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August 06, 2005


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Daryl: You said-
If you want people to think you have technical knowledge, you should say "Phyla."

OK. May I suggest that if you want people to listen to you, you should refrain from referring to God and faith as "magic." That's about the most insulting and off-putting rhetoric I've heard from the ID-bashers yet, along with the "ignorant" canard.

This is exactly why I don't say much about the debate; I don't want to be on the side of people who bash faith. I don't want to be on the side of those (much fewer in number) who think people who accept evolution are "Godless," either--but that "magic" and "ignorant" crap seems come out of MOST of the evolutionists mouths and that is inexcusable.

Re: "Religion is about the realm of the spirit, science the physical world."

A caution: this is a false dualism - a false dichotomy based on that old Greek worldview. Religion is about *all* of life with all of its facets. And science is about all of our study and examination of these facts. And, in case you have not yet noticed, reality has facets far more than the mere physical.

Consider, the numerical, the spatial, the kinetic, the physical, the biotic, the psychical/emotional, the social, the symbolic, the historical, the juridical, the aesthetic, the ethical, and - yes - the modality of faith. Each of these comprise an aspect of the reality we experience in a naive way every day - even as we must separate them out for study or science.

Beware of reductionism - of reducing reality to one or more of its aspects.

If God "designed" us, why do we have so much useless stuff, like appendixes and gall bladders?

& evolution can explain emotion etc. Those with compassion, adrenaline, and a big brain can outdo those without.

Just for fun, could someone evolve something for me? You know, start with a defined species and via some mechanism, end up with a different species incapable of producing viable progeny with the original species? Sorry, those finches don't count, they can breed sucessfully.


Thanks for your response.

"Mr. Herbert, even if your desciptions of the utility of emotion and sentiences are satisfactory, you don't answer the core question of how they came to exist.

Self-awareness is a tough philosophical nut to crack, and can't just be explained by "It useful to us.""


I think there are four parts to this:

1) where emotions got started
2) how/why they increased
3) where sentience got started
4) how/why it increased

How things got started is the hardest part of the question, so I won't answer them in order.

If we start with three premises:
a) that some animal species X has emotions
b) that some of these emotions can benefit the animal
c) that emotions can change if X's DNA underneath changes

then there is natural selection pressure to for X's emotions to change in ways that help it to survive better. The same is true for sentience, if you assume the same three premises.

The hard part is where emotions and sentience would come from in the first place.

First Emotions:

What exactly are they? It's hard to say. Many people think dogs have emotions (they certainly act like it). I think emotions, being states of mind, are probably descended from the hunger/sex drives. Both of those drives have obvious evolutionary benefits, and I think they are simple enough to be represented in DNA. A lot of pack behavior (playing, fighting, mating, etc.) is probably driven by emotions. So it's natural that emotions would evolve around the pack (or herd, or flock, or tribe).

Sentience is similar: I'm not so sure there is any one point X where you can say "creature Y is sentient because he is past point X." It's on a sliding scale.

I don't think there is any one initial hurdle that would be super-hard to overcome. Every little bit of intellience would help.

Intelligence is not always very smart. Sometimes it's just a better ability to process and remember stereotypes. For instance, Pavlov's bell experiment (the dog associates bell with food).

Our ability to make associations completely dwarfs that of a dog's. We can associate words with meanings, people with attributes, etc. Our memories are in large part just a huge amount of associations.

A lot of human thought processes could be modeled in a computer. Not all--not yet--and we still don't understand a lot of it (and current CPUs are not optimal for simulating neural networks). But the basics (associating thing A with thing B, millions and millions of times over, and then managing all of those associations over years of time and heavy use) is a mechanical process.

Once you accept that the simplest part (making associations and retrieving them) can be modeled mechanically and represented with DNA, then it makes sense that it would continue to become more and more complicated if that was providing evolutionary benefit for the organism (which it would, so long as it made people smarter, as defined by their ability to make and apply associations in an appropriate manner).

I hope I answered your question, or at least explained where I'm coming from.

An animal can react to a chasing predator or running prey.

And we know that the perception is by cells in the eye, which send electric messages through the optic nerve to the brain, which interprets them as general shapes/angles (aka "gestalts"). Some of these gestalts are associated with prey animals, some are associated with predators, etc.

