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. I have never had any interest in the “religion vs . atheism” debates. I never had any interest in reading Dawkins’ atheist arguments. And, for that matter, I always (for as long as I can remember) doubted the “rational agent” theories of human behavior. Or, to say it in a different way: rationality is irrational; logic is illogical.

    People are very complex. Biological systems are very complex. Our behavior models greatly oversimplify. AI theories greatly oversimplify.

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  2. colewd,

    I think what happened was that some zebra fish got an accidental mutation that made it easier for them to sing falsetto. But this ability was most readily evident when they did it above water. Other zebra fish were attracted to the falsetto singing, they started hanging out more out of the water then in, a few more mutations, and basically this is how we ended up as humans. It makes sense.

    We later got more evidence of it, by showing that many human settlements began near the edges of water. Now the molecular data also supports this finding.

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  3. Most atheists didn’t give two figs about New Atheism. The mistake people make is thinking self promoted atheist thinkers somehow speak for all atheists. They don’t.

    Secularism is where you will find most atheists, which includes staunch support for religious freedoms. If you want to believe in God, go for it. If you want to debate our reasons for not believing in God, then we will do so. However, as long as government stays secular we really don’t care what you do in your own private lives.

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  4. colewd:
    Evolution according to Dawkins is an important part of New Atheism.

    This is more evidence that ID/creationists are more concerned about culture wars than they are science.

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  5. phoodoo: I think what happened was that some zebra fish got an accidental mutation that made it easier for them to sing falsetto.But this ability was most readily evident when they did it above water. Other zebra fish were attracted to the falsetto singing, they started hanging out more out of the water then in, a few more mutations, and basically this is how we ended up as humans

    The funny thing is that theory is perfectly compatible with design.

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  6. Well, one has to begin somewhere. Some people will start with the rules of logic and the scientific method. (FMM, you will remember, was good with one of those, but not the other.) If you think one or the other of those methodological items can’t be trusted, all the wheels fall off of debate and any belief is just as good as any other. So somebody’s intense feeling that God is watching him and that God wouldn’t let anybody just die, is just as important and correct to lean on as any theorem in math or whatever methods have produced a law of physics or some widely accepted principle of chemistry or biology. “Whatabout this or that” now works for every issue.

    The Central Limit theorem is just something atheists happen to like, etc. Since the theist can always always place the burden of proof on whoever she disagrees with, whether refrigerators and cars work or not, that’s basically the end of debate. The respondent is not allowed to rely on logic or science.

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  7. colewd:
    Evolution according to Dawkins is an important part of New Atheism.This data surfacing in 2013 and other issues really made the claims of UCD iffy.
    http://www.sci-news.com/genetics/article01036.html

    Bill, sorry to break these news to you, but UCD and evolution are not one and the same.

    Even more sorry to inform you that the kind-of-outdated news you linked support common descent of the displayed species.

    Also sorry to inform you, but atheism is about whether magical beings in the sky exist or not. Evolution is but one reason to doubt, but the absurdity of the gods imagined by people has been enough for atheism before evolution made it into the scene of human understanding.

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  8. phoodoo: Um,… no.

    Really? What do you know about design that would preclude it?

    An unknown designer with unknown abilities and an unknown goal is perfectly compatible with anything that is logically possible.

    Perhaps the goal was singing zebra fish and people were an afterthought.

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  9. newton,

    If Evolution was not an important part of New Atheism would that make the claims of UCD less iffy?

    To find evidence of common ancestors like the common ancestor of the prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell.

    Having gene families following the inheritance tree pattern of life.

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  10. Entropy,

    Also sorry to inform you, but atheism is about whether magical beings in the sky exist or not. Evolution is but one reason to doubt, but the absurdity of the gods imagined by people has been enough for atheism before evolution made it into the scene of human understanding.

    Atheism is about believing we are the result of a random accident. Right? The simple to complex model. What argument do you have for humans not being magical? Maybe best to define magical.

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  11. colewd,

    Atheism is about believing we are the result of a random accident. Right?

    Wrong.

    KN,

    FYI – “hamartiology” is misspelled as “harmatiology” in the OP title.

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  12. colewd: Atheism is about believing we are the result of a random accident. Right?

    No. Atheism is when you don’t believe in god(s). That’s it. If you don’t believe there’s a god, then you’re an atheist regardless of what you believe concerning the question of human origins.

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  13. T_aquaticus:
    Most atheists didn’t give two figs about New Atheism.The mistake people make is thinking self promoted atheist thinkers somehow speak for all atheists.They don’t.

