Tuesday, January 29, 2013

God and Reason - Lecture 2

I attended the second lecture in the "God and Reason" short course given by Christian professors at my university. It was entitled, "Does God exist?" I had to leave after 50 minutes, so it is possible that I missed something important. Again, my comments in brackets below.

Once again, the lecture was given by Prof. Robert Mann of Waterloo's physics department, and again was entertaining and comprehensible. (My only criticism of the delivery concerns the misspelling and mispronunciation of the word "verisimilitudinous", which was both displayed on the screen and pronounced without the first "i".)

Prof. Mann started by talking about three aspects of belief, which he classified as credulity ("other things being equal, things probably are as they seem"), simplicity ("other things being equal, the simplest explanation is probably the most likely"), and testimony ("other things being equal, things probably are as other people report").

He backed this up with a quote from philosopher Richard Swinburne, namely, "The rational person is the credulous person who trusts experience until they find it misleads them, rather than the skeptic who mistrusts experience until they find it does not mislead them." (not sure if an exact quote)

[I don't agree with either Prof. Mann or Richard Swinburne. We know that eyewitness testimony is remarkably unreliable; humans are just not good reporters of events that they witness, especially after a long period of time has gone by. There is a huge literature on this; I just mention one paper here. It is certainly rational to be very skeptical of eyewitness testimony, especially if it is about extraordinary events.]

Prof. Mann then talked about a "knowledge bootstrap". In a "hermeneutic circle", "to understand we must first believe; to believe we must first understand". In an "epistemic circle", "knowledge is controlled by Nature; Nature is revealed by knowledge". As an example of "hermeneutic circle", he gave quarks. There is no direct observation of fractional charge, yet quarks are useful to explain sub-nuclear phenomena.

As an example of "epistemic circle", he gave wave-particle duality. Understanding, he said, requires "a mutual conformity between the act of knowing and the object of study". Strict skepticism is a limited and unfruitful strategy.

Understanding God: we need to be firm enough in our thinking so that God doesn't mean anything we want, but open-minded enough to be receptive to the counter-intuitive character of the Divine.

Attributes of God: Wikipedia lists 26, but he can boil them down to 4: God is
- ultimate, infinite
- holy
- personal, loving
- agential

[What does it mean to say a god is "infinite"? Infinite in what sense? Infinite in extent in the universe? Infinite in time? How would a loving god consign people to hideous and prolonged deaths through earthquakes, tsunamis forest fires, and so forth? Here is an example where "things probably are what they seem" points to either multiple gods, or a god that hates people.]

What kinds of proof of God could there be?
- mathematical: deduction from premises
- legal: inference from testimony
- scientific: induction from observation

Proving things in science:
Paradigm (Kuhn) - normal science means solving problems within an established framework
Falsification (Popper) - science can only rule out what is false
Anarchy (Feyerabend) - science uses whatever methods work
Research Program (Lakatos) - science proceeds by core foundations surrounded by auxiliary hypotheses

Challenge: what is at the core? what is at the periphery?

Proofs of God's existence
- cosmological argument: causes imply a causer
- intelligibility argument: nature's comprehensibility implies designer
- ontological argument
- aesthetic argument
- regularity argument
- moral argument

[Here, however, Prof. Mann just speeded through what I would consider the core part of an answer to the question "Is there a God", taking only a few seconds. More argument is needed! And you would never know that these arguments are considered extremely weak by many philosophers.]

Who or what set the boundary conditions of the universe. We have a cosmic beginning - is that suggestive of a cosmic originator?

Are we special? Is our universe a typical specimen? Are the special features the thumbprint of a Designer?

Fine tuning of physical constants: if the neutron were just 0.2% lighter, all protons would decay, so there would be no atoms. If the neutron were just 0.2% heavier, no element beyond hydrogen could form. This "fine tuning" suggests a designer.

[This kind of argument doesn't seem remotely convincing to me. We have no idea currently how universes form. Maybe there is only one universe; maybe there is only one possible universe. Maybe there are infinitely many universes. Maybe there are uncountably many universes. Maybe the constants are linked. Maybe it is possible to have life just from hydrogen alone. It seems premature to make any conclusions at all when our knowledge is so incomplete.]

It's difficult to be objective about the search for God. He quotes Thomas Nagel: "I want atheism to be true."

[Speaking only for myself, I don't have much emotional investment in whether there is a god or not. I'm not sure the concept is even coherent! I was raised as a Christian, and haven't changed my attitude on ethics very much since I discarded it. Confucius and Hillel the Elder advocated the essential ethical core before Jesus.

Having a person that you can always rely on in terms of need, who would comfort you or help you solve your problems, is certainly attractive, and I think it might be nice. But on the other hand, the Christian god as depicted in the Bible seems to me so completely depraved that the world would be a horrid place if he existed as depicted there.]

[To sum up, while the talk was entertaining, I think it would have been better to simply go through the six "proofs" he mentioned, giving their strong and weak points.]


introspect said...

"I don't have much emotional investment in whether there is a god or not."
Isn't that "what they all say"?

