Moral luck

It’s Saturday night and you’re at a party.  You drink too much and foolishly decide to drive home.  On the way, you lose control of your car.  Then one of two things happens:

Scenario A

There is no traffic around.  Your out-of-control car careens across the left lane and into a ditch.  It hits a fence post.  The car is damaged, but you are unhurt.  The police come  and arrest you for driving under the influence.

Scenario B

A car is approaching.  Your out-of-control car careens across the left lane and clips the oncoming car, which crashes into a tree.  The driver and her two young children are killed.  The police come and arrest you.  You are charged with manslaughter.

The crucial difference between the two scenarios is sheer luck.  In scenario A, you were simply lucky that no traffic was around.  In scenario B, your luck wasn’t as good, and three people ended up dead.

You made the same irresponsible decision — to drink and drive — in both scenarios.  Is your moral culpability greater in scenario B than in scenario A?  If so, why?


ID journal silently revises article

The online intelligent-design journal, BIO-Complexity (Robert J. Marks II, editor-in-chief; Douglas Axe, managing editor), has revised at least one of its published articles without giving any indication of change. “A Unified Model of Complex Specified Information,” by George D. Montañez, states that it was published on December 14, 2018, and makes no note of having been revised since. However, the article presently has two more entries in the reference list than it did on December 17, 2018, when I downloaded it. The announcments page of the journal says nothing about the change.

BIO-Complexity claims to be an archival publication. Thus the content should not change at all once it is released. The editors have given us reason to wonder how much of journal has silently morphed over the years. They should have required the author to submit an erratum or an addendum, no matter how benign the changes he wanted to make to the article.

I suspect, but cannot be sure, that Montañez changed the article merely to give credit to A. Milosavljević for a theorem, after learning of it from my post “Evo-Info 4: Non-Conservation of Algorithmic Specified Complexity.” If that is the case, then Montañez should have submitted an addendum explaining that he had learned of the theorem from me after his article was published. Changes to supposedly archival material are wrong even when announced, and are doubly wrong when unannounced.

It now behooves the editors of BIO-Complexity to make an announcement detailing the changes to Montañez’s article, and indicating whether any other articles have been modified since publication. If they have any sense at all, then they will announce also that they will never again change material that they represent as archival.


Conflicts and Fractures in the ID Community

I’ve committed the unpardonable sin several times of criticizing other ID proponents publicly, but when I think claims or methods need to be challenged, I feel obligated to speak out because I find myself contesting certain ways the ID argument is presented when I make presentations about ID and/or special creation.

The conflicts are over the relevance of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, Information Theory, Specified Complexity, Conservation of Information, Framing Probability Arguments, and whether ID is science.

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He’s baaack

Granville Sewell has posted another Second Law screed over at ENV. The guy just won’t quit. He scratches and scratches, but the itch never goes away.

The article is mostly a rehash of Sewell’s confused fulminations against the compensation argument, with an added dash of tornados running backwards.

Then there’s this gem:

But while Behe and his critics are engaged in a lively debate as to whether or not the Darwinian scheme for violating the second law has ever been observed to result in any non-trivial increase in genetic information…

Ah, yes. Our scheme for violating the second law. It might have succeeded if it weren’t for that meddling Sewell.


Correspondences between ID theory and mainstream theories

Per Gregory and Dr. Felsenstein’s request, here is an off the top of my head listing of the major theories I can think of that are related to Dembski’s ID theory. There are many more connections I see to mainstream theory, but these are the most easily connected. I won’t provide links, at least in this draft, but the terms are easily googleable. I also may update this article as I think about it more.

First, fundamental elements of Dembski’s ID theory:

  1. We can distinguish intelligent design from chance and necessity with complex specified information (CSI).
  2. Chance and necessity cannot generate CSI due to the conservation of information (COI).
  3. Intelligent agency can generate CSI.

Things like CSI:

  • Randomness deficiency
  • Martin Löf test for randomness
  • Shannon mutual information
  • Algorithmic mutual information

Conservation of information theorems that apply to the previous list:

  • Data processing inequality (chance)
  • Chaitin’s incompleteness theorem (necessity)
  • Levin’s law of independence conservation (both chance and necessity addressed)

Theories of things that can violate the previous COI theorems:

  • Libertarian free will
  • Halting oracles
  • Teleological causation

An ‘edgy new video series’ from the Discovery Institute

From ENV:

As the news hammers home to us, young people are especially vulnerable to poisonous, Internet-mediated messages. That’s one reason Discovery Institute has teamed up with a gifted cinematographer who wanted to create a new video series, Science Uprising, that would be relevant to viewers in their thirties and younger. The series will launch on June 3, with new episodes to be released weekly through July 8.

An Edgier Style
The new series will have an edgier style than anything we have produced in the past. What does that mean? Take a look at the trailer…

Science Uprising is premised on the idea that a majority of us share a skepticism about the claims of materialism — the claims that people are just “robots made of meat, with a really sophisticated onboard guidance system,” lacking souls, lacking free will or moral responsibility, having emerged from the ancient mud without purpose or guidance. And yet, however skeptical we may be, the media labor intensively to correct our skepticism. Popular science spokesmen like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson insist that people are anything but designed children of a loving, intelligent creator…

Each episode features a masked narrator. Why? Because much of the burden of resisting materialism falls to scientists and others in the universities who have been made to fear speaking out in favor of the design hypothesis.

