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Wet Bulb 35°C

08 February 2014 - 06:57 PM

This Means Extinction

Long, recent and well-supported with links to science and studies. Conclusion:


There is quite a bit more that could be said, but in brief, it does little good to tell it like it is. The world would much rather be told something else altogether, such as “it’s not happening”, “the evidence is fabricated”, “the planet is cooling”, “we don’t have to worry” or some other such nonsense.

The truth is we are in extremely serious trouble as an entire species, and so is everything else on the planet. Almost nobody seems to understand how incredibly difficult survival will be under these temperatures or whether or not if it will be even possible.

For most species, the answer is “Not possible”. Extinction is already a certainty. For the remaining species, including humans, we will suffer terribly as we attempt to find enough food and water, events which are happening NOW in 2013 and will only worsen in the years ahead.

The reality is, we may very well not survive this at all. Most projections have proven to be hopelessly optimistic, with some truly catastrophic oversights, and even the ‘worst case scenarios’ being found to be far too optimistic.

Incidentally, with the caveat that one must consider the source (“Darwin Was Wrong!”) the New Scientist published a map back in 2009 of what the world might look like a mere 4 degrees centigrade warmer, a figure we are well on track to bust way past, as the linked article explains. Note that only the green areas are habitable. As for the magazine’s projection of vast solar arrays in the majority of the world that is uninhabitable, along with nuclear power, hydrothermal power and   densely packed high-rise cities in the few livable regions left on the globe, I think we can safely say that such an idea is insane. Were the map’s outcome to occur, it is pretty much a dead certainty that what few humans who remained would be hunter gatherers again, or perhaps subsistence farmers. Also note that other studies contradict the “green” scenario for Siberia, suggesting instead that the whole melted region will be transformed into an uninhabitable peat bog giving off vast amounts of methane that is far more heat-trapping than carbon. Anyway, here is the map:

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"Rationalism [sic] vs. Superstition"

08 February 2014 - 12:08 AM

In their debate, Bill Nye cleaned Ken Ham’s clock, but this is like saying that Muhammad Ali beat an 8-year-old in a boxing match: true, but nothing to write home about. After the debate, even Pat Robertson (!) begged Ham to shut up and quit making Christians look like idiots.

More interesting than the debate is the aftermath of discussions among themselves by scientists and atheists. A tempest has arisen over a blog post by Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, who denied that evolution and religion per se are irreconcilable. He has been derided as an “accommodationist” by Jerry Coyne (biologist), Jason Rosenhouse (mathematician) and Larry Moran (biochemist) at their blogs.

Coyne is particularly insistent on the point that evolution and religious belief per se are in absolute conflict, and Moran maintains that the real conflict is not between evolution and religion, but between rationalism and superstition. Of course, if Moran knew a little philosophy, which I’m afraid he apparently doesn’t (boasting of never having read Aristotle or Aquinas), he’d know that rationalism is in opposition to empiricism, but I take the point that what he really means is something like rationality and not rationalism. This may seem a small quibble, but a lot of scientists really do sometimes make foolish statements because they don’t know much philosophy or are outright dismissive of it (“Philosophy is dead,” Steven Hawking states on the first page of a book that turns out to be a work of his own peculiar philosophy.)

The debate and the subsequent brouhaha over Plait’s blog post raise a number of interesting and interlocking issues. Coyne et al feel that evolution disproves God because evolution has no teleos: man is an accident and if, as Gould famously stated, you were to rewind the tape of history and play it over again, you’d get entirely different evolutionary outcomes and the chance of humans evolving would be close to zero.

Interestingly, however, Coyne is a hard determinist. He believes, for instance, that humans lack moral responsibility. From reading what he has written, I conclude that he rejects both libertarian free will and compatibilist free will.

