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Peter

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Reply with quote  #1 
No, this topic does not belong in the Royal Genealogy section, though I suspect it will be as widely-ignored as if it did. It is not about the most recent common ancestor of royalty today, a subject I have admittedly written rather a lot on, it is about the most recent common ancestor of everything alive today, from the Emperor of Japan to a blade of grass to pond scum and microbes. This study explains the quest, and tentative results. And while I can link to no Genealogics chain of descent, it is in its own way utterly fascinating.

I think so, anyway. My only regret posting it is that my good friend BaronVonServers is not around to have a good to-and-fro with on the subject. Perhaps he will return one day and we can revive our jousts of old. I hope so, and wish him well in the meantime.
Wessexman

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Reply with quote  #2 
I looked briefly into the topic of evolution myself, and I was struck by how much of the evidence (e.g. the fossil record) really depends upon your perspective or theory to begin with. Something like evolution seems to follow if one assumes a naturalistic answer to the development of life. And if one has only a crude alternative in mind (something like creationism), it not hard to see why evolution seems obvious. I one day hope to do more reading on evolution and philosophy of science.
VivatReginaScottorum

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Reply with quote  #3 
Wessexman, I think that your point of view is inconceivable and probably impossible to reach unless one enters the topic with the predetermined view that a Creator exists and that the theory evolution is wrong. You can rationalise anything if you try hard enough, but any semi-objective analysis of the available evidence points clearly towards evolution by the mechanism of natural selection.
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That which concerns the mystery of the King's power is not lawful to be disputed; for that is to wade into the weakness of Princes, and to take away the mystical reverence that belongs unto them that sit in the throne of God. - James VI and I of England, Scotland and Ireland
Wessexman

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Reply with quote  #4 
I think it is the other way around. Take the fossil record. With some lacuna and puzzles, it does seem to point to a particular order of the development of life. If one starts with the assumption that the development of life must be naturalistic, then evolution seems an obvious way to understand the evidence of the fossil record. But if one abandons such assumptions, then there could be other ways to understand that record just as validly, it seems to me. This does not require assuming a creator (though, separately, I think there are some very good arguments for God, like Aquinas' Quinque Vitae). For example, a Platonic account of creation, in which species begin as Forms that progressively individuate until they burst into material existence, would explain the same data. This is similar to many traditional accounts, like those often described by Mircea Eliade, where corporeal animals were held as bound to their archetypes (including man). The order of the fossil record would simply reflect the fact that species with similar features come into existence in succession, representing the intelligible connection between their forms.

I am not saying this view is correct, just plausible based on the fossil record if one does not start with philosophical assumptions. Much of the evidence for evolution seemed of this sort to me when I briefly explored the subject, but I'd have to look into it in more detail to say so definitively (but where would internet discussion be if we had to be experts to offer our opinions!).

I will say I am far more confident that reason does not evolve. I think the arguments from reason establish that fairly well: a naturalistic explanation of reason undermines reason and with it naturalism. I am also far more confident that there must be teleology in nature at a basic level. This seems necessary to me to understand the regular and orderly nature of causation. Without there being final causes, or some alternative, cause and effect seem loose and separate, as Hume noted, and there seems no reason why one cause should usually be followed by a particular effect.
Peter

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Reply with quote  #5 
Quote:
Originally Posted by VivatReginaScottorum
You can rationalise anything if you try hard enough, but any semi-objective analysis of the available evidence points clearly towards evolution by the mechanism of natural selection.

That is pretty much how I see things. The alternatives usually offered are some variation on the Teleological Argument, superficially so attractive but inherently flawed, evidentially undermined and demonstrated over a century and a half ago to be superfluous as a means of explaining the development of life. And since the whole thrust of the argument is 'all this complexity could not have come about without someone, or Someone, directing it', superfluity rules it out of court.

What the Theory of Evolution says is 'yes it could, and this is how'. That theory has been refined and tested over and over and over again in the many decades since it was first propounded, and stands taller than ever. We cannot say as a matter of known fact that there is no Designer (though there are facts suggesting there is not, which I will get to), but we can say that there is neither need nor evidence of one, evolution could have accomplished everything by its own random processes. Therefore the Teleological Argument cannot be validly used in this context. All it amounts to is a suggestion, neither provable nor disprovable, not an argument.

