Did Life Originate By Chance or Intelligent Design? Or is There a Third Option?

by JimmyPage 85 Replies latest jw friends

  • NewChapter

    I'm insisting that mainstream scientific thinking realizes and admits that there are limitations to our theories

    In what way? I just ask, because while I think they do recognize when we hit limits, they just look for ways to expand those limits, and will continue to do so every time we reach a limit.

  • Etude

    OK. Apart from the most fundamental problem about the explanation or meta-physics of our physical laws from which an occurrence of Evolution emanates, here are some notes and excerpts from my book on the holes in some of the arguments that seem to support the evolutionary process, particularly what Dawkins proposes. The main point is that the "holes" consist of missing processes that explain what is actually happening in the process of Natural Selection:

    An article by David Sloan Wilson ( Beyond Demonic Memes: Why Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Religion ) takes Dawkins to task for not dealing with the evolutionary aspects of religion as is practiced by an increasing number of scientists and for Dawkins’ alternative theory of Extended Phenotype. While Wilson states that evolutionary biologists use “a number of hypotheses to study for a trait”, which I take it includes those that are not apparently advantageous (i.e. the peacock’s plumage or religion), he suggests that this provides a good framework for studying the role of religion in Natural Selection, something he says Dawkins fails to do. One thing I can conclude: they both can’t be right (or even someone else with a third opinion) and they are all wrong, or someone (one of them) is right.

    The problem is that given the lack of certainty regarding how that Natural Selection process occurs, it seems unscientific to conclude that “it” indeed happened by the suggested manner. Wilson further explains the complexity of Natural Selection by stating that certain traits may not be the result of adaptation, or perhaps they were but are no longer necessary because we have surpassed their need. Yet, they remain. Then there’s the question that even if a trait is adaptive, one needs to determine if the adaptation is simple, complex or not even meant to favor the biological entity that has it (i.e. the evolutionary success of the Rhino virus which causes the common cold). That’s all well and good, but that’s a lot of “ifs” that are interesting yet hardly lead to certainty. That’s OK. I can live with not knowing for sure as long as I don’t stop seeking good answers or at least asking the right questions.

    Beyond the brain “errors” that could cause God delusions, Dawkins suggests that there are other replicators, besides DNA, which may be better suited to perpetuate something like religion, namely memes. He defines memes as “units of cultural inheritance.” Besides being Dawkins’ own device, memology is controversial among other scientists, namely because a meme can be subjective, difficult to unitize and therefore hard to measure and study. While it appears to me to be a brilliant alternative for a replicating system, I can see the difficulty some individuals have determining what a meme constitutes. Could culture as a whole be considered a meme or could a component of culture, like the banality of the “wave” at baseball games or the more insidious racial bigotry, be a meme?

    All of the above could certainly be candidates and would not pose a contradiction, if we looked upon them the right way. But that is precisely the problem some individuals have when trying to study memes. How does one measure and follow the replication aspects of elements in culture if one can’t really quantize them by a common arbiter? In addition, memes don’t map to genes. However, according to Dawkins, the replication process is either tied to or co-evolving with Natural Selection. How? Well, that’s not clearly demonstrated because of the difficulties associated in tracking and measuring memes and because we have no genetic markers as reference.

    Dawkins further suggests that memes may survive in the meme pool (the memeplex) due to their own intrinsic merit (“absolute survival value”) or because of their compatibility with other memes in the memeplex. I suppose that the ideas of reincarnation and the immortality of the soul are two that Dawkins would approve as fitting this possibility. While he argues that the “absolute survival value” of a meme is enough to ensure its permanence, he does not clearly define what that means and instead suggests several things it may mean: that whatever it is, it would cause the meme to survive in any memeplex regardless of its surroundings; that a meme could only survive in terms of other memes, creating alternate memeplexes; that memes may be analogous to genetic complexes (complices?) such as a carnivorous genetic complex or a herbivorous genetic complex. Okie-dokie.

    So, do you get the picture? His collegues disagree with him on several levels. But the main point is that in the barrage of suggestion regarding what could explain a meme, a memeplex or the replication of memes, there is no process or descrete steps to account for them. The "limitations" I'm referring to are defined by the conclusions one cannot legitimately make without a way to test or establish how they happen. That's how science is supposed to work.

  • NewChapter

    I haven't delved very deeply into this hypothesis yet, but I wonder why you call it a limitation? It's a hypothesis. It's somewhat new. It's being worked out. That's not a limitation, but we are just at a certain point in the process. This idea may be trashed someday, or it may hold up. But that's how it works. That's not a limitation.

    In the end, picking apart a hypothesis doesn't really prove anything. I haven't read everything. Am I to understand that you don't accept Evolution?

    I call it a hypothesis because it looks like an idea or suggestion that has not been thoroughly tested yet. I don't know if it has been put forth as such, but seems so as scientists are trying to falsify it.