It seems to me that Coyne contradicts himself to some extent. He wants to say that man is an evolutionary accident, thereby ruling out a God-inspired teleos,  but at the same time he is a hard determinist. But if hard determinism is true, man is not an accident: he is a domino naturally falling after a long chain of dominoes falling in precise order as determined by initial conditions. I would have to assume that Coyne disagrees with Gould: if you rewound the tape of life back to the same initial conditions, the dominoes would fall in the same way and you’d rerun all of history exactly, getting humans in the process. Granted this is not a teleos in the sense that God or some other agent intended man to occur, but since under hard determinism you’ve got to assume that there can be only one history as determined by initial conditions, then Coyne can’t logically flay theists with the contingency of human evolution when his own hard determinism means that man’s evolution was not contingent, but determined invariably by initial conditions in the universe.

Stranger still, Coyne has no reason to plump for hard determinism given quantum indeterminism, which is observed and is directly at variance with hard determinism. These issues of hard determinism v. quantum indeterminism, and the inconsistency of plumping for hard determinism while insisting on the contingent evolution of humans, are interesting in their own right, and deserving perhaps of separate discussion. The important point for now, as I see it, is that scientists like Coyne also display a certain degree of intellectual confusion when they step outside their own areas of expertise, and therefore I think their philosophical (and theological) speculations and pronouncements ought to be taken at least with a grain of salt, if not with a metric ton of it.

Coyne and the others contend that given the fact of evolution (and it is a fact), the theist is left with three options:  reject evolution outright (Ken Ham) or subscribe either to intelligent design (the “IDiot” approach, as Moran calls it) or theistic evolution (“Creatinism,” as Moran styles it). ID and theistic evolution are subtly different, though there may be some overlap between them. The problem for both is that there is no evidence for either, and the problem with rejecting evolution entirely is that evolution is a fact.  So if Coyne and the others are right, and the theist has only these three options to pick from, then they are checkmated. But is it true that these are the only options for the theist?

It is not true. In fact, an entailment of the properties historically assigned to the Christian God can reconcile evolution with Christianity, without recourse to YEC, ID or theistic evolution.

The Christian God is held to be omnipotent and omniscient. If he’s omnipotent, he can create any world he wants. If he’s also omniscient, he knows exactly how the world will go, even before he makes it. But he knows more than that: he knows all counterfactual histories, the way each world would go, should he choose to make one of those worlds.

Given some set of, say, 100 possible worlds, each with a different history, it may be a fact that humans would contingently evolve in only one of those worlds, and fail to contingently evolve in the other 99 possible worlds. On the assumption that God is interested in humans evolving, he can choose to create the one world out of 100 in which they do, in fact, contingently evolve. In this way, using the powers traditionally ascribed to the Christian God, God can bring about humans thorough a process of undirected evolution by the mere act of creation. On this reading there is no need for YEC, ID or theistic evolution, in which God intervenes in the process as it goes. In fact, if the attributes traditionally ascribed by Christians to God are true, then things must be this way.  God must be able to know all counterfactual worlds perfectly, and pick, with perfect unerring precision, that world which – contingently – brings about humans via evolution.

Now one may object that human evolution on this reading isn’t really contingent. But surely it is, from within the system itself (the history that we observe). Besides, metaphysically, this is no different from Jerry Coyne’s hard determinism. Under Coynism, evolution isn’t really contingent either, but a set of unerringly falling dominoes ineluctably leading to one and only one possible conclusion from a set of initial conditions. After all, if Jerry Coyne believes that the crimes of Charlie Manson were determined by the initial conditions of the universe, he can’t very well maintain that humans could have failed to evolve! The only difference between theism and Coynism on this reading is that the metaphysical starting point for the theist is God and the metaphysical starting point for the Coyne naturalist is the initial conditions.

But if Christians are serious about God being both omniscient and omnipotent, they can now fully accept evolution without IDism or theistic intervention. Both the theist and the naturalist can agree about the observed facts on the ground. They can agree that evolution occurs. And they can agree that the theory of evolution is the best theory we have to describe the fact of evolution. The only place they would differ is on the nature of the metaphysical starting point: God vs. initial conditions. But who cares? This would be an entirely metaphysical and not a scientific dispute. In this way committed Christian theists can join scientists in doing good work on the fact and theory of evolution without being forced to abandon or modify their God belief and without introducing absurdities like IDism or theistic evolutionism.