    Secularism is where you will find most atheists, which includes staunch support for religious freedoms.If you want to believe in God, go for it.If you want to debate our reasons for not believing in God, then we will do so.However, as long as government stays secular we really don’t care what you do in your own private lives.

    I think this is correct. I really don’t much care what people believe, except insofar as their beliefs intersect with my life. Being a Christian is fine, so long as Christians don’t conspire to pass laws based on Christian doctrine rather than the wellbeing of the entire society. Being Muslim is fine, provided Muslims don’t conspire to behead homosexuals, blow up cities, etc. Believing in a “live and let live” doctrine is fine, provided we remember the adage (Justice Holmes?) that the freedom to swing your fist ends where the other guy’s nose begins.

    There are reasonable limits to religious pushiness just as surely as there are limits to pure tolerance. I’ve suspected that what we see in a forum like this is the religious degenerate fringe — those whose faith is so rigid that almost ANY new knowledge is a threat to be mocked and rejected. One need not be an atheist of any stripe to see that “my mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts” is a distressingly common human stance.

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  14. colewd:
    Entropy,

    Atheism is about believing we are the result of a random accident.Right?

    Once again, ID/creationists seek out culture wars, not science.

    If you could figure out how to address science instead of trying to score rhetorical points against atheism you might have a bit more success in understanding the science.

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  15. colewd:
    Atheism is about believing we are the result of a random accident. Right?

    Wrong. I told you, it’s skepticism about the existence of magical beings in the sky. That’s it.

    That thing about “random accidents” is an example of creationist loaded premises tactics, developed to defend their beliefs.

    colewd:
    The simple to complex model.

    That’s not atheism either. That’s what current scientific understanding suggests. Atheism is just skepticism about the existence of magical beings in the Sky. That’s it.

    colewd:
    What argument do you have for humans not being magical?

    You’re misunderstanding skepticism. Skepticism is not the exercise of proving that some proposal is false, but about expecting evidence for such proposals. Thus, it’s the other way around. What evidence do you have that humans are magical?

    colewd:
    Maybe best to define magical.

    I used “magical” here to mock the absurd beings called gods imagined by people. You know, absurd fantasies, like a being that’s intelligent, existing for an eternity with nothing to be intelligent about, bringing life forms into being with no more tools than a “mind” for example. There’s more, but maybe that’s enough for you to get the point.

    I’d expect that if you’re going to propose that humans are magical, then you’ll define your terms first, and then proceed with the evidence. Right?

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  16. Entropy,

    I used “magical” here to mock the absurd beings called gods imagined by people.

    This shows weakness in your argument that you have to label and mock someone who has a belief based on observation. Your argument is you lack belief. Thats a pretty shallow intellectual position.

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  17. colewd: This shows weakness in your argument that you have to label and mock someone who has a belief based on observation.

    Tell that to phoodoo, he does nothing else. Literally every single post he ever made on this forum is labeling and mockery.

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  18. colewd:
    Entropy,

    This shows weakness in your argument that you have to label and mock someone who has a belief based on observation.Your argument is you lack belief.Thats a pretty shallow intellectual position.

    This would be a good argument, if only your belief WERE based on observation rather than imagination and superstition. Alas, that’s all you have, and so you mock yourself.

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  19. colewd:
    This shows weakness in your argument that you have to label and mock someone who has a belief based on observation. Your argument is you lack belief. Thats a pretty shallow intellectual position.

    That atheism is skepticism about gods is not an argument, it’s an explanation.

    I mocked the magical beings in the sky, not “someone who has a belief based on observation.”

    I’d say that a shallow intelectual position would be one where explanations keep being ignored time after time. For example, when someone repeats, after tons of corrections, that atheism is about random accidents, or keeps mistaking evolution for UCD, or keeps imagining that some Venn diagram “makes UCD iffy” despite numerous explanations about why that’s not the case.

    ETA: added a few items.
    🙂

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  20. Entropy,

    I’d say that a shallow intelectual position would be one where explanations keep being ignored time after time. For example, when someone repeats, after tons of corrections, that atheism is about random accidents, or keeps mistaking evolution for UCD, or keeps imagining that some Venn diagram “makes UCD iffy” despite numerous explanations about why that’s not the case.

    I get it. You are explaining the universe as a brute fact. Then life can be explained as a brute fact and the truth of UCD is not necessary for your world view. There are explanations why it exists. Since I have not been able to falsify those and you simply dismiss them by assertion I think I will continue to pursue those ideas.

    Your magical friend in the sky is a straw-man just as my random accident is.

