Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Happy Christmas 2007!

Mary Barron, 'Star of Wonder'

James Kiefer, 'The Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke'

B.R. Burton, 'Pagan Parallels to the Virgin Birth?'

Norman L. Gesiler, 'The Virgin Birth', Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Michael Gleghorn, 'Was Jesus Really Born of a Virgin?'

J.P. Holding, 'The Virgin Birth: A Defence'

Josh McDowell, 'Was Jesus Born of a Virgin?'

The Moorings: 'The Virgin Birth of Christ'

Video: Lee Strobel, The Case for Christmas from Early Recorded Accounts

Video Lee Strobel, The Case for Christmas from Archaeological and Historical Records

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Francis Crick's Dangerous Idea

V.S Ramachandran, director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California pick's Francis Crick's 'astonishing hypothesis' that: 'our conscious experience and sense of self consists entirely of the activity of 100 billion bits of jelly, the neurons that constitute our brain.' (p. 22) Ramachandran writes: 'We take this for granted in these enlightened times - but even so, it never ceases to amaze me.' (p. 22) The idea that ideas are 'mere by-products' (p. 23) of the activity of 'bits of jelly' amazes most people so much that they don't believe this idea. Ramachandran's 'We' who 'take this for granted' is nothing but prejudicial rhetoric. The actual majority who doubt Crick's 'astonishing hypothesis' have the principle of credulity on their side. Indeed, if ideas are 'mere by-products of neural activity', why should I trust the by-product output of this activity ('conclusion' would seem to be an odd word to use in this context) when it says that ideas are mere by-products?

Ramachandran discusses the classic 'Given a choice, would you choose the [brain in a] vat scenario or be content to remain the "real" you in the real world you live in now' (p. 24) thought experiment (would you choose to live in 'The Matrix'?): 'most people I know - even scientists - pick the latter alternative, on the grounds that it is "real". Yet there is absolutely no rational justification for this choice, because in a sense you already are a brain in a vat -a vat called the cranial vault... All I've asked you is "Which vat do you want?" - and you have picked the crummy one!' (p. 24) Well, this just strikes me as a reductio of Ramachandran's philosophy of mind - mos people intuit that it's better to live in the real world because it's real, and if Ramachandran's concept of mind doesn't permit one to make this reply, then so much the worse for his concept of mind! If all you are is a brain in a vat, then why pick the crummy 'real world' vat over the nice 'fake world' vat? Perhaps because you are more than a brain in a vat, and the real world vat allows you to have relationships with, and effects upon, real people who are themselves more than brains in vats?!!

But even Ramachandran has doubts:

'From an objective, third-person point of view, there's nothing special about the information in your brain [we could in principle make multiple identical copies], whether in your cranium or in a vat, but from your internal perspective its everything. The irony is that our brains create an objective science and then proceed to push out subjective experience of the very selves that gave rise to science in the first place! Isn't something wrong here?' (p. 25)

Yes! And again, Yes! By the 'objective, third-person point of view' Ramachandran means a wholly naturalistic description of reality. The attempt to describe everything about humans in a wholly naturalistic way does indeed eliminate the uniqueness of each individual's 'internal perspective', the very perspectives that give rise to the materialistic science that attempts to deny its origins. So much the worse for materialistic science!

'What's so sacred about "real" reality? This is a question that belongs in the realm of philosophy rather than of science. Science can provide data relevant to the vat question, but not its ultimate answer. I confess that I, too, would pick the "real" me... perhaps because I believe, unconsciously, that there is "something else" after all...' (p. 26.)

Of course science can be counter intuitive - but it still strikes me as slightly odd that a scientist who claims that 'We' take the astonishing hypothesis 'for granted in these enlightened times' can nevertheless admit to favoring answers that he thinks contradicts this hypothesis, or wonder if he doesn't unconsciously believe the hypothesis is wrong after all.

Moreover, one cannot make quite so stark a divide between science and philosophy - Ramachandra's science incorporates the philosophical assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true - and the incorporation of this assumption renders his attempt to claim that 'science' can't answer the brain in a vat question incoherent - of course (naturalistic) 'science' answers the brain in a vat question, and answers it just as Ramachandran answers it, for if 'science' is naturalistic (indeed, even it is only methodologically so) then 'science' must affirm that Francis Crick's 'astonishing hypothesis' is true. The only way to avoid this conclusion is to denude science of naturalistic assumptions. Then science can truly 'provide data relevant to the vat question' whilst leaving philosophers of mind free to debate the final answer.


