Knowledge As Articulated Insight

The standard definition of knowledge, canonized in epistemology textbooks, is that knowledge is “justified true belief.”

I think that this is badly wrong, and to put it right, we should return to where this idea comes from: Plato’s argument (“argument”) in Meno. I suggest, based in part on Plato, that we should reject the JTB definition of knowledge in favor of knowledge as articulated insight.

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Who’s Skeptical of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis?

Is anyone here skeptical of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES) in biology/biological sciences? If so, why? If not, why not?

Background: A couple of days ago I interviewed one of the participants in the Royal Society’s recent ‘New Trends’ meeting (audios now available), who is obviously pro-EES ,as part of a nearly completed research project from the past couple of years.

My interviewee gave the (ahem) ‘brilliant’ answer of a stone when asked to speak about ‘things that don’t evolve’ (one of those interviewer places where it’s really hard to mask a delighted smile with neutrality!) after claiming not to understand the question: “What are the limits of evolution as a scientific theory?” (we had already been discussing its ‘possibilities’ and I explained earlier that I would ask both about the possibilities and the limits of evolutionary theories). Undergrad students around the world chuckle when they hear the Rock answer (as if geological evolution doesn’t exist in the minds of biologists)!

It’s just a ‘play of scales,’ after all, that slips us into the ‘evolution of everything,’ don’t forget 😉

Objects fall off kitchen counters in haunted flat!

This video is doing the rounds:

To those that believe in such things as ghosts and poltergeists (Clive @ UD I’m looking at you), does this video demonstrate that the realm of ghosts is real? If not, why not?

To the believers, is it possibly a real video or must it have been faked?

To those that don’t believe in such things, has this video converted you? Why not?

Is it relevant that the video was sourced from the Daily Mail? Does the messenger matter?


The credibility of the Christmas story

As the Christmas season is drawing to a close, I thought I might put up a post with some useful links for people wishing to argue for and against the credibility of the Christmas narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and let readers draw their own conclusions.

On the skeptics’ side:

The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View by Aaron Adair. Onus Books, 2013.

The Nativity: A Critical Examination by Jonathan M.S. Pearce. Onus Books, 2012.

For Jonathan M.S. Pearce’s recent posts on the Nativity, see here:

Debunking the Nativity: The Gospel Sources
Debunking the Nativity: The Virgin Birth
Debunking the Nativity: The Mistranslation of “Virgin”
Debunking the Nativity: The Male Genome
Debunking the Nativity: Contradictory Genealogies
Debunking the Nativity: To Bethlehem or Not to Bethlehem
Debunking the Nativity: Boney M
Debunking the Nativity – Quirinius vs Herod and the Ten Year Gap

On the believers’ side:

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Carl Woese – Evolution Skeptic

Carl Woese

b. July 15, 1928
d. December 30, 2012

“Thus, we regard as rather regrettable the conventional concatenation of Darwin’s name with evolution, because there are other modalities that must be entertained and which we regard as mandatory during the course of evolutionary time.”

“I have concerns about scientists thinking that they’re God when it comes to biology.”

“A future biology cannot be built within the conceptual superstructures of the past. The old superstructure has to be replaced by a new one before the holistic problems of biology can emerge as biology’s new mainstream.”

“I do not like people saying that atheism is based on science, because it’s not. It’s an alien invasion of science.”

  • Carl Woese

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Is Design a Stochastic Process?

Researchers use the term stochastic systems to describe the physical systems in which the values of parameters, measurements, expected input, and disturbances are uncertain

Would we expect different designers to create different designs? Does the same designer ever design competing solutions? Why is that? What factors inform a design decision and outcome?

Outside of hard determinism ( isn’t everything a stohastic process?

Evolution Skeptics!

In a recent post here at TSZ, participant Alan Fox made some comments and asked some questions which might make for interesting discussion, but first I need to challenge some of his assumptions.

First, his claim that I find evolutionary theory unbelievable.

Second, his claim that I find a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life theory unbelievable.

Third, his his claim that I mock attempts at scientific hypotheses.

Fourth, I thought being skeptical is a good thing.

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Evo-Info 2: Teaser for algorithmic specified complexity

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert J. Marks II, the “Charles Darwin of Intelligent Design”; William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”; and Winston Ewert, the “Charles Ingram of Active Information.” World Scientific, 350 pages. January 30, 2017.
Classification: Engineering mathematics. Engineering analysis. (TA347)
Subjects: Evolutionary computation. Information technology–Mathematics.