    Someone with a better brain, and not so tired will certainly pick up this conversation. I just don't think you are supporting your point all that well.

  • Jeffro

    All this focus on Dawkins is a bit irrational and unnecessary. It's as if the position is, If Dawkins is wrong about something - anything - then... magic sky daddy. There are quite a few steps missing in drawing such a conclusion.

  • Jeffro

    Wilson says: I can live with not knowing for sure as long as I don’t stop seeking good answers or at least asking the right questions.

    On the other hand, instead of accepting that some things are not yet known while continuing to learn and gradually fill in the gaps - as endorsed by Wilson, many creationists are much happier to sit back and conclude that their conveniently unexplainable magic friend 'just did it'.

  • bohm

    Etude: Well, then if you are completely right about everything in this thread, dawkins is wrong about the origin of natural laws (as far as i can tell thats your point of critique of dawkins). So what? I dont get my information about cosmology from Dawkins, he is not a cosmologist. And i am not saying i actually believe he is wrong, at least not in any stronger sence than specific wordings one can have fun picking at; it would in my oppinion be very unlike dawkins to hold strong opppinions on cosmology given he has repeatly stated the obvious: he is not an expert.

    If he is guilty of, in your words " it is not right for some proponents like Dawkins to make assertions that mainstream scientific thinking does not promote. ", on the content of biology, do back that up with some quotes. otherwise its a moot point, no matter who win it shouldnt change our minds about anything other than dawkins (jeffros point).

  • Terry

    The "limitations" I'm referring to are defined by the conclusions one cannot legitimately make without a way to test or establish how they happen. That's how science is supposed to work.

    Science is proved when the practical meets the theoretical dead on by demonstration.

    Between the guesswork and that ultimate demonstration is a no man's land of greyness................................where all sorts of assertions can be made.

    We can think of Science as a brilliant person with weak eyesight in unfamiliar surroundings groping along bumping into things and forming conclusions.

    Religion is a brilliant person who is totally blind but who is being led by another totally blind person while thinking his guide has keen vision.

  • Etude

    bohm: Don't get hung up on Cosmology. I'm not. I never mentioned Cosmology per se and I'm not contending that Dawkins is an expert on Cosmology. Perhaps you're referring to my mention of one aspect of Cosmology, the Anthropic Principle, which I only mentioned because Dawkins uses it (as most that propose it) as an ultimate explanation for the derivation of the laws that govern Evolution and Natural Selection.

    Q. " dawkins is wrong about the origin of natural laws (as far as i can tell thats your point of critique of dawkins). So what? "

    A. Nothing. As long as you and other people realize it and don't think that because he wrote an interesting book ("The God Delusion" is a very interesting book as is "The Blind Watchmaker") that he is now a significant proponent of how Evolution and Natural Selection happened. Did you notice I didn't question whether "it" (Evolution or Natural Selection) happened? I also did not say that Dawkins is wrong on the origin of natural laws. There is no right or wrong about the "origin" of our natural laws because we just don't know why or how they came to be what they are. What I suggested is that if there's a question on how our natural laws work or that they even hold up, it's hasty to make some of the conclusions Dawkins makes. On this thread, the mention of Dawkins has been positive and I just wanted to balance the view by pointing out things that could make us think otherwise about the way life actually happened.

    Jeffro: I think you misunderstand if, by my challenging what Dawkins or anyone says, it automatically means I'm for the "magic sky daddy". That's a pretty black-and-white view of things. Is there no room for some other option? Better yet, is there no room for no option? Are we really compelled to make a choice or simply concluded that we just don't know?

    " Wilson says: I can live with not knowing for sure as long as I don’t stop seeking good answers or at least asking the right questions. "

    Alas, that was not Wilson. That was me speaking in an excerpt from my book. I made no citation of Wilson (well, maybe a sentence fragment) and instead referenced and summarized his objections to Dawkins. That was but one example in my research about Dawkins' ideas. Here's another extract from my book which actually includes a citation in reference to Dawkins:

    Carl Coon (an atheist and vice president of the American Humanist Association and author of several books) puts the dismissal of Group Selection, particularly by Dawkins, this way: “It was as though he had informed me that the American Association for the Advancement of Science had repealed the law of gravity.”

    So when I find other legitimate writers and scientists object to Dawkins in this manner, that he may be wrong, saying "so what" is like sticking my head into the ground. Yes the kinks and controversies will be worked out. But until then, I prefer to keep an open mind and not accept conclusions that are not warranted. In case anyone missed it, that doesn't mean that an effect, like Natural Selection, is not real. What it means to me is that it's not legitimately justified based on a particular flawed explanation.


