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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Discovery Institute reports on Vibrant Dance...finds abundance of left feet!

First read the report from Anika Smith...

Then consider this list of questions posed to atheists:

"But what about arguments for New Atheism? Casual perusal of New Atheist discourse reveals recurring themes. 

The New Atheism Cliff Notes:

1) There are no gods
2) Theists are IDiots
3) Catholic priests molest children. 

Surely there's more to New Atheism. Some old atheism (Epicurus, Lucretius, Hume, Russell, Quine) was pretty profound. New Atheism should be even better. Reason, Modern Science, Brights, etc.

I want to learn more about what New Atheists really believe. So I'm asking Moran a few questions, although other atheists (Myers, Coyne, Novella, Shallit, etc) are invited to reply on their blogs, and I will answer. 

Here are the questions:

1) Why is there anything?
2) What caused the Universe?
3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?
7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
8) Why is there evil?

I'm not expecting a treatise on each. Theists don't have all the answers. I don't expect New Atheists to have them either. But each metaphysical tradition -- Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, animist, old atheist, heck, even Scientologist and Raelian -- has addressed at least some of these questions, for better or worse. How do New Atheists address them? Just a few coherent sentences for each question that will begin a conversation. If any of the questions are too hard, say so and skip them. Soon, I'll post my answers as well. 

No peeking.

The rules:

1) Answers can't be limited to the shortcomings of theism (e.g. 'So who caused God?'). I'm looking for an exposition of New Atheist belief, not a criticism of theist belief. Mutual criticism will come once all beliefs are on the table. If New Atheist belief can only be expressed by negation of the beliefs of others, just say so.
2) Myers' "Courtier's Reply" gambit is fine. If you think that a question is nonsense, say so.
3) No changing the subject. New questions are welcome, once the old questions are addressed.
4) The Law of Snark Conservation applies; thoughtful courteous answers get thoughtful courteous replies.

I want to learn more about what New Atheists really believe."

Now you have the context for the P.Z. Myers post (PS - in the USA editions of the LOTR the character's name is spelled Smeagol rather than Smaegol):

Theologians nice to Myers...naaasty little Theologians...

P.Z. Myers was at his hissing best in reply to my recent philosophical questions for New Atheists:
...the graveyard of rotting ideas that the Discovery Institute calls a blog...a particularly crusty and dogmatic alchemist stirring beneath the cobwebs of his dead discipline ...imposing the cracked and cloudy lens of his superstition...
Imagine my surprise when a couple of days later Myers pens a post lavishly extolling...theologians(!):
I would never deny that there are many smart people among the believers, some are incredibly brilliant and thoughtful scholars. Theology is also awesomely sophisticated and complex...
"Awesomely sophisticated..."? Myers goes on with an unusually long post, part man-crush on Aquinas, part hissing rage, alternately praising theology and excoriating it for twenty five paragraphs.
What to make of it all? "Theology is also awesomely sophisticated and complex ... crusty and dogmatic alchemist stirring beneath the cobwebs of his dead discipline ..." Yet it seemed oddly so familiar -- and then I remembered my favorite movie scene. From Lord of the Rings, the famous Gollum-Smaegol scene, where Smaegol, a hobbit who retains shreds of his soul, struggles with his evil doppelganger, Gollum.
Life imitates art. Now let's review Myers' post, in context:


Anselm and Aquinas, to name a few, were men of genius who applied the power of human reason... and their intellectual craft...was remarkable...("Hobbits nice to Smaegol..." )

...misapplied as it may be prop up archaic superstitions.. ("sneaky little hobbitses...")

We should also recognize the historical fact of religion's influence on scholarship. If I'd been born a thousand years ago, I would have aspired to the priesthood myself; it was virtually the only outlet for men of the mind to apply themselves. Even up to about 500 years ago, it was almost the only option for the literate and bookish, and most of the smartest men in Western history made it to their position by virtue of the priesthood directly or indirectly, through a religious education...("Hobbitses good...")

That, of course, has all changed now, and I suspect that we can credit the proliferation of third rate minds in religion to the fact that there are secular options now, and the really brilliant men and women of our time can pursue science and art while completely bypassing religion, and they're smarter to do that than to continue to posture for the follies of faith. ("nasty hobbitses..." )

It happens even in mid-sentence: Smaegol:

But yes, religion is full of clever people who make sophisticated arguments, bolstered in particular by a long history of literate savants who built up vast archives... ("...master's my frieeend...")

