The New Atheism: A Failed Hamartiology

It is sometimes useful to remember that The Skeptical Zone was started in the naive assumption that intelligent people of good will could discuss important issues without undue rancor. (Ha ha ha!! Have you even seen the Internet!)

Anyway, I bring to your attention a rather interesting blog post (blogs? who blogs anymore?) by Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex: ” New Atheism: The Godlessness That Failed“. Alexander gives us some interesting data (frequency of search terms taken from Google and other sites) that document a flagging interest in the “religion vs atheism” debates of the early 2000s.

Here are two (I think) revealing quotes that contextualize the decline of New Atheism in terms of changes in Internet culture:



The rise of the Internet broadened our intellectual horizons. We got access to a whole new world of people with totally different standards, norms, and ideologies opposed to our own. When the Internet was small and confined to an optimistic group of technophile intellectuals, this spawned Early Internet Argument Culture, where we tried to iron out our differences through Reason. We hoped that the new world the Web revealed to us could be managed in the same friendly way we managed differences with our crazy uncle or the next-door neighbor.

As friendly debate started feeling more and more inadequate, and as newer and less nerdy people started taking over the Internet, this dream receded. In its place, we were left with an intolerable truth: a lot of people seem really horrible, and refuse to stop being horrible even when we ask them nicely. They seem to believe awful things. They seem to act in awful ways. When we tell them the obviously correct reasons they should be more like us, they refuse to listen to them, and instead spout insane moon gibberish about how they are right and we are wrong.

To this, New Atheism had an answer: they are the ones who are blinded by Religion, and that’s why reasoning with them is useless. The New Atheism began to decline when that hamartiological answer was no longer adequate.

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82 thoughts on “The New Atheism: A Failed Hamartiology

  1. colewd: Can you start with a rigorous definition of this fact. :-).

    Sure thing. What I mean is the fact that species can be ordered in a hierarchy of ever more inclusive groups, that this ordering can be objectively recovered by statistical methodology, and that the same ordering will be recovered from independent character sets (consilience). Perhaps you vaguely remember once or twice being referred to Theobald’s explanation of this phenomenon?

    So, do you concur it exists?

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  2. So, do you concur it exists?

    It selectively exists. In the case of WNT post vertebrate yes in the case of pre vertebrate no.

    In sals flower it exists for the majority of genes but for some genes it does not. What do you make of this partial nested hierarchy?

    Just as it selectively exists for Mac OS computers. The word objective nested hierarchy seems a little mythical at this point.

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  3. To get back OT, the blogpost characterizes New Atheism as an aspect of the US American culture wars, and attributes its decline to a shift of focus in that fracas. That’s probably a part of the explanation, but since the internet reaches a bigger place than just the USA there must be dwindling interest in other places as well.

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  4. colewd: It selectively exists.

    It selectively exists? LOL. That sounds like you can’t make up your mind.

    Very well, given that the nested hierarchy is supported by a large subset of features, and an alternative has not been forthcoming, isn’t it about time to accept common descent? If it helps: that doesn’t automatically imply that evolution was unguided, not even concerning those genes that do conform to the phylogenetic tree.

    colewd: In the case of WNT post vertebrate yes in the case of pre vertebrate no.

    That’s lovely, but there is no post- and pre-vertebrate in that figure; they are all modern species. You never got the hang of reading phylogenetic trees, did you?

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  5. colewd:
    Entropy,

    You are a solid faithful materialist.:-). Your comment on evolutionary theory is right and it is ultimately flexible to adjust when the data does not comply with the current paradigm.This is called un falsifiable as far as I am concerned.I now think materialism is a science distractor as I see so many misguided papers as a result of this philosophy.Poor conclusions create a foundation for wasted time.

    You are flailing about, Bill. You are accusing scientists of adjusting theories because of new information, as if that is a bad thing. You pretend as if gene loss is a problem for common ancestry, for some crazy reason. Even more, you still don’t understand the relationship of noise to signal, a basic problem that all scientists deal with.

    Again, try to learn the science instead of spewing rhetoric. Your posts will greatly improve because of it.

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  6. Corneel,

    Very well, given that the nested hierarchy is supported by a large subset of features, and an alternative has not been forthcoming, isn’t it about time to accept common descent? If it helps: that doesn’t automatically imply that evolution was unguided, not even concerning those genes that do conform to the phylogenetic tree.

    I don’t really see the relationship you guys do.

    You assert the nested hierarchy is evidence for common descent and we all agree there is some common descent but common descent does not explain the diversity of life so help me understand the significance of the claim.

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  7. T_aquaticus,

    You are flailing about, Bill. You are accusing scientists of adjusting theories because of new information, as if that is a bad thing. You pretend as if gene loss is a problem for common ancestry, for some crazy reason.

