatedly.
    Just wait till one of the wikileaks groups, or someone brutally frank like Dr. Feynman, from _within_ the ruling far-right (RFR), brings out a list of such modifications of the Bible throughout the centuries. From the point of view of the RFR, he will be a “betrayer”, but the revelations will be startling, nonetheless.
    It is just a matter of time, Nature has its own ways of bringing crooks to book.
    Scientists, by virtue of being honest (their trade demands that as a basic prerequisite, or they get argued out of reputation and credibility :-) ), are dear to Nature/God/The Force/Jesus/…

    As i said before, I believe that Religion poses questions for scientists to answer. And in-fighting is not an optimum solution for the problems of the human race. Wait till we hear from the Planet of Apes – President Reagan said that in different words, mind you.

    Why we were forced to be ignorant to begin with, by Nature/God, is a question too big for this discussion and correctly for Nature/God to answer. Its/His crediblity has always been at question on that topic, but It/He rarely bothers to answer. Answering _that_ question is Its/His job, not mine.
    At least, my present qualifications in formal logic (and informal knowledge/information) do not qualify me yet to answer that question.

    If you reply equally venomously as before, and if it interests me to continue this discussion, my next reply will be using mathemtaical inequalities or equations or maybe a popular syntax like BASIC, which is a language displayed on your website, assuming it is written by you.

    That will help make things much more unambiguous and aid quicker (for me) transfer of information.

    Case rested.

  152. Actually, I have read several of Feynmann’s books, including the ones about physics, which are harder.

    It wasn’t you who said “All Christians lie,” but an earlier poster (scroll up). All you did was back him up.

    And you didn’t say that Christians drank the blood of atheist babies, but you more or less said it was true in effect. Go back and read your own post!

    And I still think your contention that the Bible was repeatedly rewritten is conspiracy-theory stuff. I’m familiar with some of the original manuscripts, which you apparently are not. Nobody has engaged in any wholesale, or even partial, rewriting of the Bible. It’s a popular myth, an urban legend. There’s no actual scholarship backing it up. It’s like thinking Columbus proved the Earth was round. Or that the Proctor and Gamble logo contains Satanic symbols.

  153. Dark Jaguar

    I will at least make one point.

    Evolution does explain why we have certain base ethical concerns and care about each other. It explains it, but it doensn’t justify it. That’s in the same way that no finding in science should ever be taken to mean “this is how we should act”. Evolution is beautiful in a sense, but in another sense it’s rather cruel and barbaric. To the point, some species evolve straight into dead ends of extinction, with every step along the way in their immediate best interest, but not their long term best interest. Sometimes, this does happen, and to quote Richard Dawkins “that’s just too bad”, however also to paraphrase him, the point is that evolution should NEVER be taken as a moral imperative or a source of moral conduct. It’s a fact, but so is gravity. I don’t see many people saying flight is immoral (yes I know flight doesn’t break the law of gravity at all, but neither does having a moral code that doesn’t take into account evolution).

    Just because we are shaped by evolution doesn’t mean anything we do is justified by it. We have other rather evil things that evolution may have had a hand in, and that would be a reality but it would be something for us to overcome, not consider “just”.

    We can form a moral code outside of evolutionary pressure, and to be frank, in a lot of ways, we should. In fact, we should not count on the slow process of evolution, the completely blind to the future process, any more. We can do better, improve on nature, and it’s in our best interests to. If we can develop a keen understanding of genetics, it’s in our best interests, perhaps in the best interests of every strain on the planet, for us to take hold of the reins of blind evolution and use our capacity for forsight to steer ourselves in a better direction.

    Evolution is a fact. Evolution does NOT dictate morality. This goes both for idiotic creationists saying “evolution leads to genocide” and those who would argue that evolution justifies our good behavior. Yes, it is a source of some of our good behavior, and some of our bad behavior, but at this point the realm of ideas kinda has that beat. The recent centuries of moral change had nothing to do with evolution, for example. Clearly whatever our current moral code is derived from, it isn’t from evolution, at least not in it’s entirety. So no, I would not argue that evolution fully explains our morality, and indeed, I would not argue at all that even if it DID fully explain it, it would justify it. To do that would justify certain reprehensible traits, such as a genetic disposition to believe without evidence and force that on others.

    I’d much rather go with a basic principle of “do no harm to others”, and let the definition of harm be determined by the “other” in question. Clearly life isn’t as simple as that but it’s a good principle to start with.

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