Jul 31 2014

Just Asking Questions – Creation Edition

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133 Responses to “Just Asking Questions – Creation Edition”

  1. The Other John Mcon 31 Jul 2014 at 9:02 am

    I can’t recommend Dawkins “Selfish Gene” enough, favorite book ever. Helps answer a lot of these simple questions by walking through them all and a comfortable pace. Perfect for a non-specialist as well…even JAQ-offs should be able to understand it.

  2. mumadaddon 31 Jul 2014 at 9:16 am

    I’m with you on that one, Other John.

    Back when I read that I was less familiar with Dawk’s voice, and ended up with Stewie Griffin from family guy intoning about evolution in my head. They do sound somewhat similar.

  3. mumadaddon 31 Jul 2014 at 9:17 am

    But then I also used to get Ray Romano in my head whenever I read Neurologica blog.

  4. BillyJoe7on 31 Jul 2014 at 9:45 am

    It seems Fred Reed has answered his own questions: “I am clueless”

  5. BillyJoe7on 31 Jul 2014 at 10:00 am

    Steven:

    “It looks designed because it was designed by evolution”

    I prefer Richard Dawkins’ take to Daniel Dennett’s.
    It looks designed. Period.
    Evolution does not do designing…it is not teleological.

    “there are those who feel that because our brains must follow the laws of physics, we do not truly have free will. Others feel that it all depends on how you define free will”

    I would put it like this: There are those who say we do not have freewill, and there are those who redefine freewill in order to say that we do indeed have freewill.
    Dawkins v Dennett again.

  6. Steven Novellaon 31 Jul 2014 at 10:46 am

    BJ – bottom-up design is not teleological. I think that this is a better way to conceptualize, because the difference between top-down processes and bottom-up processes are fundamental and good to understand.

    How does it help our understanding to say, “It looks designed. Period.” Why does it look designed? What does it mean to look designed?

    The bottom-up approach answers these questions.

  7. Steven Novellaon 31 Jul 2014 at 10:47 am

    Regarding free will – again, this just dodges the very real question, how do you define “free will.” But I am not going to get sucked into this particular debate in these comments.

  8. The Other John Mcon 31 Jul 2014 at 11:04 am

    “I also used to get Ray Romano in my head whenever I read Neurologica blog”

    That would almost be enough for me to give up blogging forever, hehe.

  9. Bruceon 31 Jul 2014 at 11:07 am

    Dawkins’ approach is a bit too dismissive for my liking, he tends to bring out out the tone troll in me so I have to be careful about my assumptions when it comes to his quotes.

    In saying that, if something has a defined process then you can very easily say that something is designed by that process. No matter how the chaotic the process is, the process is still a well understood and that organism got to where it is today because of it. Dennett’s approach makes me ask how evolution could have designed it, and is more of a platform for delving into the nuts and bolts of how evolution works.

  10. BluesBassManon 31 Jul 2014 at 11:21 am

    Nice deconstruction of loaded “questions.” However, I interpret Reed’s question #3 differently than you did interpret. I take it to mean he’s asking why hasn’t anyone in a lab created life from non-life, rather than why haven’t we observed abiogenesis to occur in nature.

    It seems he’s trying to claim that if the first life form were sufficiently simple to have arisen by “chance,” then scientists should be able to replicate that in the lab using, as Reed puts it, sophisticated biochemistry. His use of the word “accomplished” in the question indicates to me he’s referring to conscious intent by scientists, instead referring to a natural process.

  11. mumadaddon 31 Jul 2014 at 11:22 am

    There’s a subtle but very real effect from using words like ‘design’ when talking about evolution. There are other examples too – like when we say things like ‘species x developed y trait in order to z’. It’s more a limitation of language than anything else I think, but back when I read The Selfish Gene I realised that I’d fallen into the trap of projecting intentionality onto natural processes, albeit in a very subtle way.

    It would probably make more sense to say species are ‘shaped’ by evolution rather than designed. Design, in any other context, does imply intention.

  12. mumadaddon 31 Jul 2014 at 11:26 am

    Sorry, I should add to that, I’m not merely nitpicking here. Even though I know that nature has no designer and no purpose, I found it difficult to side step the connotations of the language that’s used to describe evolution to lay-people.

  13. Bruceon 31 Jul 2014 at 11:28 am

    Possibly, but even then ‘shaped’ could imply intention… though it makes me think more of the clay scene in “Ghost”.

    We are splitting hairs here with semantics. As long as “Intelligent” or any its synonyms is kept away from “design” and any of its synonyms I am happy to use whatever word is least offensive.

  14. Ori Vandewalleon 31 Jul 2014 at 11:51 am

    It’s hard to use verbs without intentionality. Erosion carves rocks into beautiful structures that look like art, but erosion is not an artist.

  15. WTon 31 Jul 2014 at 12:25 pm

    An excellent post, Dr. Novella. Not to nitpick, however, but my understanding of question #3 (abiogenesis) was that Reed was not asking why abiogenesis is not occurring naturally now, but was rather asking essentially why modern biochemistry has not yet successfully replicated abiogenesis in a lab setting.

    That question is, of course, as flawed as the others:

    1) Unlike evolution, our understanding of abiogenesis is still very preliminary. There are many competing hypotheses and models because there are so many unknown variables when it comes to early Earth and early life, and I suspect the number of experimenters testing those different models is relatively small.

    2) While life appears to have arisen quickly on Earth from the standpoint of deep time (cosmological/geological/evolutionary), current estimates still range anywhere from 150 million years to 750 million years after the formation of Earth. Given that amount of time, and given the entire Earth to work with, it is certainly possible that abiogenesis was an exceptionally rare and unlikely event, and will therefore be very difficult to replicate. Given enough time and space, exceptionally rare and unlikely events become certainties.

    I’m sure there are other flaws to tease out as well.

    Again, thank you for the excellent post.

  16. jsterritton 31 Jul 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Remember this dumb “question from creationists”…?

    13. Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

    It’s sad that kittens turn into cats, but it doesn’t confound me. I myself was once a little pink baby in a bassinet. As far as I know, all insects undergo metamorphosis from larval to adult, as well as some fish and crustaceans. This question, though, is probably concerned only with butterflies, which creationists see as a particular marvel that is somehow proof of a creator-baker putting a pie back in the oven because it isn’t done yet. Of course metamorphosis supports evolution, as do all of the crazy quirks, riffs, and variations of life processes.

    I will also add that I don’t care how British you are…in my experience, only morons (and never scholars) phrase things like this: “if indeed it be not replicated.”

  17. steve12on 31 Jul 2014 at 1:01 pm

    Just to throw in some context re: the guy he’s writing to, John Derbyshire is a hardcore racist ass hole who got fired from National Review Online for saying that genetically, whites have superior intelligence than blacks. HE’s reiterated that stance several times since then.

    He’s in the same vein as Steve Sailer – one of these guys who embraces evolutionary theory so that they can maintain that everyone’s dumber than white people, and science says so.

  18. jsterritton 31 Jul 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Dr Novella…

    Great post. You really hit some nails on some heads re JAQing.

    “The answers he seeks are a mouse-click away if he truly wanted the answer.” Amen.

    “Don’t presume that your questions are weaknesses in the theory rather than weaknesses in your own understanding.” Hallelujah.

    The coy, cute, just-asking-questions routine is as stale as it is infuriating. If I had a nickel for every time someone used this lazy device to keep their goalposts pinballing and the burden of proof shifted, I’d have, like, a couple bucks. I’m sure you’d be a wealthy man.

  19. chadwickjoneson 31 Jul 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Great post!

  20. Steven Novellaon 31 Jul 2014 at 3:42 pm

    regarding question #3, you may be right. It’s ambiguous. Either way, it’s still a clueless question.

    The problem with the challenge is that there is no sharp demarcation between chemicals and life. So where do you set the bar?

    Also, by his own formulation – if we consider “the first critter” (itself making a lot of assumptions) to be simple, then we can cook it up in a lab. The problem is, he would probably not accept anything simple enough to reproduce in lab. In order to qualify as life, we are already so complex as to require millions of years of evolution.

    Likely there was a long period of chemical evolution before the pieces were sufficient to call what was happening life.

    I guess the primary fallacy here is to equate the millions of years of chemical evolution leading to “the first critter” with something that can be done in the lab. If we synthesized a replicating molecule, would that qualify? They would likely say – you didn’t evolve it,you designed it. But that is the point, we would need millions of years to evolve life. So the challenge is pointless.

  21. WTon 31 Jul 2014 at 4:35 pm

    I completely agree that creationists, IDers, etc. almost certainly would not accept a self-replicating molecule, even if synthesized in a Miller-Urey-style experiment (i.e., not designed, but synthesized by simulating early Earth conditions), as evidence for abiogenesis. It would not be considered “alive”.

    I suspect the reaction would be very similar to the demand for “transitional” fossils. Trying to explain the flaws in the very concept of a “transitional” fossil gets nowhere, and any fossils presented are immediately deemed insufficient. All hominin fossils are either “obviously” human or “obviously” non-human. Similarly, any steps along the way between a self-replicating molecule to a self-replicating cell or “critter” would either be “obviously” alive or “obviously” not alive. Despite their assumptions, there are no sharp demarcations between human and our hominin ancestors, just like there are no sharp demarcations between chemicals and life.

  22. BillyJoe7on 31 Jul 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Steven,

    “BJ – bottom-up design is not teleological”

    I was commenting on the phrase “designed by evolution”.
    Design implies intention and evolution is not intentional or teleological.
    So I would prefer to say that it looks designed.

    “I think that this is a better way to conceptualize, because the difference between top-down processes and bottom-up processes are fundamental and good to understand”

    Fair enough.
    But notice you have now also let go of the word “design” and used “processes” instead.
    I’m happy with that. (:

    “How does it help our understanding to say, “It looks designed. Period.” Why does it look designed? What does it mean to look designed?”

    It looks designed because it looks as if there was intention to produce the end product whereas, in fact, it was just mindless random mutation and natural selection.

    “The bottom-up approach answers these questions”

    I’m happy with bottom up processes. (:
    Random mutation and natural selection are bottom up processes.

    “Regarding free will – again, this just dodges the very real question, how do you define “free will.” But I am not going to get sucked into this particular debate in these comments.”

    The original meaning of freewill was pretty clear. It’s FREE and it’s WILLed
    And it clearly needs a re-definition to get it to comply with the “cause and effect” of classical physics or the “probability” of quantum physics.

  23. jsterritton 31 Jul 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Dr Novella…

    “I guess the primary fallacy here is to equate the millions of years of chemical evolution leading to “the first critter” with something that can be done in the lab.”

    Creationists/intelligent designers are the laziest grand conspiracy types out there. Look at the hustle truthers and anti-GMOers show, ginning up ever more complicated, outlandish, and distracting memes. Creationists trot out the same weary canards ad nauseum. Their default position is: “show me” — as in replicate before our eyes billions of years of evolution. They are so wedded to the idea of a creator/designer that they seem to think that evolution should be reproducible. Transitional fossils of every iteration should be warehoused like experimental models and prototypes, producible at a moment’s notice. Surely if we accomplished it once, we can do it again on command (again, here’s that same idea that evolution must be some kind of plan). Maybe we just have to go to the shed to get the old potions and parts we used the first time around. C’mon, chop chop!

  24. tmac57on 31 Jul 2014 at 7:29 pm

    jsterritt- You make a lot of good points and I enjoy your comments here.
    I would hazard a guess that the most die hard creationists would never,ever concede their position,even after moving the goals so far as to say that “Okay,it’s 2399,and you Darwinists finally succeeded in replicating abiogenesis,shown how that can evolve to higher life,found a way to accelerate that process by many orders of magnitude,and managed to create an entire modern human from scratch,but all you’ve done is show that humans can do it,but that’s clearly not the way that GOD did it!” And of course “abomination,burn in hell,spawn of Satan yada yada yada…”

  25. jsterritton 31 Jul 2014 at 7:44 pm

    tmac57…

    I think that’s what makes them so lazy. Knowing full-well in advance that you will never, ever concede ground in an argument must make for easy living, indeed.