    Establishing gene loss is possible and establishing it is a cause of an observed pattern are two different things.

    Its not just adjusting the theories your creating features out of problems that are falsifications of your original concept. What you need to adjust are your claims based on the new evidence. Like making a bold statement is that UCD is no longer supported by the evidence.

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  8. colewd:
    You are a solid faithful materialist.:-).

    No, I’m not. I’m only a “materialists” as a plausible conclusion. If there’s ever evidence that there’s something else besides the physical, I’ll update accordingly.

    colewd:
    Your comment on evolutionary theory is right and it is ultimately flexible to adjust when the data does not comply with the current paradigm. This is called un falsifiable as far as I am concerned.

    That’s because you’re mistaking a theory for all of its contents. Some paradigms and hypotheses within the body of the theory get rejected precisely because they’ve been falsified, and the theory has to be adjusted accordingly, as long as the main points about it remain. If the whole idea of evolution were to be falsified, species not diverging into new ones, etc, then the whole theory would have to be rejected. So far, as I said, that hasn’t happened.

    Do you think that theories should remain unchanged when we realize that the phenomena involved are not exactly what was first thought?

    colewd:
    I now think materialism is a science distractor as I see so many misguided papers as a result of this philosophy.

    How do you suggest it be superseded? By making unwarranted assumptions about what’s “out there”? Science advances on the foundations that it can deal with. Show scientists that there’s non-physical stuff that we can rely on, test, show to exist, use confidently in our experimentation, and then we’ll have something other than physicalism in science. In the meantime, what harm does it make to rely on what’s reliable?

    colewd:
    Poor conclusions create a foundation for wasted time.

    Which is why we have to insist on well supported foundations, rather than some philosophically backwards and scientifically absurd proposal like ID.

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  9. colewd:
    I don’t really see the relationship you guys do.

    it seems like you don’t want to see it.

    colewd:
    You assert the nested hierarchy is evidence for common descent and we all agree there is some common descent but common descent does not explain the diversity of life so help me understand the significance of the claim.

    Common descent is not supposed to explain the diversity of life. It explains its unity. The common features, and the distribution of features across life forms. The diversity of life is explained by divergence.

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  10. colewd:
    Establishing gene loss is possible and establishing it is a cause of an observed pattern are two different things.

    Sure thing, which is why it has been treated as a hypothesis, and then tested for the cases where the “scars” of gene loss have been found. It does happen. We can check evidence that it does happen.

    Why shouldn’t we think that if it happens now it has happened before? Why shouldn’t we think that the number of losses increase with time? Why shouldn’t we think that the rates might differ under different environments / circumstances? We have to be reasonable Bill. What else do you expect? For us to jump to unwarranted conclusions?

    colewd:
    Its not just adjusting the theories your creating features out of problems that are falsifications of your original concept.

    Creating features? We see the evidence Bill. We don’t change things out of thin air. We don’t jump to conclusions. gene loss is a reasonable phenomenon. We know of no reason why genes should not be lost. We have seen a lot of evidence that it happens. Should we ignore the evidence? See a weird pattern and jump to the conclusion that species have not diverged from prior populations, against the enormous body of evidence that they have diverged and continue doing so, just because you’re eager to jump?

    colewd:
    What you need to adjust are your claims based on the new evidence.

    Which is done. All the time.

    colewd:
    Like making a bold statement is that UCD is no longer supported by the evidence.

    But this is not true Bill. I’d be happy to try and break paradigms. But I have to be very careful that I break them right. Trying to break them with faulty data, naive expectations, and faulty thinking won’t work.

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  11. Entropy:
    Why the hell would new atheism, or any other atheism, be a hamartiology?

    There’s a common religious view that humans are inherently evil (fallen, whatever), and need religion to be good. The new atheist movement was based partly on the opposite view, that humans were basically good but religion inspired us to do evil things (e.g. “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”). That is the hamartiology he’s talking about.

    And it did fail. It turns out that humans are kind of jerks, with or without religion. When that became clear, a lot of the impetus for the movement dissipated; going from “we need to get rid of religion because it’s the source of evil” to “we need to get rid of religion because it’s factually wrong” really decreased the urgency behind it. And the people who’d been pushing atheism because they saw it as a way to improve society, dropped that and started pushing for things like social justice more directly.

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  12. colewd: You assert the nested hierarchy is evidence for common descent and we all agree there is some common descent but common descent does not explain the diversity of life so help me understand the significance of the claim.

    But you are not actually interested in the diversity of life; You are interested in a possible divine origin of complex adaptations, especially in humans. Common descent isn’t relevant to that issue, hence the acceptance of/ indifference to common descent by some of your big heroes in the ID movement (Behe, Puccio).