A huge caveat for the theist is that this reading of God’s omniscient and omnipotent creative act renders the Problem of Evil intractable. But that’s true regardless of what story you tell. The Christian needs a different story to explicate why God is responsible for all evil, which he is. The Christian can’t on pain of logical inconsistency deny that God is the source of evil while maintaining that he is  the source of everything else. But after all, God says in the Bible that he is the source of evil!

Bill Nye and Ken Ham

04 February 2014 - 11:16 PM

Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham the fraud are debating tonight. You can stream it live on the Internet, unless the creationists who control the whole venue block it. The debate will be interrupted by Peyton Manning asking, "What am I? Who am I, really? How did I bollix up the Super Bowl so badly that davidm's 45-0 prediction of a Seahawks victory was very nearly exactly correct?" :heh: :heh: :heh:

How to be an honest atheist

29 January 2014 - 12:07 AM

How to be an honest atheist

It's so refreshing to be told how to be an "honest atheist."

Two initial points: The author seems not to realize that Camus was not an existentialist. He also seems ignorant of the fact that existentialism and theism are not incompatible, and that the "founding father" of existentialism was a theist.

Beyond that, the rest of the essay is pretty stupid, but if anyone wants to discuss, please do,

The Strong Free Will Theorem

28 December 2013 - 11:47 PM

This is a thread offshoot from here.

In 2005, John Conway and Simon Kochen, professors of mathematics at Princeton, developed a mathematical proof, which would seem to show that compatibalist free will is impossible.  If we have free will, it is contra-causal: libertarian free will. If we don't have libertarian free will, then the whole universe, including everything that we have ever done or will do, is pre-determined.

More, the proof shows, say the mathematicians, that if we have contra-causal free will, which may more precisely be defined as nothing in the past causing or influencing our actions in the present, then so do sub-atomic particles. But, since such particles don't have minds, this is another way of saying that when we take some measurement of them in the present, they had no properties prior to measurement: i.e., nothing prior to measurement has any impact on the result of the measurement. Since the results are not caused, they are indeterminate. It can go either way with some degree of probability, but probability outcomes are the best nature can do. This  also seems to be a ratification of quantum anti-realism: the non-existence of properties outside of measurement.

It is possible, according to this mathematical proof, that we have no free will, and neither do subatomic particles.  But in that case, the proof shows the most astonishing outcome of all: in this case, we will necessarily always make measurements that fail to show that the universe is deterministic. We are forever forbidden from making a subclass of measurements that show determinism, and so we are tricked into detecting quantum indeterminism, when really, if we could perform the right experiments, we would find quantum determinism instead. If this is true, if we are forever debarred from a certain subclass of experiments, then the methodologies of science are fatally undermined. Moreover, such a result would, as one commentator put it, entail "a grand conspiracy of nature" that has no explanation or precedent. So unless there is some explanation for this cosmic conspiracy, it seems the mathematical proof endorses libertarian free will and anti-realism about the external world.

I do not know, yet, how this mathematical proof, which is called the Strong Free Will Theorem, holds up under the Many Worlds interpretation of QM. Separately, it is claimed that the proof undermines the relativistic block universe version of reality, because the block world is said to be fully deterministic. However, since I disagree that the block universe entails hard determinism, or any determinism, I can't agree with this. However,  I will have to do more research.

For fuller accounts, with and without maths, just Google up "Strong Free Will Theorem," "Conway-Kochen," "free will," "determinism" and suchlike terms and you'll find a wealth of more in-depth treatment that this brief post can give.

In sum, it would seem, far from QM being a fairy tale, as the thread from which is an offshoot averred, the only real fairy tale is cause and effect, determinism, and mind-independent reality. This of course also has implications for subjects like philosophical idealism and the hard problem of consciousness, broadly the role of mind in reality and whether it may, as philosophical idealism has long held, be in some way fundamental, rather than merely an emergent property of matter.