Eohippus said...

Was this lecture as well attended as the last?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Was this lecture as well attended as the last?

Yes, I think so.

Anonymous said...

I know that I am unlikely to have anything novel to say about the "fine tuning" argument, but I can't resist mentioning that if there were sufficiently capable designer(s) (up to the task of determining the constants of nature, for example), wouldn't they be able to design life despite unfavorable values of the constants?

Couldn't they design life without depending on the existence of carbon atoms?


Jeffrey Shallit said...

Well, exactly, TomS, and it's a point I've made before.

Imagine two scenarios: the constants are "life-friendly" and the constants are "life-unfriendly". The intelligent design people say the former clearly implies a Designer. But surely it is much more impressive if life exists, despite the fact that the constants are "life-unfriendly". Presumably this would imply a designer, too? So they win either way? If that is the case, why not just forget about the constants and just say "life exists, therefore a designer"?

Reginald Selkirk said...

Proofs of God's existence
[Here, however, Prof. Mann just speeded through what I would consider the core part of an answer to the question "Is there a God", taking only a few seconds. More argument is needed! And you would never know that these arguments are considered extremely weak by many philosophers.]

Yes, this is similar to a "Gish gallop." The speaker wishes to convince that there are many arguments for the existence of God, so that even if not all are successful, some may be. This is what I call a "bullshit argument;" for if one cowpie smells bad, a large stack of them does not smell better.

Mikkel Rumraket Rasmussen said...

How do theists know the laws are fine tuned for life and not fine-tuned for a specific rock laying in the ground outside my apartment?

There's a large granite rock lying in the ground outside. It probably weighs several hundred kilos. Consider it's exact shape, mass, elemental chemical composition, the unique structural, spatial arrangement of atoms that make it up. Consider how it's unique surface feaures reflects light. No other object in the universe has the very specifc and unique surface features of that rock, and so reflects light exactly like that.

There is no other rock, indeed no object of any kind, exactly like it, in the entire universe. Sure, there may be other rocks, but no rock exactly like this one.

Consider the unique chain of events that had to happen for that specific and unique rock to exist, exactly the way it is, in it's specific location in the ground, in Denmark, right outside my window. Consider that, if you changed any of the laws and constants of nature by the tiniest, almost infinitesimal amount, that specific rock would be very different and placed somewhere else, or maybe even not exist at all. Even the atoms that make it up require the laws as they are now.

The eons of geological time, the the specific sequence and combination geochemistry and enormous pressures required. Could the constants of nature have been fine-tuned to make the rock? It's too improbable to have arrived by chance, after all. Clearly, life is just a byproduct of the desire of the ominpotent being to make laws that would result in that specific rock.

This is the exact same argument theists are making, all the same variables and constants. If the laws were different, that rock would not exist.

They're smuggling in their conlusion "life is special" in their premise, by insisting it wouldn't exist if the laws and constants were different, but the same is true for any other object in the universe. Consequently they can't conclude the laws were fine-tuned for life without conceding it must also be fine-tuned for sand, rocks, gas, dust and a specific mountain near the polar regions on the planet venus. In which case they can't argue life is the objective goal of the values of the constants, in which case they can't argue fine-tuning even had too take place, because the constants had to have some value, and it obviously follows we (and everything else dependent on those constants, which is everything else) would only exist in a universe where the constants are what they are.

To us, life is important, we're life after all. But who says that's important, other than us living things?

How do theists know that the constants were fine tuned for life? They obviously don't. From the standpoint of what the universe most readily produces, life certainly doesn't seem to be the objective.

So are we now to think the universe was made entirely with that rock in mind? Theists would, I assume, argue no. But then what makes them think it was made for life instead? Well they feel important, to them. But life-forms as we know them are basically just another type of object in the universe among trillions that, like the rock, wouldn't exist with a different set of laws.

Anonymous said...

God is infinitely obscure.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I honestly don't think it was a Gish gallop; I think it was just that there was too much material for 50 minutes of lecture (which was supposed to be 25-30 minutes!).

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Good point, Rumraket. If the universe is designed for life, it seems exceedingly bad at it, because the only life we know about is on one planet out of billions and billions.

RBH said...

Jeff wrote

If the universe is designed for life, it seems exceedingly bad at it, because the only life we know about is on one planet out of billions and billions.

Somewhere on a video Neal deGrasse Tyson has a rant on that topic--how lethal 99.999999% of the universe is to life-as-we-know-it.

John Stockwell said...

Well, the disjoint between scientific thinking and religious thinking is really a problem that science is an investigative program, whereas religion is not.

So-called proofs for the existence of God are not part of the religious methodology. These are apologetic arguments that are intended to appeal to philosophically-minded future faithful.

The Thought Criminal said...

If the universe is designed for life, it seems exceedingly bad at it, because the only life we know about is on one planet out of billions and billions.

Why can't the universe be designed for more than one purpose? I'd imagine a being able to create the universe is able to come up with more than one use for it. Maybe part of that includes that human beings, a rather obviously malignant species, will be isolated from other species. Or, maybe, this is the only planet in the universe which has life on it. Give how we behave the Creator is probably wise to not let us have too much information.

