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Why do evolutionary psychologists exist?

A reader wrote to me to say,

I greatly enjoy your writing and I would like to ask your opinion about something I really find puzzling.

Well, once someone has decided to praise my writing, how can I resist responding? Anyway, this person goes on to say,

My question concerns the so-called agent detection device” and the affirmation that it disproves God’s existence beyond any reasonable doubt.

Sounds like a scam to me, but then I have shut the door on the feet of so many people selling winter home heating plans that I may have an innate door-shutting mechanism that “evolutionary psychology” can explain … (Like, it would never have anything at all to do with suspicion that the new plan would end up sticking me with more expenses than the present one – or anything else that suggests that the human mind is real, right?)

According to many experimental studies, human beings seem to have an innate mechanism enabling them to identify the presence of an agent under some circumstances. ( if one is in a deep wood, the shuffling of trees and bushes and a sudden silence would lead one to believe some creature is present).

Well, all I can say is, when that happens to me in the deep woods, I institute my wilderness survival plan immediately.

Admittedly, the last time that happened to me, wandering down a trail in Muskoka, the creature I nearly collided with was a fox that had apparently missed his rabbit. So the fox ran off. But what if it had been a bear who had missed his deer? …

Anyway, my correspondent went on to explain,

However, this mechanism can easily fool us. What if we are, for instance, alone in an old house and hear some noise. We may be inclined to assume, too easily, that someone or something must be there, even if other explanations (like wind) would be much more likely.

Okay, not me. I’ve never had any trouble detecting the difference between, say, a fox and a ghost.

Not that I believe in ghosts. I figure, either a spirit is a holy soul or it is not. If it is a holy soul, I need not worry. And if it is not a holy soul, it would never approach a baptized and confirmed Christian like me.

True, during high summer, the floorboards of old houses can start to creak. It can sound like someone is walking there, due to the wood’s adjustment to the temperature difference between day and night. I learned that as a small child.

(This was especially useful information for us girls because we were often yakking far into the night when we should have been asleep. … So it was important for us to know whether an adult was sneaking in to check on us, as opposed to natural night noise that we could ignore.)

My correspondent advises me that evolutionary psychologists think that this “agent detection” mechanism is hyperactive and therefore completely unreliable.

That doesn’t sound right to me. (Admittedly, not much about “evolutionary psychology” – a discipline without a subject – sounds right to me. But this “agent detection” stuff sounds especially unright.)

I wrote back and said, essentially,

I am nearly 60 years old, and have often faced real danger – and have never found the mechanism unreliable at all.

In every situation in which I suspected real danger, I was right to be concerned.

Yes, false alarms are common, but people learn to ignore them after a while.

If the mechanism is so unreliable, why am I still here? Why are you? Why is anyone?

Re God: I never thought God existed on those terms! I assumed it was because of the majesty and fine tuning of the universe and the moral law, and reason and revelation.

However, I have never uncovered a really good reason for why evolutionary psychologists exist, apart from taxpayer-funded universities. But if someone comes up with one, please let me know.

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134 Responses to Why do evolutionary psychologists exist?

  1. Denyse,

    You report that your correspondent wrote of the

    “agent detection device” and the affirmation that it disproves God’s existence beyond any reasonable doubt.

    and that

    evolutionary psychologists think that his “agent detection” mechanism is hyperactive and therefore completely unreliable.

    “Disproves God’s existence”? “Completely unreliable”?

    Could you please point me to your source for the proposition that evolutionary psychologists make either of these claims?

    (I’m assuming you wouldn’t just take the word of a reader about what evolutionary psychologists think without doing your own research.)

  2. Start with Pascal Boyer and work your way out from there.

  3. Your correspondent wrote:

    “My correspondent advises me that evolutionary psychologists think that this “agent detection” mechanism is hyperactive and therefore completely unreliable.”

    Your correspondent is deeply confused about the characteristics of the mental module that has become known as our “innate agency detector” (IAD). First of all, there has been a great deal of empirical research into the characteristics of the IAD, both in humans (especially infants) and in some primates. Here’s a blogpost in which research into such a detector is described:

    http://scienceblogs.com/mixing.....e_spid.php

    Agency detection is part of what is known as the “theory of mind” (TOM), which is the ability to infer the existence and intentions in other minds than our own. The well-known phenomenon of pareidolia (in which people “see” human faces in clouds, rocks, and so forth)

    In both the case of the IAD and the TOM (and probably also pareidolia), virtually all of the very complex information processing that goes into infering and identifying “agents” and their intentions takes place unconsciously.

    One of the first researchers to study these phenomena is Dan Sperber, a French anthropologist currently a Research Director at the Jean Nicod Institute, CNRS. Pascal Boyer (currently Henry Luce Professor of Individual and Collective Memory at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and author of Religion Explained) was one of Sperber’s students, and has applied some of the central concepts and findings about IAD and TOM to the development of religion in human cultures. Scott Atran (currently research director in anthropology at the Jean Nicod Institute of the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique, and author of In gods We Trust) has also done considerable empirical research into the origin, development, and evolutionary dimensions of the IAD and TOM and their relationship to religion.

    All three of these authors and researchers are very careful to point out that their research can in no way be interpreted as either confirming nor denying the actual existence or non-existence of any supernatural entity (demons, gods, spirits, etc.) Indeed, some have argued that the evolution of the IAD and TOM have made it possible for us to actually identify the existence of such supernatural entities, which appears to be a characteristic unique to humans.

    As for the IAD being “hyperactive”, this refers to the tendency for the IAD to produce “false positives”. That is, it identifies intentional agents in a great many situations, in some of which such an agency clearly does not exist. The evolutionary argument for this tendency to produce false positives is simple: the consequences of inferring agency where it does not exist are mild at worst (as in the case of initially having the feeling that there is a predator stalking you in the woods, when in fact it’s just the wind rustling the leaves). However, the consequences of not inferring agency where it does in fact exist can be deadly.

    One of the students (Elaine Broaddus) in my notorious 2006 “evolution and design” seminar at Cornell wrote a brilliant paper summarizing the theory of innate agency detection and its evolutionary implications. She also pointed out that autistics have been hypothesized to have a defective IAD and TOM, which would explain many (although not all) of their behavioral signs and symptoms. You can download a copy of Broaduss research paper (and read some comments about it) here:

    http://evolutionanddesign.blogsome.com/

    So, to summarize:

    1) the existence and operation of a putative innate agency detector (especially in human infants) has been inferred on the basis of considerable empirical research;

    2) the operation of our IAD is biased toward inferring agency in many different, extremely variable environmental contexts; this makes it prone to producing false positives;

    3) the existence of the IAD and its tendency to produce false positives is explained by the evolutionary context in which it is presumed to have evolved;

    4) in any case, the IAD and TOM have not (indeed, cannot) be used to either verify or falsify the existence of supernatural agents; and

    5) some people have asserted that the IAD and TOM have evolved in order to make it possible for us (and, perhaps, other sentient organisms) to be able to detect and appreciate the attributes of supernatural entities.

  4. Sorry, I somehow deleted the rest of the second paragraph in my previous post. Here it is in its entirety:

    “Agency detection is part of what is known as the “theory of mind” (TOM), which is the ability to infer the existence and intentions in other minds than our own. The well-known phenomenon of pareidolia (in which people “see” human faces in clouds, rocks, and so forth) is probably a side-effect of the operation of our IAD.”

  5. Thanks Allen. As a regular reader of your rebutal posts it is always refreshing to hear an explanation so clearly given.
    I’m a person who became interested in the furor surrounding ID since Dover, and believe Miss O’Leary needs to punch a little more convincingly if she truly wishes to contribute further to a debate existing mainly in the North of America, cyberland,and the courts, (where it has yet to register any returns on effort expended – surely a debate on science should be held by scientists, we amateurs can follow as best we can, and be deeply interested to be certain, as I am,, but what can we effectively contribute, not being experts in the fields because we have not studied it our entire lives).
    To Denyse, being a moderately sized fish in a tiny pond is proof of neither writing ability, nor fan appeal; is it?
    Rob.

  6. International Journal of Fun and Games – You’re too Clever – Gotcha!,

  7. Start with Pascal Boyer and work your way out from there.

    That’s not very specific, Denyse. Are you referring to Religion Explained, the book Allen MacNeill referred to in #3?

    Assuming that’s your source, I don’t have access to that book right now, but surely you do if you’re relying on it for the proposition that evolutionary psychologists think that the agent detection device “disproves God’s existence beyond any reasonable doubt” and is “completely unreliable.”

    So, please provide a citation to where Pascal Boyer asserts that the agent detection device “disproves God’s existence beyond any reasonable doubt” and is “completely unreliable.”

    After you provide your source, I’ll be happy to go confirm it at the library. (I suspect Allen would be able to check it as well.)

  8. As a matter of fact, I went to my bookshelf and dug out my copy of Boyer’s Religion Explained and searched for any statement similar to this one:

    “[E]volutionary psychologists think that [our] “agent detection” mechanism is hyperactive and therefore completely unreliable.”

    My copy is falling apart from overuse and has my underlining and annotations on almost every page. I didn’t remember anything like that quote in the book, but just spent about an hour combing through my annotations looking for something like it.

    My conclusion: as I suspected, it’s not there, nor is there anything in Boyer’s book upon which someone might draw such a conclusion. That is, nowhere in Boyer’s book is there a sentence, paragraph, page, section, or chapter in which he asserts or concludes that we have a unitary “intentional agency detector”, nor that this single “agency detector” is “hyperactive”, and most importantly that this therefore implies that our perceptions relating to God or religion are “unreliable.”

    On the contrary, Boyer provides a very thorough analysis of what various religions consist of in the broad diversity of human cultures, and how regularities in what constitutes religion cross-culturally are correlated with mental functions that have been identified and studied by cognitive psychologists. His conclusion is that there is a surprisingly large number of different “mental modules” that contribute to our tendency to believe in the content of religions, and that most of these mental modules can be (and indeed have been) studied using empirical methods.

    To be as specific as possible, he does not conclude anywhere in the book that Gods or other supernatural beings do or do not exist, nor that the alleged “unreliability” of our “innate agency detectors” (stemming from it’s/their “hyperactivity”) either rules out (or rules in) the actual existence of God(s) or other supernatural agents.

    Here is as close as he gets to writing explicitly about this:

    “…people who think that religion is true (or their version of it is, or perhaps other, still-to-be-discovered version is) will find little here to support their views and in fact no discussion of these views. [Emphasis added] Boyer, P. (2001) Religion Explained; The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, Basic Books, ISBN #0465006957, pg. 48

    His book, in other words, contains an investigation of the phenomenon of religion, without any speculation whatsoever as to whether and religion (or religions) are either true or false.

  9. Allem MacNeill

    #3

    Your correspondent wrote:

    My correspondent advises me that evolutionary psychologists think that this “agent detection” mechanism is hyperactive and therefore completely unreliable.

    If you’re looking for a book that argues along those lines, you might like to try Daniel Dennett’s book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking Penguin, 2006 ), 108-109. See Angus Menuge’s presentation, “Does Neuroscience Leave Room for God?” at http://72.14.235.132/search?q=.....forgod.ppt

    I don’t have a copy of the book, but I understand that Dennett has argued that religion arises form a Hyperactive Agent Detection Device [HADD].

  10. There are significant epistemic problems with the program of evolutionary psychology, but also significant insights to be had by thinking about human psychology and human behavior, and the relationship of those to human neurobiology, in evolutionary terms.

    The epistemic problems concern the direction of inferences and the soundness of those inferences, particularly with respect to human psychological features that are purported to have arisen in their entirety long after the divergence of the hominid line from the other great apes. The hypothesis is that human psychological and cognitive functioning developed many unique features due to selection within the “environment of evolutionary adaptedness,” most often (in EP) the Pleistocene (the period from approximately 1.8 million years ago to 10,000 years ago.). However, we have no direct way of knowing with any precision what those selection pressures were. Although reasonable surmises are possible, these don’t have the specificity required to generate many testable hypotheses, and we often end of inferring features of that selective landscape from current psychological research rather than driving psychological research with hypotheses arising from an evolutionary perspective. In short, psychology may have more to tell us about human evolution than evolutionary psychology can tell us about psychology.