The inherent flaws are two, first infinite regression and second, in the event that it is Someone rather than someone behind all this, the requirement for theodicy. Infinite regression is simple to understand, but I would say impossible to solve. Leaving aside our present understanding of how we did get here, along with all the life around us, and pretending for a moment that we have no clue (as, of course, for the vast bulk of human history we did not), the response to the statement 'How everything came about is God made it all' has to be 'Fine, but how did God come about?'. There are all sorts of impressive-sounding possible rejoinders, all translating to 'Dunno'. Well, why not start with 'Dunno' then? The introduction of God into the equation has solved nothing, just pushed the problem back a stage.

Theodicy is needed because while the beauty and grandeur of life are undeniable so is its unspeakable cruelty, the infinite suffering that has ravaged it ever since the first creature that was able to feel was eaten alive by something else, though of course not without reproducing first so the suffering could continue. If there is a Designer, then compassion is obviously not a feature of His psyche.

Nor does He give any sign of basic competence, which is where the evidential problem comes in. The more you look at anatomy, the more you look at cladistics, the more evident it becomes that there was never a plan. Things just happened, randomly, and when they happened to work they were thereby perpetuated. Perpetuated by the fact that they worked, not because they were the best way to do something, and our bodies and those of other creatures are littered with evolutionary left-behinds that because they cause no particular harm remain in useless existence and botch jobs which happened to be the first thing 'tried' that worked. Nothing else could possibly explain the course taken by the recurrent laryngeal nerve, as just one example of many.

Evolution does not have the infinite regression problem. It does not require theodicy or any analogue thereof. It explains all the otherwise inexplicable features of anatomy, and explains the incredible jumbles that are the animal and plant kingdoms. There is no feature of any living or extinct organism for which it cannot account, and over and over and over again it has been called to account, never failing. The first time it does we will have to come up with something else, but until that happens it is the ruling theory and, to the extent that anything ever can be, scientific truth.
Wessexman

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Reply with quote  #6 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter

That is pretty much how I see things. The alternatives usually offered are some variation on the Teleological Argument, superficially so attractive but inherently flawed, evidentially undermined and demonstrated over a century and a half ago to be superfluous as a means of explaining the development of life. And since the whole thrust of the argument is 'all this complexity could not have come about without someone, or Someone, directing it', superfluity rules it out of court.


Again this was not my sense when I looked into some of the evidence briefly, especially the fossil record. If one wished to be sceptical and not jump to conclusions or rely on one's assumptions about which explanations to consider and which to reject, it seems to me that at least some of the important evidence for evolution can be interpreted according to many different theories, including, but not limited to, some that invoke a creator or intelligent design or what have you. These theories have the same explanatory value and validity, it seems to me. Interestingly, the underdetermination of empirical evidence has been a hot topic in philosophy of science for a century, especially amongst naturalists, empiricists, and positivists.

Anyway, I must admit I don't know a lot about teleological arguments or intelligent design, though I do believe that there is a difference between traditional, pre-modern teleological arguments and modern ones like that of Paley. I would assume, however, that many such arguments for design are based on qualities of matter or material entities. That is, they point to the inability of matter to organise itself into complex, coherent, and persisting entities, and suggest another sort of substance or principle is required to bring about this organisation. I don't know if all teleological arguments, especially modern ones, are anything like this, but it is an old philosophical view, going back to the pre-Socratics. Whatever its merits, I don't think such an argument is open to the charge of infinite regress, as it only denies that material processes are self-organising.

I do think there must be teleology at the basic level of cause and effect, whether or not there is a specifically biological form of teleology. This is because we observe regular and orderly cause and effect. All things being equal, we expect a particular cause in a particular situation to bring about a particular effect in a regular and orderly way. If I throw a brick at a glass window, I expect it to break it and not to bounce off or disappear or turn into a bunch of flowers. But if we do not understand causes and their effects to be part of a causal chain that aims at particular end or final cause (telos), it becomes hard to see why a particular effect should follow a particular cause; why the brick should not disappear or turn into a bunch of flowers. As Aquinas puts it:

Every agent [cause or efficient cause] acts for an end: otherwise one thing would not follow more than another from the action of the agent, unless it were by chance.

This is why I take it there must be teleology in nature at a basic level (this is not like saying can the development of living things be due to chance, but is saying can every single observed causal regularity be chance? - I find that very hard to make sense of). The only alternatives seem to be a Humean shrug of the shoulders or something like occasionalism. This teleology doesn't have to be extrinsic perhaps, like that of a designer. Aristotle, indeed, argued for an intrinsic teleology in nature, in which natural things acted for an end without any extrinsic designer having to be directly involved.


