Tuesday, June 19, 2007

God vs Evo - Part III

So how does an engineer come to believe that life was designed, discarding a heck of a lot of data to the contrary, as well as a perfectly good explanation? It didn't take a lot of thinking. The first is obvious. Having grown up in a religious setting makes for a prediliction of seeing design in life. We often borrow ideas from nature and incorporate them into things we actually do design. The mind is prepared by both a religious upbringing and a career in engineering to see design. But nature does what works, discarding things that don't. This creates an illusion of design.

Remember, 99% of all species that have ever lived on this planet are long gone. We see a progression of complexity everywhere we look. The eye is more complex in new species than in phyla which have been around longer. The brain of humans is more complex than that of a chimpanzee, but not dissimilar. There are so many examples that I could give, but other authors have said it better elsewhere. Common descent is the only explanation for the similarities and the dissimilarities that we see.

Anyhow, back to the battle. I left off with Don attempting to tell me that atheists want minority rule....

It is instructive to look at a more secular society in comparison. From here in The Great White North, we look southward and see politicians tripping over each other in their eagerness to demonstrate that they are more religious than their opponents (it's embarrassing to watch…); we see biblical references in what should be secular institutions like judicial buildings even though neither your legal system or ours has anything to do with them and the law must be for everyone, not just Believers; we see official favoritism towards Christian groups even though the First Amendment was placed in your own constitution to prevent that very thing. That's just for a start.

In Canada, no one running for public office either expresses their religiosity or questions that of others; we do not place obviously divisive symbols representing only one group (and thereby giving that group preferential treatment) in our public institutions. I was asked to take an oath last year. In Canada, there are different oaths depending on whether you are theist or atheist. Both are equally legally binding. This kind of accommodation hurts no one and at the same time does not show any favoritism. It works incredibly well and completely circumvents the current hiccups in the American system due to theocratic 'reforms'. I was not a vocal atheist at all until my eyes were opened by people like Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly and their intolerant ilk. We don't have them up here, yet there are many theist politicians in Canada. It just doesn't matter to us unless their religiosity starts to become policy. It's not that we don't care about beliefs, it's just that we accept that everyone is an individual and we go out of our way to accommodate widely varying beliefs. As a result, we have almost completely avoided the problems that occur when religion is mixed with politics. We have seen what happens when societies become theocratic. Life under the Taliban was truly repressive, and if you don't think that America can end up that way you are kidding yourself.

I was surprised that Don didn't bring up Michael Behe's concept of irreducible complexity, though he does list his book as reading material at the end. The only thing as discredited as the concept of irreducible complexity (demolished even before the book was published) was his atrocious and laughable testimony at the Kitzmiller trial. Behe can't even be bothered to keep up with the relevant literature, so how can he be taken seriously? Contrary to Don's belief, there is no conspiracy in Science to keep ID out of the journals. From Science classes, yes, but that's because ID contains no Science. It's vacuous. The trick to getting published is to present positive evidence for something, not negative evidence against something else. ID has no positive evidence in its favor and Judge Jones recognized this in the Kitzmiller trial. The only place where Evo is in crisis is in the court of public opinion and the Disco Institute has done a remarkable, if harmful, job of it. The US is the laughing stock of the world, ranking second only to Turkey in rejecting Evo.

In essence, and as usual, the sum total of evidence presented for design was zilch, unless you count "I am an engineer. I know design when I see it. This is design." This sums up the ID position in toto. The rest just seems to be twisted attacks on Evo, which is to say, not evidence at all.

And since he spoke of Newton, perhaps the greatest mind in history, Newton found the inclusion of God unnecessary in his Principia till he hit a snag. He couldn't get the planetary system to stabilize in his math, so what did he do? You guessed it. He invokes God. Perturbation theory solved the problem later on, of course. I mention this because it shows that even the greatest minds jump to a supernatural conclusion when they find that they can't explain something. God has always been the God-of-the-gaps. Your friend himself retreats into this trap himself several times. For instance, he says "If evolutionists know that life evolved from non-life why don't they create life in the laboratory." (He never did answer my question as to why a designer would incorporate a broken enzyme into the design. There are a lot of other reasons, all in a similar vein, to reject the design hypothesis- the eye (wired backwards), the ureter (makes a rather unnecessarily circuitous route), etc. As an engineer, I'm surprised that he has missed all this. I mean, what kind of designer throws away 99% of his designs after he builds them? "if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck….", you fire the duck's ass for incompetence.)

