Thursday, April 15, 2010

How to Convince Students of Evolution

Sometimes the most ardent evolutionists are those who understand it the least. Many who are not life scientists take evolution to be the gospel truth—after all, evolutionists have told them it is a scientific fact. And unlike the life scientists who at least are familiar with the evidential quandaries, those more distant from the data are blissfully ignorant. For them evolution is all the more an unquestionable truth. Evolutionists have misrepresented science and now we are paying the price with increasing scientific illiteracy. Consider a recent peer-reviewed paper on how to succeed in convincing students that evolution is true. The authors consider the problem of consciousness:

Historically and currently, one of the greatest obstacles to acceptance of evolution is the claim that human thought is a product of it. Alfred Wallace, who discovered natural selection independently of Darwin, was never able to accept that it applied to minds, which he thought had an irreducible spirituality. Students today find that the most implausible aspect of Darwin’s theory is the suggestion that it could provide a way of accounting for the operations of human minds. Here students have a double difficulty: not only is evolution an emergent process on the Darwinian account, but thinking is also an emergent process on the account currently being developed in neuroscience. … Thus the human mind is an emergent process resulting from an emergent process! So it is small wonder that students and ordinary people, not to mention many contemporary philosophers, have great difficulty imagining how mind could be the result of brain structures arising from natural selection.

Amazing how evolution works. Fortunately they have already solved much of the problem:

Thagard and Aubie (2008) offer a neuro computational model of emotional consciousness that explains how many interacting brain areas can generate such emotions as happiness.

It’s good to know happiness is no longer an issue. Nonetheless, there remains the problem of the actual evidence for free will:

Third, within our lifetimes, people are not completely constrained by the kinds of physical and biological forces that generated evolution, but rather operate by free will. Not only is free will supported by our subjective experience of having genuine choices to make, it also fits with our preferred view of ourselves and others as responsible agents.

But of course free will is an illusion and students need to understand this. Ultimately, evolution must be shown to be true in the same old way it has always been shown to be true, by comparing it with those “competing hypotheses” such as creationism. Religion drives science and it matters.

15 comments:

  1. Cornelius,
    "Ultimately, evolution must be shown to be true in the same old way it has always been shown to be true, by comparing it with those “competing hypotheses” such as creationism"

    how would they do that, by using Bayes' theorem perhaps? Didn't you just try to do that, but without providing the competing hypothesis, making the result meaningless? and also making many elementary statistical mistakes along the way? hey look, you're famous:

    http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2010/04/cornelius-hunte-2.html#comments

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  2. nanobot,

    posting a link to pandastumb? thats like me posting a link to a Yankees message board on the Red Sox site.....

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  3. "And unlike the life scientists who at least are familiar with the evidential quandaries, those more distant from the data are blissfully ignorant."

    I totally agree. Science education has strayed too far from the methods and data. I'd love to see 12 graders doing BLAST searches, reading primary literature, etc. I'd like students to have an appreciation for the data, methodology, and an understanding of the conclusion reached by the majority of scientists.

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  4. So, Robert, when the quoted author refers to free-will, is he amiss? IOW, is claiming there are final causes itself anti-scientific? And if so, is anti-scientific the equivalent of anti-reason or anti-truth? Free-will = ID. Thus, if free-will happens as we think, SOME ID inferences are true.

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  5. Jeff,

    That seems to be a heck of a non sequitur to my reply. I just said I agree with a greater inclusion of primary data in teaching the sciences.

    "Free-will = ID."

    You'll have to expand on that thought a bit for me. I didn't realize ID had a monopoly on free will. Personally, I think the scientific determinism vs. religious free-will dichotomy is dying a too-slow death. Modern science, with the inclusion of quantum mechanics, in a mixture of stochastic and deterministic principles to begin with. Since there is no theory of all physics, it seems premature to conclude there is no free will without a designer.

    To preempt this argument, the authors present their favorite arguments for free will.

    Personally, I wouldn't start with a discussion of being and perception, minds and brains, free will, etc., for the classroom introduction to common descent. Similarly, I'm pretty sure we could teach meteorology without a discussion of natural evil (no matter what Pat Robertson may argue the cause of hurricanes might be).

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  7. Robert: Since there is no theory of all physics, it seems premature to conclude there is no free will without a designer.

    Jeff: To choose with libertarian freedom just IS what it means to intelligently design. Indeterminism, as per QT, has nothing to do with foresight, therefore it has nothing to do with free-will. Free choices either occur or not. If they do, and we believe we know when they do (to some extent), how do we get to those beliefs except by inductive inference?