Quote:

Theodicy is needed because while the beauty and grandeur of life are undeniable so is its unspeakable cruelty, the infinite suffering that has ravaged it ever since the first creature that was able to feel was eaten alive by something else, though of course not without reproducing first so the suffering could continue. If there is a Designer, then compassion is obviously not a feature of His psyche.

Nor does He give any sign of basic competence, which is where the evidential problem comes in. The more you look at anatomy, the more you look at cladistics, the more evident it becomes that there was never a plan. Things just happened, randomly, and when they happened to work they were thereby perpetuated. Perpetuated by the fact that they worked, not because they were the best way to do something, and our bodies and those of other creatures are littered with evolutionary left-behinds that because they cause no particular harm remain in useless existence and botch jobs which happened to be the first thing 'tried' that worked. Nothing else could possibly explain the course taken by the recurrent laryngeal nerve, as just one example of many.


Well, theodicy would only come up if one were invoking, as an alternative to evolution, a creator, and a creator who is perfect and perfectly good no less. So I don't think much needs to be said on this topic.

Still, one can undermine the so called problem from evil from the start. For the problem of evil to work there needs to be, even if just for the sake of argument, an objective standard of good. If what is good is just subjective, then it makes no sense to talk of the problem of evil. But in classical theism God is the good, so the one posing the problem is in the absurd position of appealing to the absolute good and suggesting he is not good enough.

Other than that, it should be pointed out that even most atheist philosophers of religion today do not think the so called logical version of the problem of evil - the claim that any evil is logically incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful, all good God - is correct. There doesn't seem any logical contradiction involved. So it is usually the so called evidential problem of evil that is invoked. This version says there is simply too much evil in the world, or something like that, for there to be an al-powerful, all good God. But this is a much messier, less clear cut sort of argument. It is, indeed, a probabilistic argument for a start - it doesn't say such a God can't exist, simply it is unlikely or very unlikely that he does. Most of the claims to support this problem, apart from the fact that they don't refute arguments for God in themselves (if someone comes up with a good argument for God, one has to examine that on its merits still), tend to just be emotional appeals, as yours is. They just say that how can such and such an evil exist if God is all-powerful and all-good, so emotional indignation is doing most of the work. At the very least such arguments would have to explore the theistic pictures of the universe in depth, which is rarely done (indeed, they tend to assume that the theistic universe looks much like the naturalistic one with a vague superior being taped onto it).


Peter

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Reply with quote  #7 
I haven't responded to the above, firstly because I have a rule against engagement with Wessexman; a rule which I admittedly bent, folded, spindled and mutilated in my preceding post, but did not snap. Secondly to eleventhly and beyond, for reasons I won't discuss because doing so would count as engagement. However, going through the day's anniversaries (although I gave up the Haec est dies experiment months ago, I still pass an enjoyable and instructive hour or so doing this every morning) I noted that today is the 61st anniversary of the passing of Wallace Stevens and, briefly refreshing my acquaintance with his work, I came across something that immediately struck me as a suitable reply. I don't imagine anyone else will understand the connection, but I do, which suffices. And, who knows, Wessexman may get a kick out of it.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,   
Why, when the singing ended and we turned   
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,   
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,   
As the night descended, tilting in the air,   
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,   
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,   
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night. 
 
Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,   
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,   
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,   
And of ourselves and of our origins, 
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

Wallace Stevens, The Idea of Order at Key West (1923)
Wessexman

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Reply with quote  #8 
I have never really gotten to the bottom why you won't engage with me, but I won't press that point. It is a shame. You are one of my favourite posters here, for everything. I certainly am not especially bothered about the situation, given this is but the internet, but it is regrettable in itself (compared to the other poster whom I have argued with here, where I only regret the disruption to the board).