    The only issue to which common descent is relevant is whether humans evolved from non-human ancestors. Well, I had to shave my ears this morning, so I am not particularly shocked by the revelation that chimps are our close relatives. More importantly, I don’t see how Common Design can salvage our dignity: “Look humanity: I made you a modification of this Design. It’s got these handy opposable thumbs, but you do need to shave your back and legs once in a while.” I sincerely hope that you demonstrate some maturity and accept the fact that humans are one with all life.

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  13. Gordon Davisson: It turns out that humans are kind of jerks, with or without religion.

    Heh, true. The only difference I can spot is how being a jerk is justified.

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  14. Corneel,

    But you are not actually interested in the diversity of life; You are interested in a possible divine origin of complex adaptations, especially in humans. Common descent isn’t relevant to that issue, hence the acceptance of/ indifference to common descent by some of your big heroes in the ID movement (Behe, Puccio).

    I am like Behe and Puccio interested in exploring mind as a mechanistic explanation for the diversity of life. Whether chimps and humans are related by reproduction that is up to science to figure out. In a conversation with a Harvard geneticist he agrees this transition probably required some “outside” tweaking.

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  15. colewd:
    T_aquaticus,

    Establishing gene loss is possible and establishing it is a cause of an observed pattern are two different things.

    How is gene loss not consistent with the pattern we observe?

    Its not just adjusting the theories your creating features out of problems that are falsifications of your original concept.What you need to adjust are your claims based on the new evidence.Like making a bold statement is that UCD is no longer supported by the evidence.

    You still don’t understand noise and signal. Please, read some basic books on statistics and science.

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  16. colewd:
    Corneel,

    I am like Behe and Puccio interested in exploring mind as a mechanistic explanation for the diversity of life.Whether chimps and humans are related by reproduction that is up to science to figure out.In a conversation with a Harvard geneticist he agrees this transition probably required some “outside” tweaking.

    The problem is that all you ever do is argue against evolution. You never present positive evidence or scientific tests to support your claims.

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  17. colewd: In a conversation with a Harvard geneticist he agrees this transition probably required some “outside” tweaking.

    LOL! “Some unidentified authority figure agreed with me, so ID-Creationism must be correct.”

    You’ve become such a sad caricature of a Creationist .

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  18. T_aquaticus,

    How is gene loss not consistent with the pattern we observe?

    Too frequent for it to get fixed in the population. See Lenski. Gene loss in this case can also take out cells and tissue.

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  19. T_aquaticus,

    The problem is that all you ever do is argue against evolution. You never present positive evidence or scientific tests to support your claims.

    All the evidence that I have been showing supports mind as the most likely mechanistic explanation. Sal’s flower does, so does Winstons dependency graph and the WNT non vertebrate pattern. We also have gpuccio sequence comparison data and the flagellar knockout experiments. You will deny all this is evidence …..wait for it 🙂

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  20. colewd: In a conversation with a Harvard geneticist he agrees this transition probably required some “outside” tweaking.

    “2001 a space odyssey” is science fiction Bill.

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  21. colewd,

    “mind as the most likely mechanistic explanation.”

    Yet Dembski & other DI leaders have said IDT is explicitly *not* a mechanistic theory. Are you trying to mechanize minds?!

    There are too many loose ‘sciency’ voices speaking, Bill, which don’t actually represent IDT, just rather their own pet ID theory, completely personalized so as to escape all ‘fair’ scrutiny in public. You should look into that too & come back with the reflexive results.

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  22. colewd:
    All the evidence that I have been showing supports mind as the most likely mechanistic explanation.

    Really? Where’s the evidence that minds can do anything, let alone exist, all by themselves? Where’s the evidence of the existence of minds before there were organisms with minds?

    That’s not what ID is about? They don’t care about the most important point in their own supposed “research”? They don’t care about the very foundations of their “science”? Well, then they have a foundational problem, one they do not want to, or cannot, solve.

    colewd:
    Sal’s flower does,

    Salvador doesn’t know what DNA is, yet keeps ridiculing himself talking about DNA, going from blunder to blunder. He present data that contradict his points imagining that they support him. Given that, Salvador cannot be taken seriously about anything.

    colewd:
    so does Winstons dependency graph

    It’s more likely that you don’t understand what that graph is supposed to show and how it was built (not that it means much in scientific terms either way).

    colewd:
    and the WNT non vertebrate pattern.

    Do you know the term cherry-picking? The authors did mention that they chose that protein family for its interesting pattern of gene losses Bill. Not all genes display such patterns. The authors were looking for interesting families, which means it’s, naturally and by design, a biased analysis. They do not represent all protein families, just the ones where expansion and loss are out of the ordinary. Given that, you were saying?

    colewd:
    We also have gpuccio sequence comparison data

    The sequence comparison data performed by gpuccio, besides being based on poor and naive understanding of sequence comparisons, are contradictory to his own statements elsewhere. They imply that evolution does explore a huge amount of sequence space, at least at the timespan he does mention: 400 million years. He then goes on to apply the same idea (enough time for saturation), to divergences occurring a few million years ago, since he assumes that the same rule applies after the 400 million years. That would mean that huge amounts of sequence space are explored in a few million years, or less. From that, we’d have to conclude that evolutionary phenomena have no trouble introducing information into genomes, and those “jumps” he “sees” are a joke.

    colewd:
    and the flagellar knockout experiments.