    The picture improves significantly, however, when those inferences are augmented by additional findings, such as findings from neurobiology, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology and comparative primatology. A large body of careful and often ingenious research from within these fields has enabled us to “triangulate” upon evolutionarily derived psychological and cognitive features in a way that is both informative about out evolutionary past and drives substantial current empirical investigation in all of these fields.

    “Theory of Mind” is perhaps the most investigated of these phenomena. A large literature addressing theory of mind has emerged over the last 30 years from a remarkable counterpoint between primatology and developmental psychology. Questions regarding the ability of the great apes to attribute mental states to others (see Premack & Woodruff’s seminal 1978 paper, “Does the Chimpanzee Have a Theory of Mind”) have been transposed to a human developmental context, contributing to the discovery of a rich and largely unsuspected cache of cognitive competencies in infancy and early childhood. These competencies are best understood as evolutionary adaptations.

    A propensity to represent others’ behavior in terms of underlying states of attention, knowledge, desire, intent, and belief appears to be one such adaptation. Many nonhuman primates, particularly the great apes, exhibit sensitivity to several of these states. As examples, chimpanzees display sophisticated gaze-following, are sensitive to what their conspecifics have seen and therefore know as they compete for foodstuffs, engage in deception that may include the misdirection of competitors’ attention, discriminate intentional and accidental behaviors, acquire referential gestures in captivity with no explicit training, and imitate sequences of actions in a way that suggests an appreciation of others’ goals. The latter is a probable basis (along with other forms of social learning) for cultural variations of many social and foraging behaviors across populations. These elements of theory of mind were also very likely present in the ancestor common to human beings and chimpanzees.

    Human theory of mind also includes many elements that are absent in other primates, however. Most strikingly, from 12 to 24 months of age the gaze-following of human infants is folded into uniquely human episodes of coordinated joint attention, social referencing, and triadic interaction that incorporate an external object or other shared referent. It is also through joint attention that infants discern adult referential intent and disambiguate the referents of novel words. With language comes the capacity to express propositions (beliefs that…, desires that…, intentions that…), and with propositional speech children attain the ability to fully represent others as in possession of mental states, including states of belief (and false belief). By age 4 years children become full participants in the sense that we share “contentful and causally efficacious mental states” that impel, explain, and justify our actions, and thereby represent others as intentional beings like the ourselves.

    All of this research has been founded upon an evolutionary perspective, and many of these discoveries arose as a result of the heuristics of a broadly construed evolutionary psychology. Posts such as the above do this exciting (and difficult) work into the origins of some of our deepest human characteristics a disservice.

    Denyse, in your book The Spiritual Brain you and Dr. Beuaregard describe findings that are entirely consistent with an evolutionary view of some quite fundamental human characteristics. For example, you reported the efforts of Jeffrey Schwartz to understand OCD through neuroimaging. On page 128 you describe his conclusions:

    Schwartz noted that the most recent (and thus most sophisticated) prefrontal parts of the human brain, in evolutionary terms, are almost entirely unaffected by OCD. That is why patients perceive compulsions as alien. They are alien to the most characteristically human parts of the brain. To the extend that the patient’s reasoning power and sense of identity remain largely intact, they can actively cooperate with their therapy.

    In short, the human ability to reason over a representation of one’s identity and one’s behavior in the context of one’s place in the world – sophisticated representational skills that are the foundation of some our most characteristically human psychological competencies – are generated by specific neural structures of recent evolutionary origin that lie in the prefrontal areas of the brain. Therefore some account of the evolutionary emergence of these quintessentially human psychological structures and characteristics must be the right account, although the specifics of that evolutionary story may never be knowable. That is a very intriguing idea, one that deserves further research, as does ongoing inquiry into human theory of mind.

    That is why evolutionary psychology exists. (The existence of evolutionary psychologists has more to do with parental canoodling in recent decades, but that’s another story.)

  11. vjtorley:

    If you’re looking for a book that argues along those lines, you might like to try Daniel Dennett’s book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking Penguin, 2006 )…
    I don’t have a copy of the book, but I understand that Dennett has argued that religion arises form a Hyperactive Agent Detection Device [HADD].

    Dennett’s position isn’t that simple. The HADD, which originated with Justin Barrett, is just one of many factors to which Dennett attributes the origins of folk religions. And he doesn’t argue that religions are necessarily wrong; rather his primary thesis throughout the book is that religions, like everything else, have historical origins and “free floating rationales” that should be subject to examination, given their importance.

  12. As a clinical psychologist, I have no use for evolutionary psychology. It contributes nothing practical to the understanding of the human mind, and most often amounts to little more than story telling. That said, it is about as useful as the average evolutionary scientific field.

    Let’s extend the hyperactive agency detection idea a little further. By attributing religious belief to a “hyperactive” agency detector, there is an implicit point being made that those who are atheist have a normally active agency detector. Linking this to theory of mind, one might infer that atheists have a less well-developed theory of mind, which could be related to quantifiable biological processes. Heck, there may even be a mutation that causes them to have a hypoactive theory of mind, which has a positive side effect of having a normally active agency detector.

    Would one of the atheists here please conduct a short personal experiment? Please go outside and see if you are able to see any faces or other objects in the clouds. This will be helpful in examining the idea of pareidolia in the areligious. Perhaps we could even get some grant funding to examine this further.

    Hold on a second, I’ll save you some time. Do you see anything here?

    Of course this is all nonsense, and contributes nothing at all to the good of society or the lives of individuals. But speculation can be an enjoyable pasttime, which will likely be the subject of future research.

  13. Hi TCS,
    I can’t find a study I read of last year and hope maybe you can help.
    Are you aware of the one (Dutch?) in which atheists/agnostics were found to be less apt than believers to see patterns and designs in computer images?
    The kicker is, the designs actually existed and they were unable to see them.

    I have been unable to find it again via Google.

    Thanks.

  14. Mr TCS,

    As a working clinical psychologist, I was wondering if you could share something with us. First let me say that I would never ever ask you to violate the confidentiality your clients deserve.

    Have you ever had a patient that described having an impression, either auditory or purely mental, that God was communicating directly with them? If so, is there a clinical protocol for deciding if this person is actually receiving a message from the Creator, or is suffering from disturbance? I realize this might not be something they teach in school, but if you have had any experience with such people, have you developed your own protocol?

    I hope it is clear that I am asking with the greatest respect for your practice of your profession. If you feel this is off topic for the thread or inappropriate, I accept your reason not to answer.

    Thank you.

  15. Charlie,

    I couldn’t find it either, but it seems to faintly have some ring of familiarity. The amusing thing is, that what I have speculated above has been taken seriously in some circles.

    Are Atheists Autistic

  16. Nakashima,

    The thing is, if someone is psychotic, they will have a cluster of other symptoms (not just having two-way verbal conversations with God–e.g., erratic behavior, poor grooming/hygiene and so forth). In other words, it’s usually very obvious that the person is out of touch with reality. Genuine spiritual experiences do not foster erratic or otherwise unusual behavior, but are edifying, uplifting, and often produce increased maturity/insight. That’s overly simplified, but since it is off topic, I don’t want things to derail too far into that direction.

  17. Let’s extend the hyperactive agency detection idea a little further. By attributing religious belief to a “hyperactive” agency detector, there is an implicit point being made that those who are atheist have a normally active agency detector. Linking this to theory of mind, one might infer that atheists have a less well-developed theory of mind, which could be related to quantifiable biological processes.

    The HADD hypothesis doesn’t argue that believers differ from non-believers with respect to that hyperactivity. It is rather about the origins of folk religions in history, and the essentially universal projection in across (almost) all cultures of agency into the background facts of our existence.

    I also don’t see that the assertion that human Theory of Mind has evolutionary origins, and is involved in theistic religious faith (ie. discerning God’s agency in one’s life, having a personal relationship with God, etc.) is an argument against the reality of the objects of religious faith. A believer could easily argue that it is because we have evolved theory of mind that we are able to discern the reality of God and enter into a relationship with him. Absent the ability to represent actions in terms of agency, such a relationship would not be possible. So Theory of Mind is not inherently unfriendly to religious notions.

    There are many theoretical notions within experimental and comparative psychology that have limited relevance to clinical practice. It doesn’t follow that those theoretical notions are wrong, irrelevant to human psychological functioning, or uninteresting. The emergence of language, for example, and of interaction by means of language, almost certainly has an evolutionary grounding (one that also draws upon theory of mind), and of course psychotherapy typically depends moment to moment upon the reality of language and conversation. Yet that fact ordinarily provides the clinician little guidance in understanding a particular client and her particular difficulties.

  18. 18

    TCS

    The amusing thing is, that what I have speculated above has been taken seriously in some circles.

    Are Atheists Autistic

    Male, Atheist, Biologist. Score: 9

  19. To extend Diffaxial’s comment in #17 and respond to TCS comment #12:

    “Of course this is all nonsense, and contributes nothing at all to the good of society or the lives of individuals. But speculation can be an enjoyable pasttime, which will likely be the subject of future research.”

    Many people (including, I suspect, some of the regular commentators at this website) think that quantum mechanics is “nonsense”. Indeed, there are many basic concepts in quantum mechanics that strike most people as “nonsense” (or, at least, deeply contradictory to “common sense”).

    Ergo, if the fact that some people consider some area of empirical science to be “nonsense” and furthermore if they require that all scientific research “contribute something to the good of society or the lives of individuals”, then it seems quite clear that quantum mechanics, particle physics, relativity theory, many areas of physical and organic chemistry, much of biology, and virtually all of astronomy and astrophysics (not to mention all of philosophy, classics, art history, and most of the rest of the humanities) should be abandoned.

    TCS’s comment, in other words, is a paradigmatic example of the close-minded anti-intellectual, anti-science attitude that has characterized the Christian fundamentalist movement in American society for over a century.

  20. And TCS cites no evidence (nor even arguments by authority) in support of the assertion that evolutionary psychology is “nonsense”. In other words, TCS makes no argument whatsoever, but simply expresses an opinion. Everyone has the perfect freedom to do so, and no one has any reason (and I mean no reason) to accept any of it as anything beyond a personal, completely unsupported, and basically pointless opinion about a field which TCS clearly knows no more than what anyone could have read about in the popular press.

  21. Daniel Dennett is a reasonably good philosopher, but he only knows what he has read about “agency detectors” from secondary (and tertiary) sources. If, for example, he had read Pascal Boyer’s book, or Scott Atran’s, or any of the pioneering work of Dan Sperber in this field, he would not describe our ability to infer agency in the world around us a something that could be described as the “hyperactive agency detector”. All of the authors I have cited here describe a whole constellation of cognitive functions, which taken together confer upon us (and upon many other animals) the ability to infer agency (i.e. “intentionality”) in various entities in our environment.

    Dennett does this to make an argument about religion. Indeed, I would go so far as to say he mobilizes his greatly simplified version of the cognitive / evolutionary concept of “agency detection” to attack religion, which he (like Richard Dawkins) apparently believes has more negative than positive attributes in most societies, including ours.

    In my experience, this generally what happens when people coopt a scientific argument for political purposes: the first thing that happens is that the science is so drastically simplified that it verges on misrepresentation. That is what people who oppose evolutionary theory generally do (c.f. the condensation of a huge and complex theory into “RM + NS”). It is also, unfortunately, what many evolutionary biologists to when characterizing religion and its philosophical underpinnings.

    In culture wars, as in all wars, the first casualty is the truth.

  22. Ah yes, those enemies of evolution and their RM+NS strawman.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....#more-6449

  23. Allen writes:

    Many people (including, I suspect, some of the regular commentators at this website) think that quantum mechanics is “nonsense”. Indeed, there are many basic concepts in quantum mechanics that strike most people as “nonsense” (or, at least, deeply contradictory to “common sense”).

    There is an obvious distinction between something that violates common sense and nonsense. The evolutionary story telling of evopsych is based largely on imagination, whereas the study of quantum mechanics is studied in the present and based on hard data. I hope the other commenters here can see your evident disdain for them in your comments.

    Ergo, if the fact that some people consider some area of empirical science to be “nonsense” and furthermore if they require that all scientific research “contribute something to the good of society or the lives of individuals”, then it seems quite clear that quantum mechanics, particle physics, relativity theory, many areas of physical and organic chemistry, much of biology, and virtually all of astronomy and astrophysics (not to mention all of philosophy, classics, art history, and most of the rest of the humanities) should be abandoned.