  26. agentlionon 31 Jul 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Steven mentioned “You can’t boil down complex human behavior and culture to simplistic and specific adaptive pressures”, but I think this point deserves much more emphasis in discussions like this, and from evolution proponents in general.

    I know science proponents spend a lot of time claiming that we aren’t special – the earth isn’t special in the galaxy, our galaxy isn’t special in the universe, humans aren’t special and we’re just one of millions of organisms that evolved on earth, etc. But, I think it’s undeniable that humans ARE special…. whatever it is that separates us from the other primates (consciousness, advanced tool making, whatever) has allowed us to effectively overcome the normal, historical evolutionary pressures.

    All of the points that Reed raises about “why does it make sense for people to do X”, like limit their birth rate, not kill (or simply not allow to die) the “genetically retarded”, etc, can be answered by looking at the rest of the animal kingdom, where those things still do hold true. Other animals don’t have to worry about careers and paying for college and buying housing, so they do try to have large litters, or mate often, or produce offspring at whatever rate is best of the survival of their species. The “genetically retarded” offspring of other animals simply die while they’re young and don’t make it to adulthood. It’s purely a byproduct of human created science that “retarded” babies are even able to survive, then a byproduct of human compassion through our self awareness that we spend resources on helping them survive into adulthood.

    Evolution allowed our predecessor species to survive long enough to survive, just like any other animal, until we became homosapiens. But after that point, and especially in the past couple hundred years where our society has evolved enough so that our main goal in life is no longer just to survive another day, or to survive long enough to reproduce, we should be happy to say that human behavior is no longer largely driven by evolutionary pressures. In first world countries, our continued survival is taken for granted, so we are free to pursue other goals like happiness, comfort and peace, which often push us to do things that don’t make sense from a purely evolutionary view.

  27. tmac57on 31 Jul 2014 at 10:54 pm

    agentlion- It may very well turn out that our view of ourselves as being ‘special’ coupled with our apex predator status and high intelligence,may lead to our untimely demise due to a lack of perspective of the whole.
    The dinosaurs dominated the earth for many millions of years,while modern humans have brought our entire planet to the brink of catastrophe in a mere 150,000 years or so.
    So I guess we are special in some aspects,but I would not necessarily revel in that.
    We have much urgent work to do yet before we can afford to be sanguine about our privileged place in the universe.

  28. RCon 01 Aug 2014 at 1:32 pm

    SN:”Evolutionary theory is conceptually complex, when you dig down to the nuances.”

    See, I think a lot of people have trouble with evolution because they think it’s more complex than it actually is. People start asking questions like “why did this evolve”, when that’s giving evolution more… agency(?) then it actually has. There is no why in evolution, there’s no planning, it’s just billions of years of tiny advantages collecting.

  29. The Other John Mcon 01 Aug 2014 at 2:44 pm

    RC: “billions of years of tiny advantages collecting” — well put, good way to think about it.

  30. Beerceon 01 Aug 2014 at 5:14 pm

    For me, it’s Morgan Freeman who does the narrating in my head… The man has a gift.

    Actually I can sometimes get Sagan going but only when I’m reading his books or something with lots of “b’s” in it… and it eventually reverts back to Morgan Freeman anyway.

  31. jnankivelon 02 Aug 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Excellent deconstruction of a typical main course of intellectual laziness, side dish of disingenuous hyperbole with a dash of honest ignorance for flavor.

    Well done, Dr. Novella. And thank you.

  32. BillyJoe7on 02 Aug 2014 at 8:32 pm

    agentlion,

    “But, I think it’s undeniable that humans ARE special…. whatever it is that separates us from the other primates”

    You would be hard pressed to come up with a characteristic of humans that is not also present in at least one other animal species even if just at a rudimentary level. In this sense, humans are not special, which is the sense in which evolutionary biologists use that word in this context.

    “human behavior is no longer largely driven by evolutionary pressures”

    Yes, we are capable of overcoming the tyranny of our genes as Richard Dawkins put it in his book “The selfish Gene”. Fred Reed has obviously not read the book.

  33. D. Fosdickon 03 Aug 2014 at 12:40 am

    BillyJoe: I always thought that it was obvious that humans are the only critters on the planet that can manipulate energy sources at will. Specifically, our ancestors figured out how to capture, tame, and use wildfire to their advantage. After a long period of time, humans figured out how to create fire almost any time they needed it. Does any other animal do that? If you are a slow runner without fangs and claws, a big fire is a good thing to have! Also, I understand that cooked meat is more easily digested and conferred an evolutionary advantage upon our ancestors.

    Dawkins: “River out of Eden” is my favorite beginner book on evolution.

    JSterritt: “Knowing full-well in advance that you will never, ever concede ground in an argument must make for easy living, indeed.” — Well said! Had a good chuckle at that well-turned phrase!

    Free Will: Full disclosure: I have not read all of the books with arguments and counter-arguments about whether or not there is free will. I gather that there are those that think that there is not such a thing as free will, since our mind is simply a product of our brain, which in turn is a product of our genes, and thus is determined by the physical processes of biology. However, I thought that it was well understood that our billions of neuronal connections are not pre-determined solely by our genes, but are also a consequence of the womb, infant nutrition and environment, childhood education, etc., and not fully complete until about age 25. If my understanding is correct, then genetic pre-determination is impossible. Isn’t it?

    Steven Novella: Yet another terrific post. Thanks again!

  34. BillyJoe7on 03 Aug 2014 at 12:52 am

    Nobody wants to get into the freewill discussion but…

    Freewill is like a mirage in the desert. It looks like water from a distance, but when you get up close…

    If the brain has freewill, then so does the weather.

    If Gary Kasparov has freewill, then so does Deep Blue.

  35. BillyJoe7on 03 Aug 2014 at 1:05 am

    D.Fosdick,

    “I always thought that it was obvious that humans are the only critters on the planet that can manipulate energy sources…

    The social insects cultivate fungi as food sources.

    “…at will”

    Well, that’s another discussion. (;

    “If my understanding is correct, then genetic pre-determination is impossible. Isn’t it?”

    You are correct about genetics PLUS environment being the determinants, but it’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone express the opinion that it’s only genetics.

  36. D. Fosdickon 03 Aug 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Billy Joe,

    Is the reason that nobody wants to discuss free will, is because it’s like politics or religion? I suppose I’m going to have to buy a couple of books… Nevertheless, it seems obvious to me, if we define free will as: “Humans have the ability to weigh the consequences of two or more actions (or decide not to, which is still a choice), and deliberately choose among them.” So. If you agree with that definition, then let’s take your chess game as an example. I do not agree that, “If Gary Kasparov has freewill, then so does Deep Blue.” Gary can quit the game. He can deliberately make a wrong move. He can decide not to play that day. He can eat a sandwich or a pizza, instead. Deep Blue can do none of these things. Now, about the weather: “If the brain has freewill, then so does the weather.” The weather is not predetermined by initial conditions. That’s why we can’t predict more than a few days with any confidence. The untold trillions of molecules in the atmosphere interact in unpredictable ways. The weather does not have free will, nor is it predestined. A human brain has billions of neurons, formed and changed over the course of decades. Our mind is a product of our brain functions. We learn over the course of growing up that, in many, many things we do, we have choices that we can make. And that actions have consequences. We can plunge in, heedless, or we can proceed with caution. We can react emotionally — or rein in our emotions, override them, and choose logically. Our lives are not predetermined. Ergo, we have free will, and the weather does not. Of course, this conclusion is predicated on the definition above.

    as to the other comment,

    Manipulating fire is not equivalent to farming. I don’t think that any other animal can do what hominids were doing hundreds of thousands of years ago. They tamed fire and used it as protection, as well as for food preparation and preservation.

  37. jsterritton 03 Aug 2014 at 1:58 pm

    BJ7…

    You offer three analogies. I’m not writing to agree or disagree with them, but I can’t resist getting out my red felt pen and making some comments. The first analogy is poetic — just a harmless metaphor, so let’s move on. The second two are false analogies, false equivalencies, or at least make an argument from analogy with insufficient information for comparison. You know we skeptics hate that :)

    I would add that I genuinely like all three analogies and find them appealing. Perhaps you are guilty of making an “argument from pithiness.”

    “Freewill is like a mirage in the desert. It looks like water from a distance, but when you get up close…”

    “If the brain has freewill, then so does the weather.”

    “If Gary Kasparov has freewill, then so does Deep Blue.”

  38. D. Fosdickon 03 Aug 2014 at 10:13 pm

    correction: I meant to say, “neurons and synapses” — not just “neurons”

  39. Nitpickingon 04 Aug 2014 at 8:09 am

    Steve, a small thing, but the bell curve is not named after a person called “Bell” and should not be capitalized. It’s called that because of its shape.

  40. The Other John Mcon 04 Aug 2014 at 8:15 am

    I’ll back up Billy Joe here for a moment, Fosdick you said: “Gary can quit the game. He can deliberately make a wrong move. He can decide not to play that day. He can eat a sandwich or a pizza, instead. Deep Blue can do none of these things”

    But Deep Blue can look at move X on the chessboard, then look at move Y, then think about move Z and how it might play out for say 10+ moves ahead. He can weigh his options and decide not to play move Y, but instead go with his original pick, Move X.

    The system (both Kasparov and Deep Blue) are weighing options, computing various future with some of those options and exploring the consequences, and coming to a decision, all with one over-arching goal in mind, to win the game.

    Intelligence is the pursuit of goals in the face of obstacles: the more variety/possibility for accomplishing goal-seeking behaviors, the more intelligent, generally speaking. In playing chess, Deep Blue should absolutely be considered intelligent. In ordering pizza, Deep Blue is a total dunce. But while most people can order pizza, almost no one can challenge Kasparov in chess.

    I feel comfortable ascribing something like “free-will” to Deep Blue, at least in the chess domain, because his moves are essentially unpredictable, complex, and clearly goal-directed It’s just that DB’s possibility space is smaller than Kasparov’s, not that he has no possibility space. Kasparov himself seems to have felt disturbed by the impression of a “ghost in the machine” playing unpredictable and dastardly/clever moves: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Blue_versus_Garry_Kasparov#Game_1_2

    It’s an interesting issue, what do you think?

  41. BillyJoe7on 04 Aug 2014 at 8:37 am

    D.Fosdick,

    “if we define free will as: “Humans have the ability to weigh the consequences of two or more actions (or decide not to, which is still a choice), and deliberately choose among them.” ”

    That’s close enough to the original definition of freewill.
    It is also the dualist version of freewill.
    It is also the version of freewill that cannot exist:

    “Gary can quit the game. He can deliberately make a wrong move. He can decide not to play that day. He can eat a sandwich or a pizza, instead”

    The materialist version is that what Gary Kasparov does is the result of cause and effect relations within the brain which includes the input from the senses as well as from memory stores within the brain and the state of emotional centres within the brain. He cannot have done otherwise.

    If you say that Gary Kasparov was able to do other than what his brain determined him to do through cause and effect, then on what basis does he decide to do otherwise? Of course you have to reply that his decision is not based on anything, otherwise we are back to deterministic cause and effect and, therefore, there is no freewill. On the other hand, if you say that his decision is not based on anything, then what is the mechanism by which he decides to do otherwise. The only other mechanism, other than deterministic cause and effect, consists of a metaphorical coin flip. But how does that add up to freewill?
    The whole concept of dualist freewill is incoherent.