...of painstakingly dense rationalizations... religion has accumulated an armor of twisty, convoluted logic to defend itself...(" don'ts haaave any friendsss...")
Myers sputters for several paragraphs about Adam and Eve, and from there on it's pretty much all Gollum:
I personally don't feel that I need redemption...disobeying a psychopathic tyrant seems rather commendable to me...clever minds have constructed an elaborate castle of wind and vapor for their fairy tales, but bullshit shoveled into majestic mountains must still slump into shapeless, decaying mounds when the props are knocked out with the facts...amounts to nothing but a heap of compost now. (...nasty Christianseees...)
So what occasioned Myers' little breakdown? My bet is that after one of Myers' recent ignorant posts -- 'Nothing abhors a vacuum; nothing caused the universe; philosophy is alchemy; there's no Moral Law' -- one of the better-educated (i.e. semi-educated) godless-cult members dropped Myers a line. Perhaps it one of the brightest of the Brights- a godless washed-up magician, or a New Atheist Buddhist faux-neuroscientist, or a 'Skeptic' naked lounge lizard and SGU special guest. Dawkins maybe. "You're making atheists look like a bunch of Luddites..." or something to that effect. So Myers wikipedia'ed Aristotle, Anslem, Aquinas (he just started with "a"; hasn't a clue about any of them), and, biting his lip, penned a couple of paragraphs about "genius," "brilliant men" and so on, praising and sputtering in turn.

It's an amusing battle in Myers' psyche, made public. P.Z. vs. Myers. Who'll prevail? The honest skeptic in search of truth? I'll put my money on the coprolalic narcissist.


Those of you used to a relatively cordial debate on this blog would be shocked by the tone of many Darwinist blogs.   The arrogance and nastiness represented on many Darwinist (or Evolutionist) blogs may well give you an insight into the character of the author and also his or her integrity.   A scientist who is confident in his point of view has no problem being courteous to his opposition in normal circumstances and keeps his temper under some kind of control even when pressed.   A religious zealot whose belief system is threatened, and whose belief system does not include any rational basis for determining right or wrong?   One can almost imagine a wild-eyed maniacal frothing at the mouth while in the process of pouring out bile in word form!


In the world of real science, what usually happens is that during research and in presentation of research a few nods to Darwinism that have nothing at all to do with the research will be tossed in and the actual discoveries tend to support the idea of design.   For instance, here is the Discovery Institute's take on Bonnie Bassler's astounding presentation of bacterial quorum sensing.   Her Darwinist presumptions show up at the start (in assigning ages to bacteria and mankind) and a couple of times in the middle and one big presumption at the end.   Other than that, what she shows us is a brilliant design feature of both bacteria and one particular squid that was useful to the research team that demonstrates a design that requires symbiotic relationships.   It should be inconceivable to the logical mind that all this information, this brilliant design of a squid-bacteria partnership and these chemical languages are all simply chance happenings.   But that is where Darwinist brainwashing has won the day.   No matter what is discovered, the information is wrapped in Darwinist paper and you have to unwrap the present to see the content which invariably makes more sense in a non-Darwinist context.   For instance, mutating bacteria are not the problem, but rather the selecting out from pre-existing information for only resistant bacteria to common antibiotics IS the problem.   Understanding quorum sensing can be the solution. 

Another Layer on the Information Story: Quorum Sensing

I was recently directed to a video lecture on the phenomenon of quorum sensing, the mechanism by which bacteria communicate with one another to establish the population density of micro-organisms of their own kind within their proximal environment. Bonnie Bassler, the lecturer in this video, does a masterful job of portraying fairly technical concepts and ideas to a lay-audience.

The purpose of quorum sensing is essentially to ensure that sufficient cell numbers of a given species are present before initiating a response that requires the population density to be above a certain threshold. A single bacterial cell secreting a toxin into a eukaryotic organism is not likely to do the host any harm and would waste resources. If, however, all of the bacterial cells in a large population co-ordinate the expression of the toxin, the toxin is more likely to have the desired effect.