I've been looking a bit at your archive, if you've got no emotional investment in whether or not there is a god you seem to spend a lot of time trying to debunk the idea that there is.
You seem to have a problem with your colleagues holding that idea. I'd say you seem to resent that very much.

The problem with "fine tuning" is that those tunings are known only in reference to the human conception of the physical universe. If we had other means of looking at the same universe we might be able to come to somewhat different conclusions about it. I'd look at the problem with Eddington's fishnet instead of one of the ideological neologistic "laws" that blog atheists so much like. Any conclusions you can come up with about things like "fine tuning" will be incomplete and limited by the various vicissitudes of it being humans using human, academic modes of research and thinking instead of an objective view of it.

In an argument over the prospects of there being a Theory of Everything, I once got Sean Carroll to admit that there wasn't a single object in the universe that physics knew completely and exhaustively - and it took more than two weeks of goading him to answer it. No human conception of the universe will be complete enough to know if "fine tuning" indicates the presence or absence of a Creator, nor will any other part of science. Religious belief is tested on a far more basic level than science or even math, it is found in the choice to believe. It's that choice to believe that Bertrand Russell encountered when is brother started him on geometry and he wanted to doubt the basic axioms. If you doubt those, you can't go on in mathematics, of you choose to reject mathematics or logic you can't go on with real science. Looking for the confirmation of mathematics or logic with higher level ideas might lead someone to find it easier to accept those but they're not really the scientific confirmation of them.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

You seem to have a problem with your colleagues holding that idea.

Nope, no problem at all with them holding any idea - whether it be Bigfoot, UFO's, homeopathy, or Jesus. The problem is when a university's prestige is used to front an idea for which there is little evidence for and much evidence against. I'd have the same problem with a university "short course" on homeopathy where we only heard about the pluses of dilution.

Eohippus said...

The Thought Criminal:

Why do you capitalize creator?

The Thought Criminal said...

Do you have a problem with psychology, sociology, anthropology, evo-psy or any of the other "sciences" that have a history of constructing elaborate cathedrals of "science" only, it's not really science and it's mostly based in nothing but using theory to find a simulation of evidence that is then used to confirm the theory? That is until those schools of psychology, sociology, etc. fall out of fashion and tumble into the enormous bone yard of discontinued "science" to be replaced by another fashion that isn't any more soundly established in actual evidence?

Quite a number of your celebrity atheist academics have built their celebrity and "credibility" on just such "science". And, unlike those who are religious, they call it "science".

Jeffrey Shallit said...

your celebrity atheist academics

Why are they "mine"?

Do you have a problem with psychology, sociology, anthropology, evo-psy or any of the other "sciences" that have a history of constructing elaborate cathedrals of "science" only,

It's hard to argue with someone so deranged that they think, for example, that anthroplogy is not a science.

Instead of grandiose exaggerated accusations, how about a specific example.

The Thought Criminal said...

I capitalize Creator for the same reason I always say B.C.E and C.E.

It's merely an informal locution, as in, "You take your informal locutions, people sometimes try to make more out of it than intended in lieu of addressing the point."

Jeffrey Shallit said...

in lieu of addressing the point

To the extent that your inchoate ramblings can be said to have a point, I tried to address it in my request for a specific example.

The Thought Criminal said...

Anthropology is a science to about the same extent that political science is a science.

If the social"sciences" are science then the entire purpose of science to produce information of greatly enhanced reliability is called into question as so much of their product is so notably ephemeral and so much of it is, actually, more accurately called "lore".

I guess I just have more respect for science and its mandatory prerequisites than some people do. I think those are rather important because they can produce reliable knowledge.

"inchoate ramblings"
Oh, I could give you the fully developed forms of those arguments but they take a longer time than you'd lie. That is what you meant by "inchoate", isn't it?

I say C.E. because it annoys the right kind of people.

Eohippus said...

The Thought Criminal:

"I capitalize Creator for the same reason I always say B.C.E and C.E."

Dr Shallit is right. You're just here to pointlessly ramble.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anthony McCarthy's failure to produce a single example of what he is criticizing is noted.

The Thought Criminal said...

Anthropology? I wrote a criticism of the interpretations of that 35,000 year old statue that was much discussed several years ago, the one that was asserted was an example of men's erotic ideals of the time by asking why they didn't seem to wonder if it might have been made by a woman, something I didn't see considered as a possibility in any of the scholarly junk I read on it. I also pointed out that since it was the single image they had from the presumed decade of its creation they had no idea if it was typical of images made in that culture and had no real knowledge of how it would have been considered. They didn't seem to entertain that why the artist made it was entirely unknown to them since she or he was not available to tell them. I also pointed out that they had no idea if one person or several had had a hand in its creation and if those people even lived during the same century or cultural group. I pointed out that the artist might have considered it a failure and that it was junk or that it might have been an object of ridicule, which could explain the tiny head.