    “Deep Blue can do none of these things”

    Actually Deep Blue could be programmed to randomly quit the game or randomly make a wrong move.
    But, let’s restrict ourselves to Gary Kasparov and Deep Blue trying to win a game of chess.
    How is what Gary Kasparov does any different from what Deep Blue does?

  42. BillyJoe7on 04 Aug 2014 at 8:41 am

    jsterritt,

    “I would add that I genuinely like all three analogies and find them appealing. Perhaps you are guilty of making an “argument from pithiness”"

    :)

  43. BillyJoe7on 04 Aug 2014 at 8:48 am

    TOJM,

    Good analysis of the chess game GK v DB for D.Fosdick to ponder. (:
    However…

    “I feel comfortable ascribing something like “free-will” to Deep Blue”

    If by “free-will” you don’t actually mean freewill but it’s redinition for the purposes of saving its ass, I would agree. However, calling a spade a spade, so I prefer to call freewill non-existent. (;

  44. Bruceon 04 Aug 2014 at 8:54 am

    D Fosdick,

    I think we really have to stop ourselves from falling into the trap of thinking that just because our brains are currently immeasurably complex and not fully understood, that the world we interact with is itself bombarding us with hundreds, thousands, millions of inputs every second that we somehow are not just a massively complex computer system reacting to the stimuli it is given.

    Sure, we can think about thinking, which is a step above most other intelligence systems we know of, and we are “individual” in that our DNA and initial programming is different from person to person, but ultimately there is very little to suggest there is a force outside of our physical make-up that would make us choose something other than what has been firstly programmed by our DNA and the years of “experience” (read stimuli) that has then been entered.

    The great experiment for me would be to take two people with exactly the same DNA and have them get concieved and grow up in exactly the same way, from second to second… and see if they would then react differently at different times. I would say they don’t… I would say they would act exactly the same way to every single cue. Of course, this is an impossible experiment in more ways than one… exact replication would be nigh on impossible, in both the DNA structure and the stimuli from moment 0 and it might even require the exact same space/time moment… so it could never be proven. Logically it holds together for me though.

  45. mumadaddon 06 Aug 2014 at 4:54 am

    Like with many things (religion, woo in general), people who believe in free will, in my opinion, often can’t properly define what it is they believe in and have not thought through the logical implications or problems with their vague belief. I’m not targeting you specifically here, DFosdick.

    Using the definitions given above, free will is broken on any level you want to look at it. On the neurological level, we’re an intelligent, decision making machine responding to external inputs to further goal oriented behaviour. On the biological level, any possible choices we could in theory make are constrained by our physicality. On a genetic level, our behaviour is programmed by natural selection and non-selective factors such as genetic drift.

    None of these on their own completely kill free will, but the kicker for me is that we are only physical stuff in a physical system of cause and effect. The universe is essentially one giant, elaborate Rube Goldberg device with some quantum probability thrown in. So you either have mechanistic determinism, randomness, or some combination of the two. You would need to outside of this system in order to do anything which is not determined by it.

  46. grabulaon 06 Aug 2014 at 5:38 am

    I’ve never liked the idea of ‘free will’. It was an interesting question before we really started understanding the brain and religion ruled the day. In fact, the calvinistic argument in christian religion is what really kicked off my growing dissatisfaction with religion in general. I feel like it’s a dated concept that’s a dead end in thinking.

    We’re machines, complex machines albeit but machines. Our brains operate in patterns and this has been shown time and time again. As we move forward in our understanding we’re understanding how that works. This is also why the dualist view fails so miserably. The only evidence to date indicates very strongly that there is no ghost in the machine.

  47. mumadaddon 06 Aug 2014 at 7:54 am

    In fact, the calvinistic argument in christian religion is what really kicked off my growing dissatisfaction with religion in general. I feel like it’s a dated concept that’s a dead end in thinking.

    Definitely. And it’s also a perfect example of starting with a conclusion and then constructing your reasoning to fit that conclusion. Creationism is a really easy target for skeptics, but even at the so-called sophisticated end of the spectrum, this flaw is entirely evident. Check out this interview with Alvin Plantinga – I almost can’t believe that somebody whose profession is essentially rigorous thought would trot this stuff out:

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/is-atheism-irrational/

    Motivated reasoning is a powerful mechanism of self-deception.

  48. The Other John Mcon 06 Aug 2014 at 7:56 am

    BJ: “If by “free-will” you don’t actually mean freewill but it’s redinition for the purposes of saving its ass, I would agree. However, calling a spade a spade, so I prefer to call freewill non-existent. (;”

    You are correct, I meant its redefinition. Telling people free will doesn’t exist sounds crazy at first, until you explain yourself, so I prefer saying it is a (cognitive or perceptual) illusion. Extremely compelling illusion, and nothing could be more obvious than the *feeling* that I am in control, but ultimately just makes no sense from a scientific perspective: it’s basically positing uncaused causes.

  49. Bill Openthalton 06 Aug 2014 at 8:44 am

    Bruce –

    The great experiment for me would be to take two people with exactly the same DNA and have them get concieved and grow up in exactly the same way, from second to second… and see if they would then react differently at different times. I would say they don’t… I would say they would act exactly the same way to every single cue.

    Off the top of my head. Twin studies have shown twins reared in different socio-economic environments behaving remarkably similarly, like buying comparable presents for their spouses. I can locate the references if you’re interested.

  50. BillyJoe7on 06 Aug 2014 at 8:51 am

    mumaddad,

    “So you either have mechanistic determinism, randomness, or some combination of the two”

    That sums it up nicely.

    You have either deterministic cause and effect or quantum randomness.
    There are no other mechanisms or processes.
    Neither can amount to freewill and, therefore, freewill cannot exist.

    “You would need to outside of this system in order to do anything which is not determined by it”

    Even, then, I am tempted to ask: what is the mechanism that produces this freewill?
    But there cannot be a mechanism that produces freewill because, then, it would not be FREEwill.
    And the only alternative is something like a coin flip, but that cannot amount to freeWILL either.

    “Using the definitions given above, free will is broken on any level you want to look at it”

    Which is why freewill is re-defined to mean something that is neither free nor willed.
    I absolutely do not see the point in doing that.

  51. Bill Openthalton 06 Aug 2014 at 9:04 am

    mumadadd –

    I’ve never had much respect for Plantinga, but whatever respect I had evaporated half-way through the interview. But I don’t expect any human to admit their life’s work to be a mistake. Murders have been committed for less.

  52. BillyJoe7on 06 Aug 2014 at 9:10 am

    TOJM,

    “I prefer saying it is a (cognitive or perceptual) illusion. Extremely compelling illusion, and nothing could be more obvious than the *feeling* that I am in control…”

    However you say it doesn’t seem to make sense to a lot of people.

    I’ve tried saying that FREEWILL is not real but the ILLUSION OF FREEWILL is real.
    The FEELING [that there is someone above and beyond the brain who is controlling the brain] IS REAL.
    But there is not an actual someone fitting this description.

  53. BillyJoe7on 06 Aug 2014 at 9:23 am

    Bill,

    “I’ve never had much respect for Plantinga, but whatever respect I had evaporated half-way through the interview”

    Did you make it that far?

  54. Bruceon 06 Aug 2014 at 9:36 am

    “Off the top of my head. Twin studies have shown twins reared in different socio-economic environments behaving remarkably similarly, like buying comparable presents for their spouses. I can locate the references if you’re interested.”

    I have probably read the same studies. And while I think that does point towards what I am suggesting what I would like to see that taken to the absolute conclusion in seeing exactly duplicated lives down to the moment to moment movements. If we are just complicated machines, which I and you and many others here are suggesting then that would happen. (I don’t know enough about quantam randomness to know if it would necessarily change someone’s actions if you were to have two exactly the same people starting at exactly the same moment in space and time and seeing as we only have one space/time continuum we wuld never be able to test it that way).

    Might be a good topic for a sci-fi novel…

  55. Bronze Dogon 06 Aug 2014 at 9:46 am

    I’m a bit less cynical about redefining free will. I think there’s some value to using it to contrast a person doing an act of their own volition and reasoning, as opposed to being coerced or under influences like drugs or other means of manipulating brain activity. I also think there’s some value in recognizing a continuum from minds that can learn, adapt, and make nuanced decisions to static, fixed decision-making processes.

    Mostly, I just see that as a more intuitive definition that many people use in everyday circumstances. The mystical, incoherent, and useless definition that gets trotted out in bad philosophy books and by theologians is unfortunately popular because it provides the comfort of ignorance and stalls the hard questions that determine responsibility and mitigating factors. I used to compartmentalize that way without realizing it.

  56. mumadaddon 06 Aug 2014 at 10:16 am

    “You would need to be outside of this system in order to do anything which is not determined by it”

    I’ve been trying to come up with a hypothetical scenario in which free will is logically possible, and it’s making my head hurt.

    You’d have to:

    -be able to act within reality, but;
    -simultaneously be outside of reality and not a product of it (free from all of its deterministic/random factors).

    We could posit some immaterial soul that exists in a different reality but controls our actions in this one, but would this give us free will? I don’t think so. To truly have free will, the souls themselves would have to be non-deterministic.

    Put another way, if I could be remotely controlled from another universe, then the entity controlling me would be free from the physical factors that determine the choices I make. But they themself would be subject to their own universe’s chain of cause and effect, so no free will there any more than I have free will just because I’m playing a video game.

    As it is theoretically impossible to have an uncaused, non-random cause in any possible reality, it seems to me that free will is not only impossible for humans, but logically impossible under any circumstances, unless we chuck out our most fundamental understanding of reality.

    The dualistic justification of free will reminds me a lot of the first cause argument for a god – it glosses over a problem by simply shifting it back a level. It’s that ‘intellectual cover’ that disintegrates under the slightest critical analysis.

  57. The Other John Mcon 06 Aug 2014 at 12:30 pm

    “The dualistic justification of free will reminds me a lot of the first cause argument for a god ”

    Yes — this is exactly the problem. In both cases, (God The Creator, Free Will) the assumption is an uncaused cause.

  58. grabulaon 08 Aug 2014 at 2:34 am

    @mumadadd

    Alvin Plantinga is certainly motivated but I’ve always found the argument between agnosticism and atheism sort of boring and more semantic than important. Certainly you could argue it’s irrational to be 100% atheist – to believe there is no higher power whatsoever but I’ve never felt that way. Just as I am an atheist when it comes to the Christian god, buddha, Thor, Odin, The Great Turtle, etc because there’s no supporting evidence for any of them, I’ve never seen evidence that a higher power/creator or however you would like to define it exists, or needs to exist. In fact I’d say the evidence so far has been pretty solidly that the universe is a natural occurrence and requires no god or gods in order for it to exist. So I’m comfortably considering myself an atheist.

    Having said that you could argue I’m agnostic because as a good skeptic I’m open to any future evidence that might change my view.

  59. mumadaddon 08 Aug 2014 at 3:27 am

    Grabula,

    You’ve hit upon a subtle distinction in the way people people use the word atheist. I use the definition that I do not believe in any god or gods not that I believe the proposition that god or gods do not exist. Having said that, I do also believe the latter proposition, I just don’t see it as necessary to be an atheist.

    I don’t really understand why god propositions get their own special status – after all, if I said I didn’t believe your claim that you had an invisible, heatless, non-corporeal dragon, nobody would say I was irrational for not qualifying that by stating that I merely lacked the belief in its existence, rather than believed that it didn’t exist.

    There are an infinite number of wacky, unsupported claims that could be made that I couldn’t prove false, and for me, god just gets lumped in with them.

  60. BillyJoe7on 08 Aug 2014 at 8:56 am

    I am comfortable saying that the christian god, as defined, does not exist.
    And that goes pretty well for all the other gods that have littered human history.
    As defined, they do not exist.

  61. Bronze Dogon 08 Aug 2014 at 9:31 am

    As defined, they do not exist.