For some reason, cats associate Robert Bork's signature under-chin beard (which he has sadly removed) with something really bad. They flip out when they see a picture of a man with a beard like that, because for some reason, the shapes/colors/angles involved are associated in their minds with something very disturbing.

(Either that, or cats know that Bork is the anti-Christ.)

The same processes used by cats to tell the difference between mice and dogs (and to remember different people's scents) is used by humans to recognize and remember people's faces. It's all mechanical.

Mr. Herbert: 'fraid you didn't help. In your second paragraph discussing sentience, you begin to package-deal the concept with intelligence. They're not necessarily the same phenomenom.

Eg. A chess-playing computer can make the rational connections necessary to beat a grandmaster. But it doesn't know that it's doing so? Does it know that it's playing chess? Does it know what chess is? All its programming was only the product of a human being's input, to react to certain situation. But what "programmed" the human being? Where did the first ever piece of data come from?

I know there are several theories which purport to give answers: meme theory or neural feedback loop theory. Ultimately, these arguments end up being (quite literally in the second case) circular reasoning.

These deep questions exceed the scope of this blog. But I will say that sometime in natural history, the first genetic instructions--and idea put into action--had to appear out of nowhere, a miracle of spontaneous generation. IDers/Creationists comfortably assert this basic premise while evolutionists uncomfortably evade it.

You folks might be interested to know that Darwin wrote a whole book on the emotions question: http://tinyurl.com/7ud6q.

That might be a place to start. Then, being academics (as I assume some of you are) you might want to go on to the TalkOrigins Index of Creationist Claims for some remarks: http://tinyurl.com/9pg7p.

Then, of course, there's always Google Scholar, where one gets 3 dozen or so hits on "evolution of emotions", or PubMed, where the same search turns up over 500 hits (many of them irrelevant, but there are some nuggets).

It's not as though these questions haven't been asked (and addressed) before.


"I'm sorry, but you cannot be an honest evolutionist without being a racist."

I'm sorry, you're wrong (or projecting).

First, most biologists think that race is more a set of social categories and/or a heuristic concept than a biological one.
Even the minority that believes in race as a biological concept admit that the borders are fuzzy (and permeable).
Second, natural selection tends to break down a little when you take the human wild card (consciousness) into consideration. The brain just isn't an organ in the same way a heart or liver or appendix is.
My problem with intelligent design is that it's circular (design is a heuristic concept, not an observable process and human perceptions is skewed towards perceiving patterns even when they're not there).
It's even worse theology since it posits standards of efficiency on the creator (I'm not a christian, but what use would 'design' be to an omnipotent omniscient being?)

It's too bad that defense of evolution has to end up being just another way to bash people of faith. I have yet to read a single post on the defense of evolution without reading how people of faith are ignorant. I don't agree with the push for ID teaching in school, it is faith based and I don't agree with faith, any faith, being taught in public school. Nor do I support any faith being ridiculed in public school. I can't quite fathom why, since evolution is such a self-supporting fact, those who support it always resort to calling the other side morons. When I was in school, I was taught that all life on this planet derived its energy from the sun, and that photosynthesis was the key. It may have been an oversimplification of what was known at the time, but I remember thinking that the teacher seemed very sure of that fact. Given the diversity of life on this planet, I wasn't so sure. Now, years later, there are many known species of life on this planet that do not derive their energy from photosynthesis (directly or indirectly), as they lie several thousand feet down on the ocean floor. They get their energy from ocean vents and the mineral rich waters that flow from them. Does that disprove the theory, taught as a fact in my school, that ALL life on this planet is part of the photosynthesis cycle? I'd say so. Science, true science, is open to revision when needed. I don't think that evolution is open to an ID-type revision, but reading the posts above, it seems that those who oppose ID also oppose ANY revision of the theory of evolution. To them, it is solid fact, unalterable, unchanging, and unchallengable. Closed minds seem to be apparent on both sides of this debate.

ID aside, Darwin was certainly a racist by contemporary standards. Browse "The Descent of Man". QED.

