A materialist defends substance dualism

At UD, Vincent Torley links to an odd little paper by William Lycan, a philosopher at the University of North Carolina, entitled Giving Dualism Its Due.

The abstract reads:

Despite the current resurgence of modest forms of mind-body dualism, traditional Cartesian immaterial-substance dualism has few if any defenders. This paper argues that no convincing case has been against substance dualism, and that standard objections to it can be credibly answered.

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Journal club – Protein Space. Big, isn’t it?

Simplistic combinatorial analyses are an honoured tradition in anti-evolutionary circles. Hoyle’s is the archetype of the combinatorial approach, and he gets a whole fallacy named after him for his trouble. The approach will be familiar – a string of length n composed of v different kinds of subunit is one point in a permutation space containing vn points in total. The chance of hitting any given sequence in one step, such as the one you have selected as ‘target’, is the reciprocal of that number. Exponentiation being the powerful tool it is, it takes only a little work with a calculator to assess the permutations available to the biological polymers DNA and protein and come up with some implausibly large numbers and conclude that Life – and, if you are feeling bold, evolution – is impossible.

Dryden, Thomson and White of Edinburgh University’s Chemistry department argue in this 2008 paper that not only is the combinatorial space of the canonical 20 L-acids much smaller than simplistically assumed, but more surprisingly, that it is sufficiently small to have been explored completely during the history of life on earth. Continue reading

Response to Kairosfocus

[23rd May, 2013 As Kairosfocus continues to reiterate his objections to the views I express in this post, I am taking the opportunity today to clarify my own position:

  1. I do not think that OM was calling KF a Nazi, merely drawing attention to commonality between KF’s apparent views on homosexuality as immoral and unnatural to those of Nazis who also regarded homosexuality as immoral and unnatural.  However, I accept that one huge difference is that KF appears to considers that homosexuality is non-genetic and can be cured; whereas Nazis considered that it was genetic and should be eradicated.
  2. I agree with KF that inflammatory comparisons with those one disagrees with to Nazis is unhelpful and divisive.  I will not censor such comparisons, but I will register my objections to them.  This includes OM’s comparison (although I find KF’s views on homosexuality morally abhorrent, and factually incorrect, his view is profoundly different to those of the Nazis), and it also includes KF’s frequent comparisons of those of us who hold that a Darwinist account of evolution is scientifically justified to those “good Germans” who turned a blind eye to Nazi-ism.
  3. When referring to CSI as “bogus” I mean it is fallacious and misleading.  I do not mean that those who think it is calculable and meaningful are being deliberately fraudulent.  I interpret AF to mean the same thing by the term.  However, even if he does not, I defend his right to say so on this blog, just as I will defend KF’s right to defend CSI (or even his views on homosexuality) on this blog.]

I will move this post to the sandbox shortly, but as I am banned from UD, and therefore cannot respond to this in the place where it was issued, I am doing so here.  Kairosfocus writes:

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Complex Specified Information: breaking the mould of Darwinistic evolution or bogus concept.

Aplologies straight away for clogging up such an excellent site with this old chestnut but in the light of GEM (Kairosfocus) having apparently directing a long OP at me over some exchanges in an earlier thread, and as Kairosfocus has closed comments I feel I ought to take an opportunity to respond here. I’ll put everything else below the fold.

Click to continue at your peril!

The Dialectic of Darwinism and Anti-Darwinism

I here present a number of theses, each of which deserves an independent argument in support of it, but which I think are both true and defensible:

(1) The resistance to Darwinism as expressed by creationism and by intelligent design largely arises from treating “Darwinism” as a scapegoat for the social ills produced by capitalism.  It has become commonplace among creationist and other anti-Darwinists to blame Darwinism for any and all of the following: eugenics, acceptance of homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, genocide, school shootings, abortion, and decline of ecclesiastical authority.

(2) Though the obsession with sexuality and anxiety about the ambiguity of embodiment are standard-fare among the religious far-right, my interest here lies in what it is about contemporary presentations of Darwinism that make it such a tempting target for these anxieties.

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When I started this site, I had been struck by the remarkable symmetry between the objections raised by ID proponents to evolution, and the objections raised by ID opponents to ID – both “sides” seemed to think that the other side was motivated by fear of breaking ranks; fear of institutional expulsion; fear of facing up to the consequences of finding themselves mistaken; not understanding the other’s position adequately; blinkered by what they want, ideologically, to be true, etc.  Insulting characterisations are hurled freely in both directions. Those symmetries remain, as does the purpose of this site, which is to try to drill past those symmetrical prejudices to reach the mother-lode of genuine difference.

But two asymmetries now stand out to me:

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What would Darwin do?

At Evolution News and Views, David Klinghoffer presents a challenge:

Man needs meaning. We crave it, especially when faced with adversity. I challenge any Darwinist readers to write some comments down that would be suitable, not laughable, in the context of speaking to people who have lived through an event like Monday’s bombing. By all means, let me know what you come up with.

Leaving aside Klinghoffer’s conflation of “Darwinism” with atheism, and reading it as a challenge for those of us who do not believe in a supernatural deity or an afterlife (which would include me), and despite lacking the eloquence of the speakers Klinghoffer refers to, let me offer some thoughts, not on Monday’s bombing, specifically, but on violent death in general, which probably touches us all, at some time.  Too many lives end far too soon:

We have one life, and it is precious, and the lives of those we love are more precious to us than our own.  Even timely death leaves a void in the lives of those left, but the gap left by violent death is ragged, the raw end of hopes and plans and dreams and possibilities.  Death is the end of options, and violent death is the smashing of those options;  Death itself has no meaning. But our lives and actions have meaning.  We mean things, we do things, we act with intention, and our acts ripple onwards, changing the courses of other lives, as our lives are changed in return.  And more powerful than the ripples of evil acts are acts of love, kindness, generosity, and imagination. Like the butterfly in Peking that can cause a hurricane in New York, a child’s smile can outlive us all. Good acts are not undone by death, even violent death. We have one life, and it is precious, and no act of violence can destroy its worth.

Belling the Cat

As Aesop didn’t actually say:

The Mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day. Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young Mouse got up and said: “I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful. All we have to do is to hang a bell about the Cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.” All the Mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said: “I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the Cat?”

More heat than light seems to me to be generated by the demand for IDists to “define CSI” and the equations that are fired back in response. Nobody is disputing that we have plenty of equations.  Here is that bright young mouse, Dembski’s:

χ= –log2[10120 · φS(TP(T|H)]

The problem seems to me to lie in Belling the Cat.

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Andre’s questions

Andre poses some interesting questions to Nick Matzke. I thought I’d start a thread that might help him find some answers.  I’ll have first go :

Hi Nick

Yes please can we get a textbook on Macro-evolution’s facts!

I’ll make it easy for you;

1.) I want to see a step by step process of the evolution of the lung system.

Google Scholar: evolution of the lung sarcopterygian

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Planned Parenthood

Right now, for some bizarre reason (I have no idea how the topic relates to Intelligent Design), Uncommon Descent (“serving the Intelligent Design Community”) has an OP by Barry Arrington presented “without comment”, and consisting entirely of an image of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, next to a sickening piece of racist text, which is attributed to her.

It turns out (h/t to various members here) that this quotation is widely attributed to Margaret Sanger on the web, usually to the Birth Control Review, April 1933, No such words are found in that journal – indeed, no article by Margaret Sanger appears in that journal that I can find. Another reference gives it as Birth Control Review, October 1926. Well, I can’t find it there either.

In other words, this calumny has been passed around the web, with faux “authoritative” citations, with nobody bothering to check the primary source, which is, in fact, easy to check.

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