    That is false Allen and you should know that. Explain to me how evolutionary storytelling is empirical science. It’s little more than amusing that you compare evopsych to hard empirical scientific endeavors. Now, I will agree with you on part of what you say here, and that is that evopsych could have a role in creative writing programs.

    TCS’s comment, in other words, is a paradigmatic example of the close-minded anti-intellectual, anti-science attitude that has characterized the Christian fundamentalist movement in American society for over a century.

    Your comment is characteristic of the elitism that has reigned in academic circles for over a century. Anyone who finds your area of study to be lacking in value is labeled in all kinds of inflamatory ways. On the contrary, I am supporting science by pointing out that storytelling is not science. I think the readers here are very intelligent and open-minded, and will likely find your comments to be offensive.

    Also, it is fair for the public to ask the question of whether certain areas of study are worth the expense. That’s not closed-mindedness, it is rationally evaluating the potential value of an area of study in a world that faces real problems.

    Lets look at a few contributions of evopsych:

    1. Men rape in order to propagate their genes

    2. Muslims resort to suicide bombing with hopes of breeding

    3. Crime is the result of men’s competitive desires – do the crime, and your more likely to reproduce.

    4. Humans are by nature polygamist

    5. Homosexuality and the consolation prize

  24. 24

    Allen,

    Do you believe that religion is a result of agency detection? And what, exactly, do evolutionary psychologists use to explain religion?

  25. Allen,

    I am not aware of anyone here who thinks quantum mechanics is nonsense. I am sure there are some, after all Einstein did for most of his life and maybe some of the anti ID people who are determinists think so. My guess is that the most frequent pro ID commentators are interested in empirical results and the quantum theories while often screwy at first glance are consistent and predicts a lot of unusual stuff. I just listened to a a lecture this afternoon on the Bohr/Einstein debates on quantum theory from the 1920′s and Bohr eventually won every one of them.

  26. This thread has gone way off topic.

    It started with RG O’Leary’s assertion that evolutionary psychologists think that there is an “agent detection device” that “disproves God’s existence beyond any reasonable doubt” and is “completely unreliable.”

    She asserted that Pascal Boyer made such claims. Allen MacNeill demonstrated that no such claim is evident in his well-worn copy of Religion Explained. I asked (in a comment that was deleted) if Ms. O’Leary had some other source from Boyer.

    No response so far.

  27. 27

    Jerry it is very interesting stuff and I think beings that much of this boils down to philosophy and understanding makes clear the point that mind is the primary component of all science and rationality- and that nature itself very likely under the guidance of a supreme mind like influence.

  28. 28

    The agent detection schema is a ridiculous antidote to the God hypothesis. Fundamentally there is the problem of where the plan for this device came from- and hence what could be powerful enough to purchase such an exquisite system. Ultimately this is not different than the witchcraft that Sigmund Freud peddled- (when not overdosing from his addiction to narcotics)- which is the fictional mastery of taking two things that are not related and finding a hypothetical explanation that “seems” at first glance to make perfect sense. I say beware of perfect explanations though as they tend to leave out details and it is “the details” that leave you addicted to heroin and impotent.

  29. Allen,

    If you ever get around to answering Clive’s question, there are also probably some who would be interested in an explanation of atheism from an evolutionary psychology perspective. You’ve dodged Clive’s question before by essentially saying that evopsych does not provide an explanation for religion, but I don’t think that is the truth–or not the whole truth.

  30. TCS

    Explain to me how evolutionary storytelling is empirical science. It’s little more than amusing that you compare evopsych to hard empirical scientific endeavors.

    The notion is to use evolutionary explanations to derive predictions that can be tested by means of experimental research. Among those predictions has been that human cognition is modular (human thinking reflects the operation of many individually adapted “modules” for accomplishing various tasks, rather than reflecting the application of a single “general purpose” intelligence), as well as various more specific predictions regarding the particular cognitive modules likely to have emerged from the environment of evolutionary adaptedness.

    For example, it was hypothesized that we possess cognitive adaptations for monitoring social exchange and cooperation such that the detection of cheating is detected very efficiently. An experimental paradigm was designed to test that prediction. The logic of the experiments is complex, but essentially sought to test the prediction that particular violations of specific conditional or descriptive rules would be more effectively detected when those rules are expressed in terms of a social exchange than when the identical rules are expressed in as more neutral propositions. That prediction was confirmed (although there have been stern critics of this work).

    The point here is that everyone involved knows that merely dreaming up hypotheses isn’t enough – it is also necessary to derive empirical tests of those hypotheses, such that your model is put at risk of disconfirmation (sound familiar?) The problem with evolutionary psychology has been that devising such predictions and research has proven not to be so easy.

  31. The notion is to use evolutionary explanations to derive predictions that can be tested by means of experimental research.

    When that happens please let us know.

  32. Diffaxial,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response.

    I would add that a modular hypothesis would not only be predicted by evolutionary theory, and that you could speculate about that possibility as well as others from a design perspective.

    I’m also not convinced that developing testable hypotheses is a widespread goal among those who employ psychological explanations in an evolutonary context.

  33. When did all these adaptations take place and how did they diffuse through the entire species?

  34. TCS– evolutionary psychology strikes me as the worst of all possible world, figuratively combing Freud & Darwin.

    A lot of it seems to be simply research into excusing bad behavior.

    Diffaxial– effectively detected when those rules are expressed in terms of a social exchange than when the identical rules are expressed in as more neutral propositions.

    I don’t know exactly what you are saying here, but I don’t know why you would need a study to show that a taboo is more likely to be taken seriously than non-judgmental advice.

  35. In #24 Clive Heyden asked:

    “Do you believe that religion is a result of agency detection? And what, exactly, do evolutionary psychologists use to explain religion?”

    Yes, I do, based on analyses very similar to those provided by Boyer in Religion Explained. However, I believe that Boyer’s analysis is incomplete, in that he (like Daniel Dennett) simply infers the existence of a set of cognitive modules, the output of which is that function we refer to by the term “agency detection”. He does not, in other words, propose (or even suggest) a testable explanation of how these modules and their output functions evolved. Despite the subtitle of his book (“The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought”), he does not explore the question of the origins of the modules and their output. He restricts his analysis to the empirical evidence for the existence and operation of the modules, and their effects on those human behaviors and thoughts that anthropologists refer to as “religious”, and leaves it at that.

    Scott Atran (and David Sloan Wilson) take Boyer’s analysis one step further and propose a testable hypothesis that explains how the modules that produce the function we collectively refer to as “agency detection” probably evolved (and are still currently maintained in human populations). Both Atran and Wilson propose that the modules for “agency detection” and “theory of mind” evolved as a consequence of group selection among relatively small, genetically homogeneous groups of humans living in “patchy” (i.e. non-uniform) ecosystems in which resources were seasonally and locally variable, sometimes being scarce and sometimes being super-abundant, but rarely being entirely predictable.

    Atran and Wilson’s assumptions, and the social structures and functions that they yield as predictions, follow closely the predictions made by Lumsden and Wilson in their detailed mathematical analysis of gene-culture coevolution in their 1985 book, Genes, Mind and Culture. They also bear out the predictions made by George R. Price in his pioneering work on group selection (especially his mathematical models of group selection, now collectively referred to as the “Price equations”).

    The primary literature on these subjects is huge and growing larger all the time. It is clear to me from most of the comments posted here (including even some from supporters of the evolutionary hypothesis) that virtually none of those commenting are familiar with this primary literature, and have formulated their opinions of the science of evolutionary psychology from tertiary accounts of this research in the popular press (secondary accounts would consist of summaries of the various theories and the data supporting them that appear in textbooks and review articles in the scholarly press).

    Finally, do I think that the cognitive mechanisms proposed and analyzed by Boyer, Atran, and Wilson not only detect “intentional agents” but also disprove the existence of God/gods? Absolutely not, nor are they intended to either disprove or prove the existence of the intentional agents which they are apparently adapted to detecting.

    Which leads to a very interesting question, which I would suggest that the critics of this line of research might want to try to answer:

    If a set of cognitive modules that constitute an “innate agency detector” actually do exist in the human mind (which is a functional “program” that runs in partially analog and partially digital “circuits” in the human brain), doesn’t it seem likely that such a detector evolved because such “agents” actually exist? After all, if eyes evolved as light detectors, isn’t this prima facie evidence that light actually exists?

    Not that it’s relevant (I don’t believe it is, but that’s just me), the answer to the question of whether or not my “innate agency detector” has “detected” something like the foregoing is located here:

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......stion.html

  36. BTW, the answer to the implied accusation that I have somehow been avoiding answering questions here is that yesterday (i.e. the day that such questions appeared in this thread) was:

    1) First Day (“Sunday” for those among you who are not Friends)

    2) “Gardening Day”, an annual event/celebration for my family

    3) The first day since the third week in April in which one (usually more than one) of my children has not been sick with the flu, and

    4) The first First Day since the end of regular classes at Cornell.

    So, if you think that I’m going to make it my first priority to sit here at this machine and interact with a group of (mostly) anonymous people whom I have never met, most of whom have apparently never taken the trouble to educate themselves in the primary literature of a science about which they nonetheless feel fully qualified to criticize, I suggest you are very sadly mistaken. Indeed, I would suggest you might want to examine your own priorities. As one of my roshi’s was fond of quoting (when I was a full-time unsui), “Strive hard – death can come at any moment!”

  37. In #37 tribune7 wrote:

    “…evolutionary psychology strikes me as the worst of all possible world, figuratively combing Freud & Darwin.”

    How much of the primary literature (i.e. journal articles) and secondary literature (i.e. textbooks) in evolutionary psychology have you read to come to such a conclusion? And if your answer is, “I only read what I find in the ID blogs”, then why do you think this qualifies you to make such a judgement?

    “A lot of it seems to be simply research into excusing bad behavior.

    So you think that studying “bad behavior” to find out what might cause it is the same as “excusing” it, right? By this line of reasoning, forensic investigators are studying crime because they are motivated to “excuse” it, rather than explain it.

    Your comment demonstrates the most consistent misunderstanding of evolutionary psychology (and, indeed, of psychology in general): that by trying to answer the “what”, “how”, and “why” questions of human behavior, psychologists (including evolutionary psychologists) are motivated to do so, not by curiosity or a desire to improve the human condition, but rather by a desire to find a rationalization for “bad behavior”. This is, of course, just another example of ad hominem argumentation; par for the course, eh trib?

  38. tribune7 in #34:

    Would you please explain exactly what you think a “taboo” is, and why such things exist, and what relationship (if any) they have with “non-judgmental advice”

    For example, do you think the virtually universal human “taboo” against incest is essentially no different from “non-judgmental advice” about having sex with first degree relatives?

    Just curious…

  39. In #32 TCS wrote:

    “I’m also not convinced that developing testable hypotheses is a widespread goal among those who employ psychological explanations in an evolutonary context.”

    Please reference how much of the primary and secondary literature in evolutionary psychology you have read that has led you to this admittedly tentative conclusion, and (if you have time) provide relevant examples from that literature in support of your assertion.

  40. P.S. Blog entries and articles about evolutionary psychology in the popular press don’t count.

  41. joseph in #31:

    Another zero-content ad hominem post. Apparently you can’t make any other kind…

  42. So, if you think that I’m going to make it my first priority to sit here at this machine and interact with a group of (mostly) anonymous people whom I have never met, most of whom have apparently never taken the trouble to educate themselves in the primary literature of a science about which they nonetheless feel fully qualified to criticize, I suggest you are very sadly mistaken.

    Nearly every book on human psychology I read starts out with musings about evolutionary psychology, and then shifts to the real studies or clinical observations. These things have very little to do with one another other than some vague connection in the imagination of the writer. It’s really fairly convenient for you to criticize others on the basis that they get most of their information from secondary or tertiary sources. Many of these sources are written by or quote the primary source. Additionally, if there were anything of use in the field, would you not expect some of that to be reflected in a secondary or tertiary sources?

    You’ve also been dodging Clive’s question on many more days than the “first day.” And even today, you cite a book that purports to use evolutionary explanations of religious belief, but fails to follow through. Also, any attempt to explain religion by means of evolutionary psychology would be incomplete if it did not also explain atheism. Vague hand waving at modules and asserting that others are too uneducated to get it doesn’t fly.