I have debated this subject a lot, and have had my views tilt slighly toward the ID perspective (though I still believe evolution is a much more viable explanation, and therefore should share the vast majority of time in an educational setting). Though there tends to be more ignorance on the side of creationists/ID, the pro-evolution side has its share. Take, for example, the person here who posits that neither a gallbladder or an appendix has a function. Just because one can live without something does not mean it has no function. The gallbladder stores bile which is then released into one's digestive tract. Those who have it removed suffer from a variety of ailments. The appendix is a more controversial case, but I think few scientists believe it has no function.

This is not to say there are no "vestigial" organs. For example, claws on some snakes, hip bones in whales. These are some of my favorite examples of true "vestigial" organs, that is, non-functioning evolutionary remnants.

Race is more than a mere "social construct" and any fairminded person who has delved into that debate must come to the same conclusion. This is not to say race is instructive to intelligence, emotional temperment, etc. But it is not a "social construct." Anybody can tell a European from an Asian from an African. It's not a meaningless, socially constructed concept.

It seems to me both sides are wrong here on this issue of race. Darwin's brilliant idea of natural selection CAN be used to justify one's racism. If one accepts the premise that a population changes because of its environmental factors, then humans exposed to different environmental conditions will evolve differently. Clearly the micro-evolution which produced the variation among the human races is at least superficial, that is why one can tell races apart from one another.

But it's silly to argue that because science may provide cover (even if unjustified) for some nasty characters that we must do away with science. It's an unusual attack against Darwin because they are not, it seems to me, arguing that Darwin was wrong. Instead they argue that Darwin is dangerous, and must be kept in the closet for our own protection.

I think one commenter said the crux of the ID-evolution debate well. He wrote:

"These deep questions exceed the scope of this blog. But I will say that sometime in natural history, the first genetic instructions--and idea put into action--had to appear out of nowhere, a miracle of spontaneous generation. IDers/Creationists comfortably assert this basic premise while evolutionists uncomfortably evade it."

There are some examples of a single mutation causing a "new" gene, yet I find myself having some sympathy for IDist because of this inescapable fact. I see this more as a hole for evolution to fill in, rather than support of ID specifically, but they do have a point! Micro-evolution is conceded by both sides of the table. And indeed micro-evolution could conceivably even be responsible for some speciation. But how'd a prokaryote evolve into a eukaryote (I know the theory of endosymbiosis, but it's obvious take much more than that), and fish into mammals. New genetic material must be introduced through random mutations, and I don't see that mechanism providing the amount of new genes necessary, even given billions of years. Maybe random mutation is capable of introducing enough new genetic material given enough time, but I have yet to see much of a rebuttal from the evolution camp.

Just fyi, Ernst Mayr died earlier this year.

Wow. Where do you start in a dog's breakfast like this? Some folks are all in a kerfuffle as if someone had slammed the chicken house door, so let me try to lay out a couple of points that might shift the discussion in a more productive direction.

First, if God is the God of Truth (I believe that to be so), and if science is the search for truth, then good scientific interpretation and good scriptural interpretation will be mutually supportive, not mutally antagonistic.

Second, if you read the Genesis account of creation as being from the perspective of Earth's surface (rather than floating around somewhere 'out there') it's actually not too bad a description of what scientists now understand to have been the early history of Earth -- especially given that it was recorded around 500 BC.

Third, the strict 'six-24-hour-day' interpretation of creation is every bit as unsound theologically as it is scientifically. We (and God) are clearly in the 'seventh day,' which has been indisputably longer than 24 hours. I am an evangelical Christian whose first two degrees happen to be in geology. I have done radio-isotope age dating (K-Ar and others).

Fourth, by focusing on 'Darwin' in the ID debate, people are missing the point completely. The issue is intelligent design of the entire Universe, which drags along the question of causality, aspects of which offer some potential for the development of testable hypotheses. These are all in the realm of cosmology, not paleontology.

Fifth, what we think of as the "fossil record" really covers just a bit more than ten percent of Earth's history, and the Universe is about three times older than Earth. There is a lot more to this than arguing over a panda's toe.

Sixth, the first half billion years or so of Earth's history was so increadibly hot, harsh and (probably) dark that geologists call it the Hadean period, as in Hades. Nevertheless, in the blink of a geological eye, soon after things settled down we find membrane-bound, self-replicating, colonial microbes (stromatolites) that remain unchanged in four billion years. How, exactly, did that happen? Fact is, we don't know.

