Dec 15 2009

Biocentrism Pseudoscience

Writing for the Huffington Post, Deepak Chopra and Robert Lanza promote the notion of “biocentrism” – “that an accurate understanding of the world requires putting observers firmly into the equation, and that life may not be the accident of physics and chemistry that evolution suggests.”

This idea is really nothing new – it is a transparent abuse and misunderstanding of modern physics and quantum mechanics in order to insert mysticism into science.

They begin with what is known as the anthropic principle:

Why, for instance, are the laws of nature exactly balanced for life to exist? There are over 200 physical parameters within the solar system and universe so exact that it strains credulity to propose that they are random — even if that is exactly what contemporary physics baldly suggests. These fundamental constants (like the strength of gravity) are not predicted by any theory — all seem to be carefully chosen, often with great precision, to allow for existence of life. Tweak any of them and you never existed.

We currently have no idea why the laws of the universe are the way they are. We also don’t know if they have to be the way they are, or if there are many, perhaps infinite, variations and the universe we know is just one. Is the mass of an electron always the same? Is the gravitational constant different in every universe? Are there even other universes?

What is undeniably true is that the laws of nature are such that long term stable and complex structures are possible. But the claim that the laws of the universe are what they are so that we can exist is to commit several logical fallacies all at once. First, it is an argument from final consequences – assuming that the final result is the cause. Rather, it is more valid to say that we are here because the laws of nature allow it – rather than that the laws of nature were designed so that we may be here.

It is also the lottery fallacy. If we hold   a world-wide lottery and only one human in the 6.5 billion wins, the odds of that person winning is very small. But someone had to win. Chopra and Lanza are arguing that the winner could not have one by chance alone, because the odds were against it.

In other words – if some other universe existed then some other type of conscious beings might be contemplating how perfectly the laws of their universe fit their existence. It is also possible (and this is one cosmological theory) that there are many universes and perhaps only in a small percentage can complex organisms evolve. In the other universes there is no one around to contemplate the fact that the laws of nature do not allow for life.

Also, this gets to the fact that life is fine-tuned to the universe, not the other way around. The kind of life that can exist in this universe is the kind that arose. This is similar to marveling at how coincidental it is that the earth’s climate is so well suited to human life. The earth provides us water, sunlight, and food, and in many places on the earth (the temperate zone) during much of the year we can walk around quite comfortably with minimal clothing.

But of course we evolved to adapt to the environment, the environment was not made for us. The sun does not provide light that just happens to be in the spectrum our eyes can detect – our eyes evolved to detect the spectrum of light that happened to be put out by our sun. So Chopra and Lanza get it backwards.

And finally, the entire argument is an argument from ignorance – we do not know what determines the laws of the universe, therefore they were designed just for us.

Chopra and Lanza then take the anthropic principle to its most ridiculous extreme:

Beyond these laws and constants, consider everything that had to happen to bring about humans. There are literally trillions of events that had to be just right — ‘this way’ and not ‘that way’ — for us to be here. Consider the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs — if its trajectory had been slightly different, or the asteroid had been slightly larger, we might not be here.

This is pure lottery fallacy. If the meteor did not wipe out the dinosaurs, perhaps a reptilian intelligent species would rule the earth, making gods in their image, and marveling at how unlikely their existence was, and therefore it must have been preordained.

Next some Chopra’s signature quantum woo:

No physicist challenges the fact that particles do not exist with definite physical properties until they are observed. If the present determines the past as Stephen Hawking, John Wheeler (who coined the word ‘black hole’), and others have suggested, then it couldn’t be any other way.

Well, here is a physicist who does challenge this “fact” – Vinod K. Wadhawan (along with Ajita Kamal), a physicist, goes into great detail as to why quantum mechanics does not say that physical properties require an “observer.” They nicely deconstruct Chopra and Lanza’s nonsense – essentially pointing out that consciousness is not required in quantum mechanics. The environment itself can act as the “observer”. When matter interacts with itself it results in decoherence, the translation of the micro quantum world to the macro classical world we experience.