    One annoying god archetype I’ve had encounters with is what I call “metaphorical vapor.” It’s typically described as a metaphor (for what?) or with deepities like “the ground of all being.” What it typically amounts to, as far as I can tell, is a god defined as being undefined. Kind of leads to a self-reference paradox, like the set of all sets that do not contain themselves.

    I remember a book my brother wanted to show me if we ever dig it out of storage. It was a philosophy book that sought to define a category for statements that are neither “true” or “false”: Bullshit.

  62. mumadaddon 08 Aug 2014 at 10:01 am

    I suppose I can’t rule out any possible God claim a priori. Bj7 has it right, in that I reject any and all god propositions I’ve heard, as defined by the proponents. Who knows, we might some day find something in the fabric of reality that strongly suggests design.

    Bronze, I agree with you too. Many people either try to define god into existence or define it in a superficially deep but ultimately meaningless way.

  63. Bill Openthalton 08 Aug 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Bronze Dog –

    . It was a philosophy book that sought to define a category for statements that are neither “true” or “false”: Bullshit.

    The idea there is something more to the world than what science can reveal is widespread. In a similar vein, here is a quote from an abstract of a paper emanating from a Department of Gender Studies somewhere on the old continent:

    Keller describes an approach that uses this “sensitivity to the organism”, an approach that is often qualified as “female thinking” and rejected by science for this reason. Keller unearths several instances where science, biased by an ideology of domination and control, shows but little “sensitivity” towards nature.

    <sarcasm;>One has to wonder how this sensitivity would change the results of an experiment. Or alternatively, one could decide not to subject those poor elementary particles to inhuman accelerations in that monstrous Large Hadron Collider. Instead of smashing the poor things together, why don’t we just ask them gently how they manage to work together without any aggression? A little empathy goes a long way.</sarcasm;>

    It never ceases to amaze me how critical thinking is affected by ideologies. Full disclosure: I wrote very similar things in my marxist days.

  64. BillyJoe7on 08 Aug 2014 at 6:10 pm

    “ground of all being”

    Sophisticated theologians, in their drive to define a god that cannot be disproven, end up with a god in which no one, including themselves, actually believe.

  65. mumadaddon 08 Aug 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Nor do the so called logical proofs for god ever convince anyone who didn’t already believe it in the first place.

    Kalam Cosmological arugument, I understand, and have the better of. Fine tuning, same. Damned if I can get my head around this shizzle though:

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%F6del's_ontological_proof

    I think it’s just a curiosity for atheists and intellectual cover for believers, but if anyone can point me to a dummies’ explanation I’d be grateful. My assumption at this point is faulty premise/s.

  66. grabulaon 08 Aug 2014 at 8:34 pm

    @mumadadd

    “There are an infinite number of wacky, unsupported claims that could be made that I couldn’t prove false, and for me, god just gets lumped in with them.”

    And that is exactly why I’ve never really had any appreciation for the debate between agnosticism and atheism. In my mind, it’s pretty clear cut – Agnosticism is admitting one is not comfortable saying yay or nay, atheism is saying nay. I think it’s also possible to be an atheist but have an open mind towards the possibilities.

  67. grabulaon 08 Aug 2014 at 8:49 pm

    Godel’s Proof is a nice mental exercise but ultimately like most philosophy attempting to ‘prove’ god, it’s hand waving based on several assumptions – that God exists in some world – that by nature his attributes are always by definition positive, and that if he exists in one world and possesses purely positive attributes that are consistent then he must therefore exist in all worlds.

    It makes some assumptions – one being that all aspects of ‘god’ must be morally pure which also assumes a moral absolute which in my opinion sort of wrecks the whole thing.

  68. mumadaddon 08 Aug 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Grabula,

    I say nay, but I’ve desperately searched for the yay. My mind is more than open to the possibilities, but it unfortunately seems the evidence is lacking so far for what I hope to be true.

  69. mumadaddon 08 Aug 2014 at 8:56 pm

    So faulty premises and begging the question. Pfft. I started reading the Wikipedia page again and pretty much came to that conclusion within the first two paragraphs. Meh.

  70. Bronze Dogon 08 Aug 2014 at 9:04 pm

    I still go with the stance that agnostic and atheist are about knowledge and belief, respectively. I’m an atheist because I’m an agnostic: I have no verifiable knowledge about gods, therefore I do not believe in gods.

  71. grabulaon 08 Aug 2014 at 9:09 pm

    @mumadadd

    That’s how I’ve always read it. that’s typically the issue with philosophy but particularly when dealing with the concept of god, or the afterlife and whatnot – it relies on a series of assumptions in order to move in the direction of ‘proof’.

    @Bronze Dog

    I could roll with that. Honestly I’ve never thought the difference to be worth debate but of course that’s a personal view. I find some religious types use attacking the definition of atheism and trying to move it more towards agnosticism as some sort of victory. Somehow in their minds ‘I don’t know’ supports their argument.

  72. Bill Openthalton 09 Aug 2014 at 7:24 am

    The problem with philosophy is that it doesn’t do reality checks. It was quite OK for Plato to muse about Forms in his time, but that doesn’t mean dualists can ignore scientific information pertaining to their concepts. The more we know about the workings of the world, the less plausible some of philosophy’s historical ideas become.

    Philosophical writings are always anchored in, and dependent upon, their author and their time. When philosophical ideas are not tested against reality, they are no more than flights of fancy — calling oneself a philosopher and writing in line with consecrated, historical philosophers doesn’t make one’s ideas more worthy or closer to the truth (whatever that is); at best they will have a smidgen (or two) of internal coherence.

  73. D. Fosdickon 09 Aug 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Oh my goodness! Such certitude!

    I have to say, I resent being called a dualist. I said up front that the mind is simply the brain. (I forget the elegant phrase that Dr. Novella used in an SGU podcast.) And I agree with his explanation, based on decades of neurological research, that there is no such thing as “the hard problem.” It is a non-problem.

    Since the subject came up, I am comfortable being called an atheist. Absent some astounding, extraordinary, and extremely unlikely evidence, I will remain one.

    But I’m tired of philosophers, for the most part. I consider this to be a subject that should be solved by scientific inquiry. I especially resent the notion that, if I argue that humans have free will, someone will usually trot out the notion that everything in nature is deterministic. What nonsense!

    Just to make sure that we are on the same page, here is the definition I will use, thanks to Wikipedia: “Determinism is the philosophical position that for every event, including human action, there exist conditions that could cause no other event.”

    But, if this is a philosophical definition, it has no place in a scientific inquiry! The brain is a hugely complex system, which most of you agree is not entirely determined by our DNA. Life experiences, nutrition, disease, injury — all of these things go into creating the astounding complex of neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters, etc., that make up the functioning of the brain, every “module,” both the conscious and the unconscious parts. Now, look up the definition of chaos theory. Just a quote from the longer definition: “Small differences in initial conditions yield widely diverging outcomes for such dynamical systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.”

    For these reasons, I contend that determinism is a non-starter. And phrases like “uncaused cause” are meaningless from a scientific standpoint. What we have is an extremely complex dynamical system: the brain. There is no way to predict each and every one of the myriad electrical impulses and neurotransmitter activities. At a moment of decision, these physical things take place, and we experience them as thought. For the particular type of thought where there is a decision to be made, the outcome of the thought process can balance on a razor’s edge. If it is a difficult decision, where the pros and cons are nearly equal, and the consequences important, our thoughts will race in many different directions, some conscious and some unconscious, and ultimately, we will decide to act (or not to act). According to chaos theory, there is no way to determine what that decision will be.

    This is what I define as free will. We continually, in matters great and small, weigh the consequences of our options and choose accordingly. Sometimes, it is almost like a coin toss. It is not pre-determined.

  74. BillyJoe7on 09 Aug 2014 at 7:30 pm

    D.Fosdick,

    Long post so long reply. Sorry.

    Oh my goodness! Such certitude!
    Well, let’s see how you do yourself…

    I have to say, I resent being called a dualist.
    Sorry, but then you need to stop thinking and talking like one

    I said up front that the mind is simply the brain.
    But, if you use dualistic explanations for how the brain works, then you are a dualist.

    there is no such thing as “the hard problem.” It is a non-problem.
    Oh my goodness! Such certitude! (;

    I especially resent the notion that, if I argue that humans have free will, someone will usually trot out the notion that everything in nature is deterministic. What nonsense!
    And I resent being misquoted: I said deterministic cause and effect AND quantum probability.

    Just to make sure that we are on the same page, here is the definition I will use, thanks to Wikipedia: “Determinism is the philosophical position that for every event, including human action, there exist conditions that could cause no other event.”
    Fine.

    But, if this is a philosophical definition, it has no place in a scientific inquiry!
    To use your own words, what nonsense! Science is based on assumptions which, but their very nature, are philosophical. And all meaningful philosophy is based on knowledge gained through science. They are mutually dependent.

    The brain is a hugely complex system, which most of you agree is not entirely determined by our DNA. Life experiences, nutrition, disease, injury — all of these things go into creating the astounding complex of neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters, etc., that make up the functioning of the brain, every “module,” both the conscious and the unconscious parts. Now, look up the definition of chaos theory. Just a quote from the longer definition: “Small differences in initial conditions yield widely diverging outcomes for such dynamical systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.”
    None of this contradicts determinism.
    Not being able to accurately predict the weather is not an argument against determinism.
    The three body problem is not evidence against gravitation theory.

    For these reasons, I contend that determinism is a non-starter.
    I have just shown that your reason for doing so is false.

    And phrases like “uncaused cause” are meaningless from a scientific standpoint.
    There certainly are uncaused causes in physics (virtual particles in “empty” space) – it is just not a basis for freewill.

    What we have is an extremely complex dynamical system: the brain. There is no way to predict each and every one of the myriad electrical impulses and neurotransmitter activities. At a moment of decision, these physical things take place, and we experience them as thought. For the particular type of thought where there is a decision to be made, the outcome of the thought process can balance on a razor’s edge. If it is a difficult decision, where the pros and cons are nearly equal, and the consequences important, our thoughts will race in many different directions, some conscious and some unconscious, and ultimately, we will decide to act (or not to act). According to chaos theory, there is no way to determine what that decision will be.
    Unredictability and determinism are not mutually exclusive.

    This is what I define as free will
    That is the definition of “contracausal freewill” which is actually an oxymoron.

    We continually, in matters great and small, weigh the consequences of our options and choose accordingly. Sometimes, it is almost like a coin toss. It is not pre-determined.
    See what you’ve done. You started off saying the it is unpredictable and, without any explanation in between, have ended up saying it is not deterministic. Your unpredictable has morphed into indeterministic! But determinism does not mean predictable.
    This is what you should have concluded based on your actual arguments:
    determinism + complexity = unpredictable.
    Determinisn is part of the equation.

    We continually, in matters great and small, weigh the consequences of our options and choose accordingly
    The evidence is that “we” do nothing. The sense of a “self” controlling the brain is an illusion produced by the brain. In fact it is just deterministic cause and effect within the brain (and perhaps some influences from quantum probability though this has not been demonstrated as yet).
    The trouble with using dualistic language (and our language is dualistic so that is unavoidable to some extent) is that you start to think like a dualist. Everytime we use personal pronouns we are using dualistic language and this tends to lead us into thinking dualistically. In everyday converstaion this is not a problem – we live as if we are in control – but in discusions like this, we need to be aware of this so that it doesn’t lead us into dualistic thinking.
    It is very difficult to expel the ghost in the machine.

  75. BillyJoe7on 09 Aug 2014 at 7:38 pm

    D.Fosdick,

    Short reply:

    Determinism and unpredictablitiy are not mutually exclusive.
    Determinism is actually part of the equation:
    Determinism + Complexity = Unpredictability.