As to the complexity of the brain, I don't know enough about devo to answer his criticism properly. But then, neither does he to have made it in the first place. (I've asked a devo specialist for insight into this...) But I do know that the brain does self-assemble under biochemical control, which places it under the purview of Evo (actually, Evo/Devo). A great deal is known about brain development, and none of the explanations involve magic. My limited understanding that chemical signaling is important, which means that the timing of when genes are turned on and off is critical in terms of the final outcome. A gene for consciousness, you ask? There isn't one, of course. Don seems to maintain this strawman view of Evo – one gene, one trait. There are a couple of reasons why mathematics is a bad way of dealing with Evo. First, Evo simply doesn't lend itself well to mathematics, though it is used in simulating it with computer modeling. Second, there aren't many (if any) mathematicians out there that are also well-versed in the nuances of Evo. Evo is not for the faint of heart (or mind), and William Dumbski [sic] especially seems utterly incapable of understanding it. Spend less time trying to prove that brain development is magic and more time looking at how it does in fact develop. And Don wonders why I think mathematicians without training in Biology (like Dumbski [sic]) should stick to mathematics.

"Science is built on truth not consensus," Don said. Sort of, but I'm not sure what truth means. Is truth the observation? It's certainly not theories. Truth is an absolute. Scientific theories are provisional hypotheses which: explain the current data; explain data obtained after positing the hypothesis; makes testable predictions; and is falsifiable. Theories model reality (truth). In discussing the current thinking about a particular theory, it is often useful (as in the case of Evo) to poll the experts. Each individual expert, however, judges the validity of the theory according to the characteristics that I have just listed. Truth is the ideal goal, but I don't think that any scientific theory has accomplished this. Pretty much everything he wrote was just a rehash of failed apologetics mixed in with Disco Institute PR releases (which is all they have ever produced on ID).

Don brings up the old 'evil atheist' list. But the implied insult to all atheists is that old canard of the evil atheist list, and I took it personally. Very personally. Is he saying that I am prone to mass murder? That in being an atheist, I am evil? Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler... Wait - Hitler? Sorry, while ideologues all with personal ambition (to the point where they were really promoting religions without a deity), Hitler was a THEIST. He was born and raised Catholic (and tellingly never excommunicated) and said often that in his final solution he was doing God's work. I would not insult any Believer with a list of theists that committed atrocities in the name of religion, even though the body count would be far higher my list, starting with numerous characters in the Bible, to de Torquemada, to Jim Jones, to David Karesh, to Paul Hill. (Ooops. That's a list, isn't it?) I don't like to speak in biblical terminology, but if there is such a thing as evil, Jerry Falwell (a man who promoted hatred and fear in his followers) would be my candidate as its personification. George Bush Sr. knowingly allowed 500,000-1,000,000 Iraqis (the estimate provided to the White House by the NSA) to die due to ineffective sanctions post-first Gulf War. All he had to do was give the Shiites and Kurds ammo and Hussein (a man Bush himself helped to power) would have been toppled with far less loss of life. Not ideal, but far better than what actually occurred. Most of those sanction victims were children. That puts him in amongst the top killers of all time, but history is written by the victors. After all that killing by proxy, I don't remember George acknowledging his atheism. In fact he has been quoted as saying he doesn't think atheist Americans should be considered citizens. How Christian of him.

I live a very moral life, though my morals and ethics may be different from yours and your friend's, I will put them up against anyone else's for comparison any time. I would much prefer to speak of those atheists that have done something with their lives, like Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln (probably a deist, but certainly not a Christian), Thomas Paine (a deist, but with significant atheist leanings), Oscar Wilde, Albert Camus, Isaac Asimov and many, many others, as I would of theists that have performed similar works. Religion is no guarantee of morality. The Bible itself condones slavery (amongst other unsavory behaviors), something that today we find reprehensible. To make that list and recite it to me, your friend made my case for me against religion. I am dismayed, despondent and insulted beyond measure by the response. The Evolution of our species (and others, it has been found) has resulted in an innate set of moral rules. The so-called Golden Rule is just a codification of this. Mere babies will behave in accordance to this rule, far younger than they could have been taught it, or acknowledge the existence of God. Science has at every turn peeled back the layers of religious belief till there is essentially nothing left but denial.

In the final part, Don shows his true baseless prejudice against atheists (and pissed me off) when he quotes Julian Huxley....

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