They finish with a swipe at Darwin, just to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin:

Darwin’s theory of evolution is an enormous over-simplification. It’s helpful if you want to connect the dots and understand the interrelatedness of life on the planet — and it’s simple enough to teach to children between recess and lunch. But it fails to capture the driving force and what’s really going on.

An enormous over-simplification? Has he read On The Origin of Species? Prior to Darwin it was already recognized that life changed over geological time – life evolved. Darwin’s primary contribution was in proposing a “driving force”, that of variation and natural selection. His genius was in seeing how blind forces, acting over vast amounts of time, could add up to cumulative significant change, enough to forge an elephant out of a single-celled creature.

What Chopra and Lanza are trying to do is replace an awesome view of nature – one with explanatory power, elegance, and subtlety – with simple-minded mysticism. In doing so they are trying to wipe away or ignore some of the greatest intellectual contributions to our understanding of reality. And while denying science and replacing it with their mysticism, they are simultaneously trying to wrap their spiritual notions in the language of science.

What they are doing is the very essence of pseudoscience – using the superficial form of science to promote mystical ideas, but abandoning the true process of science.

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81 responses so far

81 Responses to “Biocentrism Pseudoscience”

  1. superdaveon 15 Dec 2009 at 11:58 am

    http://xkcd.com/675/

    tis expresses my thoughts on chopra better than I could.

  2. Jim Shaveron 15 Dec 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Chopra and Lanza are arguing that the winner could not have one by chance alone, …

    There’s won mistake in that phrase.

    This idea is really nothing new – it is a transparent abuse and misunderstanding of modern physics and quantum mechanics in order to insert mysticism into science.

    Yeah, that sentence pretty well sums up Chopra. Thanks, Steve.

  3. Old Coyoteon 15 Dec 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Great article.

    As Julia Sweeney said, “Deepak Chopra is full of shit!”

  4. mschmidton 15 Dec 2009 at 12:41 pm

    It’s really embarrassing seeing people like Chopra conduct this argument. I become embarrassed for them. Using science to essentially ‘debunk’ science is simply ridiculous. They end up looking like complete fools in front of anyone who has just an inkling of an understand of how the world works. Obviously they aren’t writing for those people, but it’s sad nonetheless.

    Also, kudos for all the hard work you put in Dr. Novella. I get depressed whenever I have to put extra effort into buying groceries or cleaning my apartment let alone be a neurosurgeon and popularizer of science. I couldn’t do one of those things, let alone do it as frequently as you all at the same time. It’s really inspiring.

  5. lizkaton 15 Dec 2009 at 12:44 pm

    [ Darwin’s primary contribution was in proposing a “driving force”, that of variation and natural selection. His genius was in seeing how blind forces, acting over vast amounts of time, could add up to cumulative significant change, enough to forge an elephant out of a single-celled creature.]

    But Darwin’s hypothesis about what drives evolution has not been proven. It can be used to explain some adaptation, but it requires a leap of faith to assume it can account for all evolution.

    And by the way, I have stated on this blog that I am not an IDer. So I do not understand why my comments on this subject are usually deleted.

  6. zen_arcadeon 15 Dec 2009 at 12:58 pm

    I’ve read some of Lanza’s stem cell texts before and have a hard time reconciling that work with the vaguely-spiritualistic dreck he’s writing for Huffington’s Wide World of Woo.

    Also I agree with the sentiment of mschmidt’s comment. Would love to see you publish a popular book a la Shermer/Zimmer/etc., Steve! Always a pleasure to read.

  7. SkepLiton 15 Dec 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Unfortunately, I read both the Chopra and Lanza articles when they were published. I rolled my eyes so many times, I thought they were going to get stuck looking up into my skull.
    The willful misrepresentation of facts to support this mystical nonsense makes only one word come to mind: charlatan.