    Language is intrinisically dualistic.
    In order to avoid our intrinsically dualistic language from influencing our thinking about the brain, self, and freewill – in order to expel the ghost in the machine – we need to be aware of this fact.

  76. mumadaddon 10 Aug 2014 at 3:11 pm

    D. Fosdick,

    If we were somehow able to create an exact (right down to the atom) duplicate of you and your environment, would the two yous behave identically? Would they make the same choices? If your answer is no, then what could cause the difference? The only answer that I can see is either quantum randomness or some lack of fidelity in the replication. It’s like flipping a coin: the outcome is random as far as our influence over it goes, but entirely determined by physics. If the flip and the environment could be sufficiently controlled, the result would be a certainty.

    If there is only a chain of cause and effect, in a reality which obeys consistent rules and behaviour, it doesn’t matter how complicated things get, or how many layers of emergent properties are stacked on top of each other – every part of that system is determined by those rules and its prior state.

    To borrow a phrase from Matt Dillahunty, free will is ‘fractally wrong’, meaning that on what ever level you want to look at it, you’ll find that it’s an illusion.

  77. mumadaddon 10 Aug 2014 at 3:26 pm

    D. Fosdick,

    I never thought you were a dualist, by the way. There may be a dualist implication to belief in free will but I didn’t connect those dots in your case. It’s only on a very abstracted level that I don’t ascribe my actions and opinions, and those of all other people to the choices they make of their own volition. It’s not like I don’t hold people accountable for their actions, blame them when they f*ck up, or feel proud of myself when I get something right.

    I was about to say ‘I just think…’ and then repeat myself. Do you disagree with what I said in my last post? Or what BJ7 said?

  78. mumadaddon 10 Aug 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Back on to Godel’s Proof, very briefly. It might be possible to construct a logical argument for god, but I think it would ultimately end up being so owing to an artifact of language. Godel’s proof might be sound and valid (I don’t know one way or the other, but heavily doubt it), but the premises themselves are only true technically because of the way they are constructed linguistically, and not because they really represent an accurate description of what is.

  79. mumadaddon 10 Aug 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Crap, I just handwaved away opposing views because I don’t understand the argument. Poor form.

    ….well, I looked it up again. It’s very complicated. I sometimes worry about about falling into the ‘you’re over-complicating it’ or the ‘I think you’ll find it’s more complicated than that’ camp, based on what authorities on the same side of the argument to me say.

    From axioms 1 through 4**, Gödel argued that in some possible world there exists God.

    So, begging the question? God’s existence is assumed as a premise.

    **
    Axiom 1: Any property entailed by—i.e., strictly implied by—a positive property is positive
    Axiom 2: A property is positive if and only if its negation is not positive
    Axiom 3: The property of being God-like is positive
    Axiom 4: If a property is positive, then it is necessarily positive

    Huh?

    Axiom 1 assumes that it is possible to single out positive properties from among all properties. Gödel comments that “Positive means positive in the moral aesthetic sense (independently of the accidental structure of the world)… It may also mean pure attribution as opposed to privation (or containing privation).” (Gödel 1995). Axioms 2, 3 and 4 can be summarized by saying that positive properties form a principal ultrafilter.

    Goddamn it! Ugh, begging the question again.

    On reflection, I stand by my last post.

  80. Bill Openthalton 10 Aug 2014 at 6:04 pm

    mumadadd –

    Moenie worrie nie — topology is a lot of fun, but most importantly, one gets to choose the axioms that suit the application. Begging the question indeed, but a lot more subtly than usual.

  81. grabulaon 10 Aug 2014 at 11:06 pm

    @mumadadd

    “It might be possible to construct a logical argument for god, but I think it would ultimately end up being so owing to an artifact of language”

    I think the issue is that philosophy has to make certain assumptions in order to move forward, as in Godel’s proof.

  82. mumadaddon 11 Aug 2014 at 7:13 am

    Grabula,

    “I think the issue is that philosophy has to make certain assumptions in order to move forward, as in Godel’s proof.”

    I agree. The argument rests on certain assumptions that can’t be empirically verified.

  83. sonicon 11 Aug 2014 at 10:46 am

    Basically a good post, it is good to point out that the theory doesn’t have things evolving for purposes.
    I would make the claim that the purpose of the universe and evolution is to create creatures that play golf, but it seems silly to claim something so self-evident. :-)

    The answers to question #3 leave much to be desired.

    The claim that life could come from non-life is extraordinary.
    Instead of a demonstration of the claim we have what looks like special pleading.
    You say you don’t need to demonstrate your claim because it would take too long.
    But that just begs the question and makes your claim into an unfalsifiable hypothesis.

    Thus far it has been impossible to draw a physical line between life and non-life.
    Logical conclusions include–
    It might be there isn’t a difference.
    It might be that whatever the difference is, it isn’t physical.

    Neither conclusion has been demonstrated completely. Argument from ignorance either way.

    The assertion that life comes from non-life is non-falsifiable and is in disagreement with some very basic scientific discoveries about the origins of life.
    When a person is asserting the truth of a non-falsifiable hypothesis that is in disagreement with fundamental experimental evidence, it is reasonable to ask what would make the person question the hypothesis.

    Other than question 3, I’d say the answers are quite good.

  84. sonicon 11 Aug 2014 at 10:47 am

    BillyJoe7-
    Here’s a physicist giving the reason that physics explains freewill.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jint5kjoy6I

    Apparently it is true that your future is not completely determined by the physical facts– and this is a consequence of the laws of physics!

    Here they point out something else about this–

    http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0604079v1
    “Do we really have freewill, or, as a few determined folk maintain, is it all
    an illusion? We don’t know, but will prove in this paper that if indeed there
    exist any experimenters with a modicum of freewill, then elementary particles
    must have their own share of this valuable commodity. ”

    Apparently physics predicts that your future is not completely determined.

    Another way of saying that-
    Just because your future is not completely determined doesn’t mean that you are operating outside the laws of physics.

  85. BillyJoe7on 11 Aug 2014 at 5:51 pm

    sonic,

    “Here’s a physicist giving the reason that physics explains freewill.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jint5kjoy6I
    Apparently it is true that your future is not completely determined by the physical facts– and this is a consequence of the laws of physics!”

    Apparently you scanned my posts but did not read them, so I don’t know why I bother.
    Apparently you missed where I referenced quantum probability.
    Apparently you missed where I said this does not equal freewill.
    That’s the point you need to address.
    (Your linked video doesn’t address that either, it merely asserts the quantum uncertainty equals freewill – way to go!)

    “Here they point out something else about this–
    http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0604079v1
    “Do we really have freewill, or, as a few determined folk maintain, is it all
    an illusion? We don’t know, but will prove in this paper that if indeed there
    exist any experimenters with a modicum of freewill, then elementary particles
    must have their own share of this valuable commodity”

    I haven’t read you thirty page article, but…
    If we have freewill then elementary particles have freewill?
    I would say that is an argument against freewill.
    What’s your take, or are you going to just keep talking through other people’s mouths.

    “Apparently physics predicts that your future is not completely determined”

    Wow, you don’t say.
    Apparently I am completely unaware of quantum physics, even though I have specifically referenced it!

    “Another way of saying that-
    Just because your future is not completely determined doesn’t mean that you are operating outside the laws of physics.”

    Wow, you don’t say.
    Quantum physics.
    Who would’ve guessed!

    ———————————–

    Now, if you want to contribute something usefull to this exchange, please, show me the part of the argument where you get from quantum physics to freewill.
    (Without re-defining freewill, and in your own words, because I’m not going on thirty page wild goose chases)

  86. D. Fosdickon 11 Aug 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Okay. I’m not talking dualism. I’m not talking “ghost in the machine.”

    I said: “Life experiences, nutrition, disease, injury — all of these things go into creating the astounding complex of neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters, etc., that make up the functioning of the brain, every “module,” both the conscious and the unconscious parts,” and: “…our thoughts will race in many different directions, some conscious and some unconscious, and ultimately, we will decide to act (or not to act).”

    Perhaps I was not clear enough, but I am specifically saying that it is the *totality* of the entire brain: all the processes, both chemical and electrical; all of the “modules,” both conscious and unconscious, that work together to make a decision — not just the subset of these things that we experience as “I.”

    When all of these things are working together to make a decision, I assert that it is a decision *made by that totality* — and not something that is consonant with the definition of determinism.

    Everyone seems to agree that this is the definition of determinism: “The philosophical position that for every event, including human action, there exist conditions that could cause no other event.”

    Just to be clear, let us agree that “there exist conditions” does not mean “one second before the concious thought of the decision.” Because, as I said, we are speaking of the totality of all brain functions.

    I contend that there is no way to test this philosophical notion of determinism. Science works on evidence. You can hypothesize that there is indeed such a thing as determinism — but you have to leave the door open that there may be an error in your hypothesis that you have not discovered.

    My working definition of free will, call it my hypothesis if you want, could be summed up as: Not deterministic.

  87. grabulaon 11 Aug 2014 at 10:29 pm

    @sonic

    “The claim that life could come from non-life is extraordinary.”

    In a way sure. And science is working on trying to answer that. However, it’s not as extraordinary as it would seem until you consider what other possible explanation could there be? The rest of the claims you make on question #3 don’t follow what Dr.Novella wrote, you must be reading another article.

    “The assertion that life comes from non-life is non-falsifiable and is in disagreement with some very basic scientific discoveries about the origins of life.”

    You’re being particularly obtuse here sonic, even for you. It’s not ‘non-falsifiable’ as of yet. Science is still working on it but we understand some key questions that are getting us closer. This is like claiming heliocentrism is ‘non-falsifiable’ before it was proposed by Copernicus.

    You literally don’t seem to understand the question or the response Dr.Novella provided.

  88. grabulaon 11 Aug 2014 at 10:29 pm

    @Sonic/BJ7

    “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jint5kjoy6I”

    Couple of things. First Michio Kaku is quickly making a name for himself as a guy willing to dip into other peoples wheel houses to make statements that shows he’s out of his league. Second, I’m not convinced quantum physics in the case of free will is anything less than invoking the unexplainable as a possibility – such as woo believers do.

    The deterministic argument is much like calvinism and I find it mostly as ridiculous. Quantum physics doesn’t even operate on that scale and whie you can do some neat mathematical tricks with it, I have yet to see phycisist start predicting the future,anymore than I’ve seen clairavoyants accomplish this task.

  89. grabulaon 11 Aug 2014 at 10:34 pm

    @D.Fosdick

    “I contend that there is no way to test this philosophical notion of determinism. Science works on evidence. You can hypothesize that there is indeed such a thing as determinism — but you have to leave the door open that there may be an error in your hypothesis that you have not discovered.”

    It can be tested scientifically as you should be able to at some point predict the future with unerring accuracy – assuming determinism that is.

  90. dudeon 11 Aug 2014 at 10:40 pm

    @D. Fosdick

    From reading your posts back and forth with BJ7 it seems you are not actually engaging at the same point. I feel like you are taking determinism to mean predictable however, BJ7 has not said that is required.

    I’m not sure how your most recent post adds anything to the discussion. Ok the brain is complicated, and when a decision is made lots of things are weighed up. Fine. The size and level of complexity of the system doesn’t change the fundamental question that if all conditions were identical would the outcome be identical. I see the possible options here to be:

    1. The outcome would be identical given the same initial conditions – where does this leave free will that most people think of?
    2. The outcome would change, how would it change?
    a. The only difference comes from a random chance type event (quantum event?). Would throwing in a coin toss be enough for you to call a decision free will?
    b. The outcome could be different every time because we have free will.

    I see option 1 likely though so complicated that I don’t think we will be able to predict decisions in my lifetime. Option 2a is also possible though I really would not call throwing in a random element free will. I don’t see how you can get to 2b though given as you say “the mind is simply the brain”. If the brain is all there is and it follows the known natural laws where does the ability to avoid cause and effect come into play?

