What defines “good” design in the composition of music and the tuning of musical instruments?

Knowing Lizzie, in addition to being a scientist, is a teacher of music theory and an accomplished musician, I thought I’d frame one aspect of the ID discussion in terms of musical ideas and philosophy.

“Bad design” is one of the most formidable arguments against intelligent design. I’ve responded to this by saying that what constitutes “good design” depends on the goals of the designer. If fuel efficiency is the criteria of good design, then a motorcycle is a better design than an SUV. But some will argue the SUV is a better design for snowy and icy conditions when transporting babies, thus an SUV is a better design. The problem is what constitutes “good design”, and who decides the criteria for good?

We also have the paradoxical situation where good drama needs a bit of “bad” designed into it. If a great novel told a story with no problems, will it be a good drama?

“Once upon a time there were no problems…there were never any problems or difficulties….they lived happily ever after”.

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Putting a few things straight….

Apologies for absence (which will continue a little longer, but the end is in sight) – I am just catching up with things here.

First of all, I’d like to confirm for both regulars and occasional readers that the policy of this site is not to delete comments (apart from commercial spam).  They can be moved, but remain visible.  The only content that is redacted is content that is NSFW or malware links.

Similarly, the only grounds for banning (again apart from commercial spammers) are posting NSFW content or malware links.

If you have author rights here, you will find you have the technical ability to temporarily delete comments, but please do not do so.  Thanks to those who restored the deleted comments, and thanks to KN for his graciousness over this matter.

To some of those at UD who have commented on Barry’s thread claiming he was “effectively banned” here:

  • No, he was not, although it may have seemed like it at the time, and I have now given him the permissions to post an OP if he would like.
  • The strapline to this blog is addressed to all who post here, including me.  I have always liked that line from Cromwell, and it is a core principle of this site, however difficult to adhere to.
  • We are not a “bunch of atheists”.  A lot of us are opponents of the Intelligent Design movement, but not all, and of those of us who are, not all of us oppose all aspects of Intelligent Design as a concept.  Also of those who are opponents of Intelligent Design, not all are atheists. And of those who are, at least some of us have come to that position via a long and thoughtful, sometimes painful, road.
  • Finally: anyone from UD is welcome to post here, and while the default registration is “subscriber”, author permissions can be given on request.


Entropy and Disorder from a creationist book endorsed by a Nobel Laureate

Here is an online creationist/ID book.
From http://www.ccel.us/gange.app.html#App

“I was particularly pleased with Dr. Gange’s refusal of the idea of materialism, and the convincing arguments supporting that refusal. In fact, the book will be a welcome response to materialism. Good luck, for a good book!”

Eugene Wigner, Nobel Laureate in Physics

The book had an appendix on thermodynamics.

“We noted earlier that entropy can be correlated-but not identified-with disorder. And we said, moreover, that this correlation is valid in only three cases-ideal gases, isotope mixtures, and crystals near zero degrees Kelvin. The truth of the matter is illustrated by considering the two chemically inert gases, helium, and argon.(7) In our mind’s eye we imagine two balloons, one filled with helium and the other with argon. First, we lower the temperature of both balloons to zero degrees Kelvin. This makes all the gas molecules stop moving in either balloon. Next, we get the molecules moving by heating both balloons to 300 degrees Kelvin (room temperature). Were we to mathematically calculate the increase in entropy, we would find that it was 20 percent higher in the argon balloon than in the helium balloon (154 v. 127 joules per mole per degree Kelvin). But since helium molecules are ten times lighter than argon molecules, they are moving three times faster and thus are more disordered. Here, then, is an example where higher entropy is accompanied by lower disorder, thereby demonstrating that we cannot identify one with the other. In the particular example cited, the greater argon entropy comes from the closer quantum translational energy levels identified with its greater molecular mass as described by the Sackŭr-Tetrode equation.
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ID & Explanations

Every camp in the ‘biological origins debate’ has its own explanation(s) as to where the complexity and diversity of life comes from. Some of these explanations would seem to be driven by prior commitments and ideologies (on both sides) and in some cases (notably from the DI and over at UD) they are part of a bigger assault on the opposing viewpoints perceived commitments themselves.