I certainly enjoyed that poem. I also thank you for turning my attention back to the topic of evolution. It may please you, or not, that I have borrowed a copy of Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True and am devouring it. On topics like religion and philosophy Coyne is a rank sophist, worse than Dawkins and close to the likes of P. Z. Myers, but I will say he makes a very readable and approachable introduction to this topic and would recommend his work.
Peter

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Reply with quote  #9 
It pleases me. Dawkins is actually a brilliant science writer. I also enjoy his (anti-) religious writings, but he does go too far. When he sticks to biology he's really excellent, though, and if you haven't already you might like to try some of that work next.
Wessexman

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Reply with quote  #10 
I will make sure to read his work on evolution. Can't say I was impressed by the God Delusion when I flicked through it, but I have heard often that he is a very good writer on biology. For what it is worth, if you are interested in the problems of explaining reason naturalistically, I very much recommend Victor Reppert's work on the argument from reason, C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. On the role of teleology in nature at a basic level there has been a lot of work done recently (indeed, within philosophy of science, neo-Aristotelianism is having something of a renaissance), but Edward Feser's work is probably the best introduction.
Peter

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Reply with quote  #11 
If you flick through it, it will probably seem just snippy and sneering. Both of which things it is, but if you actually read it there is a lot of solid argument there. It's pretty funny too, though probably not to people with strong religious sensibilities. But actually although an unbeliever I get offended by things that strike me as gratuitously blasphemous, and that didn't really happen with this book. Where I really parted company with it was at the end, where Dawkins argues that it is child abuse for religious people to bring their children up in their religion. That's just stupid, if they believe in the religion what are they supposed to do? Pretend they don't? In the end I should be very surprised if the book has ever converted one single person to unbelief. It's pretty entertaining though if you are already an unbeliever, and if you do have faith and enjoy getting worked up, well there is something there to offend everybody.

I am interested in science, and I am interested in religion. Philosophy, not so much. Teleology is not and never can be a scientific idea. If it were true then it would belong to the realms of engineering and history rather than science, but all the evidence suggests that it is not true, and all the philosophy of science in the world will not make it so. I therefore wouldn't be planning to spend my time reading arguments for it, but thanks for the recommendation anyway.
Wessexman

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Reply with quote  #12 
I must say that I'm more interested in philosophy and religion than science. Much of my interest in science is philosophic, not strictly scientific.

Yes, teleology in this sense is really about causation. And causation is more a matter of the philosophical foundation of science - what is presupposed by science - rather than a matter for science itself. But the kind of teleology I mean is not that invoked by intelligent design theorists. It is basically the belief in final causes in Aristotelian sense (as well as causal powers and such things that go with them). As Feser puts it:

And the end or goal towards which a thing naturally points is its final cause.1 As the last sentence indicates, the notion of a final cause is closely tied to that of a telos and thus to the notion of teleology. But the adverb “naturally” is meant to indicate how the Aristotelian notion of final cause differs from other conceptions of teleology. For Aristotle and for the Scholastics, the end or goal of a material substance is inherent to it, something it has precisely because of the kind of thing it is by nature. It is therefore not to be understood on the model of a human artifact like a watch, whose parts have no inherent tendency to perform the function of telling time, specifically, and must be forced to do so by an outside designer. For example, that a heart has the function of pumping blood is something true of it simply by virtue of being the kind of material substance it is, and would remain true of it whether or not it has God as its ultimate cause.

Final causes were thrown out by early modern philosophers and scientists, such as Descartes and Bacon, in favour of a mechanistic understanding of cause and effect. The mechanistic understanding of cause and effect  essentially makes all cause and effect relationships akin to a billiard ball striking another one - this is why, as Feser notes, it is sometimes called push-pull contact causation. It wasn't that there was any decisive refutation of final causation by these thinkers. They just ignored the idea. The problem is that mechanistic causation tends to lead to the sorts of puzzles that Hume wrote about (and largely embraced); and, besides, seems to prevent us understanding regular and orderly causation. Some of these puzzles, apart from being discomforting to our common sense, seem to be an obstacle to a rational grounding of science (the problem of induction is an obvious example).

Feser's allusion to the heart pumping blood leads to an interesting further point. Biologists invariably make use of teleological terms or explanations. That is, they might talk of the function of the heart to pump blood around the body; or they might refer to the information encoded in DNA. But, of course, terms like function, information, and encoded are teleological (or intentional) terms. In an entirely naturalistic understanding of evolution and reality, they should be able to be reduced to non-teleological terms or explanations. And it is generally assumed by naturalists that they can be. But it remains to be seen how this is done (and this is beyond just the case of understanding basic, regular and orderly cause and effect non-teleologically). It hasn't so far been shown. And this is without talking about human reason and consciousness (where the problems for naturalism, and what Feser calls in that article teleological eliminitivism, seem even more glaring to me).
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