  43. Re TCS in #29:

    “…there are also probably some who would be interested in an explanation of atheism from an evolutionary psychology perspective. You’ve dodged Clive’s question before by essentially saying that evopsych does not provide an explanation for religion, but I don’t think that is the truth–or not the whole truth.”

    First of all, unlike many of the commentators here, I do have both a professional and a personal life, and do not make commenting here nor responding to comments here my first (or even second or third) priority (please see comment #36 for more).

    As to the relationship between the putative human “innate agency detector” and the origin of atheism, it has been my experience that most atheists have come to their belief (yes, atheism is a “belief”, meaning a conclusion based on rational thought, combined with sentiment) as the result of a long process of rational thought. I realize that this conflicts with the widespread opinion among many commentators at this website that atheists become such as a way of excusing their debauched and libertine lifestyles. However, I think it is clear (based on empirical evidence) that this is not the case for most atheists. Nor is the converse – that theists believe what they believe as a rationalization for their virtuous and temperate lifestyles – the case. In my experience I have met more “virtuous” and “temperate” atheists than theists, and more “debauched” and “libertine” theists and atheists (and have also found that this is a frequency distribution, not an absolute value). Maybe it’s just that I hang around a university located deep in the countryside, where opportunities for libertine debauchery are somewhat limited…

    To sum up on the question of the origin of atheism: it is my tentative conclusion that most atheists come to their beliefs as the result of learning to disregard the inferences that are suggested to their conscious minds by the operation of their “innate agency detectors”.

    It is also possible that the capacity for “innate agency detection is, like all evolutionary adaptations (i.e. “exaptations”), distributed in human populations in patterns that approximate normal distributions (i.e. bell-shaped curves), with some individuals exhibiting extremely intense output from such detection modules, some exhibiting almost no output from such modules, and most exhibiting something in between. This is an empirically testable hypothesis, which I hope someone who is interested in this hypothesis will investigate in the near future.

    As to the claim that I have asserted that evolutionary psychology does not provide an “explanation for religion”, this is simply not the case. Indeed, I have published research articles in the primary literature that supports the exact opposite: that evolutionary psychology provides a testable hypothesis for the evolution of the capacity for religious experience, in much the same way that it provides a testable hypothesis for the evolution of the capacity for language.

    The fact that many people cannot distinguish between the capacity for some trait and the specific form that trait has taken in a specific ecological context simply demonstrates their lack of understanding of some very basic principles of evolutionary theory, psychology, and science in general.

  44. Re my comment #43:

    There is a very significant typo in my second paragraph:

    “In my experience I have met more “virtuous” and “temperate” atheists than theists, and more “debauched” and “libertine” theists and atheists (and have also found that this is a frequency distribution, not an absolute value).”

    should have read:

    “In my experience I have met more “virtuous” and “temperate” atheists than theists, and more “debauched” and “libertine” theists and than atheists (and have also found that this is a frequency distribution, not an absolute value).”

  45. In #42 TCS wrote:

    “Nearly every book on human psychology I read starts out with musings about evolutionary psychology, and then shifts to the real studies or clinical observations.”

    I didn’t ask about the secondary sources you have read on human psychology, I asked about the primary and secondary sources you have consulted in evolutionary psychology upon which you have based the conclusions you wrote in comment #23. Please list at least the last five relevant journal articles (i.e. primary sources) and at least one textbook (i.e. secondary source) in evolutionary psychology upon which you have based your conclusions. It would help to use APA citations, but if you are unfamiliar with this format, I suppose any format would do…

    BTW, the links you posted in comments #15 and #23 are all to blog posts and articles in the popular press, except for one which links to a book at Amazon.com (another tertiary reference). In case you aren’t aware of this, blog posts and articles in Psychology Today don’t qualify as either primary or secondary sources, nor do references to books published by scientists for the lay public. And, despite most of the comments posted here on a regular basis, this website is supposed to be about science, not distortions or misrepresentations of it drawn from blog posts or the popular press. Just check the masthead…

    Have you ever actually read anything in the primary or secondary literature of evolutionary psychology, TCS? Just curious…

  46. Allen,

    I actually think Joseph’s comment at #31 was very content full and not an ad hominem. He was making an observation about the lack of content in certain academic areas and to be countered there should be some examples provided to discuss.

    Joseph frequently makes the point that this so called theory does not predict anything so of what use is it. It is a point that a lot of here have sympathy with.

  47. To sum up on the question of the origin of atheism: it is my tentative conclusion that most atheists come to their beliefs as the result of learning to disregard the inferences that are suggested to their conscious minds by the operation of their “innate agency detectors”.

    We’re not talking “god genes” here, are we?

  48. In #42, TCS asserts:

    “…you cite a book that purports to use evolutionary explanations of religious belief, but fails to follow through.”

    Please cite exactly where in the books I have cited that the authors “fail to follow through” in their use of evolutionary psychology to explain the capacity for religious belief. I have stated that all of the authors of all of the books cited have done precisely this, and that two of them (Atran and Wilson) have taken their analysis further, suggesting an ecological and social context within which this capacity has most likely evolved.

    And, while you’re at it, would you like to propose an alternative hypothesis for the origin of the capacity for religious experience in humans, and provide citations to at least secondary sources in the scientific literature? I suspect that most of the people following this thread would be very interested in such an hypothesis, and in evaluating for themselves the empirical research supporting it.

  49. Let me clarify sentence #2 in the first paragraph of comment #48. When I wrote “I have stated that all of the authors of all of the books cited have done precisely this,” what I meant was that the authors have indeed provided a testable hypothesis for the evolution of the capacity for religious experience, and that two of the authors had gone further to suggest a testable hypothesis for the context within which this capacity has evolved. Sorry if my original syntax was confusing.

  50. jerry in #46:

    If joseph is making an assertion about “the lack of content in certain academic areas” then he should be able to cite specific areas in the primary and secondary literature in which this is the case. He did not do so (nor do most of the rest of the commentators here), and so he is not making an “argument” at all, he is merely expressing his opinion about a field in which he has either not read the primary and secondary literature, or which he has read this literature, but wishes to assert that it doesn’t exist.

  51. Alan in #47:

    No, what Boyer, Atran, and Wilson all describe is most emphatically not “god genes”, but rather a complex and inter-functional set of cognitive modules (partially “hard-wired” and partially “programmed”) whose function (among others) is to produce what, for convenience, is referred to as “agency detection” and “theory of mind”. It is extremely unlikely that this function is controlled (or even regulated) by a single “god gene”, any more than the similar capacity for human language is the result of the operation of a single “language gene” or that human behavior as a whole is the result of some hyper-functional “behavior gene”.

  52. If people here are genuinely interested in specific examples of human behaviors that are at least partially explainable via evolutionary psychology, then that might be a fruitful (and educational) inquiry to pursue. Simply attacking some field of scientific endeavor because one doesn’t like it or like its implications is neither productive nor indicative of commitment to the spirit of open-ended inquiry that is supposed to characterize scientific inquiry.

  53. As for “god genes”, Carl Zimmer wrote this:

    “…given the low explanatory power of [the hox gene] VMAT2 [Dean Hamer's supposed "god gene"], it would have been more accurate for Hamer to call his book A Gene That Accounts for Less Than One Percent of the Variance Found in Scores on Psychological Questionnaires Designed to Measure a Factor Called Self-Transcendence, Which Can Signify Everything from Belonging to the Green Party to Believing in ESP, According to One Unpublished, Unreplicated Study.

  54. Well, to use an example of Dawkins, the behaviour of beavers that result in the building of dams, for the materialist, must be present in the DNA of the zygote. How the behaviour of “if you sense running water, collect mud and sticks to block it” is coded in DNA and translated back into the behaviour by RNA and proteins is not yet understood. No plan of a dam coded in the DNA will be found in beaver DNA, I predict.

  55. …a complex and inter-functional set of cognitive modules (partially “hard-wired” and partially “programmed”) whose function (among others) is to produce what, for convenience, is referred to as “agency detection” and “theory of mind”.

    These modules in the brain would have developed embryologically from the zygote. So there must be DNA sequences that result in the development of those modules. Broadly speaking, they would be genes. Those genes can have alleles, thus are available for selection.

  56. Allen, with regard to your post 37 it’s not so much that I’ve read the literature it’s that I’ve been subjected to the evo-psych proclamations of educational authorities in high school and college i.e. love– whether romantic, brotherly, familial or parental — is nothing more than chemical reaction created by evolutionary forces. Forget the transcendental or spiritual possibilities.

    And of course getting this authoritative definition leads to certain results. After all, you and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel. Source

    I remember one teacher telling me guilt and fear are pointless emotions. A nice recipe for making sociopaths, looking back.

    Scripture says we shall be judged by every word we utter, so I guess that’s something we should all keep in mind if we are in education.

    With regard to “taboo” it was in regard to my understanding of Diffaxial’s statement, and I grant that my understanding can certainly be incorrect.

    What I meant is that it has long be understood that one is far more likely to influence behavior by saying one is a bad person for breaking a rule, rather than simply posting a rule in a non-judgmental manner.

  57. Allen wrote @ 48:

    Please cite exactly where in the books I have cited that the authors “fail to follow through” in their use of evolutionary psychology to explain the capacity for religious belief.

    But he previously wrote @ 35:

    However, I believe that Boyer’s analysis is incomplete, in that he (like Daniel Dennett) simply infers the existence of a set of cognitive modules, the output of which is that function we refer to by the term “agency detection”. He does not, in other words, propose (or even suggest) a testable explanation of how these modules and their output functions evolved. Despite the subtitle of his book (”The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought”), he does not explore the question of the origins of the modules and their output. He restricts his analysis to the empirical evidence for the existence and operation of the modules, and their effects on those human behaviors and thoughts that anthropologists refer to as “religious”, and leaves it at that.

    So, you answered your own question before you asked it.

  58. Allen writes @ 52:

    Simply attacking some field of scientific endeavor because one doesn’t like it or like its implications is neither productive nor indicative of commitment to the spirit of open-ended inquiry that is supposed to characterize scientific inquiry.

    That’s not what is taking place, although I think it is what takes place with you and like-minded individuals with respect to ID. What is taking place is a) questioning the value of the inquiry, b) questioning the methods, c) questioning the political and personal biases that often drive the imaginary scenarios, and d) questioning the societal implications. Now d) is less important if b) and c) are not problematic; however, many of us find them to be promblematic and transparently biased.

    Perhaps you can reference a freely available paper that you feel represents the best of evopsych in terms of adhering to scientific methodology and is low on imaginary scenarios and relatively free of personal and political bias. Most of us do not have the time or desire to dig that much deeper into the field because of popular press items and the tendency of new atheists to use evopsych as a battering ram against their opponents. Feel free to convince us of the value of evopsych with the best that is offered from the field.

  59. Tribune7

    I don’t know exactly what you are saying here, but I don’t know why you would need a study to show that a taboo is more likely to be taken seriously than non-judgmental advice.

    My brief description really doesn’t convey the logic of that research, so I don’t blame you for misconstruing it. It refers to an early paper in evolutionary psychology entitled “Cognitive Adaptations for Social Exchange” by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, found in Barkow, Cosmides and Tooby’s 1992 edited volume The Adapted Mind. It’s a complex argument and more trouble that it’s worth for me to summarize here.

    There has been a lot of water under the bridge since that volume was published, BTW.

  60. Diffaxial, fair enough.

  61. TCS:

    Perhaps you can reference a freely available paper that you feel represents the best of evopsych in terms of adhering to scientific methodology and is low on imaginary scenarios and relatively free of personal and political bias.

    A very interesting set of essays is contained in the 1999 volume The Descent of Mind, edited by Michael Corballis and Sephen E. G. Lea (Oxford University Press). The inferences in this volume run in the right direction, and some of the essays are fascinating, e.g. “The evolution of deep social mind in humans” by Andrew Whiten.

    Excellent critiques of the weakness of the logic of evolutionary psychology may be found in Valerie Hardcastle’s edited volume, Where Biology Meets Psychology: Philosophical Essays (The MIT Press). Chapter 3, “Evolutionary Psychology: Ultimate Explanations and Panglossian Predictions” (Todd Grantham and Shaun Nichols), and 4 “The Conflict of Evolutionary Psychology” (Paul Sheldon Davies) are particularly good.