Scientists and scholars who have spoken out, pulling the mask off materialist mythology, share the truth with viewers. From episode to episode, they include chemist James Tour, philosopher Jay Richards, neuroscientist Michael Egnor, biochemist Michael Behe, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, physicist Frank Tipler, and others.


Individuality, Truth and Freedom

John 8:32 …the truth shall make you free.

“I’m not a free speech advocate, let’s say, i’m a true speech advocate. which is to say that I believe people should say what they believe to be true” Jordon Peterson

Following Peterson’s advice, I write below what I believe to be true.

Our existence provides us with the potential to become free spirits. Nature has taken us up to the point where we then become responsible for our future development as individuals.
Individual animals are constrained to follow the nature of the species to which they belong. Humans have moved beyond this restriction, over and above the species nature, we have formed tribes and societies which establish laws and custome designed to govern the behaviour of the individuals within. Modern societies make it possible for each person to express their individuality. They allow more freedom and give more rights to their individuals than are bestowed upon them by being members of the species.

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Genetics and individual ‘smellscapes’

From an article in the New York Times entitled You Will Never Smell My World the Way I Do:

The scent of lily of the valley cannot be easily bottled. For decades companies that make soap, lotions and perfumes have relied on a chemical called bourgeonal to imbue their products with the sweet smell of the little white flowers. A tiny drop can be extraordinarily intense.

If you can smell it at all, that is. For a small percentage of people, it fails to register as anything.

Similarly, the earthy compound 2-ethylfenchol, present in beets, is so powerful for some people that a small chunk of the root vegetable smells like a heap of dirt. For others, that same compound is as undetectable as the scent of bottled water.

These — and dozens of other differences in scent perception — are detailed in a new study, published this week in the journal PNAS. The work provides new evidence of how extraordinarily different one person’s “smellscape” may be from another’s. It’s not that some people are generally better smellers, like someone else may have better eyesight, it’s that any one person might experience certain scents more intensely than their peers…

The scientists who conducted the study looked for patterns in subjects’ genetic code that could explain these olfactory differences. They were surprised to find that a single genetic mutation was linked to differences in perception of the lily of the valley scent, beet’s earthiness, the intensity of whiskey’s smokiness along with dozens of other scents.


What does S. Joshua Swamidass mean by ‘secular scientist’?

Apparently, he means ‘non-confessional,’ since he actively pits ‘secular scientist’ over against ‘confessional scientist’ at ‘Peaceful Science.’  

Swamidass’ chosen dichotomy may seem stark to some people, almost as a kind of ‘you’re with us or you’re against us’. Notably, it has achieved some success so far, mainly among natural scientists. In other words, you’re either with ‘mainstream science’ or you’re against it. Swamidass upholds ‘mainstream science,’ while at the same time promoting non-mainstream evangelical protestantism as a ‘confessionalist’ approach to the topic. 

“The science we are putting forward here is solid. It does not require a religious point of view to accept. Even secular scientists endorse it.” – S. Joshua Swamidass

The devil is in the details when natural scientists write: “does not require.” This is the legacy Swamidass’ confused embrace of ‘methodological naturalism’ as if it were free from ideology.

So, for Swamidass, Michael Behe (who while both challenging and praising him, called his ‘hero,’ before removing it for supposedly ‘confusing people’, with a mere explanation of: “what can I say?”) must be labelled as a ‘confessional scientist,’ even though he’s not an evangelical like Swamidass. In other words, Swamidass is dividing people into 2 camps, those who ‘confess’ their religion on the internet in public and those who are ‘secular’ in doing science. This is why Swamidass is intent on asking people to ‘tell us about yourself’ and is actively now flirting with forcing people to reveal their IRL identity on PS in order to participate there. 



Quick Question for the Judeo-Christian Believer Participants

I am curious to know if, based on your faith, you think it is possible for the human race to become utterly extinct. Does the free will we have been endowed with make even that awful fate possible, or do you think that, because of the particular interest God has in us (we being created in His image, for example) this is not something that would ever be allowed to happen? In a word, should we take steps to ensure that there will still be human life in 100 years, or (assuming–at least for the moment–that the apparent dangers to our continuance haven’t just been fabricated somehow) homo sapiens are safe in God’s hands. Continue reading


walto’s paper on prudential values

The journal Philosophia recently accepted a paper by TSZ commenter walto, entitled CHOICE: An Objective, Voluntaristic Theory of Prudential Value. Congratulations to walto.

Our discussion of walto’s previous paper was cut short due to censorship by the moderators. Let’s hope they have the sense to stay out of the way and allow open discussion to proceed this time.

Prudential values are a good topic for TSZ, and a nice change of pace from our usual discussions of objective moral values and whether they exist. Hence this thread.