The introduction to this series ended with a promise of insights into evolutionary informatics that the forthcoming book by Marks, Dembski, and Ewert is unlikely to afford. There will be little doubt at the end of the fourth installment that I have delivered the goods. First I want to assure you that, although I subscribe to the philosophy “Into Each Life, Some Math Must Fall,” the downpour of abstract notions, Greek letters, and squiggly marks will be intermittent, not unrelenting.

1280pxFujRusSunset in the Garden of Id

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Apparently theists do not look kindly upon liars but some don’t understand why atheists feel the same. A commenter on this site writes:

Most [atheists] appear to despise lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations as much as any theist. I’m just a bit fuzzy on why.

So I thought I’d look to their leader for support for this. And it seems to me theists are happy to lie when it suits their agenda:

“The traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.”

That is from the head theist at the time, Pope Benedict XVI.

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A Christmas Story

It amazes me how often I hear that Jesus never existed or that scripture is just fiction.

So here are a few rather recently published books for the skeptic who claims to have never seen any evidence that scripture is not fiction or that Jesus ever existed.

Why Are There Differences in the Gospels

Biographies and Jesus

The Historical Reliability of the New Testament

Merry Christmas

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Mouse Utopia, Mutational Meltdown, Extinction by Natural Selection

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsored the work of John Calhoun on social behaviors. Here were the results of one of his experiments:

On July 9th, 1968, eight white mice were placed into a strange box at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Maybe “box” isn’t the right word for it; the space was more like a room, known as Universe 25, about the size of a small storage unit. The mice themselves were bright and healthy, hand-picked from the institute’s breeding stock. They were given the run of the place, which had everything they might need: food, water, climate control, hundreds of nesting boxes to choose from, and a lush floor of shredded paper and ground corn cob.

This is a far cry from a wild mouse’s life—no cats, no traps, no long winters. It’s even better than your average lab mouse’s, which is constantly interrupted by white-coated humans with scalpels or syringes. The residents of Universe 25 were mostly left alone, save for one man who would peer at them from above, and his team of similarly interested assistants. They must have thought they were the luckiest mice in the world. They couldn’t have known the truth: that within a few years, they and their descendants would all be dead.
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Kitzmas 2016

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the conclusion of Tammy Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. This, of course, was the court case that made it clear that the Intelligent Design movement is nothing more nor less than yet another incarnation of creationism.

The Dover trial had a number of memorable moments. Just months before, William Dembski posted his Vise Strategy at Uncommon Descent, talking tough about facing “Darwinists” in court. When he found out that his deposition would be attended by Wesley Elsberry and Jeff Shallit, Dembski suddenly found himself unable to participate.

Another highlight was the NCSE’s discovery that the intelligent design creationist textbook at the center of the trial, Of Pandas and People, had been modified shortly after the Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that the teaching of “creation science” is unconstitutional. Every instance of “creationism” and “creationist” had been replaced with “intelligent design” and “design proponent” respectively. Every instance but one, that is. “cdesign proponentsists” survived the edit to demonstrate that the terms are synonyms.

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Evo-Info 1: Engineering analysis construed as metaphysics

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert J. Marks II, the “Charles Darwin of Intelligent Design”; William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”; and Winston Ewert, the “Charles Ingram of Active Information.” World Scientific, 350 pages. January 30, 2017.
Classification: Engineering mathematics. Engineering analysis. (TA347)
Subjects: Evolutionary computation. Information technology–Mathematics.

World Scientific is pitching Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert Marks, William Dembski, and Winston Ewert, to a general readership, but with particular note of enthusiasts of apologetics. The book features the Conservation of Information Theorem, which was the centerpiece of Dembski’s religio-philosophical treatise Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information (2014). So there is no denying that the authors regard their mathematical arguments as support for their religious views. And there is no great surprise in learning that the nonprofit Center for Evolutionary Informatics, operated by Marks and Dembski, has the alternate name Arbor Ministries in public records. The forthcoming book includes a section titled “The Genesis,” and this leads me to hope that the authors, mindful of the canonical teachings of Jesus, have made a clear statement of faith.

No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.

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How Comfortable is Naturalism with Highly Atypical Events?