So what makes for a good explanation? Here’s a couple of resources I found interesting:





Perhaps we could have a discussion on what makes for a good explanation and look at the various available explanations for biological origins in this framework?

[Multiple edits]

On “Self-Evident Truths”

When one talks about a “self-evident truth,” what exactly is one talking about?

In one sense, it is “self-evidently true” that when one looks at an object — say, this pint glass next to me as I type — I see that it is a pint-glass.  It is “self-evidently true” that I am looking at a pint-glass (putting to aside worries of Cartesian demonic deception), because I do not perform an inference.  My perception of the pint-glass is not the conclusion of an argument, based on premises.  It is a paradigm case of non-inferential knowledge.

But in another sense, this perceptual knowledge is not “self-evident,” if by that we mean knowledge that does not depend on any further presuppositions.  For the contrary is the case: a great deal of background knowledge must be presupposed in order for me to see the pint-glass — for example, I must have the concept of “pint-glass” and know how to apply that concept.  Even the transparent cases of analytic propositions (“a vixen is a fox”, “the sum of the interior angles of a Euclidean triangle is 180 degrees”, “every effect has a cause”) presuppose as their respective background an adequate grasp of the concepts involved.

It is sometimes said that if a proposition is self-evidently true, then nothing can be done which would show it to be to true to someone who denied it.  But this is not quite right.  What is right is that a proposition is self-evidently true, then it cannot be demonstrated from some other premises nor arrived at through generalizations — it is not grounded in either deduction or induction, one might say.

But that does not mean that one cannot resort to all sorts of other arguments or thought-experiments that disclose that the proposition is self-evidently true.  A classic example of this is Descartes’s famous “I think, therefore I am.”   This is not the result of inference or observation, yet Descartes spends a great deal of time setting the stage to prepare the reader for this truth and to see it as self-evident.   For this reason, “I can’t convince of you of this, because it’s self-evidently true” should not be accepted without criticism.

Because of this distinction between non-inferential knowledge and presuppositionless knowledge, accepting the importance of the former does nothing to settle whether or not we ought to be committed to the latter.   The failure to see this is what Sellars called “the Myth of the Given,” which is the original sin of rationalism and empiricism alike.

The Semantic Apocalypse

The other night I came across this fascinating set of lectures about “the semantic apocalypse” — the thought being that, as we come to know more about how the brain really works, the more it will seem as though meaning and intent are a sort of illusion — something that the brain generates in order to organize information — and in no way corresponding to what’s really going on.   Since the brain is adapted to modeling what is going on in the external environment (including the social environment), it doesn’t need to be good at modeling itself.  So the categories we use to describe “mental phenomena”, such as “intentionality”, are just cognitive shortcuts we rely on to compensate for the lack of the brain’s transparency to itself.

I found all three lectures quite fascinating.  I should warn you that the second lecture leans heavily on the work of Ray Brassier and Quentin Meillassoux, so it may seem somewhat off-putting at first.   I’ve only discovered their work recently myself, but I shall endeavor to respond to the best of my abilities to any questions that arise.




Canadians Promoting Intelligent Design Theory – Cameron Wybrow, Denyse O’Leary and Bruce Gordon

This post examines the positions and contributions of 3 Canadian IDists. Two of them easily, if shallowly embrace their IDism in public (as journalist & professor) and one still hasn’t openly reached that point of audacious self-promotion or reflexivity.

Some background: I have watched this evolutionism-creationism-IDT ‘controversy’ (which operates mainly in USAmerica) for more than 10 years. The winners so far are agnostics, atheists and also anti-IDist pro-evolutionary theory Abrahamic theists. The latter are not bothered by the repetitive doubts of agnostics or the anti-theism of atheists because they responsibly accept the horizontality of cutting-edge science while staying faithful to their vertical religious traditions. But the ‘points’ scored by agnostics and atheists against IDists have indeed been considerable, which is evident from the growing numbers of non-theists or non-religious in the USA, a country some call a pre-atheist nation.

As someone living ‘outside’ of the North American ‘culture war,’ let the following put into context the ‘work’ of three Canadian ‘Cdesign proponentsists,’ or what I call in short ‘IDists.’