You can download walto’s paper here.

I’ll save my remarks for the comment thread.


What do we know about Jesus’ burial?

In his final reply to my review of Michael Alter’s book, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, Professor McGrew takes issue with my claim that the story of Jesus’ burial is improbable at multiple points, accusing me of doing a priori history, of relying on doubtful assertions by Biblical scholars, of making too much of the argument from silence” (which he rejects in toto), of finding contradictions between the Gospel burial accounts where none exist, and of arrogantly alleging that the Gospel authors, who were far closer to the facts than we are today, must have fabricated details in their accounts, simply because they clash with our contemporary interpretation of Jewish law at that time. Am I guilty as charged? Or is it Professor McGrew whose understanding of history is faulty?

While reading Professor McGrew’s reply, it immediately struck me that there was one thing that he didn’t do: namely, quote from contemporary Biblical scholars who support his position. That’s because there are very few Biblical scholars who would agree with McGrew’s claim that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial are internally consistent, free from contradictions, and free from historical inaccuracies. With the exception of Ehrman’s contentious claim (which I defended, but did not endorse) that Jesus’ body was probably left to hang on the Cross for several days before being dumped in a burial pit, all of the other assertions made in my review regarding Jesus’ burial fall squarely within the mainstream of Biblical scholarship. In setting himself in opposition to the conclusions reached in my review, Professor McGrew (who is a philosopher, not a historian) is arraying himself against an entire field of scholarship.

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Pegging an IDist trope

I‘ve always been a helix-turn-helix kinda guy. That’s the way I roll.

My thesis research involved a couple of repressors – homeodomain proteins—that bound to DNA via helix-turn-helix DNA-binding domains. They controlled cell-type fates. Combinatorially.

(I also worked on HDAC-mediated transcriptional silencing, although at the time I was totally unaware that that was what I was working on. Awwwkward. That’s a story for another time.) For my post-doc , I was surrounded by people studying the co-operative binding and sequence-specificity of various helix-turn-helix proteins, and how they achieve transcriptional activation. There was some pretty seminal work done, to which I contributed precisely nothing. Not a productive post-doc, you could say.

Anyhoo, I never really paid much attention to Zinc fingers. Which was rather remiss of me, since the sort of modular DNA-binding activity that they have is pretty much ideal for building networks that regulate gene expression. But hey, grad students can be rather parochial.

Then our dearest Sal posted an OP here on Zinc fingers, playfully entitled “Giving Evolutionary Biologists the Finger!”

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Giving Evolutionary Biologists the Finger!

Evolution of KRAB Zinc Finger Proteins vs. the Law of Large Numbers

There are patterns in biology that violate the law of large numbers, and thus suggests Intelligent Design or at the very least statistical miracles. The pattern involves KRAB-ZnF proteins that have multiple zinc finger domains side by side that are inexact copies of each other and would require a scenario of co-evolution of their DNA binding partners with every additional zinc-finger insertion — a scenario indistinguishable from a miracle.

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What influences our biases?

Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder has a PhD in physics from the University of Frankfurt. Since 2006 she has written the popular weblog Backreaction as well a the book “Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray”. She has a very interesting OP on cognitive biases that apparently explains what influences our the decision making…

The OP is also linked to a presentation on How to Reduce Biases in Decision-Making.
I found Dr. Hossenfelder blog and the OP really intriguing because I could never understand why so many people would support ideologies that were pure nonsense or against scientific facts or logic…

Now I find it easier to understand those biases, although I still have a very hard time understanding why someone would deceive himself into believing something because of his or her preconceived ideas…

But, that’s a theme for another OP… 😉


Darwin’s God-The Omnipotent Natural Selection?

Darwinists are not much different than their God-fearing counterparts when it comes to their belief system. Theists believe in the omnipotent God, or Creator and yet Darwinists believe in the omnipotent, creative powers of natural selection.. In short, the belief systems are fundamentally the same, except that Darwinists supplanted the omnipotent God for another god-the omnipotent natural selection
Therefore, due to this widespread belief in the omnipotence of natural selection among great number of evolutionary biologists everything and anything in evolution can be explained by inserting the omnipotence of natural selection when scientific evidence is lacking… 

I call it the 1+1=3 (or any number you wish it to equal ) the first commandment of evolutionary theory, which includes that irreducible complexity coined by Behe, the chicken and egg paradoxes in the origins of life and life systems-the indispensable components need to be present for the life system to function, the miraculous appearance of genes in the supposedly evolved organisms and many, many more…
The most interesting, and hilarious at the same time, is that this believe is not consistent among all the Darwinists as it should, because there are so called errors (Lents) or imperfections, that at least seem to contradict the omnipotence of natural selection…However, what is consistent about it is that the omnipotence of natural selection is often applied when it is called upon… or what I call the natural selection of the gaps… 
One of the rebels, or misinformed Darwinists about the omnipotence of natural selection, is professor Losos… He seems to strongly believe that natural selection, while powerful in its creative works, is not really omnipotent, but works with the materials it has available…which implies what?

Here is his assay:


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