    A hypothesis (from Ancient Greek ?π?θεσις, from Greek ?ποτιθ?ναι – hypotithenai meaning "to put under" or "to suppose," [1] plural hypotheses ) is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis , the scientific method requires that one can test it. Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories. Even though the words "hypothesis" and " theory" are often used synonymously, a scientific hypothesis is not the same as a scientific theory . A working hypothesis is a provisionally accepted hypothesis proposed for further research. [1]

    If you look carefully, I never said that the (Dawkins') "hypothesis" was a limitation. I said that "there are limitations to our theories" (due to the scientific method). Before I get into "scientific theory", notice the highlighted text and realize why what Dawkins proposes is not a scientific hypothesis but an ordinary hypothesis (suggestion) which may not require the scientific burden of proof.

    The argument Dawkins lays out in his book proposes lots of reasons for why we have religion and a common delusion, while at the same time explaining how some processes (like memes and Extended Phenotypes) are part of the Natural Selection process or of some process. Unfortunately, they (the ones I mentioned) can't be tested with the scientific method. What we have left are some interesting observations (I've already admitted that about the whole book). My impression has been in this thread that what Dawkins is proposing (his methods) has some sort of legitimacy. My contention has been that while interesting, it only rises to the level curios.

    A scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment ." [1][2] Scientists create scientific theories from hypotheses that have been corroborated through the scientific method, then gather evidence to test their accuracy. As with all forms of scientific knowledge, scientific theories are inductive in nature and do not make apodictic propositions; instead, they aim for predictive and explanatory force. [3][4]

    Evolution is a work in progress because many aspects of it do not meet the burden of the definition above. But, many do. How do we, as lay individuals, note the difference? By at least questioning --no -- challenging some propositions the same way other scientists do. That's what I've been doing here when Dawkins' assertions seemed so passively accepted. This is exactly what happened with Darwin's other Theory of Pangenesis and Lamarck's Theory of Transmutation. They are completely discredited. Remarkably, we don't criticize the discreditors (other scientists) and say "so what" that Darwin and Lamarck were wrong in those instances.

    " This idea may be trashed someday, or it may hold up. But that's how it works. "

    I do hope you mean to say that the "trashing" or "hold[ing] up" of the idea is the way things work and not that while the idea remains, that is how the idea works (with the inference that since there's nothing better, we'll just go with it). In fact, I'm sure you meant the former and you are right. But, my particular attitude is that just because an idea is out there and even if it happens to be a particularly exciting one or somewhat advanced, that is not enough reason to accept it until the day comes when it's trashed because a better one came along. We should put the idea in doubt particularly if I have some reason to question it or question aspects of it.

    For centuries, we held to Newton's view of the universe and the majority of people came to accept with absolute certainty that we had arrived at a reality about time, space and the laws that govern them. But not everyone accepted everything. Some did question. And the questions became so important and profound that demanded equally profound answers. All of that coalesced in Einstein. But it was not long after that Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg successfully challenged Einstein's ideas about the quantum. Today, notable people are challenging Einstein's Time Relativity equations in order to compensate for the theoretical Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

    It's difficult to maintain a position of neutrality or even skepticism and not be pigeonholed into one position or another simply because I pose what to me are legitimate questions. I do think that either I'm not explaining myself correctly or I'm just being misunderstood. That is why I've persisted in this discussion. It's important for all of us to know if we really have the correct information, if we are at least pointing in the right direction, or if we have no business making unsustainable conclusions. At least, it's important for me. Even though it's been a great exercise, I'm ready to stick a fork in this one.

  • NewChapter

    Then it is not a hypothesis, it is an idea. Perhaps that idea will lead to a testable hypothesis as scientists mull it over. Should that happen, then it can be submitted to the scientific method, and we will have more answers. If it does not stand up to testing, it will be trashed.

    I guess what I don't understand is the point of jumping on Dawkin's ideas (who has contributed and awful lot) and think there is any major point in it. Especially when simply looking at proposed ideas. Should he not propose and idea? Should we not consider it? I think he SHOULD, because it is the exchange of ideas that leads to better questions and hypothesis.

    A critical thinker will look at it and understand what it is, and prioritize it as such. A fool will look at it and take it as gospel.

    Nothing is gospel. Intriguing ideas are formulated and discarded all the time. Discarding does not mean that progress has not been made--because doing so eliminates a possibility, and we can move on to the next.

    You just have this huge issue with Dawkins, like he has disciples or something. It's not religious. Our world will not fall to pieces if an idea of Dawkins is proven wrong. It's just the process, and it is interesting to us.

  • Terry

    I think we need to take a giant step back and look where we are.

    We have one method of explanation that fits the facts as known without positing the existence unnecessarily of the supernatural.

    On the other hand we have an asserted-from-authority explanation that has an historical track recorded of never admitting error.

    Science, in the first instance and Religion in the second instance.

    And that's all we've got.

    Which is the more reliable? That really is where the discussion rests.

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