    I also strongly recommend Michael Tomasello’s 1999 book The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition (Harvard University Press), which integrates biological and cultural evolutionary perspectives on human cognition with some very interesting empirical findings. (I see my library is getting rather out of date).

  62. 62

    Allen,

    So you do think that religion is the result of evolution. I asked you, in an earlier thread written by Barry, (which discussed religious and atheistic killings, called Quote of The Day), whether evolution was in fact responsible for both explanations, religious and atheistic killing, given that evolution produced both:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....the-day-3/

    My comment:

    77
    Clive Hayden

    04/20/2009

    4:15 pm
    e

    Isn’t all of the above caused by Darwinian evolution? Evolution alone is supposed to account for everything, right? Isn’t religion caused by evolution? Isn’t atheism caused by evolution? It would seem that everything is caused and explained–if we are wholly explicable by evolution–by evolution.

    To which you responded:

    “Yes, indeed, you are wrong. There are a great many things in the universe, and in human behavior and thought that are not accountable by evolutionary biology. And thanks for giving me the chance to knock down yet another ridiculous straw man…”

    So I asked:

    “And what, exactly, about human thought and human behavior are not accountable to evolutionary biology?”

    and you responded:

    “The short list:
    • Aesthetics
    • Epistemology
    • Ethics
    • Law (common and legislative)
    • Logic
    • Mathematics
    • Metaphysics
    • Ontology
    • Religion (including philosophy of religion)”

    You answered no, now you answer yes. Which is it?

  63. Diffaxial, thank you for the list. BTW, what do you think of David Buller’s criticism of evopsych?

    Evolution of the Mind: 4 Fallacies of Psychology

    Denyse blogged on this previously.

    You can also find some of Buller’s publications here.

  64. Very simple: the content of any given religion is not the same as the capacity for formulating, believing in, and acting on that content. To be even more precise, “religion” does not equal “the capacity for religion”.

    The same is true for all of the “disciplines” listed in my short list. As just one example, the capacity to formulate and apply mathematical concepts is not the same as the concepts themselves, which are purely abstract entities. Everyone is aware that some people can formulate and/or learn mathematics much more easily than others, and that this capacity is not entirely the result of effort or learned skill. The same thing is true for the capacity to learn languages, music, art, etc.

    To state it as succinctly as I can, biological evolution can produce the capacities to formulate, learn, transmit, and apply the information contained in each of the disciplines in the short list, but has little or nothing to do with the content of those disciplines.

  65. I have both read David Buller’s book, Adapting Minds (of which the linked article is a very small snippet) and corresponded with him on the subject. While I disagree with some of Buller’s assertions and conclusions, in general I believe that many of them have merit, and that evolutionary psychologists would do well to incorporate his criticisms in their work.

    Another book that I have already suggested along the same lines is Richarson & Boyd’s Not by Genes Alone. In it, they point out that human behavior and psychology is clearly not simply the product of our “genes” (whatever they are), but equally (and in many cases, much more) the result of cultural evolution. Clive Haydon has asserted that evolutionary psychologists reduce all of cultural evolution to biological evolution. This assertion is false, as anyone who reads Richarson and Boyd can discover.

    Personally, I tend to prefer the term “human ethology” to “evolutionary psychology”, as the latter term has been so thoroughly corrupted by the popular press as to stand for something that the discipline is not (i.e. the assertion that all human behavior is ultimately genetic) rather than standing for what it is (which cannot be reduced to a simple sentence, or even a paragraph).

    Why do I find “human ethology” preferable to “evolutionary psychology”. Primarily because if you ask any ethologist whether animal behavior in general (or human behavior specifically) is innate (i.e. genetic) or learned (i.e. cultural), they will answer “yes”. That is, virtually all significant animal behaviors are a complex blend of innate and learned components, in which the innate components are generally the capacities to learn certain general categories of behaviors.

    Lumsden and Wilson in their foundational book on this subject, Genes, Mind and Culture use mathematical models to formulate (and in some cases simulate) the coevolutionary relationships between genes, minds and the cultures within which they develop. If any work can be considered to be the “core” of evolutionary psychology, this is it. For those who are motivated to explore it, be warned: it is as heavily mathematical as a text in theoretical physics. Take it slowly, and be prepared to work very, very hard on understanding every page.

  66. Once again, the actual science of evolutionary psychology is not to be found in blog posts nor articles in the popular press. As an example of a research report in the primary literature, I recommend the following article:

    Watson, J. S. (2005). The elementary nature of purposive behavior: Evolving minimal neural structures that display intrinsic intentionality. Evolutionary Psychology, 3: 24-48. this article is available as a free downloadable pdf here:

    http://www.epjournal.net/Archi.....index.html

    I recommend it not only because it has the “classical” form of a scientific research report, but also because it deals with a subject near and dear to ID supporters and myself: the evolution of intentionaliy and the “theory of mind”. Take a look and perhaps we can discuss it further.

    Another original research report available from the same volume is this one:

    Watson, J. S. (2005). The elementary nature of purposive behavior: Evolving minimal neural structures that display intrinsic intentionality. Evolutionary Psychology, 3: 24-48.

    Like the previous article, it contains a report of original empirical research testing an hypothesis formulated on the basis of some general principles of evolutionary psychology. A discussion of this article might also shed some light on the actual methodologies used by evolutionary psychologists, and why a detailed knowledge of such methods and the information gained using them is almost never accurately represented in blog posts or the popular press.

    Lastly, those still interested in this thread might also want to read my own original research paper on the evolution of the capacity for religious experience, published in Evolution and Cognition, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Vienna. This article has been anthologized since its original publication, and can give some idea of the kinds of arguments that an evolutionary psychologist (that is, me) uses, and the kinds of evidence one can use to test predictions flowing from hypotheses based on the principles of evolutionary psychology. A pdf of my article is available online, and I would be happy to provide the relevant URLS and passwords necessary to download it (as copyrighted material, it cannot be directly available for download without password or firewall restrictions).

  67. Sorry, I unintentionally posted the same citation in the comment, above. The second citation should be:

    Corcoran, R. and Frith, C. D. (2005). Thematic reasoning and theory of mind. Accounting for social inference difficulties in schizophrenia. Evolutionary Psychology, 3: 1-19.

    This article deals with aspects of the “theory of mind” and demonstrates the kind of reasoning used in applying concepts derived from evolutionary psychology to more traditional topics in human psychopathology.

  68. 68

    Allen,

    So, religious “capacity” is the result of evolution, through this notion of “agency detection”, but not religion or religious belief itself, right? So at what point does the ‘psychology’ come into the whole affair? All you’ve given me is your ‘evolutionary’ explanation of a physical ability. I wonder if your discipline, which, I suppose, is materialistic when considering the mind, thinks that it is studying the mind when it studies the physical matter? Thus the very evolutionary capacity to detect anything is the same as considering it mentally?
    I do not believe that “biological evolution can produce the capacities to formulate, learn, transmit, and apply the information contained in each of the disciplines in the short list”, by the way.

  69. Clive, you think this is what evolutionary psychology is:

    “…your discipline, which, I suppose, is materialistic when considering the mind, thinks that it is studying the mind when it studies the physical matter?”

    because you’ve apparently never bothered to actually study it.

    Let me make this as clear as I possibly can: THE MIND IS NOT THE BRAIN: ideas are NOT “matter”. They are two fundamentally different things, regardless of how strongly you think otherwise. Ideas are what “live” in the neural circuitry of the brain, but they are not the same thing as that circuitry, any more than the letters in these words is the same as the meanings of these words. Why do you persist in conflating what are clearly two fundamentally different things? And plese don’t insult everyone’s intelligence by saying that’s what I’m doing, because I have repeatedly and clearly said just the opposite, here and in every comment I have made on this distinction.

    Again, another example (one more time, slowly and clearly, because you seem to be an extraordinarily slow learner): the capacity to learn and speak a language is not the same as the content of the language learned. This is precisely the distinction made by Lumsden and Wilson, Richarson and Boyd, Jablonka and Lamb, and virtually all other core thinkers in the field of evolutionary psychology/human ethology. I have stated this multiple times, as clearly and as forcefully as I can. Do you finally acknowledge this, or not, and if not, why not?

  70. Clive:

    Does the physical ability to play baseball determine the rules of baseball? Does the physical and mental ability to read determine the meaning of the words read? Does the physical ability to play the piano determine the music played, or the effect that listening to that music has on the listener? Does the physical ability to think determine the thoughts one thinks? And does the capacity for religious experience determine the content of one’s religious beliefs?

    I think even you might just have an inkling of the obvious answer to these questions.

    And do you think that, as an evolutionary psychologist, I would answer “yes” to any of these questions, you are either an idiot or determined to misconstrue the most basic principles of evolutionary psychology to conform to your totally uninformed (and extraordinarily biased) personal opinion of them.

  71. However, despite all of my efforts to the contrary, you might indeed persist in grossly mischaracterizing both my own beliefs and those of other scientists in my field. If so, please (for the benefit of anyone still reading this thread) cite references (and, if possible, specific quotes) in which I or other evolutionary psychologists have asserted anything even remotely similar to the ridiculous strawman caricature you have chosen to attack.

  72. One more time, so I won’t have to do this again. Here’s your quote:

    “…religious “capacity” is the result of evolution, through this notion of “agency detection”, but not religion or religious belief itself, right?”

    and here’s how I would rewrite it to make the point I’ve been trying to make all along:

    “…the “capacity” to see is the result of evolution, through this notion of “vision”, but not the things one sees when one uses one’s capacity for sight, right?”

    Do you finally get it, Clive?

  73. Maybe not: here’s what I (and virtually every evolutionary psychologist and human ethologist I know) would say:

    The “capacity” to see is the result of evolution, but the things one sees when one uses one’s capacity for sight are not.

    and here, reworded to apply to the capacity for spoken language:

    The “capacity” to learn and speak language is the actual language one learns to speak (and tho content of one’s spoken words) when one uses one’s capacity for language are not.

    and here, reworded to apply to the capacity for religious experience:

    The “capacity” to have religious experiences (beliefs, etc.) is the result of evolution, but the things one experiences (and believes, etc.) when one uses one’s capacity for religious capacity are not.

    Does this finally, at long last, make sense to you, Clive? Or will you persist in accusing me of asserting exactly the opposite?

  74. Damn! The second blockquote in comment #73 should read:

    “The “capacity” to learn and speak language is the result of evolution, but the actual language one learns to speak (and tho content of one’s spoken words) when one uses one’s capacity for language are not.

    Time for bed; final exams are tomorrow…

  75. 75

    Allen,

    Again, where does the ‘psychology’ come into play?

  76. 76

    Allen,

    I realize that you’re not a strict materialist, for a strict materialist would have to contend that the things that “live” in the brain are part of the brain, for no metaphysical reality exists. You, however, recognize the importance and reality of the metaphysical realm, which I am glad to see. But it does seem odd to me that you still think these metaphysical things to be a “quality” of the matter, as beauty is a quality of a painting. The beauty doesn’t live in the painting. The metaphysical realm doesn’t live in the brain. Numbers, for example, would exist regardless of our ability or capacity to access them or add them up. I’m only trying to get you to see that these things do not really emerge from any capacity, they exist prior to the capacity. Maybe you agree with that statement, I don’t know. If you do, then you’re admitting that mind is separate from matter, and not as some emergent quality of material, but as a real and separate entity. And if you admit that the mind really is separate, then the capacity of any “evolved” trait is only the vehicle, the second thing, that allows the immaterial mind access to what it has capacity to detect.

    And exactly how is it that the physical capacity is at all linked with the “psychology’……..you know, the second half of your discipline. When does the psychology come into play?

  77. “Psychology”: From the Greek psyche, meaning “idea” or “mind” (orig. “soul”), and logos, meaning “knowledge” or “study” (orig. “word”). Psychology is the study of the mind, which “lives” in (but is not reducible to nor determined by) the neural circuitry of the brain.

    Evolutionary psychology is the empirical study of the evolution of the cognitive structure and functions of the human mind and their relationships with the structures and functions of human (and higher primate) sensory, nervous, and motor systems, its relationships with human genetics and development, and its relationships with the cultural and ecological contexts within which the mind has evolved.

    If you would like a more detailed description, go here:

    http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html

    I don’t necessarily agree with all of Cosmides and Tooby’s definitions and hypotheses, but it’s a good start.