What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Continued...

'we cannot be sure of the genetic and evolutionary origin of most human behaviours. It is difficult or impossible to test many of the conjectures of evolutionary psychology. Thus, we can say only that behaviours such as the sexual predilections of men and women and the extreme competitiveness of males are consistent with evolutionary psychology.' (p. 19) - Professor Jerry Coyne, Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago

Of course, its also consistent with all sorts of other theories, including ID, and various forms of creationism as well! Moreover, if we can't be sure of the genetic and evolutionary origin of most human behaviours, we can't be sure that these behaviours actually have genetic and evolutionary explanations - at least, we can't be sure on an empirical basis. In other words, the assumption that most human behaviours have genetic and evolutionary explanations is just that, an assumption. It might be a correct assumption - or it might be an incorrect assumption. How could we tell? Significantly, how could we tell whilst adhering to the assumptions that: naturalism is true, Darwinism is true, and methodological naturalism is a defining constraint upon scientific theorising? Seems to me that it would be pretty hard to tell... in which case, perhaps such assumptions aren't particularly helpful assumptions.

Coyne also complains: 'there is no trait that cannot be explained by some evolutionary story.' (p. 20) That includes, of course, the trait of trying to explain things by some evolutionary story or other! Thus, any attempt to explain away human traits (e.g. religiosity) in terms of evolutionary psychology is self-contradictory.

And he affirms that: 'genetics is not destiny, but neither are we completely free of our evolutionary baggage.' (p. 21) I concur.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Now Lose This: A Verified ID Prediction Inferred from 'The Edge of Evolution'

According to an article in The Times ('Dandfruff is leftovers from meal on your head', Tuesday November 6th, 2007) the cause of dandruff is 'a yeast-like fungus, Malassezia globosa, which lives on the scalp in millions and feeds on the oily products of the sebaceous glands. For the first time, scientists have decoded the complete DNA of the fungus... The fungus is one of the simplest yet sequenced, with only [!] 4,285 genes... Analaysis of the genome also suggests something about the origin of the fungus. Its closest relation genetically is a yeast fungus, so it looks as if there was a shift, millions of years ago, from plants to the scalps of human beings... the fungus has adapted to its environment by...' Well, lets break off there briefly, for an intermission about Michael Behe's book The Edge of Evolution, which I recently read, in which Behe points out, among other things, that it is much easier for an organism to adapt to evolutionary pressures by breaking an existing component than it is for it to evolve a brand new component. Behe studies bacterial, viral and immune system responses because such cases provide us with the best available evidence of evolution in huge population sizes under immense evolutionary pressure, and he infers that the processes of evolution whilst undoubtedly capable of doing some things is really rather limited in what it can acomplish - a conclusion that must go 'double' as it were for organisms with smaller population sizes etc. Hence Behe seeks an empirically grounded definition for the 'Edge' between what evolution can do and what it can't do. Anyway, for-armed with Behe's evidence let's interject a quick hypothesis for testing concerning the evolution of our dandruff-causing yeast-like fungus. If we had to lay a bet, would we bet that it adapted to its environment by A) evolving a new system or B) breaking/losing an existing system? Of course, we'd lay a bet on 'B'. Note that this prediction, which follows from Behe's ID inspired search for The Edge of Evolution could be either falsified or verified by empirical observation. If it is falsified, that wouldn't, of course, be a decisive or 'crucial' test of the theory, since the prediction is one couched in terms of probability. However, repeated falsification would mount up evidence against Behe's theory. On the other hand, verification would not prove Behe's theory either; but, again, repeated verification would mount up evidence for his theory. If our prediction is verified, then, this is simply another piece of evidence to add to the evidence Behe reviews in his book in support of his argument. So how does that Times article continue? 'the fungus has adapted to its environment by losing the ability to make its own fatty acids. Instead, it survives by feeding off the fats secreted on the scalp by the sebacious glands.' (my italics) Another verified prediction from those ID folk.

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