    My favorite part of the Lanza article was his bio at the end:
    “Robert Lanza, MD is considered one of the leading scientists in the world. He is the author of “Biocentrism,” a book that lays out his theory of everything. ”

    “One of the leading scientist in the world”? I’m thinking “not”.

  8. Doctor Evidenceon 15 Dec 2009 at 1:15 pm

    the Wadhawan link is neat.
    the President of Physics, priceless.
    curious if Mr. Chopra actually believes that unreal stuff.
    his income is real enough-
    regarding Dr. N and the skeptical team, likewise I’m as impressed by their time-management skills as their defense of empiricism-
    (I can only manage the empiricism part)

  9. Steven Novellaon 15 Dec 2009 at 1:20 pm

    lizkat – I do not delete comments due to content. Your comments are not being deleted. It is possible that some were picked up by the spam filters. I recommend not copying and pasting vast amount of text or links.

    Variation and natural selection have a great deal of empirical support – no “leap of faith” is required.

    There is also a distinct absence of evidence or even a theoretical need for any other significant mechanism in evolution. There may be some contribution from epigenetic factors, but I doubt that’s what you meant.

  10. lizkaton 15 Dec 2009 at 1:49 pm

    “Variation and natural selection have a great deal of empirical support”

    Yes of course they do. We know for a fact that variation and selection happen all the time. What we do not know, however, is how much of a role they have actually played in the origin and evolution of species in general. That is where the leap of faith comes in.

  11. Steven Novellaon 15 Dec 2009 at 2:25 pm

    That is not a leap of faith – it is intelligent inference, which is necessary in an historical science. We know evolution happened, we know that variation and natural selection are taking place and can produce the kinds of changes we see over evolutionary history, we can infer that evolution happened through natural selection.

    That hypothesis makes predictions that so far have been confirmed. That’s how science works.

  12. artfulDon 15 Dec 2009 at 2:46 pm

    You doubt that’s what she meant? What do you think she meant that made you doubt she was referring to the contribution from epigenetic factors and the huge crack in your blind mechanism door that is being forced to open by such contribution? Because life contributing to it’s own evolution, no matter how short sighted and distorted its limited view and perspective, is far from a blind process. Yet one that both the Neo-Darwinists and the Chopridiots either can’t see at all or refuse to look at.
    Because as you surely speak for either side here, there has to be “a distinct absence of evidence or even a theoretical need for any other significant mechanism in evolution.”

  13. Michael Varneyon 15 Dec 2009 at 3:05 pm

    http://thebigblogtheory.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/s03e11-the-materinal-congruence/

  14. lizkaton 15 Dec 2009 at 3:06 pm

    “the contribution from epigenetic factors”

    That is one problem I have with the current theory — it ignores all possible Lamarckian factors, some of which are beginning to be recognized. So we already have scientific evidence that neo-Darwinism is, at least, an over-simplification. And we have no idea just how over-simplified it might be. My guess — and all anyone can do right now is guess — is that evolution will start to look much more complicated as the scientific evidence comes in.

    The current theory says that all variations are independent of the experiences of the organism or its environment. Evolution is directed only after the variations have occurred, by selection, according to the current theory. And the current theory does not consider any exceptions or qualifications.

    But we have reasons to suspect that the rate of mutations can vary depending on environmental factors. And we also have reasons to suspect that the experiences of an individual organisms can have some influence on its offspring.

    It is much too soon to declare that the mechanisms of evolution have been explained.

  15. manguekenon 15 Dec 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Mark Twain wrote a very humorous rebuttal to biocentrism. His essay is called “Was The World Made for Man”.

    Here’s a link

    http://smcgrat.blogspot.com/2007/12/mark-twains-was-world-made-for-man.html

    people will get a kick out of his defense of evolution. Chopra and Lanza should have read it before writing their own rubbish.

  16. mindmeon 15 Dec 2009 at 3:37 pm

    lizkat it’s occam’s razor at work. You see a river at the bottom of a deep canyon. You know water can wear down even rock. You can measure it in a lab. You hypothesize the only mechanism necessary to create that canyon was the flowing water and a great deal of time. Your best evidence indicates a single, simple mechanism. You don’t then add in another mechanism until it’s needed. There is no leap of faith unless you want to say it’s the only possible mechanism.