I've also produced quite a long list of inadequacies in Richard Dawkins' famous "First bird to call out bit of folk lore, beginning with the fact that no one knows if the first bird to call out is actually at increased risk of being killed - taking into account the speed of sound and the distance of the predator as opposed to other birds in the flock. Something Dawkins doesn't seem to have considered in his "scientific" bit of animal lore.

Or do you mean that kind of example? How about Freudianism, Behaviorism, the various sects and cults of both of those pseudo-scientific schools of psychology. I do figure people with a college education are somewhat familiar with some aspects of the common culture. Though I wouldn't call that frequently frustrated assumption a "scientific" one.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

that 35,000 year old statue that was much discussed several years ago

We are all most impressed with your scholarly attention to detail.

Now, how about linking to (a) the article you criticized and (b) your criticism itself, so we can all read your deathless prose and evaluate it.

The Thought Criminal said...

So, in your scientific opinion, you don't think it's possibly important that the person who made a stature, sold by anthropologists as revealing the typical male ideal in women's sexual desirability in that culture, might have been a woman. I also pointed out it could have been a self-portrait or a portrait of the artist's mother. But, hey, why let the possibility that the men who interpret it misrepresent the artist's intentions entirely interfere with "science". That is until the next cutting edge paper is published in a peer-reviewed journal attacking the old-hat interpretation of it with some bold new fable about its creation.

You apparently also don't think it much matters when, instead of publishing a barge load of speculation, such "science" should honestly say those three little words that one gender seems to find it so hard to say, "I don't know".

I'm confused. It used to be that mathematicians looked down on the standards of proof in even physics as compared with the standards required in mathematics. And physicists pointed out that the standards accepted in even real science, such as biology, weren't exactly conclusive, never mind the pseudo-sciences. I would guess you think that, now that the economists are making believe they are evolutionary scientists, that faking it and calling it science is just AOK. I can hardly wait to see the brave new world in which mathematics gives up its standards of testing proposals.

And here I thought atheists were supposed to be so very, very, sciency.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

So, in your scientific opinion, you don't think it's possibly important that the person who made a stature

So far we just have your word for it, and I'm not impressed by your veracity or your perspicacity.

GIve us the citation of the article. Or go away.

The Thought Criminal said...

In case you're mistaking what I'm talking about for some other 35,000 year old statue that the "experts" don't seem to know about, for purposes of googling, here's how Nature online reported it:

Conard says the discovery should radically change our thinking about Palaeolithic art (see slideshow). Previous sculptures from the Aurignacian culture found in Swabia have focused on animals or half-animal/half-human figures, with no female figures. The Hohle Fels Venus predates the famous Gravettian Venuses by more than 5,000 years, blowing apart suggestions that it was that era that developed three-dimensional female idols.

The pieces of the Swabian figurine "were recovered in association with characteristic stone, bone and ivory tools belonging to a period, the Aurignacian, that represents the earliest settlement of Europe by fully anatomically and genetically modern human populations, and which saw the simultaneous demise of the preceding Neanderthals", says Paul Mellars, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, UK2.

“The figure is explicitly — and blatantly — that of a woman.”
"And the figure is explicitly — and blatantly — that of a woman," he says, "with an exaggeration of sexual characteristics (large, projecting breasts, a greatly enlarged and explicit vulva, and bloated belly and thighs) that by twenty-first-century standards could be seen as bordering on the pornographic."

Mellars adds that while symbolic expressions have been found in Africa dating back to at least 75,000 years ago, attempts to represent reality with 'figurative art' currently appears to be an exclusively European phenomenon.


I no longer have a subscription to Nature so I don't have access to the papers linked to.

As if the artifact record supports all of those conclusions. As if they know anything about why it was made, how the object was seen by the person or people who made it or if it was typical of carvings made in that period. The idea that it might have been the first such attempt would seem to be rather improbable to anyone who had tried to carve hard wood, never mind ivory, considering its sophistication.
Now, tell me how anthropology can tell us anything about it, other than its physical description, with methods of actual science.

I'm surprised you missed the enormous discussion of this a few years back, it was all over the paper with all kinds of "scientific" experts quoted. I looked at a lot of them before I wrote about it and didn't see a single one who entertained the possibility that a woman might have made it or any of a number of other entirely possible scenarios. They just made up more of the same old male oriented assumptions.

They also make some rather incredible links between this figure and the next available one, the famous "Venus of Willnedorf" which was as close to it in time as some of the earlier dynasties of Egypt are to us. All with no written record to clue in those later "Venus" carvers of the intent of the previous folks. But, hey, why quibble when it's "science"?

The Thought Criminal said...

As you're a mathematician, let me ask you something I've tried to puzzle out about Dawkins' and the evo-psy's contentions about "altruism" genes. If a bird with an "altruism gene" that leads it to sacrifice itself for the flock is successful and dies, that would, actually, decrease the percentage of "altruism"birds in the flock that contain that particular gene, every time it happens. Every time it works it removes a breeding "altruism" bird from the flock. Yet Dawkins et al maintain that the gene is at an enhanced chance of being passed on to next generations. Remember that for natural selection to be relevant to his scenario not all the birds in the flock or species could contain the "altruism gene" or natural selection would be irrelevant to it, nothing would be being "selected". I'd expect that such "altruistic" birds would tend to steadily decrease in the population, probably becoming extinct while "unaltruistic" birds would always tend to dominate.

