Sunday, 20 November 2016

Kingdom of Speech - Great Critique of Evolution and Current Understanding of the Origin of Language / Poor Argument for Mnemonics as a Better Explan

The headline sums it up. This book offers a fascinating yet brief journey through the history of Evolution and Linguistics. Wolfe eloquently surveys the explanatory landscape offered by Evolution and current linguistic theory and finds them wanting - a case he argues convincingly. I think language did explode into being - and it is supremely ignorant to compare human language to that of Chimps, or really, any animal. Language does not reduce convincingly to a step-by-step Darwinian process.

I really enjoy this subject so I have a lot to say about his argument, which comes across as more critical than I mean it to be - I really did like the book. But there were many things I simply did not get. For one thing, he seems to argue that speech (alone?) differentiates humans from animals. I think it is more complete to subsume 'speech' under they designation 'human consciousness' - speech being a manifestation thereof. Speech is merely what's expressed, not necessarily what's fully going on in the brain. It also seems to me that Wolfe thinks that, because research does not indicate the location of any specific language organ - therefore our capacity for speech is not rooted in the workings of our our brain? If so, where does it reside? People born with "half-a-brain" still often show a capacity for normal language and intellectual ability - their brain just wires itself differently. Therefore, perhaps there is no specific spot where language ability resides, but that doesn't mean it ain't there... somewhere, maybe it's all over the place and can't be reduced to a particular location... but hey, that just one possible explanation.

Final point, I feel that Wolfe's argument for mnemonics as an explanation for the origin of language is gravely lacking. (Is he endeavouring to replace one just-so evolutionary story with another?) It is simplistic in the extreme, and to me indicates an incomplete understanding of the relation between mind and language and, perhaps, logic. Using mnemonic THINKING as an explanation for how we communicate or how we might've started communicating does not explain how the mental CAPACITY for such communication originated in the first place! You need the capacity for mnemonic thinking before you can think mnemonically. Therefore, the argument begs the question of what made the capacity of human language possible in the first place. Also, humans think symbolically, reason abstractly, look to the past and the future, make tools in anticipation of future needs (not reducible to the present moment) + much more. The Piraha are no different - albeit a more primitive expression of what makes all of humanity unique.

Ultimately, Wolfe's argument is unsatisfying... but hey, kudos to him for trying! He certainly made me think a bit more deeply about how wonderful and mystifying human speech is! I also like that he doesn't blindly agree with the fairy tales put forth by Darwinists!

4 out of 5 stars overall - 5 stars for the content of the book critiquing Darwin/Darwinism/Chomsky/the state of linguistics. Minus 1 star for his weak, but very brief argument for an alternate explanation for the origin of speech.

Overall a very good book and would recommend!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Genghis Khan - Barbarian or Enlightened Despot?

I watched this thought provoking video and it prompted a few thoughts. Genghis Khan here is presented in two ways. As a misunderstood benevolent despot on the one hand and as a mere bloodthirsty barbarian on the other. But which view is correct? Ultimately he was a barbarian, that no modern apologists can rightly claim otherwise. At best he could be indirectly known as a unifier (it would exaggerating to the extreme and say he was an enlightened ruler). 

What led the Mongols to conquer much of the known world? Certainly not a drive for unity and a desire to spread culture! They wanted plunder (and perhaps adventure)! That was fundamental to their conquests. For sure, their practices were barbaric (especially if one believes there are certain immutable moral truths that can't be controverted by time and culture).  But, like any people back then the Mongols had their own unique code of justice and positive aspects which improved their conquered domains in a few respects - but that doesn't make Genghis any more enlightened than any other ruler throughout history (one could argue that Hitler did positive things for Germany and therefore try to justify and contextualise his attitudes and actions in the same way as we are doing with the great Khan)! Also, we can't discount the fact that he wanted to hold on to his territory, so why not give the people something to sweeten the deal? With regard to freedom of religion, I'd say that wasn't some enlightened attitude but rather, something closer to indifference as Mongols often held traditionally shamanistic beliefs (being a highly accepting religious position) that would have made them open to other religions. 

I conclude that Genghis is certainly more barbarian - opportunistic and power hungry despot - than enlightened ruler!

Why Kitzmiller v Dover Does Not Refute Intelligent Design

I have spoken with many people who, upon being informed that I support the theory of Intelligent Design simply reply by saying: "Kitzmiller v Dover". The purpose being that they believe that merely quoting the case offers a slam-dunk refutation of Intelligent Design! Besides the fact that a court case cannot rule on the definition of science or the scientific standing of a theory, Dover is unpersuasive for the following reasons:

1. The case provides an inaccurate and partisan history of ID.
The supposed history of ID is shallow and one-sided and suppresses many key facts.