    In evolution, no one thinks only selection and random mutation fully explains the origin of new species (ie “account for all evolution”).

    http://www.geol.umd.edu/~jmerck/eltsite/lectures/beyondnatsel.html

    So where’s the leap of faith, lizkat?

  17. Steven Novellaon 15 Dec 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Darwin never claimed that natural selection was the one and only mechanism of evolution. And modern evolutionary theory is not closed to other mechanisms. That is a straw man.

    Epigenetic factors and environmental factors are interesting. But they are fairly new and their role and contribution have yet to be determined. It is premature to conclude anything about how they will change our thinking of evolution.

    And of course evolutionary theory will get more complex as it progresses – that is the usual course of events in science. But scientific theories get deeper and more complex – that does not necessarily invalidate the basic premises. DNA will always be the primary substrate of inheritance, no matter how much more complexity we find.

    I would further point out that epigenetic factors are not necessarily outside the realm of natural selection. There must be a mechanism by which gene expression and mutation rates respond to the environment, and that mechanism may be subject to natural selection. We’ll see.

  18. Michael Varneyon 15 Dec 2009 at 4:51 pm

    “And of course evolutionary theory will get more complex as it progresses – that is the usual course of events in science.”

    Humm… perhaps it is more accurate to say that science becomes simpler as it progresses, but the questions it can describe answers to becomes more complex?

    Newtons laws of motion are exceedingly simple, and makes the description of how things move much more clear and simple than the previous attempts at explaining motion.

    And it is this simplicity that allows more complex questions to be answered.

    Maxwell’s equations are far more simple due to their unification of electricity and magnetism than prior theories, and there simplicity is their power in explaining a vast array of ever more complicated phenomena.

    I am certain that genetic theory and evolutionary theory will become simpler as mechanisms once thought to be separate will be unified in a better framework. And this will allow us to explain how more complicated processes happen, and allow is to do more complex manipulations of our environment.

    As for epigenetics, I have seen it abused often in attempts to explain observation in phenotype expression.
    Not sure what is causing said expression? How about epigenetics! =)

    Such a tendency is common when people are first exposed to an exciting new concept, and also by people who do not understand the concept. (Such as with the quantum-dolts abusing quantum mechanics)

  19. artfulDon 15 Dec 2009 at 4:51 pm

    So then you didn’t really mean it when you said there is “a distinct absence of evidence or even a theoretical need for any other significant mechanism in evolution.”
    Because if there were no theoretical needs for one to learn more about the “mechanism by which gene expression and mutation respond to the environment” then what is it that you are waiting to see in that regard?

    And modern evolutionary theory does seem closed to any mechanisms other than those in the list furnished by those Neo-Darwinists such as mindme (who thinks water wearing down a rock is analogous to a purposive mechanism). Note that his list has nothing to say about anything that smacks of Lamarckianism – epigenetics included.

  20. Justin L.on 15 Dec 2009 at 5:25 pm

    This is an awesome post. It’s just too bad we’re not likely to here a response from Chopra. Thanks!

  21. Michael Varneyon 15 Dec 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Chopra is trying to beam the answer through the collective consciousness! ;)

  22. artfulDon 15 Dec 2009 at 7:18 pm

    “Also, this gets to the fact that life is fine-tuned to the universe, not the other way around.”
    Most likely it’s both, that life and the universe it may have always been a part of are fine tuned to each other (assuming there is a metaphorical each other to begin with).

    “The kind of life that can exist in this universe is the kind that arose.”
    But perhaps it’s only one of many “kinds” that have arisen or have yet to arise. And thus yours also becomes an argument from final consequences, no less silly than the Chopraesque varieties.

  23. johnmatthewsonon 15 Dec 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Although the simple idea of “collapsing a wavefunction” by looking at it has long since been discredited there are some serious scientific issues relating observation to quantum physics.