Dawkins' famous and much cited bit of bird lore also makes traits such as good eyesight and hearing, things that are always presented as positive adaptations aiding both survival and, especially in birds, mating success, into maladaptations as such "altruistic" birds with excellent eyesight and hearing would seem to tend to die off at higher rates because they'd see the "flying predator" first more often than "altruistic" birds with less acute senses. I'd guess that survivors among such birds would then be more likely to have bad eyesight and hearing and, presumably, be more vulnerable to predators and less likely to successfully mate.

Yet that is presented by him as evidence of his theory, ignoring that it isn't based in any actual observations of nature but is a simulation of evidence based on the theory that it is presented as supporting. I'm old enough that we used to call that "begging the question" and it would seriously lose you points in a debate.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anthony McCarthy:

The mark of the crackpot is that he misunderstands a field and then relies on his misunderstanding to deduce that the experts must be wrong. Congrats, you're a crackpot. Who would have guessed?

You don't understand the theory of kin selection at all. For one thing, an altruism "gene" doesn't require that the bearer commit suicide. It's enough that the behavior induced increases reproductive success for others sharing genes more than the cost in the behavior of the individual. That's Hamilton's famous equation rB > C. And the theory isn't due to Dawkins; he just popularized it. It is due to Fisher and Hamilton, among others.

ignoring that it isn't based in any actual observations of nature

A lie, of course. What else would you expect? See, for example, here.

I expect no retraction from you, just more rambling incoherent misunderstandings of things you haven't studied.

The Thought Criminal said...

I understand that an individual who carries a "trait" that leads it to die by predation is as dead as an individual who dies of a genetic disease and that dead animals pass on no genes after they're dead.

If the "altruism" bird didn't die, they would have a chance at successfully breeding that they would not have if they had died of "altruism".

And that if they die then that means that a breeding bird which wasn't "genetically" driven to "altruism" would have an increased chance to get to breed in their place. Those individuals would have to exist in the population for natural selection to be relevant to the theory and they would be constantly at an advantage when an "altruistic" bird sacrificed itself. Their offspring wouldn't have to compete with offspring of an "altruism" bird, either.

Which is a basic problem for the theory. One I've yet never yet seen addressed.

In order for the theory to work,continually removing an "altruism carrying" bird would have to result in a larger percentage of the population of "altruism carrying" birds. Or doesn't mathematics make any difference either when it comes to Just-so story "science".

Now, why don't you explain why what I said is wrong instead of just saying it doesn't go along with the theory.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

just more rambling incoherent misunderstandings of things you haven't studied.

Hey, my prediction was exactly correct! What prize do I win?

The Thought Criminal said...

Leaving aside the fact that there is no evidence that the first bird in a flock to call out has more of a chance of being killed.

Tell me how subtracting an individual with a trait from a group of individuals, some also with that trait and some without that trait increases the percentage of individuals in the group with that trait.

The "first bird to call out" isn't just giving birds like it a chance to survive and breed, it is also giving the birds unlike it a chance to surivive and breed.

According to the theory "non-altruistic" birds increase as a percentage of the population when a non-altruistic bird dies. They will have a greater chance to breed because a potential rival is removed, their offspring won't have to compete with the missing offspring the dead bird may have had.

You can't explain why that isn't the case, can you.

You just keep repeating insults. Which don't much bother me, I'll have to point out. If you could explain why I'm wrong it would have the effect you're not getting by repeated insults.

I think I'm going to write about this exchange.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

You can't explain why that isn't the case, can you.

Fascinating. Let's get popcorn! This moron is just going to keep repeating his misunderstanding, instead of reading the work of Hamilton, Fisher, Alexander, and so on.

He doesn't seem to even know that his question has been addressed in detail in the theory of reciprocal altruism. I wonder how long it will take him to figure it out. I'm betting on never.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

It's only been 40 years since Trivers' classic paper answering your question was published. How you could you possibly have been expected to find it?

The Thought Criminal said...

You can't do it. All you can do is recite a litany of authorities, something atheists are always accusing their opponents of doing, and cast insults.

Why don't you just admit that subtracting the "altruistic" birds from the population actually does what it obviously does, it decreases the percentage of "altruistic" birds present in the population?

Why not admit that the population of "non-altruistic" birds and their descendants would be advantaged every time an "altruistic" bird removed itself from the breeding population and that any "altruism" trait would be continually diminishing in the population?

Why not admit that the theory would require that some of the basic properties of numbers would have to be suspended in order for it to work?

Because admitting that wouldn't suit your ideological purpose which is more important to you than reason is. Which leads me to hope that some of those you have attacked are paying attention to this exchange.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

some of the basic properties of numbers would have to be suspended

Oooh! "Basic properties of numbers"! You've really convinced me with your penetrating analysis.