  78. 78

    Allen,

    “Evolutionary psychology is the empirical study of the evolution of the cognitive structure and functions of the human mind….”

    Mind? The study of the functions of the mind? What does that even mean? The functions of the human mind are things called laws of logic and reason.
    And, you’re back-peddling again Allen, the “cultural and ecological contexts within which the mind has evolved”? Didn’t you just explain that the mind is separate from the evolution of the brain? In effect saying that the mind is not matter, so how can the mind evolve? How can metaphysical things evolve?

  79. In #76 Clive Hayden wrote:

    “…then you’re admitting that mind is separate from matter,

    yes, I agree, they are not the same thing

    and not as some emergent quality of material,

    no, I disagree, emergent properties are also not reducible to the components that produce them; if they were, we wouldn’t refer to them as “emergent from”, but rather as “composed of” or “reducible to” those components

    but as a real and separate entity.

    yes, I agree

    And if you admit that the mind really is separate, then the capacity of any “evolved” trait is only the vehicle, the second thing, that allows the immaterial mind access to what it has capacity to detect.

    Nicely expressed, if slightly different than I would have expressed it. Specifically, I would add “and invent (and dream up)” after “to detect” at the end of the sentence (and maybe change “detect’ to “discover”).

    Also, I would go on to assert that:

    1) there is abundant empirical evidence that brains can exist without minds (this is certainly the case for dead brains); but

    2) there is no empirical evidence that minds can exist without some kind of material vehicle in which to live;

    3) there is also no empirical evidence that the entire contents of a given mind can be transferred with very high fidelity to another material vehicle (yet), nor somehow exist outside of one (yet); and

    4) point #3 notwithstanding, there is no necessary reason that I can think of that such “high fidelity” transfer or “immaterial existence” must or will remain forever impossible.

  80. Clive in #78:

    Does the mind consist entirely of logic and reason? What about art and music and emotion and aesthetics and sentiment? Are these not just as “real” and just as “metaphysical” and just as much a part of the mind as logic and reason? Do you think that only logic and reason have regularities, and therefore only logic and reason can be studied using empirical science? Do you, in fact, think there is no such thing as a “science” of the mind (i.e. psychology)? If so, then I can see why you might not also think there could be a science of the evolution of the mind as well.

    The evolution of the mind is separate from the evolution of the brain, but the mind evolves and develops (i.e. changes over time in both individuals and in aggregates/cultures). If not, why would anyone ever say they “changed their mind?” The “ecology” of the mind changes over time in ways that are analogous to the “outdoor” ecology of the biosphere. This is why Gregory Bateson entitled his most famous book Steps to an Ecology of Mind. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it.

    One of the most basic concepts of Zen Buddhism is that our perception of our self (i.e. our mind) as a singular, isolated, and unchanging entity is an illusion. The same is apparently true for the physical world within which the mind evolves. Indeed, the two (the mind and nature) co-evolve, and both cause changes in their respective ecologies, and also react to those changes.

    Are you therefore asserting that metaphysical things (such as minds) can’t evolve? Why not? And based upon what evidence?

  81. It’s 12:4 AM, the rest of my family has been asleep for hours, and my students will be waiting for me and for their final exams in just a few short hours.

    Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

    For tonight, at least, the rest is silence…

  82. Allen,

    If you don’t like my comments then perhaps YOU can start supporting YOUR position with scientific data.

    To date you have failed to do so.

    Your links to flight were sophmoric at best. Those scientists didn’t even seem to understand kineseology.

    Your position doesn’t have an explanation for wet electricty- ya know what flows down neurons and runs our bodies.

    You have nuthin’ except to say “it evolved”.

  83. joseph in #82:

    I find many of your comments useless at best (and counter-productive, if not deliberately inflammatory, at worst) because, in general, they do not contain arguments nor evidence. Instead, they usually consist of unsupported negative assertions against particular arguments. That is, they consist almost entirely of unsupported negative opinions, which (lacking such supporting evidence) are completely worthless.

    As to your specific examples in comment #82:

    With respect to the evolution of flight, the point was to show that flight (defined as movement through the air using an airfoil) has evolved dozens (possible hundreds) of times, in phyla as unrelated to each other as birds and maple trees (I have listed out the various examples of this convergent series elsewhere, and so will not waste further bandwidth doing so here). This is presumptive evidence that the evolution of flight is both tightly constrained by the physical dynamics of airfoils, but not tightly constrained by the evolutionary genetics of airfoil specification and/or development.

    Stated simply, it appears that the evolution of flight is relatively easy (as it happened multiple times in multiple, unrelated phylogenetic lines), so long as the organisms being modified have phenotypic characters (generated by sufficiently variable genetic and developmental systems) that can be modified into airfoils.

    If you want detailed expositions of the actual numerical data underlying these conclusions, be prepared to delve deeply into a highly technical literature. I can provide you with references, but to duplicate that data here would represent a colossal waste of bandwidth. That’s what libraries (full of paper and ink books) are for.

    To sum up, flight has evolved multiple times in multiple phylogenetic lines by means of natural selection operating on pre-existing structural features (specified by variable genetic and developmental programs) in the context of flight using airfoils (which are, in turn, grounded in the physics of the Bernoulli principle).

    As for the “wet electricity” that supposedly “flows down neurons”, electricity doesn’t flow down neurons; if that was how our nervous system worked, no animal could be more than a millimeter or so in longest dimension. Indeed, the fact that neurons have very low longitudinal conductance (i.e. very high longitudinal resistance) is essential for their biological function.

    The way information is transmitted along neurons (or, to be more specific, axons) is by a propagated wave of rapid changes in permeability of the axonal membrane to sodium ions, followed a few milliseconds later by a concomitant change in permeability of the membrane to potassium ions. These changes are propagated along the membrane of the axon by successive changes in ionic permeability in successive segments of the axonal membrane, and not by longitudinal electrical conductance (which decays very rapidly with distance according to the standard inverse-square law of electrical resistance).

    This system (which exists in the neurons of all animals and the plasma membranes of many unicellular protists, and even some plants) simply co-opts a transmembrane ionic regulation system that is found as far back as the most ancestral unicellular eukaryotic cells (and possibly as far back as the non-encapsulated thermoplasmas; that is, at least three billion years ago).

    To sum up, nervous signal transmission via action potentials has evolved multiple times in multiple phylogenetic lines by means of natural selection operating on pre-existing structural features (specified by variable genetic and developmental programs) in the context of variable ion regulation across selectively permeable plasma membranes in highly modified cells (which are, in turn, grounded in the physics of diffusion and electrostatic interactions).

    In other words, both of the examples you have chosen to represent as “failures” of evolutionary explanations are, in fact, among its most spectacular successes.

  84. Allen,

    There isn’t any scientific evidence that demonstrates that flight can “evolve” from the flight-less.

    Ya see to go from non-flight to flight requires the rearranging of bones and muscle.

    Can biologists point ot the DNA sequence(s) that do such a thing? No.

    As for wet electricity you are so far off I don’t know where to start.

    Perhaps you could start by reading “Electric Universe”.

    Sodium and potassium pumps keep the ions flowing. The influx of sodium ions increase the potential difference. Once that potential reaches a threshold the information flows, riding the wave of ions.

    And there isn’t any scientific data which demonstrates that nerves can “evolve” from organisms that never had one.

    So the bottom line is if glossy narratives are passed off as scientific evidence then you have it covered.

    However glossy narratives are never to be confused with scientific data so again you lose.

  85. Wet electricity.

    Whereas the electricity that powers our computers comes from the flow of electrons through a conductor and “hates” water, the electricity that runs our bodies is designed for a wet environment and uses pumped ions to help convey differing messages to our command center.

    In this environment mere electrons are of little use because they would be easily dispersed. What is needed is something bigger. And as I eluded to in my opening an ion or ions will fit the bill. Well there just happen to be two atoms well suited for ionization- two atoms with 1 outer valence electron.

    If we take a look at the Periodic Table, and also a look at the electron shell arrangement (note the sodium diagram on the right and also thepotassium arrangement, we see these atoms are perfect fits for the job of positive ions (as both have only one outer valence electron).

    Now we have the ions but we need a way for them to get into and out of the cell-> Ion Channels

    Ion channels are proteins that line holes in the plasma membrane. They can open on demand to let ions in and out of the cell. They allow nerve impulses to travel, cause your heart to beat, and allow your muscles to contract. In many cells, channels and another kind of protein called a pump together maintain a relatively constant negative charge within your cells. This net negative charge, or membrane potential, affects the entry and exit of a variety of materials. page 15 of Bioinformatics, Genomics, and Proteomics: Getting the Big Picture

    10 million to 100 million per second!

    The importance of these precise structures and hence functioning of protein machines like these channels cannot be understated. Potassium channels, like other channels that pass other ions from one side of the cell membrane to the other, have a particular architecture that allows them to open and close upon command. We now know that intricately designed and mechanically fine-tuned ion channels determine the rhythm and allow an electrical impulse initiated when we stub our toe to be transmitted to the brain.- Ibid page 19

    However even these, in comparison to electrons, huge ions also get lost in the wet environment. So what is needed are pumps along the way to pump ions in and also out. In the case of our nerve cells, ions go in to start the signal and are pumped out to reset that part of the system so it is ready for the next (or continuing) sensation. See nerve cell.

    (Some venoms and poisons effect these pumps (stop them from working) thereby shutting down the nervous system of the inflicted- ie paralysis sets in.)

    However our nerves to not touch each other as wires do in an electrical system to make a circuit. Neurons have functional connections called synapses. These can connect neuron to neuron or other types of cells (for example muscle). Between the synapse and the next cell is a gap- the synaptic cleft.

    This gap is too large for even ions to traverse. So to make the connection- to send the signal from one cell to the next, neurotransmitters is sent. These flow in one direction. And once the neurotransmitters reach their destination, that cell responds accordingly, and all the neurotransmitters are dismantled and shuttled back to the transmitting site to be refabbed and ready for the next signal. (some do linger a bit longer and then disperse)

    This is key because if the neurotransmitters stay docked the receiving cell would remain locked in that sensation. And if any unused neurotransmitters- the synaptic cleft is basically flooded to ensure signal transmission- remain they will just fill in the docking site when the first arrivals are gone. IOW the receiving cell will be locked in that past sensation.

    And there are different types of neurotransmitters for different sensations and purposes.

  86. joseph:

    Your comment #85 is riddled with minor and major errors of both fact and interpretation. This is probably due, at least in part, to your use of a popular book as your reference for the biochemistry and cell biology of neurophysiology.

    I recommend that you take a look at the most recent edition of the standard textbook in this field: Principles of Neural Science, by Nobel-prize-winner Eric Kandel, Joseph Schwartz, and Thomas Jessell (see: http://www.amazon.com/Principl.....0838577016 ). In it, you can read about the fine structure of the various ion channels found in neurons and many other cells in eukaryotes. The evolution of these ion channels is an area of extremely active research (see: http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/.....t/10/1/221 ). Comparisons between the structures of such channels has yielded a consistent and well-supported cladogram (i.e. “nested hierarchy”) which clearly illustrates the underlying evolutionary unity of such channels.

  87. The same is the case for the evolution of both neurotransmitters and their protein receptors. My ex-wife once worked with one of the principle discoverers of the acetylcholine receptor (purified from the electrical organs of electric rays, Torpedo marmorata). Like the ion channels found in all eukaryotic cells, the various neurotransmitter receptors have also been extensively studied by evolutionary biologists, and cladograms constructed illustrating their evolutionary histories. See: http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/.....t/15/5/518

  88. BTW, in case you’re curious, my ex-wife is a relative of Wilder Penfield (look it up) and worked in the laboratory of Mohyee Eldefrawi here at Cornell (see: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/.....3/3994/338 )

  89. 90

    Allen,

    —-”Does the mind consist entirely of logic and reason? What about art and music and emotion and aesthetics and sentiment? Are these not just as “real” and just as “metaphysical” and just as much a part of the mind as logic and reason? Do you think that only logic and reason have regularities, and therefore only logic and reason can be studied using empirical science?”

    Do I think that logic and reason can be studied empirically? Of course they cannot. They are the starting point that gives any empirical study its “study”. You cannot reach an ought from an is. The ought has to come first, before we can even see what anything is. The logic has to come before the study, otherwise, you’re just playing with counters. And yes, there is no “science” of the mind, regardless of things like psychology, for the mind can never fully be on trial, for it is also the judge.