    Decoherence Theory is a multiverse theory in which our classical universe is an entangled state. According to decoherence theory there are potentially an infinity of such universes but you would need to be outside of our universe to see this (!).

    As a multiverse theory the question remains as to why our particular universe has the form that it has. The anthropic principle is not an unreasonable approach to this problem. According to decoherence theory there are an infinity of universes and ours must by definition be one that allows us to exist (or at least amoebae and hence us to exist).

    There are many other problems. See QM and New Empiricism for a discussion. One of the most interesting features of theoretical investigations of the anthropic principle is that biological entities of our type are related to a particular cosmology (dimensional structure) in our universe.

  24. Dietrichdanielson 15 Dec 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Another Day, another steaming pile of Lanza BS on the HuffPo:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-lanza/can-science-resurrect-god_b_392849.html

    “Can Science Resurrect God? New Scenario Says ‘Yes’”

    Ugh.

  25. John D. Draegeron 15 Dec 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Great post Dr. Novella. The anthropic principle is flung like a steaming pile from believers in supernatural woo everywhere.

    I’d like you to send a letter like this blog post to the Huff Post! If Shermer can get published there, you can too. Your writing is excellent and so far you haven’t ticked off too many people by preaching politics like Shermer has. So you can do a lot to promote science vs. pseudoscience/supernatural/paranormal woo – and that’s exactly what is needed for people to work together on a global scale right now. You’ve got to write a book on scientific skepticism. Books, magazines, newspapers, TV, radio, YouTube videos – you need to reach more people!

  26. smoon 15 Dec 2009 at 10:20 pm

    <>

    artfulID,

    I think there might be some confusion about the logic that underlies Steven’s comment. Let’s be more precise. Suppose that a universe X comes equipped with an arbitrary class of parameters. As far as we currently know, these parameters will determine the class of lifeforms L(X) which can exist in the universe X. (Think of L as a function from the class of all universes to the class of all lifeforms which assigns to each universe all the possible lifeforms which can exist in that universe. Then L(X) is the image of the universe X under the function L).

    Suppose then our universe is U. All Steven is saying is that the set of lifeforms we observe, call it O(U), is a subset of L(U). In a sense this is a completely obvious and trivial statement. There’s no argument from final consequences, just simple class theory and logic.

    You could of course argue that no such function L exists. To do so though is to essentially say that either the universe or life is fundamentally not bound by physical laws.

  27. mindmeon 15 Dec 2009 at 11:32 pm

    ArtfulD I only use erosion as an example of a simple mechanism that can have a very large effect over time and how other forces are not invoked until necessary. Stating that it would appear simple erosion carved a deep canyon is provisional until evidence is brought to light that another mechanism is required on top of erosion is not a leap of faith, as liz would have it.

    Where you’re getting notions I meant anything it beyond that is quite frankly bizarre to not only me but I’m sure most readers of this blog.

    And where you get “And modern evolutionary theory does seem closed to any mechanisms other than those in the list furnished by those Neo-Darwinists such as mindme” is also bizarre. I simply list known mechanism of evolution beyond liz’s sophomoric claim that evolution explains everything via selection of favorable random mutations. (“It can be used to explain some adaptation, but it requires a leap of faith to assume it can account for all evolution.”)

    I’m sure you’ve had this patiently explained to you many times, but modern evolutionary theory is not closed to any mechanism backed by sufficient evidence.

    Is that not at all clear to you? Is that too subtle a point for you? Or is this all some kind of elementary exercise for you?

  28. weingon 15 Dec 2009 at 11:42 pm

    “Most likely it’s both, that life and the universe it may have always been a part of are fine tuned to each other (assuming there is a metaphorical each other to begin with).”

    And you have evidence for this claim?

    ““The kind of life that can exist in this universe is the kind that arose.”
    But perhaps it’s only one of many “kinds” that have arisen or have yet to arise. And thus yours also becomes an argument from final consequences”

    I don’t follow this. What are you talking about? What other kinds of life do you have evidence for?