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  21. colewd:
    I get it. You are explaining the universe as a brute fact.

    Not explaining. I take it as such until something indicates otherwise. At some point we’d have to touch “bottom” and accept something as a brute fact (or a bunch of brute facts), don’t we? Or do you imagine your god as created by something else ad nauseam? So, do you have anything concrete and reasonable against brute facts? If so, then you have something against the mere existence of your god.

    colewd:
    Then life can be explained as a brute fact

    Not necessarily. If we knew nothing about it, then yes, we’d have to take it as a brute fact until more information arose, but, as far as the sciences go, life is a consequence of the way the universe works.

    colewd:
    and the truth of UCD is not necessary for your world view.

    Of course not. Life could have arisen a billion times or just once. That doesn’t matter. What matters is the evidence. So far it indicates UCD for the life we witness in our planet. Evidence could arise otherwise. So what?

    colewd:
    There are explanations why it exists.

    Which do not exclude the possibility that not all life forms are related by UCD. Its just that UCD is much more reasonable given the compatibility of all life as far as we have examined.

    colewd:
    Since I have not been able to falsify those and you simply dismiss them by assertion I think I will continue to pursue those ideas.

    I don’t dismiss them by assertion. I understand the way life diverges, and the Venn diagram you show supports common descent of the species involved. You just don’t pay attention to the explanations. Your lack of understanding of our explanations doesn’t make my rejection of your interpretations into mere assertions. But please, do pursue those ideas. Just do it honestly and with the aim of understanding, not just denying common descent.

    colewd:
    Your magical friend in the sky is a straw-man just as my random accident is.

    Well, every time you talk about random accidents I provide an explanation as to why that’s wrong headed. So far. nobody has explained why the magical being in the sky is a misinterpretation or a misinformed cartoon. It’s just a different name for a fantasy, and that’s precisely the problem.

    I’m willing to stop using the mock-naming, as long as you’re willing to read for comprehension and assimilate the answers, rather than repeat the same stuff as if we never explained why that was wrong.

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  22. Entropy,

    I don’t dismiss them by assertion. I understand the way life diverges, and the Venn diagram you show supports common descent of the species involved. You just don’t pay attention to the explanations.

    The explanations are not supported by the data if you do a little research. The genes are not following the tree. The explanations are simply commitment to common descent nothing more.

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  23. Entropy,

    I’m willing to stop using the mock-naming, as long as you’re willing to read for comprehension and assimilate the answers, rather than repeat the same stuff as if we never explained why that was wrong.

    You have a deal 🙂

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  24. colewd:
    The explanations are not supported by the data if you do a little research. The genes are not following the tree.

    What you mean to say, I guess, is that the gene content / sharing doesn’t follow the tree. But that presupposes that you’re paying attention to the whole of the Venn diagram, rather than focusing on what you expect to see given your little understanding of what common ancestry implies, and what each section of a Venn diagram displays.

    colewd:
    The explanations are simply commitment to common descent nothing more.

    Nope. the explanations require understanding of lineage separation and divergence, along with better understanding of Venn diagrams, limitations on deciding which genes are “the same” in all of those organisms, as well as limitations in detection of genes in eukaryotes, specially because eukaryotic genomes tend to be incomplete.

    If I were you, pursuing an issue, I’d try and put the data into a tree, with numbers, to see if this thing makes sense, rather than focusing on two-way intersections in the Venn diagram. You’ll discover that there’s large branches in the tree where differential gene loses are not just possible but expected, and that they account for your “iffys.”

    It’s not commitment to common ancestry Bill. It’s whether it makes sense given the model of common ancestry. It does. Your “alternative,” on the other hand, has profound foundational philosophical/scientific problems. Thus, going there when there’s simple everyday phenomena that account for the data given common ancestry, would be absurd.

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  25. Entropy,

    It’s not commitment to common ancestry Bill. It’s whether it makes sense given the model of common ancestry. It does. Your “alternative,” on the other hand, has profound foundational philosophical/scientific problems. Thus, going there when there’s simple everyday phenomena that account for the data given common ancestry, would be absurd.