    If you do a chemistry experiment once then straight away repeat the same experiment I would not be surprised to see a slightly different result because it is hard in reality to duplicate conditions. If you could guarantee the experiment to be identical though I would be very interested if you think the result would be different. It is this same principle applied to the brain that I feel the discussion is about. Are physical events deterministic (not predictable) in nature or would you consider them to be free will. If they are deterministic and we are just physical where does free will come into play?

  91. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2014 at 12:53 am

    sonic,

    The claim that life could come from non-life is extraordinary
    Not so much.
    If you can categorise everything that exists into either life or non life, I will grant you your point.
    But if you can’t confidentally tell me whether or not a virus or a prion is life or non-life, then I would say that life from non-life is not such an extraordinary claim.

    Instead of a demonstration of the claim we have what looks like special pleading
    Nope, just nothing else to suggest how life arose. No contenders.

    You say you don’t need to demonstrate your claim because it would take too long
    BS. Nobody said that.

    Thus far it has been impossible to draw a physical line between life and non-life.
    Logical conclusions include–
    It might be there isn’t a difference.
    It might be that whatever the difference is, it isn’t physical

    So, if life from non-life is an extraordinary claim, what about the supernatural claim?
    A superextraordinary claim?
    Good grief!

    Neither conclusion has been demonstrated completely. Argument from ignorance either way
    Materialism has been doing fine for over 400 years.
    Supernaturalism is dying year by year falling dead between the gaps which are rapidly closing.

    The assertion that life comes from non-life is non-falsifiable
    But it is also verifiable.
    The alternative, not so much.

    and is in disagreement with some very basic scientific discoveries about the origins of life
    Now that’s an extraordinary claim.

    When a person is asserting the truth of a non-falsifiable hypothesis that is in disagreement with fundamental experimental evidence, it is reasonable to ask what would make the person question the hypothesis
    It is reasonable at this point to ask: what on earth are you talking about?

  92. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2014 at 12:56 am

    dude,

    Thanks for that contribution.
    It sets out the problem very clearly.

  93. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2014 at 7:28 am

    D.Fosdick,

    Perhaps I was not clear enough, but I am specifically saying that it is the *totality* of the entire brain: all the processes, both chemical and electrical; all of the “modules,” both conscious and unconscious, that work together to make a decision — not just the subset of these things that we experience as “I.”
    Fine.

    When all of these things are working together to make a decision, I assert that it is a decision *made by that totality* — and not something that is consonant with the definition of determinism
    I don’t get it. If each contributing part is determined, then the totality is determined.
    If there is a random contribution from quantum physics, then the totality is not completely determined.
    But where is freewill in all this?

    Everyone seems to agree that this is the definition of determinism: “The philosophical position that for every event, including human action, there exist conditions that could cause no other event.”
    That’s a bit awkwardly worded. How about…
    Given the exact same conditions, and precluding any probabilistic quantum effect, the brain’s output will always be the same.

    I contend that there is no way to test this philosophical notion of determinism
    It has been in the process of being tested for over 400 years!
    Of course, not in the brain, but what reasons have we for believing that the brain is any different?

    Science works on evidence. You can hypothesize that there is indeed such a thing as determinism — but you have to leave the door open that there may be an error in your hypothesis that you have not discovered
    Four hundred years.
    And there would need to be an alternative competing hypothesis.
    There isn’t any.

    My working definition of free will, call it my hypothesis if you want, could be summed up as: Not deterministic
    Great!
    Freewill is not deterministic.
    So, is it probabilistic?
    No?
    Then what the hell is it?
    What else is there, besides deterministic and probabilistic?
    I tell you, the whole concept of freewill is incoherent.
    (Which, of course, is why it gets re-defined until it fits in somewhere because, hey, we can’t not have freewill!)

  94. sonicon 12 Aug 2014 at 4:42 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    If the natural universe is completely determined by the physical facts (a la Einstein), then not being completely determined would indicate something ‘supernatural’ (able to operate outside the laws of physics) at work.

    But it turns out that nature probably isn’t completely determined by the physical facts and so even if it is true that your life is not completely determined before you were born, it doesn’t necessitate something ‘supernatural’ involved.

    I think that would be the current scientific explanation of the phenomena observed- you are not completely determined by the physical facts is a result of the physics involved and does not necessitate any factors beyond physics.

  95. Ekkoon 12 Aug 2014 at 5:03 pm

    “But it turns out that nature probably isn’t completely determined by the physical facts and so even if it is true that your life is not completely determined before you were born, it doesn’t necessitate something ‘supernatural’ involved.”

    Sonic,
    By nature, do you mean “our knowledge”? Or does “physical facts” mean “our knowledge”? My secret decoder ring might need some re-aligning…

  96. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2014 at 5:51 pm

    sonic,

    What you think of as “physical facts” is a little limiting.
    Nice escape hatch though!
    But to close the hatch…think of it as natural/material/physical v supernatural/immaterial/non-physical

    Is what happens in the double slit experiment a physical fact?
    Do you think quantum uncertainty is a physical fact?
    Is entanglement a physical fact?

    Which side of the line is life and freewill in your opinion?

  97. sonicon 13 Aug 2014 at 9:52 am

    ekko-
    No, I mean that the future is not completely determined by the physical facts.
    That statement would be in agreement with the notion that the wave function is the most complete description that can be given to a physical system– which is the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schrödinger_equation

    You make fun of a solution to the measurement problem proposed by Heisenberg.
    This leads me to believe you either know something about the physics that has eluded everyone else, or that you really don’t know jack.

    How would you describe the situation?

    BillyJoe7-
    If I shoot the electron at the double slit, where will the electron end up?
    As I understand it, the best I can do is give probable outcomes for future measurements because the actual outcome is not determined by the physical facts at the time of the shooting.

    Are you claiming to have a system of prediction better than Schrodinger’s equation?
    What is it?

  98. sonicon 13 Aug 2014 at 10:35 am

    BillyJoe7-
    I’m sorry I missed that last question.
    I’m guessing you are talking about this-

    “But to close the hatch…think of it as natural/material/physical v supernatural/immaterial/non-physical”

    Could you tell me what the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ is?
    If life exists in this universe, does that make it natural or supernatural or both?
    Are they mutually exclusive?
    How would I know?

    I really have no idea what your distinctions are, I don’t think in those terms and I have no idea how you are using them so I can’t answer your question.
    If you could clarify precisely what differentiates ‘natural’ from ‘supernatural’, then I might be able to answer, but i really don’t know what you are talking about. (I have similar questions about what you mean by ‘material’ and ‘physical’ just to warn you).

  99. mumadaddon 13 Aug 2014 at 11:40 am

    Argh… can’t… resist…

    Sonic,

    “Could you tell me what the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ is?

    This again?

    ‘Natural’ is the term we use to describe both the world around us and the set of rules that govern it. Our understanding of ‘natural’ is built upon repeatable, predictable observations and testing – you know, the scientific method.

    ‘Supernatural’ is a false category in which people hide beliefs that can’t be demonstrated to true or phenomena that don’t really exist; it means they can handwave away the fact that these phenomena disappear when tested for under rigorous conditions – they are in a special category that can’t be tested scientifically.

    “If life exists in this universe, does that make it natural or supernatural or both?”

    Natural, obviously.

    “Are they mutually exclusive?”

    That’s just a silly question. Supernatural is mutually exclusive with anything that actually exists.

    “How would I know?”

    Do some well constructed tests that are controlled against wishful thinking and self-deception. See if other people can repeat those tests with the same result. Hang on, this sounds familiar…

  100. sonicon 13 Aug 2014 at 1:57 pm

    grabula-
    The experimental evidence is very strong– all existing life comes from a previously existing life.
    There are no examples of life coming from anything else that have actually been observed.

    The answer to the question- where did the first life come from? becomes problematic based on those experiments.

    To say the answer is ‘x’ is to ‘beg the question’ because the evidence of import is inconclusive in this case.

    http://begthequestion.info/

    I note that each person tends to assert that life began in a way that agrees with his basic metaphysical philosophy.
    I guess that’s the motivation for begging the question– to feel correct about one’s basic philosophy.

    I have no clue how life began– whatever way is good for me. But it seems people are very invested in the answer to this question– and thus far the answer isn’t at all clear.

    Isn’t that a wonderful situation?

  101. sonicon 13 Aug 2014 at 2:17 pm

    mumadadd-
    If something can’t exist, then I would suggest that whatever exists is not part of that category.

    The experimental evidence indicates life comes only from life. It seems the claim life comes from something else invokes experimental results nobody has ever seen or repeated– a conjecture.

    So Dr. N. is asserting a conjecture that is not necessarily in agreement with the experimental facts of the situation and I am suggesting that the conjecture be viewed as that– conjecture, not a fact or something one should or must believe.

    Follow?

  102. mumadaddon 13 Aug 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Sonic,

    ” If something can’t exist, then I would suggest that whatever exists is not part of that category.”

    The category of things that don’t exist is an invented one – it doesn’t contain anything that can affect reality in any way. I basically just disregard it. I don’t really understand why you said this. Are you suggesting that things that don’t exist should be considered somehow?

    “The experimental evidence indicates life comes only from life. It seems the claim life comes from something else invokes experimental results nobody has ever seen or repeated– a conjecture.”

    At some point, within the set of everything that exists on earth, there was no life; now there is life. What other possible explanation is there other than that life came from non-life?

    “So Dr. N. is asserting a conjecture that is not necessarily in agreement with the experimental facts of the situation and I am suggesting that the conjecture be viewed as that– conjecture, not a fact or something one should or must believe.”

    Okay, maybe we don’t have experimental evidence to demonstrate life deriving from non-life, but again, where else would we look? What else is there?

  103. The Other John Mcon 13 Aug 2014 at 2:51 pm

    sonic, do you think it to be an utterly fantastic coincidence that living things are entirely constructed out of the same non-living bits and pieces (atoms, molecules, etc.) that we find everywhere we look on Earth? And that obviously non-living things are made out of the same stuff?

    We don’t have experimental evidence of life from non-life, but we do have abundant evidence of the converse: non-life from life…death. You have any experimental evidence, for whatever it is you are claiming?

  104. The Other John Mcon 13 Aug 2014 at 2:54 pm

    one last point: I am a living creature, yet I am made completely out of component parts that are all non-living. Is this not empirical proof of a life constructed completely out of non-life?

  105. Ekkoon 13 Aug 2014 at 3:12 pm

    sonic,
    “The experimental evidence is very strong– all existing life comes from a previously existing life.”
    What strong evidence are you referring to here?

    ” It seems the claim life comes from something else invokes experimental results nobody has ever seen or repeated– a conjecture.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis
    I’d say it’s a little more than a “conjecture” but perhaps Creationists would disagree (not that they would be informed enough on the topic to know though).

    “I note that each person tends to assert that life began in a way that agrees with his basic metaphysical philosophy.
    I guess that’s the motivation for begging the question– to feel correct about one’s basic philosophy.”

    This is you projecting onto others. It isn’t the way science works at all.

    “I have no clue how life began– whatever way is good for me. But it seems people are very invested in the answer to this question– and thus far the answer isn’t at all clear.

    Isn’t that a wonderful situation?”

    If “having no clue” and “not being clear” are “wonderful” to you, then you must be ecstatic. Keep in mind that others aren’t as dim and may generally seek clarity as a preferred state though.

  106. grabulaon 13 Aug 2014 at 7:22 pm

    @sonic

    “The experimental evidence is very strong– all existing life comes from a previously existing life.
    There are no examples of life coming from anything else that have actually been observed.”

    That’s begging the question. How would you propose life begins in a universe that say, came into creation with a big bang?