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I, Thou, and Meat Robot


For a duty towards an animal would have to be directed at someone, and if the lights are out and there’s no-one home, then any talk of duties or obligations is meaningless. To be sure, a magnanimous person, motivated by a disinterested ethic of reverence for all living things, might still wish to alleviate the feelings of pain occurring in animals, even while recognizing that these feelings belonged to no-one. But it would no longer be possible to maintain that animals are morally significant “others.” The most we could say is that insofar as they are organisms, animals have a biological “good of their own.” If we adopted this biocentric view, then we would deplore any wanton harm done to animals, just as we would the felling of a Californian redwood tree. But the notion that animals belong on a psychological or moral continuum with us would be forever shattered. For if animals have no “selves,” then they are not “they,” and their pain doesn’t warrant our pity.

VJ Torley has posted an interesting argument regarding animals’ ability to suffer and the ethical implications of various interpretations of animal consciousness. Although VJ has his own conclusions, his post seem to invite discussion rather than agreement or disagreement. He emphasizes the limits of science rather than simply attacking science. I would suggest he also demonstrates some limits to philosophy.

Mapou helpfully sets up the main line of discussion:

Why beat around the bush? Science cannot even prove that humans are conscious, let alone animals. There is no experiment that can directly detect consciousness. It is a subjective phenomenon. We may know that we are conscious but we can only assume that other humans are equally conscious.

Mapou goes on to say that he considers animals to be meat robots and outside of any consideration of their welfare. I would argue that we draw our lines of demarcation on some basis other than evidence or logic. I personally think this problem of demarcation cannot be solved by reason.

I think we as individuals draw the line between creatures that merit ethical consideration and those that don’t, and I think we do this for purely emotional reasons. Some of us see someone home behind the eyes of non-humans.


The Roles of Philosophy in An Age of Science

Lately, the conversations I’ve been having here and with friends on other sites have focused my attention on the question, “what is the role of philosophy in an age of science?”   (I have a long-standing interest in this question, as someone who pursued an undergraduate degree in biology and switched to philosophy for graduate study.)

Here are a couple of options that I think deserve to be taken seriously — though I think there are reasons for thinking that some of them are preferable to others — in coming up with this list I was inspired by Ian Barbour‘s models on science and religion —

(1) total separation: science inquires into a posteriori truths, and philosophy inquires into a priori truths, so nothing that science has to say can affect philosophy, or the other way around.  (Another version of total separation puts the emphasis on the distinction between the descriptive project of science and the normative project of philosophy — “how ought we to live?” is not, at first blush, a scientific question.)

(2) conflict — philosophy makes claims about the human condition, experience, value, meaning (etc.) that are undermined by the causal explanations provided by science.   Under the conflict model, science takes priority over philosophy, or philosophy takes priority over science. For example, phenomenology took the position that a distinctive kind of philosophical inquiry was the foundation of the sciences and made the sciences possible.   (Though phenomenology might be better classified under separation than under conflict — it depends on the particular phenomenologist, perhaps.)

(3) dialogue — the sciences benefit from the reflective analysis practiced in philosophy for refining their basic concepts and assumptions, and philosophy benefits from the new empirical discoveries that science discloses.  So philosophers can contribute the metaphysics of physics or the epistemology of scientific inquiry, for example.

(4) integration — a fully philosophical science and a scientific philosophy.

I would position myself somewhere between (3) and (4) — I think that the philosophy is most successful when it creates new conceptions that give voice to the problems and opportunities disclosed by new scientific discoveries*, e.g. re-conceiving the concepts of selfhood and autonomy in light of neuroscience, or in re-conceiving the concepts of matter and causation in light of quantum physics.

* though not just new scientific discoveries — new kinds of artistic creations and political relations can and should also prompt the philosopher to create new concepts.

Philosophy: Call For Topics

I’ve been trying to think of some new posts on philosophical issues here, and I have a few too many ideas — some (if not most) of which would be of little interest, I conjecture, to most participants here.   So I turn it over to you: what topics, if any, would you like to see raised?

Here’s what I have in mind: people here make suggestions, I look them over and see which ones fall within my limited expertise, and then write up a post on that issue for framing discussion.

If that sounds good to you, then have at it!