    It’s not looking like it explains much of the gene patterns. Here is a paper I came across this am that shows a gene (WNT) I am familiar with. As you can see the gene family does not even differentiate vertebrates from invertebrates and there is very little pattern to the distribution in invertebrates where 2 species that supposedly share a common ancestor have a very different gene set.
    http://agri.ckcest.cn/ass/NK002-20160815003.pdf

    As far as brute facts go I see extraordinary evidence there is a mind behind this universe. If you like we can call that a brute fact 🙂

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  26. colewd:
    It’s not looking like it explains much of the gene patterns.Here is a paper I came across this am that shows a gene (WNT) I am familiar with.As you can see the gene family does not even differentiatevertebrates from invertebrates and there is very little pattern to the distribution in invertebrates where 2 species that supposedly share a common ancestor have a very different gene set.
    http://agri.ckcest.cn/ass/NK002-20160815003.pdf

    I don’t see why every single gene family should differentiate between vertebrates and invertebrates Bill. What I note, though, is that you think that if some pattern doesn’t follow your naive, little-informed, expectations, then you jump to the conclusion that there’s no common ancestry.

    Oh, but not only that, you jump to the conclusion that there’s a “mind” behind it all. I find that to be very very shallow indeed, again, because your expectations about common ancestry are naive, and because your alternative has profound foundational problems.

    colewd:
    As far as brute facts go I see extraordinary evidence there is a mind behind this universe. If you like we can call that a brute fact 🙂

    I don’t consider extraordinary evidence to be synonymous with following poorly informed expectations. Instead of thinking that maybe you’ve got the wrong idea, you jump to the extraordinary conclusion that some profoundly problematic solution is the right one.

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  27. colewd: As you can see the gene family does not even differentiate vertebrates from invertebrates and there is very little pattern to the distribution in invertebrates where 2 species that supposedly share a common ancestor have a very different gene set.

    Are we looking at the same figure? The one where you can clearly see the loss of Wnt3 in the stem protostome? The one where all Platyhelminthes are missing the exact same genes?

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  28. colewd: As you can see the gene family does not even differentiate vertebrates from invertebrates

    Yes it does. Clearly it does. Vertebrates are clearly more closely related to each other in that pattern of gene loss, than they are to invertebrates.

    I explained all this to you here.

    And again here.

    and there is very little pattern to the distribution in invertebrates where 2 species that supposedly share a common ancestor have a very different gene set.

    I explained why that is too. It’s a tiny data set Bill. Using a binary states set(present vs absent) with 13 sites is next to nothing. It’s like trying to build a phylogeny using a sequence of about 8 nucleotides from each species. It is a remarkable fact that even for so little data there is still obvious nesting hierarchical structure screaming at you, in it.

    Or another analogy, it is like trying to generate solid statistics about the demographic usage and risks of long-term tobacco smoking by randomly polling 20 people out of a population of 1 billion. It should not be a suprise that you get deviations from the real pattern with so little data.

    Even so, we can still see a significant nesting hierarchical pattern in that wnt family data.

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  29. Corneel: Are we looking at the same figure? The one where you can clearly see the loss of Wnt3 in the stem protostome? The one where all Platyhelminthes are missing the exact same genes?

    I continue to be astonished at Bill’s volitional blindness to it. It’s honestly rather amazing in a way.

    I even explained it to him over four hours ago, and now he shows up here to state the same mindless inanity again as if he hasn’t been corrected on it within a few hours.

    Bill has done the reset switch again.

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  30. Rumraket: I continue to be astonished at Bill’s volitional blindness to it. It’s honestly rather amazing in a way.

    If you squint real hard, and tilt your head, you can see it spells MIND in that picture.

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  31. Rumraket,

    I even explained it to him over four hours ago, and now he shows up here to state the same mindless inanity again as if he hasn’t been corrected on it within a few hours.

    You have not explained anything Rum. Typing 200 words of gibberish is not an explanation. You clearly do not understand this problem. We are seeing mixing and matching at the cellular and tissue level that is not following the tree.

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  32. Entropy,

    I don’t consider extraordinary evidence to be synonymous with following poorly informed expectations. Instead of thinking that maybe you’ve got the wrong idea, you jump to the extraordinary conclusion that some profoundly problematic solution is the right one.

    Without design as an alternative hypothesis we are seeing poor explanations in many scientific papers.

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  33. colewd: We are seeing mixing and matching at the cellular and tissue level that is not following the tree.

    Concentrate on the branch labeled “Chordates”. It contains the first six species in the table (hey look who is top of the hill). How many gene loss events do you infer? Is it 8?

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  34. colewd: You have not explained anything Rum. Typing 200 words of gibberish is not an explanation. You clearly do not understand this problem. We are seeing mixing and matching at the cellular and tissue level that is not following the tree.

    hahaha, okay Bill. I don’t feel the need to rehash this. I’m pretty sure anyone reading this exchange can decide for themselves.