2. The case against the scientific status of ID is unpersuasive.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, demarcation criteria does not adequately preclude ID from consideration. Further, the judge makes assertions beyond his legitimate authority - that flatly contradicts both logic and the evidence presented in th court.

3. The court failed to treat religion in a neutral manner.
Judges are required by the US Constitution to treat religious questions neutrally, but Judge Jones applies different standards when examining the religious implications of intelligent design and Darwinian evolution. He even attempts to decide which theological view of evolution is correct.

4. The Limited Value of the Case as Precedent.
Judge Jones purports to answer once and for all the question of whether it is lawful to include intelligent design in public school science curricula, but in fact his opinion on this question has almost no precedential value for other judges.

Indeed there are many logical issues with the judgment. The Judge's ruling is an amusing case of folly and betrays a simplistic understanding of science. But really, that critics of ID use this ruling as any sort of evidence shows the real lack of valid arguments and the degradation of reasoned discourse that can be mustered in opposition to the theory.

This ebook provides a more comprehensive argument -

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Why Intelligent Design (ID) Is Science - A Response to the Inadequate Demarcation Criteria Proposed by Philosopher's of Science Against ID

In 2005, the famous Dover trial took place. It examined the scientific validity of Intelligent Design and found it wanting. Numerous detractors of the theory sought to show why ID did not meet the requirements of a proper scientific theory. The result being that Judge John E Jones III ruled: "ID is not Science". Besides the patent absurdity of a judge - with no scientific or philosophical background - ruling on such a matter which is clearly beyond the scope of his authority, this was still seen as a win for the Scientific Establishment. But is that still so today?

Since that time, the ID think tank known as the Discovery Institute has thrived amidst the vicious criticism it has received. They have also taken to responding to the critics and their claims that ID is not science, having done so in numerous articles and books published by their various supporters. One prominent defender of ID is Dr Stephen C Meyer, a Philosopher of Science who attained his Ph.D. at Cambridge University. He wrote in his 2009 book 'Signature in the Cell': "Historians and Philosopher's of Science... do not agree about how to define science. Many doubt there is even a single definition that can characterize all the difference kinds of Science." This is a fair point. This is known as the "Demarcation Problem" in the Philosophy of Science which is the philosophical problem of how to properly distinguish between science and pseudoscience.

The value of the opposition to Intelligent Design from Philosopher's of Science is being questioned. Dr Meyer, in his book mentioned earlier, refutes the various criticisms of ID and the reasons why it must not be science. He is well aware of the contradictions that result from attempting to distinguish science from pseudoscience and shows why the various attacks on the supposed unscientific nature of ID would, if applied to other accepted scientific theories also put them in the realm of pseudoscience. He goes on to convincingly argue that ID asks questions that could properly be considered scientific. This has created a crisis for Philosopher's of Science, who have been unable to acknowledge the weight of these refutations and come up with better and more comprehensive arguments.

That being said, I am eager to understand why it is that people are so adamant that ID simply is not science despite not having offered any convincing arguments to support their view. Perhaps one way to contextualize their point of view is by interpreting their opposition from the vantage of science as a social enterprise where subjective groupthink viewpoints inevitably creep in. At the heart of any human organizatiom, be it religious or political, there is a commitment to orthodoxy - correct beliefs one must hold to be considered a part of that group. This orthodoxy promotes consensus and therefore stability. One cannot idealistically conclude that merely because of the aspirations of science that it must therefore be immune to the same potential stumbling blocks faced by other human organizations. This is a reasonable lens by which to understand the attacks on the validity of ID.

What is the orthodox opinion with regard to Intelligent Design? What is this a priori assumption of the Scientific Establishment that MUST be assented to? It is a commitment to "Methodological Naturalism". This concept posits that, for something to be scientific, it must explain by reference to purely material causes. Naturalism implicitly rejects the possibility of Intelligent Design regardless of whether it is true or not. Indeed, this is a subjective fact for the Scientific Establishment. However, As far as I can see, trying to turn the ID controversy into a mere semantic dispute (of whether it is science) detracts from the real scientific challenges posed by the theory. One should not ask: "does this fit my subjective definition of science?" But rather: "Is Intelligent Design true? Does it provide a better explanation than its naturalistic competitors?" A careful study of the evidence will reveal that indeed it does.[1]

To conclude I ask, will this demarcation problem ever be resolved to show what many people feel must be true - namely that Intelligent Design is not science? Perhaps. But for now we can be assured that the the baseless consensus within the Scientific Community will do.

