About the penguins…

I don’t know why, but I’ve always had an affinity for penguins, and a chinstrap has been my avatar for a while at Talk Rational.  I tend to parse the chinstrap as a smile!

Anyway, when I was googling for images for this blog, I came across these beautiful argumentative chinstraps, photographed by Arthur Morris.  Check out his blog, Birds as Art  – he has some awesome photos.  It’s in the blogroll.

Atheism and moral condemnation

In another very interesting discussion on Uncommon Descent, Chris Doyle asked:

1. Why should… a miserable atheist bother with life at all?

2. How do you dissuade an atheist from free-riding?


And later, in a post on another thread:

…how can any atheist condemn Breivik in terms that can be reconciled with their worldview? If life is meaningless and we face oblivion then nothing really matters – there is no wrong or right, because there is no Good or Evil: even the purpose we forge for ourselves is an act of self-deception if the atheistic worldview is true.

I’m reposting selected portions of my original response below, because, although the conversation has continued in a lively fashion since then, Chris gave me an opportunity to think though my views on this, and I thought like to invite him, or anyone else who wants to continue the discussion, the opportunity to do so in the quieter backwaters of this blog.

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Where does information come from?

I’m starting off this blog with a post about an interesting discussion I’ve been having* on on the Uncommon Descent blog about the claim, frequently made by Intelligent Design proponents, that  Chance and Necessity  cannot generate  information;  information can only be generated by a mind.

Clearly, to either support or refute this claim, we need clear conceptual definitions of “Chance and Necessity” and “information”.

William Dembski  uses Monod’s terms, “Chance and Necessity” to characterise natural processes, and indeed, devised an Explanatory Filter, for candidate exemplars of information-bearing patterns, whereby, if Chance and Necessity could be serially eliminated, Design could be inferred as the only remaining explanation.   There are various ways of defining Chance and Necessity, but for convenience it may be reasonable to regard “Chance” events as unpredictable events (e.g. quantum events) and “Necessity” as  reliable physical or chemical laws.  In a deterministic universe,  of course, once you have a set of starting conditions, all that follows is Necessity, and the opportunities for a Designer lie in specifying the starting conditions in such a way that the willed outcome is inevitable, and/or giving things a poke with a celestial snooker cue to keep them on the willed track. So in a deterministic universe, the ID question would be easy: were the starting conditions willed or a Chance first throw of the dice and/or are the workings-out of those starting conditions left to Necessity or tweaked to suit?  In a non-deterministic universe, which it seems we have, Chance has a potentially more interesting and active roll.  So the ID question becomes: can the events we observe be explained solely a combination of Chance quantum events and Necessary consequences, or can they be better explained by positing  an Intelligent Designer who could affect the way things unfold by nudging  quantum Chance and/or the otherwise Necessary consequences?

But what is meant by “information” mean, in the context of the ID claim? On Uncommon Descent,  I made the counter-claim that I could demonstrate that Chance and Necessity could indeed generate information, for any regular English usage of the word information.

One of the regular posters there, Upright BiPed, took me up on my claim, and my response was to ask him (or any ID proponent) was to provide me with a conceptual definition of information for which he believed ID claim was true.  My plan was then to operationalise the definition to our mutual satisfaction, and then to attempt to make good mine.

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