Still haven't read any of the papers or books I've mentioned yet, have you?

The Thought Criminal said...

Well, I'm making arguments, all you're doing is falling back on alleged authority. If you could refute it you would have by now.

Clearly you aren't bothered by decreasing numbers being represented as increasing numbers.

Which makes me wonder why you entitled your "lectures" what you did. Only I'm not really expecting rational coherence to have much to do with that.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

all you're doing is falling back on alleged authority

The poor crackpot doesn't know how science works.

You have a question. I tell you the question has already been considered before, and I give you the names of papers and works where you can find the answer. That is not "falling back on authority", it's answering your question.

Of course, that assumes that (a) you really are interested in the answer (b) you are willing to do a little bit of work yourself and (c) you are honest.
All three are seriously in doubt.

The Thought Criminal said...

I know what you're doing in this argument and it's not producing either evidence or reasoned analysis, you're reciting a bunch of names and trying to insult me.

I'd have thought you'd realize by now I'm not bothered by you displaying like some fighting cock. It wasn't something I planned on but if you willingly sacrifice your credibility, well, why should that upset me? Is it a display of some kind of academic "altruism"?

I would be bothered if you could refute what I'd said but you seem to be unable to do that. I've presented those arguments to several evo-psy guys who get paid for it and they couldn't either.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The poor crackpot still can't figure it out. Even grade 6 students could have googled it by now.

Here is some help, since you seem so incompetent.

Google "bird calls reciprocal altruism".

Read the cited papers, particularly Maynard Smith, The evolution of alarm calls, American Naturalist 99 (1965), 59-63. You can also review the material in Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, which shows how your assumptions are mistaken. Pages 169-170 are particularly instructive.

Not that I expect McCarthy to do any of that. It's the usual crackpot behavior: pretend competence, ignore references, refuse to read cited works, pretend he has stumped professionals, etc.

You can lead a crackpot to knowledge, but you can't make him think.

The Thought Criminal said...

You think I haven't read the literature? I haven't seen any answer to how the surviving "altruism" birds were any more advantaged than the "non-altruistic" birds, which would also survive the sacrifice of "altruistic" birds.

Since the Just-so Story requires that a bird displaying "genetic" "altruism" would be at an increased chance of dying (otherwise there would be no altruism) all "altruistic" birds would be placed at a continual reproductive disadvantage as compared to "non-altruistic" birds in the same species.

A certain percentage of "altruistic" birds would be driven to sacrifice themselves before they had successfully produced offspring. I've never seen a conjecture that the "altruism genes" turned on only after successful reproduction. Those selfish genes would have to be psychic as well as fiendishly clever suicides in order for that to happen.

Of course, you do know that there is no evidence, whatsoever, that the "first bird to call out" is actually at increased danger of dying due to that. Since the predator is just about certainly farther away from the "fbtco" than other members of the flock, that the birds closer to the squaking bird would hear it significantly earlier than the predator and considering how fast birds take off when startled, I'd guess it is less likely to fly within reach of the raptor than birds that hadn't seen it.

I'm really beginning to enjoy this now. Dawkins' idea is so stupid and so obviously based on his theorizing at his writing table instead of observing nature that it might stand as the quintessential example of the deficiencies of the so-called sciences and why real evolutionary science should smack it down and protect its name.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

You think I haven't read the literature?

I know you haven't. You exhibit no familiarity at all with the names I have given, and you don't understand why your assumptions are flawed, even though I have now given you an explicit pointer to two places where it is discussed.

That's the problem with arguing with crackpots. They refuse to learn anything.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dawkins' idea

I've already pointed out it is not "Dawkins' idea"; the ideas go back to Fisher, Haldane and more recently by people like Trivers, Maynard-Smith, and Richard Alexander.

Crackpots always get obsessed with Dawkins. I don't know why - I guess it is because they only read the pop science literature and never bother to read the actual journal articles.

The Thought Criminal said...

Well, present the refutation of my points, whether based in your obviously vast familiarity with the literature or your ability to make decreasing numbers in a population equal increased percentages within it. You make it ever more obvious that you can't as you try to shift attention to your litany of those who pushed these speculations.

I wonder, since you think his authority suffices in the absence of presenting countering evidence or a logical refutation of my points, if you think Hamilton's authority is sufficient in support of his related advocacy of a rather putrid form of neo-eugenics and his theory that HIV originated in polio vaccine programs. The one that ended up getting him killed.

I haven't read E.O.Wilson's recent rethinking of Hamilton's equations but maybe you have. I watched behaviorism disintegrate, it looks to me that the deficiencies of evo-psy are about at the same tipping point that reached.

The Thought Criminal said...

Apparently you're going to ignore my last comment while pretending you answered my points about Dawkins' "First bird to call out" fable as you have resorted to 1. argument from authority, 2. ridicule. If I was an atheist blog boy I'd probably scream about both as fatal instances of logical fallacy. But I'd rather go into detail on your failure to answer my points on either the 35,000 year old statue or Dawkin's absurd elucidation of "altruism".