    “I note that each person tends to assert that life began in a way that agrees with his basic metaphysical philosophy.”

    I tend to follow the evidence.

  107. grabulaon 13 Aug 2014 at 10:15 pm

    @sonic

    “The experimental evidence indicates life comes only from life. It seems the claim life comes from something else invokes experimental results nobody has ever seen or repeated– a conjecture.”

    I’m curious how you would have felt before Copernicus suggested the planets revolved around the sun?

    I don’t think anyone here misunderstands that the process of abiogenesis is still trying to be understood, however there aren’t’ many other alternatives that are realistic. Moving off of what we know now about the universe – the big bang happens, the universe coagulates into what it is now, a large gas cloud comes together to form a star and planets that revolve around it. One of those planets over time generates life and here we are. Assuming all of this is mostly correct then you’d have to believe:

    1) life came from non life somehow (abiogenesis)

    2) something created life (creationism)

    3) life somehow came into being generated along with all the non life at some point close to the creation of the universe.

    The 2nd we can dismiss as fantasy. I couldn’t even begin to discuss if the third one is even plausible but I suspect it’s not considering the relative delicateness of life. I’ve never seen anyone discuss or propose it though it’s possible someone has. Finally we’re left with 1. Currently we’re testing that hypothesis and like a lot of others we’ve been presented with in the past, it’s starting to shape up as a possibility.

  108. sonicon 14 Aug 2014 at 12:33 am

    This gets really good—
    The experimental evidence indicates that all existing life has come from a previously existing life.
    No exceptions.

    Here’s a short version of how things go from there–

    Someone says– Well that must mean ‘x’ produced the first life.
    (‘x’ could be chemicals or god or a spark through a gas or a primordial soup or a ‘life force’ or a rock from outer space… whatever).

    I say- can you show me that?
    Answer- “No”

    I can’t recall anyone ever suggesting I wait for experimental confirmation before deciding this issue about how the first life began.
    Amazing.

    I really hadn’t thought about that much– it seems everyone- religionists and atheists and everyone in between- can be upset with me because I would wait to see an experimental conformation of how life began before I decided.

    Clearly this is the sweet spot of all positions– nobody likes it. :-)

  109. grabulaon 14 Aug 2014 at 1:14 am

    @sonic

    you’re not known around these parts for being skeptically minded so you can understand some of our confusion. I’ll lay it out for you in simple form

    I am an atheist and a skeptic

    Currently we don’t know how life began.

    The best hypothesis/conjecture so far is abiogenesis

    The evidence is growing to support abiogensesis

    Until such times and the evidence shifts I’ll continue looking interestedly at abiogenesis as a possibility.

    I notice you dodge the questions posed to you by myself a couple of others.

  110. mumadaddon 14 Aug 2014 at 2:10 am

    Sonic,

    “I really hadn’t thought about that much– it seems everyone- religionists and atheists and everyone in between- can be upset with me because I would wait to see an experimental conformation of how life began before I decided.

    Clearly this is the sweet spot of all positions– nobody likes it. :-)

    Then you’re ignoring the evidence that:

    -There was once no life on the earth
    -That life as we know it could not survive the initial conditions of the universe, so even if it did not start on earth, it started from non-life elsewhere
    -That life is made of non-living components
    -That ‘living’ biological processes can be broken down and describes as non-living chemical processes

    The most logical conclusion based on the above is that life arose from non-life, which we call abiogenesis.

    I’ll ask you again – what do you see as the alternative?

    Your “show me the experimental evidence” smacks of denialism, designed to keep the door open for some supernatural belief system, but of course I don’t expect you to admit that, or to give a straight answer to my above question.

  111. grabulaon 14 Aug 2014 at 2:25 am

    @mumadadd

    “Your “show me the experimental evidence” smacks of denialism, designed to keep the door open for some supernatural belief system, but of course I don’t expect you to admit that, or to give a straight answer to my above question.”

    It’s the typical lack of substance response from sonic. If he’s not arguing semantics then he sort of fades into vagueries. It’d be nice to see sonic just answer some questions directly but I’m guessing as usual his vagueness will bore all of us but BJ7 who for some reason loves to torment himself with sonic.

  112. The Other John Mcon 14 Aug 2014 at 8:30 am

    sonic: please address mumadadd’s and other’s observations that:

    - living organisms are made entirely out of non-living components
    - ‘living’ biological processes can be broken down and described as non-living chemical processes

    These are admittedly not experimental evidence of abiogenesis, but they are certainly empirical observations which absolutely and definitively show ‘life coming from non-life’, which you claimed lack of evidence for. Please explain why this is not compelling.

  113. BillyJoe7on 14 Aug 2014 at 8:37 am

    …moving right along :)

    sonic,

    If I shoot the electron at the double slit, where will the electron end up?
    It is a physical fact that we cannot predict exactly where the electron will end up.
    It is a physical fact that we can plot a probability distribution of where the electron will end up.
    It is a physical fact that if the detectors are off an interference pattern will result.
    It is a physical fact that if the detectors are turned on a scatter pattern will result.

    As I understand it, the best I can do is give probable outcomes for future measurements because the actual outcome is not determined by the physical facts conditions at the time of the shooting.
    Yes, that is a physical fact.
    It is a physical fact that the best you can do is give probable outcomes for future measurements because the actual outcome is not determined by the conditions at the time of the shooting.

    Are you claiming to have a system of prediction better than Schrodinger’s equation?
    Schroedinger’s equation does just fine as a physical fact about the world.

    Could you tell me what the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ is?
    You mean between natural/material/physical and supernatural/immaterial/nonphysical?
    The first has four hundred years of accumulating evidence.
    The second has always been evidence-free wild conjecture.

    If life exists in this universe, does that make it natural or supernatural or both?
    After four hundred years, we have evidence only for natural/material/physical phenomena.
    That is good reason to believe that life comes from non-life.
    It’s not a 50/50 coin toss as you seem to believe.

  114. BillyJoe7on 14 Aug 2014 at 8:40 am

    …the “moving right along” comment references grabula’s post.

  115. BillyJoe7on 14 Aug 2014 at 9:00 am

    sonic,

    The experimental evidence indicates that all existing life has come from a previously existing life
    The experimental evidence would also indicate that all existing life did not evolve from previously existing life.
    However, there is palaeontological evidence, geological evidence, biological evidence, genetic evidence…
    As a result of these various types of evidence, evolution is regarded as a scientific fact.

    I can’t recall anyone ever suggesting I wait for experimental confirmation before deciding this issue about how the first life began
    That’s probably because no one has been so stupid as to think that this suggestion was worth making.

  116. sonicon 15 Aug 2014 at 7:08 pm

    The Other John Mc- mumadadd-
    I have addressed those questions- perhaps this will be more clear and please excuse if I repeat myself-

    If life is made of atoms only, then one could use atoms to make life.
    But we can’t use atoms to make life.
    If chemicals can make anything that life can make, then chemicals can make a living thing.
    But chemicals don’t make living things- only living things do that.

    So your claim that these are all the parts is not demonstrated and the claim that you can make whatever a living thing can make using just chemicals refuted.

    I consider these possibilities- they are not mutually exclusive-

    1) life is made from chemicals, we just don’t know how yet.
    a) the technique is difficult
    b) the technique uses forces we aren’t currently aware of
    c) the technique isn’t available to us.

    2) there is some ingredient that is missing.
    a) the ingredient could be physical- like ‘dark matter’ or whatever
    b) the ingredient could be non-phyiscal as in a ‘life-force’ or whatever.

    3) “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”— Arthur Stanley Eddington
    Perhaps he was right and the actual solution to this is an example– it will be stranger than I can imagine.

    I wouldn’t mind discussing any of the current abiogenesis experiments- I follow them pretty closely– Warning- I’m less convinced by the possibility of abiogenesis now than I was years ago when I started looking into the experiments… so I’m probably not the guy you would want to talk to about that. :-)

    grabula-
    I think abiogenesis is a possibility as well.
    I’m objecting to the claim it is a fact.

    I am not an atheist- more like an agnostic.
    I am a skeptic in that I question the validity of something being purported to be factual.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/skeptic

  117. sonicon 15 Aug 2014 at 7:20 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Since the object we call ‘billyjoe7′ can be described by schrodinger’s equation, it is not necessary to posit anything outside of current physics to explain that the actions of this particular object are not fully determined by the physical facts.
    Is that what you are trying to say?

  118. mumadaddon 16 Aug 2014 at 7:21 am

    Sonic,

    “1) life is made from chemicals, we just don’t know how yet.
    a) the technique is difficult
    b) the technique uses forces we aren’t currently aware of
    c) the technique isn’t available to us.”

    We do have a good understanding of the chemical processes of life. The gap in our knowledge is how, specifically, non-living chemical processes became life. But just because we don’t understand the specific how doesn’t undermine the conclusion that life did arise from non life. Your option c is the most plausible here – why would we expect to be able to replicate billions of years of chemical evolution in the lab?

    “2) there is some ingredient that is missing.
    a) the ingredient could be physical- like ‘dark matter’ or whatever”

    This would then imply that there would be something physical present in a living organism that disappears when that organism dies. Other that certain already well understood chemical and electrochemical processes, what would that be? This is just a thinly veiled appeal to intuition – unless you have some line/lines of evidence that there is such a mysterious substance? Of course you don’t though, this is just transparently silly.

    “b) the ingredient could be non-phyiscal as in a ‘life-force’ or whatever.”

    Ah, magic? This, I think, is the crux of where you go wrong. There is no evidence to suggest any such magical life force. The fact that you can conceive it doesn’t make it a legitimate possibility worthy of consideration. It’s completely false to put this on an equal footing with abiogenesis.

    ” I am a skeptic in that I question the validity of something being purported to be factual.”

    You’re selectively skeptical where your ideology is threatened. Experimental evidence of abiogenesis isn’t necessary in order to conclude with near certainty that this is how life arose, when there are multiple other lines of evidence that converge on this conclusion, and the alternatives rely on magic, and would violate our current best understanding of nature.

  119. BillyJoe7on 16 Aug 2014 at 9:34 am

    sonic,

    Perhaps I should have put my statements as questions.
    Not that you would have answered any of them, with other than another question.

    Is it a fact that:
    - we cannot predict exactly where each electron will end up?
    - we can plot a probability distribution of where each electron will end up?
    - if the detectors are off the electrons will form an interference pattern?
    - if the detectors are turned on the electrons form a scatter pattern?

    I will answer for you.

    These are all observable and repeatable facts.
    They are described by physical law.
    There is nothing here than can even remotely be described as supernatural/immaterial/nonphysical.

  120. BillyJoe7on 16 Aug 2014 at 10:00 am

    sonic,

    “life is made from chemicals…the technique is difficult”

    Fine.

    “life is made from chemicals…the technique uses forces we aren’t currently aware of”
    We cannot postulate forces we aren’t aware of.
    We cannot postulate that we will one day be aware of forces we are not currently aware of.
    We have to work with we have.
    That how science is done.

    “life is made from chemicals…the technique isn’t available to us”
    Ditto.

    “there is some ingredient that is missing…the ingredient could be physical”
    Ditto.

    “there is some ingredient that is missing…the ingredient could be non-phyiscal”
    Ditto with sugar on top!

    “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine”
    He was talking about IS – what we already know about the universe.
    (Not wild speculation about what might be – which can as strange as you choose. And as useless).

    “Perhaps he was right and the actual solution to this is an example– it will be stranger than I can imagine”
    No, you have him wrong.
    So, like Arthur Eddington, lets stick with the observable facts shall we?

  121. BillyJoe7on 16 Aug 2014 at 10:15 am

    sonic,

    “I am a skeptic in that I question the validity of something being purported to be factual”

    You question the validity of things supported by evidence.
    But you accept the possible validity of things that have no supporting evidence.
    You blithely accept speculations about unknown forces and mechanisms.
    But you question to the nth degree everything that actually has a degree of supporting evidence.