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  35. colewd: Without design as an alternative hypothesis we are seeing poor explanations in many scientific papers.

    Mmm, no.

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  36. Corneel,

    Concentrate on the branch labeled “Chordates”. It contains the first six species in the table (hey look who is top of the hill). How many gene loss events do you infer? Is it 8?

    Corneel, I don’t really infer any. What is causing this pattern is not likely to be gene loss especially WNT gene loss where it is part of a very complex system. What we are observing is cell or even tissue differences. If you like I can cite a paper explaining this system.

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  37. Entropy,

    I don’t consider extraordinary evidence to be synonymous with following poorly informed expectations. Instead of thinking that maybe you’ve got the wrong idea, you jump to the extraordinary conclusion that some profoundly problematic solution is the right one.

    I have tabled it a brute fact. Problem solved . Now you don’t have to deal with it every time a new discovery contradicts evolutionary theory. :-). If you are going to label the four forces and the existence of matter a brute fact why not just wrap mind into the assertion?

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  38. colewd: Corneel, I don’t really infer any. What is causing this pattern is not likely to be gene loss especially WNT gene loss where it is part of a very complex system.

    But the organisms are living without those genes just fine, so clearly they don’t need them.

    What we are observing is cell or even tissue differences. If you like I can cite a paper explaining this system.

    You must be really clever then, for you to cite a paper that explains it. That must totally mean you’re right about all this. Those organisms lacking those genes, they clearly can’t have lost them because otherwise they’d be dead. So now that they are alive, but don’t have them, well it must be a miracle. They’re being kept alive by a continuing miracle. It can’t be that those genes aren’t strictly necessary for those organisms. Nope, just can’t be. It must be magic minds outside of time and space.

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  39. colewd: . What we are observing is cell or even tissue differences.

    In a past not so long ago, you were a big fan of Common Design, which posits that the nested hierarchy can be explained by the fact that similar organisms have similar requirements. Yet now you are claiming that there “is no rhyme or reason” to the pattern and that there has been haphazard “mixing and matching” to meet every organism’s specific requirements.

    So for clarity: do you agree that the nested hierarchy exists or do you currently deny this fact?

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  40. Corneel,

    So for clarity: do you agree that the nested hierarchy exists or do you currently deny this fact?

    Can you start with a rigorous definition of this fact. :-). What does the nested hierarchy exist mean? If I look a parts of the tree of life I see a nested pattern. If I look at other parts I don’t. The WNT pattern in primarily non vertebrates is like scrambled eggs with a couple of exceptions. When I look at vertebrates it becomes orderly. This in itself is an interesting discussion yet may out of reach of materialists minds who will not consider design as a possible explanation.

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  41. colewd:
    Without design as an alternative hypothesis we are seeing poor explanations in many scientific papers.

    There’s some minimal qualifications before we could call something an alternative hypothesis, and “design” fails at the very foundation. Better no explanation, even a poor one, if available and reasonable enough, than a profoundly flawed one.

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  42. colewd:
    I have tabled it a brute fact. Problem solved.

    Is this something new for you? Because I’d say that you have “tabled it a brute fact,” even if unaware of it, long before you started complaining against brute facts.

    The problem here is that you cannot table something a brute fact if you cannot pinpoint such a fact. Where are these designers?

    colewd:
    Now you don’t have to deal with it every time a new discovery contradicts evolutionary theory. :-).

    I know of no discoveries that contradict evolutionary theory. I know of discoveries that have contradicted paradigms within the whole body, which have been corrected and improved. that’s how science works. But contradicting the very notion that life evolves and that life forms have diverged from previous ones? Nope.

    colewd:
    If you are going to label the four forces and the existence of matter a brute fact why not just wrap mind into the assertion?

    Assertion? Contrary to “design,” we can point to the forces and matter. There’s evidence that they exist.

    I’m no physicist, but, as far as I understand, they don’t think of matter, for example, as a brute fact, but as the consequence of the interactions of some subatomic fields or particles, or whatever. Perhaps they moved on to considering fields or whatever brute facts. At least for the time being. That’s how science progresses Bill. If we hit bottom, that’s the foundation, that’s the brute facts for the time being.

    I explained this before. What are you having trouble with?

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  43. Entropy,

    I’m no physicist, but, as far as I understand, they don’t think of matter, for example, as a brute fact, but as the consequence of the interactions of some subatomic fields or particles, or whatever. Perhaps they moved on to considering fields or whatever brute facts. At least for the time being. That’s how science progresses Bill. If we hit bottom, that’s the foundation, that’s the brute facts for the time being.

    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.

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