About Neil Rickert

Mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

On Paul Nelson on macro-evolution

Paul Nelson has argued against macro-evolution, and I sense that some folk here want to discuss it.  So here’s a thread where we can do that without taking other threads off-topic.

First, some references.  There are three UD threads on this:

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KF vs Toronto & Petrushka

Over at UD, KF has started a new thread criticizing Toronto.  He had earlier started a thread criticizing Petrushka.

It would have been nicer if KF had joined here to launch his criticism, instead of taking pot shots from UD where it is my understanding that both Toronto and Petrushka have been banned.

In any case, this is where the two accused can set the record straight by explaining what they actually meant.  Others can join in.  I may add something later.

Let’s keep it polite.  No character attacks.  Let’s stick to clear explanations of positions that KF might have misunderstood.  And let’s remember the rules of The Skeptical Zone and keep it civil.

Open for discussion.

Science and quantification

Barry Arrington has started a new thread over at UD, where he argues that it is perfectly okay if CSI (complex specified information) cannot be quantified.

I responded, in a comment, that he seems to be making the case that CSI is not a scientific concept.  It occurred to me that folk here might want to have a discussion on what is required of a concept, for it to be part of a scientific theory.

It seems to me that, at the very least, the concept has to be defined precisely enough that one can form testable hypotheses.  Moreover, these hypotheses need to be testable by independent researchers, and the tests need to provide some kind of reliability (i.e. reasonable agreement between results obtained by independent researchers).  Perhaps that’s weaker that quantifiable.  However, I think even that weaker requirement is a problem for CSI, as it is currently “defined”.

The topic is open for discussion.

James Barham on Mary Jane West-Eberhard and teleology

UD has featured a post by James Barham on the work of Mary Jane  West-Eberhard.  I shall be questioning Barham’s conclusions.

Unlike the subject of my previous column in this series, James A. Shapiro, she does not present her ideas as revolutionary or as a mortal threat to the Darwinian worldview.

In my opinion (as a non-biologist), she is entirely correct about that.

And yet, I shall argue that West-Eberhard—who is a researcher at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, as well as a professor of biology at the University of Costa Rica—has made a foudational contribution to a new and revolutionary approach to evolutionary theorizing that bids fair (whatever her expressed intentions) to turn mainstream Darwinism on its head.

Perhaps it challenges the strawman version of Darwinism that creationists and ID proponents love to criticize.  But I don’t see it as any challenge at all to Darwinism. Continue reading

The theistic world view

There was apparently an October 2010 conference at Biola U., under the title “God & Evolution.”  Videos for some of the talks are now available, and I have listened to three of them.  The ones that I listened to were talks by Denyse O’Leary, John G. West and Jay W. Richards.

The talk by Denyse O’Leary was the first that I listened to, and it is startling.  The other two are mild by comparison.  Early in her talk, O’Leary says:

The problem with Darwinism is that it is a cultural mood.  It is not really a theory in science.  If you look at the actual science literature, what’s available to show Darwinism is negligible, piddling; the major claims are not met. Continue reading

Objective and subjective

This is a topic where we can discuss what we mean by “objective” and by “subjective”.  It is not tied to anything specific.  We don’t have to reach a consensus.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate the issues:

  1. Is mathematics objective or subjective?  On the one hand, it is mostly a mental construct, so in some views that would make it subjective.  On the other hand, there is very strong agreement between mathematicians, and that seems to suggest that it is about as objective as anything could be.
  2. If we assume Berkeley’s idealism (the world is nothing more than a mental construct derived from our perceptions), would that imply that everything is subjective and nothing is objective?  Or, since we seem to all refer to the same things (cats, trees, etc) should we say that those are objective even if only mental constructs.


Truth, free will, logic

Questions about truth, free will, logic have been raised in another thread.  To help clarify the discussion, let’s separate those from the “necessary premise” discussion.

Here’s an example of the argument being raised:

True statements can only be expected to exist, and we can only expect to be able to deliberately discern them, if we assume the universe is governed by logic (necssarily rationally ordered) and if we assume for ourselves the libertarian free will causative capacity to discern them.

This seems a rather strange claim, given then many people believe that our best and most reliable true statements are those coming from science, and based on describing our world in terms physical causation.  Moreover, science is often considered to provide our best examples rationality and logical reasoning.

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Necessary premises

In another thread, WJM has frequently made arguments similar to this:

As I have said repeatedly, premises that support one’s arguments are only necessary if one wishes to develop a rationally coherent worldview. One is always, of course, free to believe whatever they wish – rationally justifiable or not.

Several of the other participants in the discussion have found such statements to be unsatisfying.  This post is intended as a place where we might hope that WJM will fill in some of the gaps.

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Empiricism vs. Rationalism

In another thread, WJM writes:

Also, when I say I must accept such a prioris in order to even hope to deliberately establish a rational worldview, that means that without such premises, reason (logic) itself breaks down into nonsense.

WJM is laying out the case for rationalism.  Typically, rationalism is described as assuming innate knowledge.  However, some instead assume a priori knowledge.  Thanks to WJM, I now have an inkling on what might be intended by “a priori knowledge.”

The opposing philosophical position is that of empiricism, that knowledge comes through the senses.  Most of those posting here (self included) seem to be empiricists, while WJM is clearly standing for some version of rationalism.

This is intended as a stub topic, to allow comments specifically addressing the rationalism vs. empiricism debate.

Leo Behe on atheism

There’s an interview with Leo Behe, son of Michael Behe, that has just been published by the Humanist and is available online.  Several blogs have commented on it.  Since Leo Behe discusses some of the issues that have arisen here (and were unfortunately deleted), this interview might be something we would like to discuss.

In brief, Leo Behe was raised a catholic.  But he has since become an atheist.

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