    I am a sceptic in that I accept things in proportion to the evidence and scientific plausibility.

  122. mumadaddon 16 Aug 2014 at 11:56 am

    “I am a skeptic in that I question the validity of something being purported to be factual”

    My version of what BJ7 said as, I was thinking along the same lines already – you think you’re just being legitimately skeptical by not accepting a conclusion that hasn’t yet been experimentally verified. I’ll accept that we can’t deal in absolute, metaphysical proof, ever, but this doesn’t make all unproven postulations equally likely. Abiogenesis fits all available lines of relevant science without any conflict whatsoever – nothing that we already ‘know’ to a high degree of certainty needs to be revised in order to accommodate it. It’s a missing piece of knowledge, something we don’t yet properly understand, but we have a good idea of where to direct our efforts in trying to understand life’s origin.

    Contrast that with your alternatives – what would we have to be wrong about in order for these to be the right answer? You say you’re an agnostic but I don’t think you mean it in the sense that most of the commenters here would recognise; I think you see a god of some sort as a 50/50 proposition, same with souls. You’re playing at skepticism, but you’re using it as an excuse to not honestly follow the evidence where it leads.

  123. mumadaddon 16 Aug 2014 at 11:58 am

    “50/50 proposition”

    Probably not even just that, but I’m speculating.

  124. sonicon 17 Aug 2014 at 1:22 pm

    mumadadd-
    My option ‘c’, the one you liked- the technique isn’t available to us- could be another way of saying ‘goddidit’.
    That’s one of the proposed methods not available to us. I’ve heard: it might take too long, it might require conditions unavailable on the planet, it might require miraculous intervention.

    What’s odd about the claim that the method is unavailable to us is that it is true because the person making the claim can’t demonstrate the truth of it.
    If he could demonstrate abiogenesis, his hypothesis would be wrong.
    Therefore he is right about abiogenesis because he is unable to demonstrate it.

    Cool, huh?

    I think it is the most popular position among people who have a position– I’m right because I can’t demonstrate my claim.

    Of course this also disallows my position- that one waits for experimental conformation before deciding how first life began. Clearly that wait will be forever.

    I’m not saying that abiogenesis is false or that it can’t happen or whatever or that I don’t think it likely true, I’m just saying that there are other alternatives that might still be in agreement with current experimental evidence and I don’t see the point in calling something a fact that hasn’t been experimentally demonstrated.

    Perhaps the evidence for abiogenesis is better than I know-
    Is there a particular avenue of the current research that you think is going to produce results?

    BillyJoe7-
    What I should have said was– just because sonic’s actions are not completely determined by the physical conditions doesn’t necessarily imply anything beyond physics at work.
    The way I phrased it before was thoughtless and insensitive.

    Perhaps you could explain to me what dark matter is and if that is how science is done. ;-)

  125. BillyJoe7on 17 Aug 2014 at 6:14 pm

    sonic,

    Here is your basic error:
    Not knowing the mechanism of X, does not wipe the evidence that X is true.

    Because of all the evidence in favour, and because of the lack of any evidence against, and because of the lack of evidence in favour of any alternative, it is almost beyond doubt that the brain produces the mind.
    However, we don’t as yet know how.
    Not knowing HOW the brain produces the mind does not make it a level playing field for mind separate from brain – it does not make it a 50/50 propostion that something that has no supporting evidence is true.

    “Perhaps you could explain to me what dark matter is and if that is how science is done”

    That’s the problem, you have no idea how science is done.
    Dark matter is a name given to something scientists know must exist because of what they observe in the universe. They don’t know what it is, hence the reason that it is called dark matter. Similarly, they knew that atoms existed before they knew what they were.
    This is a whole lot different from postulating the possible existence of things we “aren’t even aware of” and for which there is no evidence of any need.

  126. BillyJoe7on 18 Aug 2014 at 6:47 am

    sonic,

    “I don’t see the point in calling something a fact that hasn’t been experimentally demonstrated”

    This is because you don’t understand science.

    Experimental evidence is only a part – sometimes only a very small part – of the total evidence that scientists rely on to come to conclusions. In some cases, it is impossible to obtain experimental evidence because of the very nature of the thing under study. For example, you can’t compress millions of years of evolution into a human lifespan. But the lack of experimental evidence doesn’t wipe out the overwhelming evidence from other sources.

    As for the rest of your response to mumaddad…WTF?
    I mean WTF?…

    “What’s odd about the claim that the method is unavailable to us is that it is true because the person making the claim can’t demonstrate the truth of it”
    But he CAN demonstrate the truth of it.
    He CAN demonstrate the truth of his claim that the method is unavailable to us.

    “If he could demonstrate abiogenesis, his hypothesis would be wrong”
    Yes, if he could demonstrate abiogenesis his claim that the method is unavailable to us would be wrong. Obviously. Because now he has the method – abiogenesis.

    “Therefore he is right about abiogenesis because he is unable to demonstrate it”
    Obviously you have ballsed up this piece of logic (see above for your misstep)

  127. sonicon 18 Aug 2014 at 4:55 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Usually you ask me if this or that is alive or not.
    So far my answer has been dumbfounded silence because you claim to know how something was made, but you don’t even know what it is you are being asked to make.
    Sometimes I just don’t know how to deal with a situation like that.

    Just so you know–
    I’m not trying to alter the current working hypothesis of any scientist about this subject–

    But I’m a human being, not a scientist- so just because Laplace was wrong for centuries doesn’t mean I would have to be (making an analogy).
    Of course when asked to demonstrate his extraordinary claim, Laplace hand waved and special pleaded. It made sense he was right.

    Of course nothing like that could happen now- when asked to demonstrate this extraordinary claim they special plead first and then hand wave.
    See, it really is different this time. ;-)

    When Miller put the sparks through the gas his results were described this way by his advisor Urey- a Nobel prize winning chemist-
    “If God didn’t do it this way he missed a good bet.”

    What he should have said was- “We have demonstrated that life doesn’t come about this way,” and I think everyone would agree– life doesn’t come from putting a spark through a gas. What you get is tarry sludge. Demonstrated numerous times now.
    It seems a lot of people think a spark through gas is an important part of the steps to make a life from non-life. Some sort of a swampy gassy cloud over the primordial soup got struck by lightening. It seems that’s one kind of idea, anyway.

    The best aspect of abiogenesis is that it is testable using what we now know.
    So that makes it the working hypothesis.
    I was a bit excited about some of the RNA experiments at first… but again- like the spark through gas– that’s not it.
    Oh well.

    I agree- I was torturing the logic a bit. But the truth is the person is making a claim he knows how something was made, but he can’t show how it was made… and that’s his claim– that he can’t show it.
    Oh the twists and turns… It’s funny. :-)

  128. BillyJoe7on 18 Aug 2014 at 5:48 pm

    sonic,

    You didn’t torture the logic, you failed the logic. Please admit that at least.

    And you are guilty of misrepresntation when you say that a “person is making a claim that he knows somethng is made but can’t show how it is made”. Scientists are making a claim that all the evidence supports the view that life came from non-life or that dirds evolved from dinosaurs but they accept that they can’t actually show how that happened.

    All the evidence points to the fact that life evolved from non-life but we can’t actually make life from non-life.
    All the evidence points to the fact that birds evolved from dinosaurs but we can’t actually make a bird from a dinosaur.

    It is not a level playing field for evidence free claims like gods or forces we are not aware of.
    And all your hand waving above does not alter that fact.

  129. mumadaddon 19 Aug 2014 at 9:15 am

    Sonic,

    “It seems a lot of people think a spark through gas is an important part of the steps to make a life from non-life. Some sort of a swampy gassy cloud over the primordial soup got struck by lightening. It seems that’s one kind of idea, anyway.”

    The hypotheses of abiogenesis is entirely separate from:
    A.) Your, or the public’s mental image of the specific moment that life arose
    B.) Any hypothesis or experiment regarding specific mechanisms

    Shooting holes in either of these things doesn’t undermine abiogenesis, which simply means that life arose from non life. The evidence for this conclusion is pretty overwhelming, namely:

    -There was once no life on earth
    -There is now life on earth
    -That life as we know it could not survive the initial conditions of the universe, so even if it did not start on earth, it started from non-life elsewhere

    The other options you provided have zero scientific evidence base. I know it might seem intuitively crazy that all this complexity could come from dead matter, but try looking at it this way: all that needed to happen prior to evolution was the occurrence of the first self-replicating molecule, and this we call abiogenesis. This only had to happen once, over billions of years, and after this, evolution takes over and accounts for the diversity of life.

    Please tell you you believe in evolution, at least.

  130. BillyJoe7on 19 Aug 2014 at 9:51 am

    mumadadd,

    What do you think of this additional argument:

    A good case can be made for saying that a virus is part of the category that we call life.
    An equally good case can be made for saying that a virus is part of the category that we call non-life.
    Therefore there cannot be much difference in the definition of life and non-life that captures everything.

    And, therefore, it is not so much of a stretch to say that life could arise from non-life.

  131. mumadaddon 19 Aug 2014 at 10:02 am

    Yep, I agree. When I said, “the first self-replicating molecule”, it again occurred to me how fuzzy and almost arbitrary (at least within a certain range) the point that we define something as being alive is.

    “And, therefore, it is not so much of a stretch to say that life could arise from non-life.”

    It’s a stretch if you want to jump from mud to primates, but not so much from a chemical rich environment to bacteria.

  132. sonicon 20 Aug 2014 at 10:43 am

    mumadadd-
    If a ‘self-replicating molecule’ would be abiogenesis, then it has happened.
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v478/n7368/full/nature10500.html

    You can find other examples of this sort of experiment- I think it offers some chance of success if the basic hypothesis is correct in the first place. It seems more likely to me than the ‘metabolism first’ hypothesis, for example.
    Thus far the results are much like the spark through the gas– being called breakthroughs when what is being shown is that life did not come about that way.
    I am hopeful there will be a demonstration one way or the other. It wasn’t long ago a researcher was claiming to be days or weeks away. Oh, that was years ago…
    Thus far the claims that they have produced ‘acts of god’ have turned out to be tarry sludges- to put it more dramatically. And accurately. :-)

    Anyway-
    I’ve been referring to abiogenesis- the hypothesis that life came from non-life by putting together molecular ‘building blocks’.

    The problem I’ve had with this is that I know that given all the ‘building blocks’ we can’t make a life (at least not thus far).

    I’ve heard flies come from garbage and man came from dust. Are you calling those examples of abiogenesis?

    I can imagine a molecule becoming self-replicating and then by going through stochastic alterations in form that alter the rate of replication, producing ever more ‘clever’ replicators, wending it’s way through the survival landscape, until one day we have a man driving down the highway at 70 miles per hour in an air conditioned environment, listening to the radio playing a digitized recording of Stevie Ray Vaughn doing his thing.

    But I fantasize so readily. :-)

    What do you mean when you use the word ‘evolution’? Oh, and let’s be sure we are using ‘abiogenesis’ to mean the same things to.

    BillyJoe7-
    So if there is no difference between life and non-life, then life has always been part of the universe.
    And that rock is alive.
    Everything is alive!!! And death is an illusion. And we are all space aliens…

    What the heck, people believed the universe was a predetermined clock– they’ll believe anything. :-)

    See, I confused ‘life’ with ‘being alive’ there didn’t I?
    And just to set up a bad joke.

    I am incorrigible. :-)

  133. Rockingrandmaon 13 Sep 2014 at 5:20 pm

    I promise I got more out of this than just this and it doesn’t change anything but:

    “At some point were farmers dragging half a tractor around their fields?”

    Yes they were. They are called hand plows. Which eventually evolved into tractors.

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