    So I ask you again, how does the immaterial mind evolve? It may boil down to your usage of the word “evolve.”

    You stated: “The evolution of the mind is separate from the evolution of the brain, but the mind evolves and develops (i.e. changes over time in both individuals and in aggregates/cultures). If not, why would anyone ever say they “changed their mind?”

    The mind changes over time and cultures? No it doesn’t. I don’t really think you’re grasping what you’re saying. Just by virtue of someone changing their mind, then the mind evolves? To be honest, Allen, I can’t make any sense of this. This is the smokescreen, the language game, the analogy that is not really an analogy. You would have to show me physically, an “evolution” of an immaterial mind, otherwise your usage of evolution is to mean anything that ever does anything. Minds change, so what? Why is that an evolution? There is no natural selection and no random mutation in immaterial things. There is no “ecology” of the mind. I know you evolutionists are singularly fond of biological metaphors that are totally meaningless when applied to immaterial and non-biological entities. This is really the crux of the matter. You’ve convinced yourself that the physical world produces the mind. But on the assumption that nature herself has no mind, this is not an answer. And any answer, any response, that you give me, that even remotely suggests that the outside world, the “ecology” plays any role in “changing the mind” begs the question, for it is only through the mind that there is any outside world to begin with, and all events that might have any bearing on our minds are not relevant when considering the mind itself, for the mind comes first, and the outside world second. It is these immaterial realities that the mind adheres, things like laws of logic and reason, sentiment, morality, and none of these are physical. So, no, I’m not convinced that our mind evolves. All I’ve heard, quite honestly, is empty rhetoric and false analogies. If the “mind’s evolution” is to be maintained, the burden of proof is on you.

  90. 91

    Allen,

    Consider this bit of wisdom from G. K. Chesterton:

    “Some fall back simply on the clock: they talk as if mere passage through time brought some superiority; so that even a man of the first mental calibre carelessly uses the phrase that human morality is never up to date. How can anything be up to date? — a date has no character. How can one say that Christmas celebrations are not suitable to the twenty-fifth of a month? What the writer meant, of course, was that the majority is behind his favourite minority– or in front of it. Other vague modern people take refuge in material metaphors; in fact, this is the chief mark of vague modern people. Not daring to define their doctrine of what is good, they use physical figures of speech without stint or shame, and, what is worst of all, seem to think these cheap analogies are exquisitely spiritual and superior to the old morality. Thus they think it intellectual to talk about things being “high.” It is at least the reverse of intellectual; it is a mere phrase from a steeple or a weathercock. “Tommy was a good boy” is a pure philosophical statement, worthy of Plato or Aquinas. “Tommy lived the higher life” is a gross metaphor from a ten-foot rule.”

    In short, there must be a standard that is approximated to in order to say that minds have evolved. For evolution implies a steady-up gradient. But in the world of metaphysical things, it implies and improvement. There can never be an improvement unless there is a standard that is being approximated to. Otherwise evolution would mean congratulating yourself on reaching your destination and defining your destination as being the place that you’ve reached.

  91. Allen:

    This is why Gregory Bateson entitled his most famous book Steps to an Ecology of Mind. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it.

    A classic, and his cybernetic view of mind as embodied and embedded loops of feedback (some of which extend outside the body) still quite relevant.

    His double-bind theory of schizophrenia didn’t fare so well, however.

  92. Clive in #91:

    It is finally clear to me now that you and I define “mind” very differently – indeed, our definitions are essentially incommensurate. Furthermore, your arguments for your definition of “mind” are based entirely upon assertion, and do not contain any appeal to evidence as far as I can tell. Ergo, I don’t think there can be any benefit from further discussion of this topic. Indeed, based on your closing assertion:

    “All I’ve heard, quite honestly, is empty rhetoric and false analogies. If the “mind’s evolution” is to be maintained, the burden of proof is on you.”

    I believe that any rapprochement between us on this topic is impossible. If we cannot even agree on the definition of “mind”, then we cannot agree on anything.

    You may, of course, continue to call me names and cast aspersions on my character and quality of thought (indeed, I fully expect you to do so, rather than make an honest attempt to understand my point of view), but that’s your problem, not mine.

  93. Diffaxial in #92:

    Bateson’s “double-bind” theory of schizophrenia was revolutionary for its time. That was, of course, before there was any clear understanding of either the biochemical or genetic influences in psychopathology. In my experience, people who eventually develop schizophrenia show signs of a significant neurochemical disorder long before the full-blown syndrome develops.

    That said, given some of the recent research indicating that cognition can have significant effects on neurobiology (see http://evolutionlist.blogspot......-self.html ), the question of whether something like Bateson’s “double-bind” situation can push an already unstable mind into madness is once again an open question.

  94. 95

    Allen,

    The evidence I use for the concept of mind is that it is not matter, nor is it an emergent quality of matter. You can say that we define it via negativa, removing false analogies and false concepts that simply won’t do. Come on Allen, surely you can explain your theory of mind convincingly to a lowly moderator like me? The very definition of mind between the evolutionary psychologists and myself is what is at issue. If you cannot, in plain language and without reference to other people’s books, explain the evolutionary psychology of the evolution of the mind, then I submit that you really have nothing of substance to say on the matter.

  95. It seems to me that debates of this sort often become needlessly entangled in and bogged down by questions such as dualism vs. monism.

    A clarifying and simplifying question:

    Do human beings have a natural history? Did the characteristics we most identify as human, including speech, theory of mind, the capacity for abstract reasoning, the capacity for culture and teaching, and so forth, emerge over that history?

    It seems to me that the answer is unequivocally “Yes,” to both questions. The human species, and the hominid line of which we are the current and sole instance, does have a unique history that spans approximately 60,000 centuries. We are the remaining single line of what once was a ramifying bush of hominid species. Moving forward from the divergence of the hominid line from the other great apes, both physical and behavioral features now characteristic of all human beings emerged stepwise – including the emergence of am increasing capacity for culture, fire tending (“minding” the fire), various epochs of tool making, the emergence of cooperative skills grounded in the quick and accurate representation of others’ mental states (what Whiten has called “Deep Social Mind”), and the deployment of rapid and powerful syntactic speech. It is rather obvious that the evolution of the human brain both made possible and was furthered by the emergence of these uniquely human capacities. The explosion of agriculture, domestication of animals and technology witnessed over the last 13,000 years all occurred atop these biological attainments.

    There was once a time when none of these things were in the world. Now, as a result of these processes and that history, here we stand, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

    In my opinion, it is possible to be confident that these things occurred, even if the precise details of the selection pressures and contingencies, nor their precise expression in the present day, may never be completely reconstructed. Each of us undoubtedly represents the culmination of three “tiers” of history: one’s individual history, the history of the culture in which one is embedded, and the biological history that provided the platform for these more proximate forms of contingency and innovation. The collection of skills and attributes we sometimes reify as “mind” certainly also emerged by means of these tiers of history.

    I have never understood the reluctance of so many to accept and embrace the history that made us.

    So, what say you Clive? Do human beings have a natural history? If you accept that, then something like an evolution of human psychology follows – even if the details prove beyond reconstruction. If you reject that, then there is no point debating the merits of theory regarding a particular perspective on that history, namely the history of the human cognitive and psychological endowment.

  96. 97

    “There was once a time when none of these things were in the world.”

    By the evidence, language and meaning are at the heart of all life, and they existed long prior to mankind naming them.

  97. Allen,

    If my comment contains errors than so do many alleged experts of biology. That is where I get my information.

    The book I quoted was peer-reviewed and written by biologists.

    Why can’t the similarity in ion channels be evidence for common design?

    What is the data that demonstrates such a channel can “evolve” via non-telic processes?

  98. BTW Allen, the evolutionary histories are assumed.

    I say that because there isn’t any scientific data which demonstrates the transformations required are even possible.

    A duplicated gene requires a new binding site. It also requires a host of other meta-information- promoter, enhancer, repressor- as well as the instructions on where the new protein will go.

    All of that has to slid in to the existing combinatorial logic.

    Dr Lee Spetner wrote a book titled “Not BY Chance”.

    You should read it because ten you may understand what is being debated.

  99. One more thing-

    Most of my info on neurons comes from my studying kinesiology at a local university.

    The neuro-muscular system is very important to that field.

    Now if these college textbooks are wrong then it is a sure bet that I will also be wrong.

    However I doubt that is the case.

    But you can go on accusing me because that appears to be all you have.

  100. Well, we’re a hundred posts in, and still no evidence from Ms. O’Leary that Pascal Boyer (or anyone in the field of evolutionary psycholgy, for that matter) has asserted that humans have an agent detection device that “disproves God’s existence beyond any reasonable doubt” and is “completely unreliable.”

    In fact, it appears clear that no one in that field makes such claims.

    Are these her journalistic standards? Just making assertions about other peoples’ views without any support?

    (Note, I’m not talking about the truth-value of the claims. My point is that no one makes those claims. Ms. O’Leary’s post sets up an oil-soaked strawman that no one advocates.)

  101. 102

    Diffaxial

    —-”So, what say you Clive? Do human beings have a natural history? If you accept that, then something like an evolution of human psychology follows – even if the details prove beyond reconstruction. If you reject that, then there is no point debating the merits of theory regarding a particular perspective on that history, namely the history of the human cognitive and psychological endowment.”

    Yes, I reject that “something like an evolutionary history follows”, for that, itself, doesn’t follow from the fact of having a history. Wherever there is history, there is evolution, is false. There is no evolution of thinking or of the mind. There is absolutely no evidence that man’s capacity to learn or understand has in any way changed throughout history.

  102. 103

    Clive:

    Wherever there is history, there is evolution, is false.

    A little bit O’ cheese paring, there. Of course you understood I meant a “natural history,” and that by “natural history” I intended the evolutionary history of our physical bodies that I briefly summarized above.

    That said, if I understand you correctly, you don’t believe that human beings have a natural evolutionary history (spanning ~60,000 centuries, as intended above) that culminated in current human phenotypes – our bodies, bipedality, large brains, and so forth.

    It follows for me that there is no point in your debating the specific merits (or lack thereof) of “evolutionary psychology.” No one adduces the inferential and tentative conclusions of EP as dispositive evidence for human evolution itself – rather, the question of EP arises (I think inevitably) from the general picture of human evolution established to date. Both the broad picture and many specific elements of hominid evolutionary history have a very secure empirical foundation (in paleontology and physical anthropology, genetics, etc.) that is vastly more detailed than the more indirect inferences of EP. If you find yourself able to reject that, then your rejection of EP follows as a matter of simple logic, not in response to problems with specific arguments or evidence vis EP specifically.

    (It occurs to me that you may be asserting that our bodies and brains have the natural evolutionary history to which I refer, but our “minds” do not – a belief that motivates your mind-body dualism. I don’t think that is the case, but if it is please clarify.)

  103. Allen,

    The following book is where I garnered much of my information about neurons:

    “Fundamentals of Anatomy and Physiology” Martini, 5th edition

    Dr Frederic (Ric) Martini received his PhD from Cornell University in comparative and functional anatomy.

  104. Ludwig in #101 asked:

    “Are these her journalistic standards? Just making assertions about other peoples’ views without any support?”

    Based on long experience with the quality of her posts at this website, the answer is a most emphatic “yes”. Not that this necessarily distinguishes her from most other journalists…

  105. Allen, you remember this back in post 37?

    but rather by a desire to find a rationalization for “bad behavior”. This is, of course, just another example of ad hominem argumentation; par for the course, eh trib?

    Now, what I wrote in post 34 wasn’t ad hominen and it certainly wasn’t personal, but rather than make an issue of it, I figured you were having a bad moment and simply wrote something stupid –saying you wrote something stupid is not ad hominen, btw, Allen — and it would be best to let it pass.

    Then you write this: Based on long experience with the quality of her posts at this website, the answer is a most emphatic “yes”

    That is ad hominem and rather vicious ad hominem to boot.

    Now, I mean this in the most constructive sense but you really should learn to take it better and not dish it out so hard.

  106. With regard to Ludwig’s statement that Denyse said Pascal Boyer has asserted that humans have an agent detection device that “disproves God’s existence beyond any reasonable doubt” and is “completely unreliable.”