    And if we do get to that belief by inductive inference, it is obvious that the same kind of inductive inferences can work for inferring final causes for configurations of matter we did't observe come to be. We could be wrong, but so might macroevolution be wrong. They're just analogical inferences--nothing more, nothing less.

    To say, in a state of current aposteriori ignorance, that we should ASSUME that there is no free-will is to make a purely metaphysical assumption and thereby constrain the possibilities of legitimate analogical inference. That's precisely what those like Dawkins do. He says free-will is illusory. But how could he know that?

    If you don't make that assumption, then you have no argument against ID. Because you can't test which kind of hypothesis for biological origins ACTUALLY (as opposed to hypothetically) accounts for the greatest explanatory breadth.

    Macroevolution would account for maximal explanatory breadth if in fact it is possible and realistically probable. But that's exactly what we don't know aposteriori. It is nothing but metaphysics that makes a person think that macroevolution MUST be possible and realistically probable. THere is nothing we could possibly know aposteriori that tells us that.

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  8. Jeff, of all possible explanations for free will, you seem to have wholly latched onto one. Is your argument that until I accept ID, I can't test hypotheses (due to lack of free will) therefore Darwinism is false? You're really stretching here.

    Your "determinism, therefore designer, therefore no Darwinism" is a hell of a set of conclusions, steeped in religion. Who says "No God, no free will" other than the religious?

    At any rate, there are myriad philosophical explanations for free will. Compatibilism (determinism and free will are not logically incompatible) is perhaps the most popular. Indeterministic philosophers like Nozik put forward other alternatives. You'd have to prove that reality is actually deterministic to refute them (or my point above, or Dawkin's posted here later).

    "To choose with libertarian freedom just IS what it means to intelligently design."

    I presume you mean libertarian metaphysics? I think there would be some very shocked Libertarianists to find themselves suddenly in the ID camp.

    "Indeterminism....has nothing to do with free-will."

    Philosophers, like Robert Nozick might be surprised! No analysis here to convince me they are wrong.

    Oh, and as for Dawkins, although he ponders the lack of free will in some quotes, he generally takes an indeterministic view that there is free will:

    http://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/transcript/dawk-body.html

    Dawkins on free will: "QUESTION: Now, if we are gene machines, presumably then our behavior is also programmed by genes -- you have made that case. But Christians would say that there is a thing called free will, and that free will gives us a genuine choice about our actions, that effectively free will allows us to override biology. What is your response to that as a scientist?

    MR. DAWKINS: I am very comfortable with the idea that we can override biology with free will. Indeed, I encourage people all the time to do it. Much of the message of my first book, "The Selfish Gene," was that we must understand what it means to be a gene machine, what it means to be programmed by genes, so that we are better equipped to escape, so that we are better equipped to use our big brains, use our conscience intelligence, to depart from the dictates of the selfish genes and to build for ourselves a new kind of life which as far as I am concerned the more un-Darwinian it is the better, because the Darwinian world in which our ancestors were selected is a very unpleasant world. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. And when we sit down together to argue out and discuss and decide upon how we want to run our societies, I think we should hold up Darwinism as an awful warning for how we should not organize our societies.

    QUESTION: So you are not saying then that our genetic programming is fully deterministic?

    MR. DAWKINS: It's an important point to realize that the genetic programming of our lives is not fully deterministic. It is statistical -- it is in any animal merely statistical -- not deterministic. Even if you are in some sense a determinist -- and philosophically speaking many of us may be -- that doesn't mean we have to behave as if we are determinists, because the world is so complicated, and especially human brains are so complicated, that we behave as if we are not deterministic, and we feel as if we are not deterministic -- and that's all that matters. In any case, adding the word "genetic" to deterministic doesn't make it any more deterministic. If you are a philosophical determinist, then adding the word "gene" doesn't increase the effect.'

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  9. Robert: Jeff, of all possible explanations for free will, you seem to have wholly latched onto one. Is your argument that until I accept ID, I can't test hypotheses (due to lack of free will) therefore Darwinism is false? ...

    Your "determinism, therefore designer, therefore no Darwinism" is a hell of a set of conclusions, steeped in religion.

    Jeff: Huh? I've said nothing like any of this. I said that to intelligently design simply IS what we mean by choosing freely (i.e., libertarianly). I'm not even saying we can prove that libertarianism is true, anymore than we can prove events are caused.

    Robert: Compatibilism (determinism and free will are not logically incompatible) is perhaps the most popular.

    Jeff: What would make you think it is the most popular view? I've met very few avowed compatibilists in my life.

    Robert: I presume you mean libertarian metaphysics? I think there would be some very shocked Libertarianists to find themselves suddenly in the ID camp.