Some astrophysicists have posited that to have a 1% chance of arriving where we are by random interaction would require something on the order of 10^E10^E17 seconds. The Universe is something like 10^E84 seconds old ... or (if you're a strict six-24-hour-day creationist) 10^E79 seconds.

To argue over ten-to-the 79th or ten-to-the 84th seconds --- when the real issue is ten-to-the (ten-to-the 17th) seconds that simply aren't there --- is silly. To teach some of this in schools, from a sound scientific basis of known observations, testable hypotheses, genuine questions, and honest exploration ... is not.


You are right that self-awareness _is_ different from raw intelligence. It's possible to imagine a person with incredible mathematical talent who nonetheless has no sense of self, only numbers. Likewise, someone can know that they exist, be aware of the situation around them, and yet be entirely illogical.

I think certain animals already have lesser degrees of self-awareness than humans, but more than nothing.

"Investigators typically regard an animal as self-aware if it inspects a paint spot on its face in a mirror. People routinely pass this test by about age 2. Apes and dolphins often do so as adults. Capuchins and other monkeys ignore facial markings in the mirror."

So if you can accept that those creatures are entirely based in DNA (and do not require God to actively breathe life into individual members of the species each time one is born), then it's not hard to believe that humans merely have a beefed-up version of what they've got.

"sometime in natural history, the first genetic instructions--and idea put into action--had to appear out of nowhere"

I don't think they _had_ to. Mind you, I sure don't know how else they could have arrived, but the universe is not limited to that which fits within my imagination (if it was, it would be a pretty disappointing universe!).

There are theories about abiogenesis and primordial soup and whatnot, but I don't think we'll figure out a viable pathway from rocks to cellular organisms any time soon.

I think any creature based on DNA would out-compete its predecessors in a big way, causing them to die out completely.

Bart, I agree that a scientist doesn't have to (in fact shouldn't) see their scientific work as contradicting their religion. On the other hand, there's no reason why non-religious scientists should think about the issue at all (that is they can think about it if they want to, but they have no scientific obligation to think about any religious ideas). (And although I'm an atheist/agnostic I will agree that militant atheists, including some scientists are royal pains in the ass).

Basically, science and theology are fundamentally different kinds of human endeavours and no connection between them is necessary. That a subset of scientists have religious beliefs is simply irrelevant for science as science. Just as the latest theory in physics is irrelevant for theologians.

Unfortunately, there is a subset of the religious (primarily literalists of the fundamentalist prostetants variety) who are trying to make sure that scientists say/teach nothing that contradicts their beliefs. I frankly think they are a menace and need to be stopped (as civilly as possible).

Reagarding testability of ID:

Read William Dembski and Michael Behe on the notions of irreducible complexity and complex specified information. This is the core of scientifically serious ID, and must be understood before anyone asserts that ID is or is not testable.

There are two quite separate questions in this debate, which are often conflated. One is whether evolutionary history took place as paleontologists assert (much less controversial scientifically), and the other is whether the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection are sufficient to explain that evolutionary history (much more controversial, with scientific critics such as Stuart Kaufmann who are outside the ID camp). Much has been written about the explanatory weakness of neo-Darwinism, _especially_ in light of the explosion in our understanding of microbiology, and it is this discussion which really is internal to science and does not trespass into theology or culture as such.

False Premises
THE PRESIDENT: I think -- as I said, harking back to my days as my governor -- both you and Herman are doing a fine job of dragging me back to the past. (Laughter.) Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught.

Bush did explicitly endorse the teaching of ID alongside evolution. Contrasting with this endorsement is the rejection of Intelligent Design as a scientific hypothesis/theory by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Teachers Association, National Center for Science Education, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Physical Society, the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the National Education Association(etc etc etc).

Behe and Dembski both propose arguments that are not scientifically based, contain false premises and are not even logically coherent without eventually introducing a deity (at which point it becomes clear that ID is a front for creationism). Behe assumes that complex structures can not be made up of less complex structures - an existing part of evolution. Dembski uses circular logic by assuming that life is too complex and adapted to occur naturally. Both arguments don't stand up under scrutiny. Thats why they are not peer-reviewed by other scientists. ID is simply not science.


"Read William Dembski and Michael Behe on the notions of irreducible complexity and complex specified information. This is the core of scientifically serious ID, and must be understood before anyone asserts that ID is or is not testable."