There are numerous definitions of naturalism. Here is one definition with some additional observations from

As defined by philosopher Paul Draper, naturalism is “the hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system” in the sense that “nothing that is not a part of the natural world affects it.” More simply, it is the denial of the existence of supernatural causes. In rejecting the reality of supernatural events, forces, or entities, naturalism is the antithesis of supernaturalism.
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Is evolution the same everywhere in the cosmos?

Milan Ćirković has written an interesting piece in Nautilus (and featured on RealClearScience) titled, Why Darwin Needs ET. Ćirković is not a biologist; he’s a senior research associate at the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade and an assistant professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia and Montenegro. Nevertheless, the questions he poses in his article are interesting ones, and I’d like to hear what readers – especially those with a strong background in the life sciences – think of his questions, and his proposal regarding how scientists could go about answering them.

In order to avoid confusion, I should declare at the outset that Ćirković isn’t asking whether evolution generates the same outcomes elsewhere in the cosmos as the ones it generated on Earth. His question is a deeper one: he wants to know if it’s the same kind of process on other life-bearing planets as it is on Earth. In his own words (emphasis mine):

But does evolution operate the same on life everywhere? The success of Darwinian theory to explain life on Earth has lulled many of us into thinking that it must be. In fact evolution might have functioned by different mechanisms in Earth’s distant past as well as elsewhere in the galaxy. We could envision a planet dominated by Lamarckian inheritance of acquired traits, or a world where large mutations — and not the gradual variation of natural selection — are the main agents of change.

The first thing that strikes me about this paragraph is that it misrepresents how evolution occurs on Earth, in referring to “the gradual variation of natural selection” as the main agent of evolutionary change. It isn’t. Don’t take my word for it; listen to what biologists working in the field have to say.

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Chesil Beach is not high in algorithmic specified complexity

Tom English, in his recent post on this blog, has argued that:

Distinguishable entities operating identically by simple rules can form structures high in specified complexity

This is, of course, an example of a long standing critique of specified complexity. However, the critique is nonsense. The critique fundamentally misunderstands specified complexity.

Specified complexity makes no claims as to the probability of the outcomes or entities under consideration. It assumes that you have some other way of assesing that probibility under that given hypothesis. The only role of specified complexity is to justify rejecting a hypothesis if it renders the observed outcome overly improbable.

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Chesil Beach is high in algorithmic specified complexity

Winston Ewert, William A. Dembski, and Robert J. Marks II rebranded specified complexity as a measure of meaningful information, at the Engineering and Metaphysics 2012 Conference. In my mind, that was quite a remarkable event in the history of the “intelligent design” (ID) offshoot of “creation science” — particularly in light of the fact that Dembski and Marks changed the meaning of information in the Law of Conservation of Information from specified complexity to active information, back in 2008. But the organizer of that conference, Jonathan Bartlett, seems not to have noticed. He recently undertook to explain algorithmic specified complexity to the unwashed masses, but made no mention at all of meaning.

Jonathan approves of my observation, posted here in The Skeptical Zone, that the “conga lines” formed by hermit crabs are high in algorithmic specified complexity (emphasis added):

Tom English asked about Hermit Crabs forming a line. I agree that this exhibits high ASC for certain things (remember, ASC depends on what you are comparing it to). It gives a high ASC for the line compared to the hermit crabs just walking around. That seems like a success, not a fail, as you have successfully determined that they are lined up intentionally. Even though you don’t have all of the prerequisites for a design inference (at least in your post here), you have at least shown that intentionality on behalf of the hermit crabs is a live possibility. Since they are lining up for a particular purpose, that seems to line up with reality.

He has not responded to my main point (emphasis in original):

Distinguishable entities operating identically by simple rules can form structures high in specified complexity. That is, the crabs in the video differ in size, but not in the “program” they execute. Want more specified complexity? Just add crabs.

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Fatima: miracle, meteorological effect, UFO, optical illusion or mass hallucination?

Let me begin with a confession: I honestly don’t know what to make of the “miracle of the sun” that occurred in Fatima, Portugal, on October 13, 1917, and that was witnessed by a crowd of 70,000 people (although a few people in the crowd saw nothing) and also by people who were more than 10 kilometers away from Fatima at the time, as well as by sailors on a British ship off the coast of Portugal. On the other hand, no astronomical observatory recorded anything unusual at the time.

Rather than endorsing a particular point of view, I have decided to lay the facts before my readers, and let them draw their own conclusions.

Here are some good links, to get you started.

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