Each species that employs quorum sensing -- which includes most gram negative bacteria, and also some gram positive bacteria -- synthesises a tiny signalling molecule (technically called an "autoinducer"), which diffuses freely across the cell's membrane. Autoinducers are species-specific, which means that each cell of the same species makes the same molecule. This means that the autoinducer is only present in high concentrations inside the cell when there are many cells of the same species nearby. Inside the cell, the autoinducer binds to an activator protein which is specific for that particular molecule and thus signals the bacteria to begin transcription of specific genes. As noted in the video, there is also evidence of a common autoinducer which is shared between many species of bacteria as a "conventional language."

The embedded video discusses the elucidation of this process and its application in regulating light emission in bioluminescent bacteria (in this case, the marine bacterium Aliivibro fischeri). The light results from the action of the enzyme, luciferase (so aptly named!). An activator protein, called LuxR, is responsible for controlling the lux operons, which are in turn responsible for the transcription of the proteins required for luminescence. These operons are induced when the concentration of the autoinducer specific to Aliivibro fischeri reaches a high enough concentration. This autoinducer is itself synthesised by the enzyme which is encoded by the luxI gene.

Quorum sensing is very wide spread, particularly in gram negative bacteria. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, for example, uses such "population sampling" processes to trigger the expression of a significant number of unrelated genes when the population density reaches a certain threshold. These genes subsequently allow the cells to form a biofilm (which increases the pathogenicity of the organism and prevents the penetration of antibiotics).

What is especially striking about quorum sensing is the species-specificity of the autoinducer, as well as the more common language convention. And one wonders -- naturally -- what kind of Darwinian process may have led to its arisal. We are only beginning to scale the foothills of multicellular developmental biology. But there is also evidence that similar processes of cell-cell signalling are at work in higher taxa in influencing how cells work together and co-operate as part of an interconnected unit.

Is it an over-statement to say that information runs the show in Biology?


There will come a day when the various great researchers and scientists and students exemplified by Bonnie Bassler and her team will come to understand that Darwinism has nothing at all to do with their research and in fact doesn't even make sense in the light of such research and the trickle of scientists walking away from Darwin will become a flood.   I hope the reader carefully considers the issue of information found everywhere in abundance with organisms, understand that information is not material in form and substance, and conclude that only supernatural intellect could have input all this information found everywhere in nature.


Anonymous said...

"One can almost imagine a wild-eyed maniacal frothing at the mouth while in the process of pouring out bile in word form!"

On your blog, one doesn't have to imagine - you've been frothing at the mouth for months now. If you're so confident in your position, then why do you have such a hard time being courteous? Instead, you call the commenters on your blog liars, vulgar, and various other insults.

Not so confident in your position then? I'll buy that, even if you haven't realized it yourself.

radar said...

I have not used vulgar language on this blog. I have identified lies and liars but without resorting to modifiers that would be construed as name-calling. So it is obvious that Myers uses such language and I do not. So your comment would be another lie proclaimed by yet another anonymous source who fears identifying himself and has nothing of interest to add to the discussion. In the blog world we call such comments the work of "trolls."

Furthermore, I hope readers note that you have nothing to counter the evidence presented but are instead making false charges to get people to ignore said evidence.
My position remains unchallenged and I have complete confidence in it.

Anonymous said...

Common Sense Atheism - The Discovery Institute’s 8 Questions for Atheists

Once again I ask, Radar: do you have a problem with anonymous commenters?

Anonymous said...

"I have not used vulgar language on this blog."

Nobody said you did. You accused others of doing so. But you couldn't say who and where. It was an unjustified accusation. One might even call it a lie.

"I have identified lies and liars but without resorting to modifiers that would be construed as name-calling."

Calling commenters vulgar when they haven't been vulgar would fall under name-calling. You have not yet been able to explain who you thought was being vulgar and why.

A lie is not just something you disagree with. Certainly not something you disagree with without being able to explain why. Which you do a lot on your blog.

There are no lies in my comment above. Your accusation is unjustified.

"My position remains unchallenged and I have complete confidence in it."

Which one?

radar said...

Much nonsensical stuff in this comments thread.

If a vulgar comment was made and I saw it, I deleted it. I would not repeat what was said because it was vulgar, duh!

My positions on various issues are crystal clear. No one who has read this blog for long can doubt it logically. You may disagree but please at least be realistic. I stay consistent and on point. I only change a position if the evidence warrants that change. Evidence and logic are key to learning. Vindictive harangues are not.