We know who Behe and Dembski are. You are right that they are at the forefront of the ID movement--every competing vision of ID, at least that I've seen, is a joke. Their theories survive the initial "laugh test" and deserve the scrutiny they've gotten from scientists and philosophers.

But they're still wrong. They've been rebutted by people much smarter than me:



Look again at the meaning of irreducible complexity. Behe does not _assume_ "that complex structures can not be made up of less complex structures". The bacterial flagellum has a specific function, which it could not perform if even one of its components were removed; this is the notion of irreducibility. _Any_ theory which claims to be able to explain how microbiological structures evolved must explain the steps by which such an object as the bacterial flagellum came into being. It is not helpful to point out that "less complex" structures exist, because there is no relevant ordering in which to compare them, and in any case one must still explain the details of how they combined randomly to form the flagellum. [Life may be even more difficult for Behe's opponents, because of the specificity of the flagellum's function, but this is territory in which Behe has yet to convince me.]

Microbiologists will go a long way toward refuting Behe by reconstructing what those intermediate structures --which combined to form the flagellum-- could reasonably have been.

I wish them luck, because this effort will be illuminating to microbiology no matter whether a neo-Darwinian approach or some other is the truth of the matter. The same goes for reconstructing how photosynthesis evolved; it is well worth learning this in some detail, since it is a biological/chemical process absolutely crucial to much of life as it exists today. If the challenge from ID pushes microbiologists to fill in these details, then so much the better.

My favourite sci-fi program is Nova. Yes, I know some of it is scientific fact, but other parts in the series are theory. Theory and fiction are mirror twins until the first is proven.

TigerHawk's "separate spheres" thesis about science and theology is the general theme of my recent post, "The Grand Canyon and False Choices" at:


Sadly, there's no need for the brawl between two authorites that most Americans accept.

From the creator or creating force of this universe, the only word I have is the universe itself.

What the Hell is wrong with the word "magic"? Someone explain this to me.

Is it because you associate magic with non-Christian religions that you look down upon?

If that's the case, how can you demand I not use the word "magic" to describe something God does--not necessarily a Christian God--IN THE NAME OF CIVILITY, if your objection stems from your _uncivil_ belief that all other religion is a big bag of Satan-inspired shit that puts dupes on the express train to Hell? How is THAT civil?

Do I have to walk on eggshells around fundies who think all Catholics, Jews, and Hindus are all going to Hell? I don't want to use any terms that might offend them, like referring to Catholics as "Christians." That would be _offensive_.

If I had made a comment about "God's magic in breathing life into Adam," nobody would bat an eye. I used the term "magic" to mean THE EXACT SAME THING--GOD CREATING CONSCIOUSNESS IN A PERSON--and I get called a bigot.

This is why I should take Stephen Green's advice (http://vodkapundit.com/archives/007997.php)

I take it that all the ID advocates posting here concede that ID is not falsifiable.

This is important because it goes to the heart of what science is. Science is not about absolute truths. There is no such thing as an absolute scientific truth. There are only scientific theories. When enough experiments have been performed that are consistent with a particular theory, and none have proven the theory false, then that theory is accepted as provisionally true. That's as true as scientific theories get. But they remain theories subject to disproof.

Even scientific theories that are in the popular mind considered "true" are only theories. The theories of special and general relativity, the second law of thermodynamics, Newton's laws of motion, the formula for calculating the acceleration of an object falling in a gravitational field - these are all scientific theories that are only accepted as provisionally true until the next refinement to the theory comes along and proves them false or incomplete.

What is so objectionable about ID is that it teaches students a completely cockamamie theory of science. Instead of falsifiable theories that can be tested, refined, and eventually refuted, ID posits an absolute truth than cannot be tested or refuted. This is not science and no one here has even attempted to argue to the contrary.

Now I understand and to some extent am sympathetic with Protestant parents who fear that teaching students about the theory of evolution will undermine their attempts to teach their children that all humans were created by G-d in his image and each contains a spark of divinity from which flows all morality and human dignity. I personally don't think that teaching evolution is at all inconsistent with such religious instruction, but I guess they do. Nonetheless, that's not science and they should not attempt to hijack the science curriculum to teach their particular theology, because, as I said above, that undermines the teaching of the scientific method in a radical way.

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