  29. artfulDon 16 Dec 2009 at 12:18 am

    mindme, your erosion example has no relevance to anything that can be called a selective mechanism. And lizkat made no claim that remotely resembles the one you labeled sophomoric. Her claim was that the current theory, as one example, ignores all possible Lamarckian factors, and you were quick to confirm that.
    As to your version of “patient explanation” either to her or to me, it’s like a child explaining their view of the word to an adult – amusing but not usually or hardly informative.
    Your Neo-Darwinist version IS closed to any view that smacks of the Lamarckian, and your previous simplistic remarks about application of Occam’s razor and the old water running down hill canard are typical of your superficial understanding of even your own doctrines. Too subtle for me? Well I get the part about the way erosion works. The subtlety of its selective choice making functionality does escape me.

  30. artfulDon 16 Dec 2009 at 12:29 am

    weing, what evidence do you have that life, as we (or at least you) have observed it, is the only form that ever existed in this universe? Assuming you can come up with a definition of life that we can work with to suggest other forms that may or may not fit the question.

  31. sonicon 16 Dec 2009 at 12:53 am

    Serious question-
    Darwin suggested bacteria could be bred and eventually you could end up with elephants. The people who actually breed animals will tell you that is not true and that they have millions of examples compiled over thousands of years to make the point.
    Darwin argued that it could happen given millions of years- and nobody can deny it.
    How is that different from an argument from ignorance?

  32. artfulDon 16 Dec 2009 at 1:47 am

    sonic, I’d ask those breeders if they accept that bacteria and elephants had a common ancestor to begin with. The time span having covered a bit more than the thousands of years the breeders claim to have turned to for their evidence.
    In any case Darwin wasn’t arguing that he was right because it couldn’t be proved he was wrong. He did have a pretty good idea that if elephants once had bacteria as an ancestor, bacteria might be persuaded to repeat the process.
    Mindme’s ancestors would of course have offered to select a hill they could roll the bacteria down from.

  33. bachfiendon 16 Dec 2009 at 5:08 am

    Sonic,
    Where is your reference that Darwin believed that bacteria could be bred into elephants? I don’t know whether Darwin had much knowledge of bacteria at all; they were only named as such in 1838, and Pasteur only proved that they were responsible for fermentation in 1859. I don’t think that they were on many peoples’ horizons during Darwin’s lifetime.

  34. mindmeon 16 Dec 2009 at 8:25 am

    ||mindme, your erosion example has no relevance to anything that can be called a selective mechanism. ||

    You really need to start reading what people write. Again, you return with wild eyed claims. Go back, re-read what I wrote, and then actually comment on that. K?

    ||And lizkat made no claim that remotely resembles the one you labeled sophomoric. ||

    Again, you really need to start reading what people write. I quoted her directly.

    ||Your Neo-Darwinist version IS closed to any view that smacks of the Lamarckian, and your previous simplistic remarks about application of Occam’s razor and the old water running down hill canard are typical of your superficial understanding of even your own doctrines.||

    Again, you really need to start reading what people write.

    || Too subtle for me?||

    Yup. Seems so.

  35. johnmatthewsonon 16 Dec 2009 at 8:45 am

    Here is an excellent paper that Steven Novella might enjoy reading:

    Time, Quantum Mechanics, and Probability (Saunders 1996). Its by that rare beast, a philosopher that knows their physics. The reflections on continuity in time are particularly interesting (See also QM and New Empiricism).

  36. weingon 16 Dec 2009 at 9:22 am

    Artie,

    That’s a dodge, and not a very artful one to boot. You made the claim, but as you have no evidence, I assume it’s just idle speculation on your part. What is the definition of life that you were using? Not the standard textbook one?

  37. Steven Novellaon 16 Dec 2009 at 9:30 am

    sonic – this is not true for a very important reason. Stephen J Gould pointed this out, I don’t know if Darwin ever discussed it.