    Jeff: I didn't say that being libertarian means one has to agree on all analogical inferences to specific cases of design. People on juries may be libertarian, yet some may infer volitional intent and others may not. You're confusing the belief that there ARE final causes with specific beliefs as to what particular events are the effects of final causes.

    Robert: Philosophers, like Robert Nozick might be surprised! No analysis here to convince me they are wrong.

    Jeff: QT doesn't posit foreknowledge. Libertarianism is a species of indeterminism in the sense that an event caused by libertarian freedom is indeterminable by others prior to its occurrence. But libertarianism is SELF-determinism. QT doesn't deal with SELF-determinism. It deals with generic INdeterimism, with no regard for self-determining capacity like that of libertarianism.

    Robert: Oh, and as for Dawkins, although he ponders the lack of free will in some quotes, he generally takes an indeterministic view that there is free will:

    Dawkins: Even if you are in some sense a determinist -- and philosophically speaking many of us may be -- that doesn't mean we have to behave as if we are determinists, because the world is so complicated, and especially human brains are so complicated, that we behave as if we are not deterministic, and we feel as if we are not deterministic -- and that's all that matters.

    Jeff: Note what he says. He says all that matters is that we behave and feel AS IF we are not deterministic. That is not the same thing as saying we are NOT deterministic. Moreover, he has said elsewhere that free-will is an illusion. It doesn't surprise me in the least that a person who believes he's having non-stop illusions would contradict himself.

    But the point is this. If you posit that there is no libertarian freedom (i.e., final causes), then ID (which is libertarianly free choosing) is illusory. But that is a metaphysical claim that rules out ID apriori. There is no way to prove, aposteriori, that to be the case. And you have not provided evidence that most people are compatibilists.

    If you accept the relatively common intuition that we are libertarianly free, then there is no way to limit inductive inferences to naturalistic ones. We would apply naturalistic inferences to those phenomena which seem to be repeatable under what seem to be sufficient conditions. The very nature of libertarian freedom is that it has necessary, but NOT sufficient, conditions.

    If a kind of event is merely hypothetical, as is the case for hypothetical historical events which we can't repeat in the present under any observable or modelable sufficient conditions, then there is no reason to limit inductive inferences about the explanation of those events to naturalistic ones.

    To insist upon that limitation is to embrace metaphysical naturalism or to be completely arbitrary (i.e., a-rational). There is no other way to get there, epistemologically.

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  10. Jeff,

    Is you point then, that because we accept free will, that we must accept metaphysical explanations in the sciences?

    Again, I think there are numerous ways around to free will-many of which do not invoke a designer.

    And again, I don't think philosophical considerations of an abstract we don't really understand should impact the way we do or teach science.

    Lastly, if we accept metaphysics into science, it should have some explanatory power, some ability to be tested, some meaning. ID fails these criteria. badly in my mind. Similarly, if I argue we exist in the Matrix, you probably can't prove me wrong, but what good does it do us?

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  11. Robert: Is you point then, that because we accept free will, that we must accept metaphysical explanations in the sciences?

    Jeff: An explanation is a causal account. To believe events are caused is itself a metaphysical belief, because it is axiomatic. The same is true of the belief that there are final causes. One can not prove or disprove such axiomatic beliefs.

    Robert: Again, I think there are numerous ways around to free will-many of which do not invoke a designer.

    Jeff: The existence of final causes does not imply that there is a designer of the universe. But whichever view one has of final causes, it's basically axiomatic. What is not axiomatic is a specific analogical inferences about final causes. But you can't get to the latter without an axiomatic belief that conditions it.

    Robert: And again, I don't think philosophical considerations of an abstract we don't really understand should impact the way we do or teach science.

    Jeff: Causality is abstract AND apriori. There's no way around it. This is where a lot of confusion lies. Lots of scientists think positivism is logically coherent. It has been proven incoherent a thousand times over.

    Robert: Lastly, if we accept metaphysics into science, it should have some explanatory power, some ability to be tested, some meaning. ID fails these criteria. badly in my mind. Similarly, if I argue we exist in the Matrix, you probably can't prove me wrong, but what good does it do us?

    Jeff: How do you test whether events are caused? You can't say that causality has explanatory power, because an explanation just IS a causal account. Whether one believes all causes are blind or not is nothing that can be tested or falsified. We just do analogical induction in terms of the specific axiomatic views of causality we hold. There is nothing more to it than that.

    If we accept that there is relativity to such NATURALLY axiomatic beliefs such as causality, teleology, space, time, substance-attribute correlativity, etc, then we have embraced epistemological relativism. And per that approach, I could be right given my natural axioms and you could be right given yours.