[1] For further reading, I recommend Dr Stephen C Meyer's books: "Signature in the Cell" and "Darwin's Doubt" for some of the comprehensive arguments for Intelligent Design.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Responding to a Biology Professor: Common Descent is a Fact! The Only Disagreement is Over the Mechanism

Here's a discussion I had with a Biology Professor who specialises in Palaeontology.

This was the contention she put to me:

"The only disagreement in the scientific literature is about the mechanism, and that is simply healthy scientific discourse, which changes as the available information changes. There is zero disagreement about the reality of common descent".

Before I continue I will note that she wrote this as well in that same post:
"Neo-Darwinism has been dead for half a century."

This is significant because the Neo-Darwinian paradigm is still currently accepted by most scientists. Yet while she evidently disagrees, she believes that some as yet unknown evolutionary mechanism can account for the complexity of life.

I wrote (in response to her):
""The only disagreement [over common descent] in the scientific literature is about the mechanism". 
Shouldn't the mechanism be the thing that proves common descent? Otherwise common descent would be presupposed without any explanatory power to show how it is possible. 
So basically the fossil record, which contradicts Darwinism (and where any contradictions are explained away or are asserted to prove it anyway) actually proves Darwinism?

Also, Palaeontology is really good for coming up with up nice stories about how things could be, but it is unsupportable without an adequate mechanism (which you've presupposed exists). You need a mechanism FIRST, only then would Palaeontology back up Darwinism. The fossil record also isn't convincing because it does not contradict ID. So without an adequate mechanism it is totally arbirtrary to say it proves Darwinism.

Oh and if you believe the similarity of DNA between different animals proves molecules to man evolution - it is also a presupposition because no mechanism is adequate to prove that it indicates common descent (is possible). Similarity of DNA likewise doesn't contradict an ID perspective so using it as evidence is a mere assertion.

(This is only my personal viewpoint in looking at the evidence - other ID theorists such as Michael Behe find Common Descent plausible - I do not.)"  

This was her response (note: she made some irrelevant points which I have excised):

""Shouldn't the mechanism be the thing that proves common descent?" 
No. The Germ Theory of Disease proposed that many diseases are caused by microorganisms. We still don't know the precise mechanism in all cases, but nobody doubts the veracity of the theory. 
"Oh and if you believe the similarity of DNA between different animals proves evolution - it is also a presupposition because no mechanism is adequate to prove that it indicates common descent" 
Hm --- tell that to the forensic police departments all over the world. If DNA similarities do not show relationship, then we're all in trouble, because there would be no evidence that children were related to their parents. 
Tell us, what *does* similarity of DNA show if not relationship? If it's simply random, then why isn't my great great great great great great great grandfather a cactus rather than Charlemagne?"

- Note the classic bait-ands-switch technique!

And my response:

"All your examples use minor change within species as a bait-and-switch to explain all the supposed change from molecules to man. This is not an evidence-based comparison. The mechanism is known and sufficient to explain change within species. So how could  you use known mechanisms as evidence for something that defies explanation through those same mechanisms? 
I am talking about common descent, not change within species or DNA similarity within a species. Using germ theory is a false comparison as, for example, you assert that the mechanism is only not known "in all cases". Where as the mechanism for explaining molecules to man evolution is not known at all. ID constitutes a better explanation than a Neo-Darwinian mechanism. Hence why there is no need to resort to a hypothetical mechanism."

Note: I did not respond to this point - "Tell us, what *does* similarity of DNA show if not relationship?" - because in passing it appeared to be just an assumption. But I will address it for any who want clarification. The similarity can easily be attributed to Common Design. Just like how a car designer might create different car models but they are still building on a basic design template.

Further, the evidence shows that there are many unique genes that cannot be explained through the possibility of common descent. A group of German scientists recently examined the gene sequences of 16 different Cyanobacterial strains in an effort to discern all the distinct kinds of genes these strains carry. They found that they do share a common set of 660 genes (not identical genes but similar enough to encode for proteins). But surprisingly they found that nearly 14,000 genes are unique to individual strains (at an average of 869 unique genes per strain)!* These findings indicate that those bacterial strains are more genetically different than alike, despite their overall external similarities. This flies in the face of what you would expect from common descent.