    What do you think those flagellar knockout experiments demonstrate Bill? I think they show that some proteins cannot be removed without damaging the flagellum, while others harm it, but do not stop it from working somewhat. What does this mean according to you?

    colewd:
    You will deny all this is evidence …..wait for it 🙂

    I think that the point is not whether we will deny that to be evidence, but whether you understand why the supposed evidence is not compelling. Start with the gene loss example. Why would it be right to choose a protein that shows interesting patterns of gene loss and claim it to break evolutionary biology against the evidence that there’s such a thing as gene loss, and that there’s evolution? I really want to know why would you give it such enormous weight despite the pattern can be explained so cleanly by common phenomena.

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  23. colewd:
    T_aquaticus,

    Too frequent for it to get fixed in the population.See Lenski.

    How does Lenski’s work support your argument?

    Gene loss in this case can also take out cells and tissue.

    What cells or tissues are humans missing due to the GULO pseudogene?

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  24. T_aquaticus,

    What cells or tissues are humans missing due to the GULO pseudogene?

    What does this have to do with the WNT/Beta catenin pathway?

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  25. T_aquaticus,

    How does Lenski’s work support your argument?

    Gene loss is not getting fixed in the population. This is required for gene loss explaining the pattern.

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  26. colewd:
    T_aquaticus,

    Gene loss is not getting fixed in the population.This is required for gene loss explaining the pattern.

    Lenski is an author on this paper:

    “Twelve populations of Escherichia coli B all lostd-ribose catabolic function during 2,000 generations of evolution in glucose minimal medium. We sought to identify the population genetic processes and molecular genetic events that caused these rapid and parallel losses. Seven independent Rbs−mutants were isolated, and their competitive fitnesses were measured relative to that of their Rbs+ progenitor. These Rbs− mutants were all about 1 to 2% more fit than the progenitor. A fluctuation test revealed an unusually high rate, about 5 × 10−5 per cell generation, of mutation from Rbs+ to Rbs−, which contributed to rapid fixation.”
    https://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1003617

    They observed gene loss in Lenski’s experiment, and they became fixed in the population.

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  27. colewd:
    T_aquaticus,

    What does this have to do with the WNT/Beta catenin pathway?

    Which tissues or cells are these species missing that have deletions for these genes?

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  28. colewd: Gene loss is not getting fixed in the population.

    What in your psychology is it that makes it okay or you to state things as fact that you haven’t bothered to check?

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  29. colewd:
    Gene loss is not getting fixed in the population. This is required for gene loss explaining the pattern.

    Interesting. You understand that requirements have to be met before gene losses would explain these patterns. Well, consider them met: there’s evidence of gene losses. There’s also evidence of gene losses getting fixed in populations.

    On the other hand, we have your cart-before-the-horse. There’s no evidence of minds existing without everything that accompanies minds (bodies, brains, etc). No evidence of minds producing anything on their own. No evidence of minds existing before organisms with minds appeared in the scene. Yet, for you, none of that is required for “a mind” to “explain” those patterns.

    Don’t you find that a bit contradictory? A bit puzzling? A bit, just a tiny bit, like an absurd, abysmal, double standard?

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  30. Rumraket: What in your psychology is it that makes it okay or you to state things as fact that you haven’t bothered to check?

    Probably the same thing that makes him repeat his long discredited ID-Creationist claims ad nauseum like a trained parrot.

    Awk! Awk! A mind did it! A mind did it! Awk!

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  31. colewd:

    All the evidence that I have been showing supports mind as the most likely mechanistic explanation. Sal’s flower does…

    At this rate, I don’t think Bill will ever understand that diagram.

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  32. For colewd:

    “Here we conduct a comparative genomic analysis and a literature survey to identify 80 nonprocessed pseudogenes that were inactivated in the human lineage after its separation from the chimpanzee lineage. Many functions are involved among these genes, with chemoreception and immune response being outstandingly overrepresented, suggesting potential species-specific features in these aspects of human physiology. To explore the possibility of adaptive pseudogenization, we focus on CASPASE12, a cysteinyl aspartate proteinase participating in inflammatory and innate immune response to endotoxins. We provide population genetic evidence that the nearly complete fixation of a null allele at CASPASE12 has been driven by positive selection, probably because the null allele confers protection from severe sepsis.”
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361800/

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