    As life evolved it becomes progressively constrained, and the potential for later disparity is reduced. Bacteria living today are highly evolved bacteria. They are not the same as the single-celled created from 3 billion years ago.

    A dog cannot evolve into a giraffe, because it is already committed down a different developmental path. It might evolve into a giraffe-like dog.

    Gould argued that life on earth achieved maximal disparity (not diversity – that’s different) soon after the Cambrian explosion. From that point forward we had more diversity but within narrower disparity (amount of difference among forms). Once committed, for example, to a basic vertebrate body plan the ability to evolve radically different forms was lost. A vertebrate will never evolve into a seastar.

  38. Steven Novellaon 16 Dec 2009 at 9:35 am

    artfulD wrote:
    ““The kind of life that can exist in this universe is the kind that arose.”
    But perhaps it’s only one of many “kinds” that have arisen or have yet to arise. And thus yours also becomes an argument from final consequences, no less silly than the Chopraesque varieties.”

    You misunderstand – by “kind” of life I only meant that any life that does arise, by definition, must be compatible with the laws of physics in this universe. That is the only constraint.

    We can imagine (we don’t know if it’s possible) a different universe with different laws but that still allow the complex and stable interactions necessary for something like life to arise. They would think their universe if fine-tuned to them.

    There is simply no reason to hypothesize that our universe if fine-tuned to life. All we can say is that this universe allows for the possibility of life.

  39. islandon 16 Dec 2009 at 11:49 am

    heh… Lanza is a hack and Chopra is a full blown crank, but the author of this blog appears to be utterly clueless as to why we have an anthropic principle, and I can’t even believe that Varney let the crackpot run off at the mouth, unabated.

    But the claim that the laws of the universe are what they are so that we can exist is to commit several logical fallacies all at once. First, it is an argument from final consequences – assuming that the final result is the cause. Rather, it is more valid to say that we are here because the laws of nature allow it – rather than that the laws of nature were designed so that we may be here.

    um, no actually, that’s no why they say that. It is “the appearance of design” that the bio-oriented physics presents which inspires these speculations.

    I could go on and on and on… but I’ll just leave it at… the author, like Lanza, is a doctor, not a physicist, and they should both mind their own uneducated business.

  40. artfulDon 16 Dec 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Dr. Novella, you quote the Chopradolts are saying “These fundamental constants (like the strength of gravity) are not predicted by any theory — all seem to be carefully chosen, often with great precision, to allow for existence of life.”
    The weakness there is the “carefully chosen” conclusion based on the evidence of what “seems” to be.
    But as to fine tuning, that’s not necessarily a matter of choice. All causation can be plausibly regarded as a fine tuning process.

    Further, we cannot assume that life began in the cosmos at some time subsequent to the existence of the laws of physics. It’s more logical to posit that the choice making process that is essential to life, and the laws that this process will necessarily “obey,” have existed together forever. Less logical would be the assumption required to qualify as a creationist that before there was something there was nothing – until a Godlike entity rose out of the nowhere into the somewhere.
    More likely (based on our logic that is the determinant of the likely) if there was any fine tuning needed at all to produce life, it would have been to the inevitability of the combined effects of natural causation. The laws by which choice may have always been a factor “creating” our version of the choice making process, the only life that we know, accordingly.

  41. artfulDon 16 Dec 2009 at 3:14 pm

    weing, you’re doing the dodging because of course what I wrote was speculative and clearly identified as such. You protest that the speculation lacks plausibility but cant say why. Par for the course where you’re concerned. You also imply you are using the text book definition of life. Would that be the definition of life on earth or perhaps one like Sagan’s definition allowing for different forms elsewhere in the cosmos?

    As to mindme, he repeats that lizkat wrote what he says she did, but can’t seem to find the quotation – which I can’t seem to find as well. Shame on us both.
    He also seems to deny that he referred to erosion as a mechanism analogous to selection. Leaving that reference then as essentially pointless.

  42. Steven Novellaon 16 Dec 2009 at 3:24 pm

    island – I disagree. You seem to be talking about biocentrism more generally, when clearly I was describing the anthropic principle (specifically the strong anthropic principle).