    It's either epistemological relativism or someone is epistemologically in error when we hold mutually exclusive positions about which beliefs are naturally axiomatic for humans. Which do you hold to? If the latter, how do you know that people who believe final causes are real and explain more than human behavior are wrong? That's what you have to show if you're not an epistemological relativist. Just claiming your right isn't getting you anywhere.

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  12. Jeff,

    We seem to be on a philosophical gallop. We started with my agreeing on inclusion of data in classrooms, turned sharply to free will, and now have arrived at epistemology. Your philosophy background is greater than mine, but when someone tells me that I'm wrong even when I'm right, because I haven't dealt with 'The Matrix' or whatever issue with epistemological critiques of induction, I'm not horrible impressed with that as a reason to drop the data.

    I suppose my final argument is this:

    Jeff-
    "Whether one believes all causes are blind or not is nothing that can be tested or falsified."

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    Than how can ID be a theory? By the same means, I would not treat Atheism as a scientific theory. We can, however, present the data, the most parsimonious and non-falsified theory (common descent), and leave the grand/theology philosophy for home/church/those classes.

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  13. Robert: We can, however, present the data, the most parsimonious and non-falsified theory (common descent), and leave the grand/theology philosophy for home/church/those classes.

    Jeff: Well, you're supposing that parsimony is better in some epistemological sense, to even claim what you're claiming. That, itself, is a philosophical/epistemological stance. The fact that I agree with you doesn't change that fact.

    But, again, there is a difference in saying that the most parsimonious, non-falsified explanation of NON-hypothetical events is the best explanation and saying that you know that the macroevolutionary explanations is more parsimonious than competing ID inferences. How could you make that case?

    From where I'm sitting, it seems you posit WAY more hypothetical events than some ID'ists are. And not only do you posit more hypothetical events, but you have no tested causal theory that even indicates those events are producable by known natural causality. IOW, you are hypothesizing more events as WELL as hypothesizing the potency of natural causes.

    Therefore, I don't see how you could know your view is more parsimonious. Rather, it's like this: IF all your hypotheses about past events and causes are correct, then that means that there ARE natural causes operating throughout natural history that not only could have produced all the hypothetical phenotypes you posit but that could have done so blindly with realistic probability in the posited time-frame. But you know neither of these to be true by aposteriori reasoning upon the data.

    So, if and when we can demonstrate those two things, your view will THEN be known to be more parsimonious simply because no extra final causes will be necessary to account for the data at that point. We're nowhere near that kind of knowledge from what we've been able to test. Until then, there is nothing parsimonious about your view given the myriads of purely hypothetical events, never mind the hypothetical potency of nature you posit.

    And remember, ID'ists don't posit, hypothetically, the existence of the teleological causal relation. Psychological research indicates that humans explain teleologically naturally. Moreoever, ID inferences have not been falsified either. So that fact that your hypothesis has not been falsified is irrelevant.

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  14. Hi Cornelius,

    I've got a question, I have an explanation but I wanted to get your view.
    How would ID explain such pseudogenes like L-gulono y-lactone oxidase and the proposition that it is Vitamin C-synthesizing enzyme but doesn't function in humans whereas it functions in other primates?
    Btw I dont believe in human evolution and I have my explanation of that supposed evidence of evolution but I want to know your view.
    Sorry I couldnt email you this as I dont have your mail so I post here.

    Thanks

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  15. loveProphet:

    ====
    How would ID explain such pseudogenes like L-gulono y-lactone oxidase and the proposition that it is Vitamin C-synthesizing enzyme but doesn't function in humans whereas it functions in other primates?
    ====

    Not sure about ID, but the proposition to which I believe you are referring is not that GULO is functional in other primates, but that it is *not* functional in other primates, and shares crippling mutations with the human version. This is yet another proof by the process of elimination, invoking metaphysical claims about creation. The data are entirely circumstantial, but with evolutionists it's all about metaphysics. As for science, here are some observations:

    1. In general, mutations are observed to occur non randomly and have "hotspots."
    2. Such hotspots are inferred in this particular pseudogene.
    3. Homologous pseudogenes, and identical mutations therein, are observed that do not fit common descent (so evolutionists infer they are independent repeats). So even if evolution were true, we could not use common descent to explain such instances.
    4.Pseudogenes are yet another in the long list of evolution's circumstantial evidence, which evolutionists take to be powerful proofs while ignoring much greater fundamental problems.

    It is yet another example of how evolutionists mandate their non parsimonious, heroic, explanation of common descent (because it must be true for them for religious reasons) instead of the simpler explanation of common mechanism which they have already been forced admit in other cases.

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