Your assertion that I've committed some intellectual sin in concentrating on that instead of going into the entire history of the folly of Hamiltonian "altruism" is pretty funny as I never addressed the thing before about the dozenth time atheists brought it up in arguments. I would guess that the large majority of atheists who use those "altruistic" birds in arguments have never heard of Hamilton or the others you list. I've actually brought Hamilton into it a number of times, noting E.O.Wilson's recent apostasy on the issue.

I am writing a long piece on this exchange in which you will be discussed, to be posted on my blog later.

Eohippus said...

Andy McCarthy:
"I am writing a long piece on this exchange in which you will be discussed, to be posted on my blog later."

We'll all be sitting on the edge our seats awaiting your breathless inanity.

The Thought Criminal said...

Eohip, why don't you fill in the time answering the questions that J.S. assures me there is an answer to but which he will not share.

I'm especially interested in the matter of decreasing numbers of "altruistic" members in a species results in increased percentages of "altruistic members of the species as opposed to the "non-altruistic" members not so decreased.

You'll have to forgive me for not being too worried about accusations of insanity from people who believe that it is possible for the decreased numbers in that scenario to equal an increased percentage in the population.

You guys got nothing, to put it into blog-talk.

Eohippus said...

Go read the material that Dr Shallit has given you & get your own answers. You don't have to be spoon fed.

The Thought Criminal said...

I am skeptical that J.S. read even as much of it as I have, I have never seen any explanation of how 1. "altruism carrying" individuals in the species would be more advantaged by "altruistic" self-sacrifice than "non-altruistic" individuals in the same species. Considering that the "altruism carrying" individuals in every generation would be more prone to sacrificing themselves, that trait would have to be, in itself, a maladaptation. 2. how the decrease of an "altruism carrying" individual in a species does anything but decrease the percentage of "altruistic" members of the species.

I went into quite a few problems with the idea in my post on the topic. First and foremost, in Dawkins' version of it, there was no evidence, at all, that the "first bird in a flock to call out" was at a slightly increased chance of being killed by the "flying predator". I doubt it's practically possible to record enough instances of first birds a flock calling out with enough resolution to even figure out which bird it was to come up with a statistically valid sample to confirm that conjecture.

I also mention the large flocks of blackbirds we have around here in which different species flock together (including the infamous cowbird). Quite often in real life instead of desk chair imagination, different species also are present in the same place, in which case any "first bird to call out" that was at an increased chance of dying would also be benefiting birds of other species by its sacrifice.

But, then, quite often in real life, when birds and rodents see a flying predator, they don't call out, they play statues.

The entire kinship-"altruism" conjecture seems to be mighty short on the observation of nature, you know, coming up with actual evidence. It seems to all be pretty much making up nature lore, bringing science back to the classical and medieval periods.

I have posted the first part of my piece. You'll hate it.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I have never seen any explanation of how 1. "altruism carrying" individuals in the species would be more advantaged by "altruistic" self-sacrifice than "non-altruistic" individuals in the same species

You haven't seen it because you're doing everything possible to avoid reading the paper I cited.

Typical crackpot.

The Thought Criminal said...

Well, quote them and blow that contention out of the water, you've had three days to do that. After three days of making that contention, it's time for you to put up your evidence.

You can't do it because there is no credible evidence, anywhere, that those two points are not valid criticisms of the theory.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

After three days of making that contention, it's time for you to put up your evidence.

Poor sad little crackpot who is doing every single thing except reading the paper with the evidence. Keep pretending, by all means.

Anonymous said...

My ex is an English Ph.D and (to quote Clarke) may have been educated beyond her intelligence. I've read through some Apochryphia, (Jubilee's, Macabee's, Enoch..)as well as Wittgenstein, Hegel, Frege and Liebniz. I've also tried to understand the rationale of St. Augustine, Spinoza, Pascal, Euler, Ramanujan, Einstein regarding "the creator." Rather than the anthropic principle I would assume the Sapir-Whorf (not the Star Trek guy) hypothesis is a better referential frame. Both mathematics (see Cajori) and one's language of choice are constantly evolving. Tautologies can be created just based on the structure of the 'language' itself regardless of the point of the discussion. Belief is a feeling which is an emotional response based on neurological function. If these instructors would provide a PET scan of their brain function while lecturing on these topics..and/or maybe linked to a polygraph..any proselytism may be better detected as well as the basis of their reasoning processes.
Honesty/integrity and evidentiary fact should be a basis for reasoning from the known to the unknown. Did this come across in the lectures? Were the Amazing Randi, the Skeptic or Skeptical Inquirer mentioned at any time in any context?

Anonymous said...

I must also add that the "evidentiary facts" must be constantly re-examined relative to contextual interpretation (S-W again). The willingness to admit that one was wrong, was a fool etc.. and to assume a redefined outlook is important. The same goes for enthusiasm and the mental 'kick' one feels when comprehension dawns..this should be shared. A well deserved kick in the ass or a genuine smile of appreciation are more effective than the 'politically correct protocols (though necessary for career survival)' I've seen in place during my travels. I like the way the Japanese culture has used body language to make a point -call a person an asshole or show sincere respect equally deferentially.