    There is no “appearance of design” in the laws of nature themselves in this argument, except that they allow for the existence of life. And so in that case you are making a distinction without a difference.

    I would also point out that your drive-by criticism, while common in blog comments, is not constructive. Just saying – “Bah! you don’t know what you are talking about” accomplishes nothing of value.

    If you have constructive feedback, let’s hear it. I am always willing to learn.

  43. sonicon 16 Dec 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Steven-
    You (or perhaps more properly Gould) seem to be arguing that evolution has definite limits and that all creatures today are subject to those limits. Yet in some past creature those limits didn’t exist.
    If you can’t show me the creature, then you are making an argument from ignorance aren’t you?

    artfulD-
    I believe you are making the same argument from ignorance. (ie. The breeders experience/experimental evidence is trumped by the fact we can’t disprove what would happen given enough time)
    (BTW- Some breeders I have talked to agree that all life has a common ancestor- it just a question of what)

    bachfiend-
    Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria in 1676. The name bacterium was coined in 1838. Darwin’s book was published in 1859.

    island-
    good luck!

  44. islandon 16 Dec 2009 at 4:49 pm

    I see, so when speaking of the physics for the anthropic principle, strong atheist physicist and “the father of string theory”, Lenny Susskind, says that “the universe appears designed for life”, you think that this means that the physics for the anthropic principle isn’t bio-oriented.

    I am always willing to learn.

    You would be the first, but let’s see… Per Lenny’s authoritative opinion of the anthropic physics, do you still maintain that there is no appearance of design in the laws of nature?

    I have to say that if that happens, as things stand now we will be in a very awkward position. Without any explanation of nature’s fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics.

    The appearance of design is undeniable
    -Leonard Susskind

  45. artfulDon 16 Dec 2009 at 4:54 pm

    sonic, according to the Skeptic’s dictionary, the argument from ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantiam is a logical fallacy of irrelevance occurring when one claims that something is true only because it hasn’t been proved false, or that something is false only because it has not been proved true.

    Under that definition, the only one in your example arguing fallaciously from ignorance would be yourself. Otherwise, to the extent that no-one can know anything to a certainty, we are all arguing from some degree of ignorance.

  46. weingon 16 Dec 2009 at 5:04 pm

    sonic,

    You still haven’t given a reference for your bacteria to elephant statement attributed to Darwin. When and where did he ever say such a thing? Or is it something made up for a creationist strawman argument?

  47. artfulDon 16 Dec 2009 at 5:59 pm

    The alleged quotes attributed to Susskind were not to be found in the same context as the comment about the fine tuning was taken from an interview published in NewScientist, http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18825305.800-is-string-theory-in-trouble.html?full=true

    And the alleged comment that the appearance of design is undeniable will have come from his book, Cosmic Landscape: String theory and the illusion of intelligent design. Because Susskind is arguing that the appearance is deceptive, and has further asserted that he does not believe in an Intelligent designer.

    And then he talks more about the fine-tuning in the same NewScientist interview: “The logic of the anthropic principle requires the strong assumption that our kind of life is the only kind possible. Why should we presume that all life is like us – carbon-based, needs water, and so forth? How do we know that life cannot exist in radically different environments? If life could exist without galaxies, the argument that the cosmological constant seems improbably fine-tuned for life would lose all of its force. And we don’t know that life of all kinds can’t exist in a wide variety of circumstances, maybe in all circumstances. It a valid objection. But in my heart of hearts, I just don’t believe that life could exist in the interior of a star, for instance, or in a black hole.”

    (Reminds me of what I said earlier that some like weing found implausible.)

  48. mindmeon 16 Dec 2009 at 6:02 pm

    ||As to mindme, he repeats that lizkat wrote what he says she did, but can’t seem to find the quotation – which I can’t seem to find as well. Shame on us both.||

    Artful she stated (# lizkat on 15 Dec 2009 at 1