Stephen Meyer, writing in Darwin's Doubt sums up my argument nicely when he says:
"The Darwinian formulation of evolutionary theory in opposition to the design hypothesis, coupled with the inability of Neo-Darwinian and other materialistic theories to account for the salient appearances of design, would seem to logically reopen the possibility of actual (as opposed to apparent) design in the history of animal life" 

Another commenter had this interesting point to say:
"How can one understand Darwinian logical fallacies?
Evolution is an anti-science theory based on a lie stating that life from non-life is possible.  
There's NO observational or empirical data, NO rigid mathematical model [and] NO large scale computer simulation or digital life research program confirming evolution. There's NO known observable process by which new genetic information can be added to an organism's genetic code resulting in speciation."

Random final addition - Why ID is Theoretically Falsifiable:

ID's claim that intelligence is the only thing capable of producing specified complexity is also technically falsifiable because if an undirected natural cause were capable of producing specified complexity then its claims would be disproven.


Quote from: Meyer, Stephen C. Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and The Case for Intelligent Design. New York: HarperOne, 2013.

* C. Beck et al., "The Diversity of Cyanobacterial Metabolism: Genome Analysis of Multiple Phototrophic Microorganisms," BMC genomics 13 (2012): 56.

How To Argue With Darwinists. Know Your Terminology!

We've likely experienced this before: we might comment on a YouTube video or write an Amazon review making comments about Darwinian Evolution and then get random replies from people attacking our terminology. Why do they do this? Do they not see the weightier point I am making? Unfortunately prominent atheists have really muddied the waters here. People like Richard Dawkins have written of those who are critical of Darwinism using incorrect buzz words that have wrongly expressed the views of the critics. Most people won't understand the arguments you are making because they are committed to Darwinism a priori, have been influenced by superficial arguments for evolution or they incorrectly view anyone who disagrees with Darwinism of being ignorant.

One of the biggest things I see is when people say something like "evolution has no proof!" Well, most thoughtful people would know what you mean - you mean that life cannot be cannot be explained through Darwinism. But atheists/supporters of Darwinism hear something different. Here's some definitions of 'Evolution':

1. The gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.
2. The process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth.

So someone who wants to attack your point of view will do so because they think you are criticising the first definition of evolution. A definition which isn't controversial, species do indeed change to some degree over time (beaks change within finch populations for example). The second definition however is much more hotly debated and this is where the disagreement actually lies - whether these small scale changes can explain the development and diversification of all living organisms.

The next word I will discuss is a word that is actually confused by Darwinists as a way to pull the old bait and switch. That term is the word "Species".

1. A group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.

Seems straightforward right? Species aren't a problem for critics of evolution because we can only observe and see evidence for changes within species. But to a Darwinist this word is much more significant - the development within a species is basically perceived as proving that Ape-like creatures evolved into Humans. So be prepared to call them out on the distinction.

Macroevolution is a good term to use when discussing your disagreements with evolution. But I personally prefer to use the term "Neo-Darwinism" which is the modern synthesis of Darwinism - being more specific. It means:

1. Any modern theory of evolution holding that species evolve by natural selection acting on genetic variation.

This is a very appropriate term because it refers to the processes that are postulated for the development of all life. The issues with Darwinism come down to the fact that "genetic variation" (AKA random mutations) and natural selection cannot explain the development of life (for more info on why this is so, read Signature in the Cell and Darwin's Doubt).

A final point. I do not recommend engaging in any real discussions with these people online. Because chances are they haven't grappled with the arguments and don't want to. They have just presupposed, due to misinformation, that those are critical of evolution (or who have read an ID book) are wrong and trying to explain yourself to them will only result in frustration. They want you to prove ID's claims, but Intelligent Design has shown why Neo-Darwinism fails to explain the development of life so the burden of proof actually lies with the Darwinists to defend their theory. Thus far they have failed to stand up to the arguments of ID!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Short Review of the Design Revolution by William Dembski

This book should be considered the philosophical base that establishes Intelligent Design as a valid scientific discipline. Most people don't seem to understand that the supposed refutations of ID proceed from faulty assumptions about the nature of science. Mostly it reveals the ignorance of those individuals as to their subjective world-view, that biological systems can't, by definition, be designed (which is an absurd and unprovable viewpoint). This book offers detailed refutations of all the ultimately metaphysical attacks against ID (there is no valid scientific evidence against ID - only hand-waving and just-so stories). For anyone who disputes these points, read the book before you offer a weak response to its arguments.