The Thought Criminal said...

I have seen no evidence that you have read as much of that record as I have. I think you might have done the internet-shuffle, quickly googling and Wikiing the topic.

Show me where I missed the answer to those points.

As I asked, explain the mathematical problem of decreasing numbers of "altruistic" members of the breeding population results in an increasing percentage of "altruistic" members of the population.

I'm ever so interested in finding out how far you will go in protecting "science" on the basis of your ideology, even at the cost of mathematical possibility.

SLC said...

if the neutron were just 0.2% lighter, all protons would decay, so there would be no atoms. If the neutron were just 0.2% heavier, no element beyond hydrogen could form. This "fine tuning" suggests a designe

A totally preposterous argument. If both the neutron and the proton were .2% lighter, the proton would not decay. If both the neutron and the proton were .2% heavier, the lifetime of the neutron would be the same, as the phase space available for decay would be the same and heavier elements could form.

A typical argument from someone totally ignorant of physics.

SLC said...

I don't know how familiar Prof. Shallit is with Anthony McCarthy but in case he has just encountered him, he should be aware that he is a particularly obnoxious troll who has been given the heave ho on several blogs, e.g. those run by Larry Moran and Jason Rosenhouse. Among other things, he is also absolutely convinced that there is credible evidence for ESP and PK.

He also is addicted to bad mouthing prominent scientists, particularly Charles Darwin.

SLC said...

Incidentally, Mr. McCarthy is also a notorious bad mouther of the late Martin Gardner and James Randi.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Yes, I suspect he has some sort of mental problem. Normal people, when given a citation to something they claim they are very interested in, just go and read the paper. He reminds me of Holocaust deniers who, when I gave them a pointer to the book The Good Old Days, demanded that I summarize the contents for them.

The Thought Criminal said...

The only thing I've ever said about "ESP" is that Jessica Utts evaluation would seem to be correct that the controlled research into it has met the requirements current in the social sciences. If the standard that Fischer set for that is valid, I've never expressed an opinion on other than to point out that, as arbitrary as it is, it can't be valid when you want it to be and invalid when you want it to be. Well, you can but not if you want to maintain your scientific integrity.

SLC is a CFI hack who has trolled me all over the blogs and has a tendency to embroider.

Perhaps he's volunteering to provide the evidence refuting what I said which I'm still checking for as I'm writing about the failure of Jeffrey Shallit to provide it.

"bad mouther of the late Martin Gardner and James Randi"

I'd have said, "failed to genuflect and pretend they were other than what he could document they were".

I've never made any claim about Charles Darwin which I haven't been able to document in his own words, in full quotes with citations of entire documents, or his children's words. Which is more than my opponent has done in this argument. If you didn't like what I said about him last summer, you'll really hate what I'm working on now.

The Thought Criminal said...

I should point out that I'm saving my comments that are held up in moderation for future possible use.

I mention this exchange in my post today.


SLC said...

Re Anthony McCarthy

Mr. McCarthy is a liar. I do not now nor have I ever hand any association with CFI. I have informed him of that fact on numerous occasions over at Larry Moran's blog before he was given the heave ho there. I would suggest to Prof. Shallit that, if Mr. McCarthy continues to repeat this lie that he be given the heave ho from this blog.

By the way, Mr. McCarthy has also bad mouthed Carl Sagan, Murray GellMann, Jerry Coyne, and Richard Dawkins among others. Amazing chutzpah from someone who has no record of accomplishments.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I would suggest to Prof. Shallit that, if Mr. McCarthy continues to repeat this lie that he be given the heave ho from this blog.

I don't usually ban commenters just for lying. The tiny list of people I have banned have to transgress even further than that. McCarthy is dancing close to the line, though.

The Thought Criminal said...

I have not been banned from Larry Moran's blog that I know of, I don't remember him saying so. I also don't believe Jason Rosenhouse banned me from his blog either, he did as me to not comment more than twice a day at one point but I was pretty much done with that discussion, anyway. I still do lurk at Moran's blog because we share some ideas about evolutionary theory but I did that for years before I commented on it.

If SLC isn't associated with the alphabet soup empire of the late Paul Kurtz, he does a mighty good imitation of someone who does.

SLC said...

Re Jeffrey Shallit

CFI and its late founder, Paul Kurtz, is another subject about which Mr. McCarthy has a bug up his posterior orifice. Even though I have never been associated with it, AFAIK, there is nothing at all wrong with it (Larry Moran is a member for instance) and I would not attempt to hide such association if it existed.

The Thought Criminal said...

The idea that the "Center For Inquiry" is above criticism or questioning is as hilarious as the idea that organizations selling themselves as dedicated to "skepticism" is above skepticism. Not to mention the "skepticism" Czar, himself. If irony had ever really been in danger of dying that idea would resurrect it.