    I can’t find where she said that.

    Now, with regard to what Boyer says about hyperactive agent detection and its reliability: from the horse’s mouth

    I don’t think it’s all that unfair to assert that Boyer subscribes to the view that “hyperactive agent dectection” leads to incorrectly attributing natural phenomena to supernatural forces.

    Further it is dishonest to insist that Boyer’s claim that evolution caused us to create God and religion is significantly different that saying that God who created us and revealed Himself to us doesn’t exist.

  107. In #103 Diffaxial wrote:

    “Both the broad picture and many specific elements of hominid evolutionary history have a very secure empirical foundation (in paleontology and physical anthropology, genetics, etc.) that is vastly more detailed than the more indirect inferences of EP. If you find yourself able to reject that, then your rejection of EP follows as a matter of simple logic, not in response to problems with specific arguments or evidence vis EP specifically.”

    Based on Clive’s statements in comment #90, this is precisely what Clive is asserting, and that is why I decided it was pointless and counterproductive to continue discussing any of this with him. Here is a summary of Clive’s assertions in comment #90:

    1) Logic and reason cannot be studied empirically.

    2) Logic and reason form the basis for empirical analysis.

    3)”Ought” statements cannot be derived from “is” statements.

    4)”Ought” statements always precede “is” statements, and therefore define what “is” statements can consist of.

    5) There is no “science of the mind”, including psychology.

    6) The “mind” does not change over time or from culture to culture.

    7) “Changing one’s mind” does not consist of changes in the mind.

    8) Since “evolution” is defined as “change over time”, the “mind” does not (indeed, cannot) evolve.

    9) There is no natural selection and no random mutation in immaterial things (translation: immaterial things do not change over time, and all immaterial things persist in exactly equal frequency, regardless of the passage of time or changes in the “material” universe).

    10) Inference: Based on the foregoing, the “mind” consists entirely of “immaterial things”.

    11) There is no “ecology” of the “mind” (translation: the content and structure of the “mind” and its constituents does not depend in any way on context or on the relationship between constituent parts).

    12) Biological metaphors are totally meaningless when applied to immaterial and non-biological entities.

    13) The physical world does not produce the “mind” (translation: the “mind” would have the qualities that it has, regardless of any of the qualities that exist in the physical world).

    14) Nature has absolutely nothing in it that would correspond to, or have the defining characteristics of “mind” (whatever those might be).

    15) “Mind” precedes and completely constructs the entire physical universe and every object and process within it.

    16) All (and presumably any) actual events (i.e. events happening in the physical universe) that might have any bearing on our minds are not relevant when considering the “mind” itself.

    17) The mind “adheres” immaterial realities (whatever that means).

    I am prepared to take Clive entirely on his word on all of this, and to then formulate what I believe are the implications of his views:

    Implication 1: As the only things Clive has associated with the word “mind” are logic and reason, it is clear that according to his definition, “mind” = logic and reason and nothing else.

    Implication 2: Logic and reason are the only entities, either inside or outside of the physical universe, that are “primary qualities”. Everything else that exists, whether inside or outside of the physical universe, are derived from (and therefore entirely reducible to) logic and reason.

    Implication 3: Morality, sentiment, aesthetics, art, music, literature, etc. are all completely derived from “mind”, which consists entirely of “logic and reason”. Ergo, morality, sentiment, aesthetics, art, music, literature, etc. do not have any “reality” separate from that of logic and reason, and therefore it may be assumed that they do not exist as primarily entities or qualities.

    Implication 4: All empirical statements (i.e. “is” statements) are necessarily preceded and constrained by “ought” statements. Ergo, any observations of objects or processes in the observable universe are preceded (and grounded in) an absolute assertion that the way that such objects or processes are is the way they ought to be.

    Implication 5: Since all “is” statements are predicated on “ought” statements (i.e. have the form “this is the way things are, and therefore this is the way they ought to be), this assertion is directly extensible to such phenomena as child prostitution, slavery, torture, warfare, and all other empirically observable phenomena in human behavior. We observe that they “are”, and must therefore conclude that this is the way they “ought” to be.

    Implication 6: The science of psychology in any and all of its forms is a complete and utter waste of time and should be abandoned. People and their behavior (which is presumably completely derived from the contents of their “minds”) can be completely reduced to logic and reason (i.e. the totality of the qualities of “mind”), and any attempt to understand or explain human behavior or cognition using anything besides logic and reason is illegitimate and unwarranted (and, by implication, potentially dangerous as well).

    Implication 7: “Mind” is the same as human “minds”. Since “mind” does not change, human minds (and the behavior that flows from it) does not change over time. Ergo, the study of history and the sciences of evolutionary biology (and all of the branches of biology that flow from it) and all of the other social sciences (anthropology, archaeology, economics, government, sociology, and related disciplines are, like psychology, illegitimate, unwarranted and a waste of time (and, by the same reasoning as Implication 6, potentially dangerous).

    Implication 8: Logic and reason have existed forever and do not change. Therefore, the philosophical disciplines of ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, ontology – indeed, all branches of philosophy except logic and “reason”, can be reduced to logic and reason. Any suggestion that any of these disciplines has either or history or are not yet “settled” subjects is illegitimate, unwarranted and a waste of time (and again, by implication, potentially dangerous).

    Implication 9: Since “mind” precedes and completely constructs the entire physical universe and every object and process within it, then all we have to do to study and understand the physical universe and every object and process in it is to study the attributes and qualities of logic and reason (i.e. the entire constituents of “mind”). Any suggestion that any other disciplines (and especially those based on empirical analysis) is illegitimate, unwarranted and a waste of time (and potentially dangerous).

    Implication 10: As noted in Implication 6, any and all attempts to study the attributes or qualities of “mind” using empirical methods are illegitimate, unwarranted and a waste of time (and potentially dangerous).

    Based upon these implications, I would suggest that the following conclusions are warranted:

    Conclusion 1: Clive’s philosophy of “mind” and philosophy of science are so at variance with the basic tenets of the philosophy of “mind” and philosophy of science since at least the time of Francis Bacon that any discussion of these topics (and, by extension, any aspect of the natural or social sciences) would quite literally consist of a clash of incommensurate worldviews, and would be a complete waste of his time and ours.

    Conclusion 2: Since Clive’s worldview is almost completely at variance with the consensus worldview that underlies virtually all of modern science and much of modern philosophy, to continue to discuss any of these subjects (except, possibly, his conception of what constitutes “logic” and “reason”), further discussion or attempts to present countervailing evidence would be entirely futile. Indeed, what would even constitute “evidence” when one adopts the definition of “mind” to which Clive apparently “adheres”?

    In brief, I’ve got better and more interesting things to do with my time than argue with a throwback to the Scholastics…

  108. P.S. I find it interesting that a person with Clive’s beliefs about reality would find himself comfortable moderating a website in which the explicitly stated viewpoint of the founders and moderators is that evolution (including evolution by natural selection) has happened (including, presumably, evolution of the “mind”), and that it has been guided (i.e. “designed”) by an Intelligent Designer (identity unspecified).

    Wouldn’t a Scholastic find that idea just a little bit at variance with his underlying assumptions about reality?

  109. tribune7:

    With regard to Ludwig’s statement that Denyse said Pascal Boyer has asserted that humans have an agent detection device that “disproves God’s existence beyond any reasonable doubt” and is “completely unreliable.”

    I can’t find where she said that.

    It’s the first two posts on this thread. I asked:

    Could you please point me to your source for the proposition that evolutionary psychologists make either of these claims?

    Ms. O’Leary responded:

    Start with Pascal Boyer and work your way out from there.

    The implication, clearly, was that Boyer (like evolutionary psychologists in general in Ms. O’Leary’s mind, apparently) claims that the agent detection device “disproves God’s existence beyond any reasonable doubt” and is “completely unreliable.” As Allen MacNeill ably pointed out, that characterization is a demonstrably false caricature of evolutionary psychology.

    tribune7:

    I don’t think it’s all that unfair to assert that Boyer subscribes to the view that “hyperactive agent dectection” leads to incorrectly attributing natural phenomena to supernatural forces.

    Fine. That’s not the same as claiming that it “disproves God’s existence beyond any reasonable doubt” or that it is “completely unreliable.”

    tribune7:

    Further it is dishonest to insist that Boyer’s claim that evolution caused us to create God and religion is significantly different that saying that God who created us and revealed Himself to us doesn’t exist.

    You must be using a meaning of “dishonest” that I am unfamiliar with.

  110. Hi Tribune,
    re:106
    I would emphatically state that, based upon my reading of hundreds of his comments (even on threads with over 100 comments) Allen MacNeill’s practice has never come near the standards of his preaching.

    Ergo, he is well familiar with ignoring my comments.

  111. tribune7:

    Here’s what you wrote in comment #34:

    “A lot of it seems to be simply research into excusing bad behavior.”

    Let me rephrase your assertion:

    “Most of evolutionary psychology consists of research designed to excuse bad behavior.”

    I submit that anyone reading this would conclude two things:

    1) Evolutionary psychology is generally useless for anything except excusing bad behavior.

    2) Evolutionary psychologists are therefore primarily motivated to study evolutionary psychology as a means of excusing bad behavior.

    Who’s “bad behavior”? This is left unstated, but I believe that the most implication that most people would draw would be:

    3) Evolutionary psychologists are primarily motivated to study evolutionary psychology as a means of excusing their own bad behavior.

    How is this comment not an ad hominem argument? There is no evidence presented to support the assertion made, and its implications are abundantly clear, as I have pointed out, above. Furthermore, based on similar unsupported assertions made by tribune7 in the past, I would conclude that, not only is the statement quoted above an ad hominem argument, but it was also completely intended as such, and directed against me (as I have on multiple occasions identified by own field of research as evolutionary psychology, broadly defined).

  112. charlie in #111:

    I have grown very tired of making comments in response to assertions that lack supporting evidence and questions that include an implicit or explicit ad hominem argument. If you would like to ask a question out of genuine interest (rather than the desire to score “gotcha points”) or would like to make an argument based on supporting evidence, please do so and I will do my best to address them. Otherwise, I will ignore both your comments and the “Me, too, what he said!” comments from other commentators that follow them.

  113. Oh no, Allen, you misconstrue.
    Go right ahead and continue to ignore me, I prefer it that way.
    But your brand of sanctimonious preaching definitely warrants a side by side exposure as presented by the “gotcha” – which is the evidence and is the argument.
    It doesn’t bother me a bit if you leave a thread because i has hit the magical 100 comment mark and don’t back answer to your own contradictions.

  114. Last sentence correction:
    “It doesn’t bother me a bit if you leave a thread because it has hit the magical 100 comment mark and you don’t answer to your own contradictions.”

    By the way, I’ve never missed the fact that when you do respond you prefer to make the grammatical error of typing my name lower-case. Interesting little tactic, that.

  115. Allen –3) Evolutionary psychologists are primarily motivated to study evolutionary psychology as a means of excusing their own bad behavior. . . How is this comment not an ad hominem argument?

    Maybe that comment is, Allen, but it’s not mine :-)

    You attempt to put words in my mouth that I never meant or intended.

  116. For instance, when a biology professor such as yourself asserts emphatically and with authority that Darwin never wrote about purpose in nature, that you and your students have searched OOS for a decade without finding it, but then asserts that Darwin himself argued against teleology (purpose) in nature as evidence for evolution (non-teleological explanation) it makes sense to get a little clarity and find out exactly which is your authoritative position.

    When you make these kinds of statements with the abundantly clear implication that those who do not agree with you are ignorant of the primary literature it is nice to know which position actually demonstrates that ignorance.

  117. Allen, it is my observation that evo-psych is used to excuse bad (self or socially destructive) behavior.

    You can argue my observations are not all-inclusive, which I won’t dispute.

    And you can argue that evo-psych is being misused by those whom I observed, albeit you will then have to explain the qualifications you are attempting to place on it to keep it from being misused.

    In no way, however, do I claim to know the motivations of those studying evo-psych.

  118. —-Allen: “Conclusion 1: Clive’s philosophy of “mind” and philosophy of science are so at variance with the basic tenets of the philosophy of “mind” and philosophy of science since at least the time of Francis Bacon that any discussion of these topics (and, by extension, any aspect of the natural or social sciences) would quite literally consist of a clash of incommensurate worldviews, and would be a complete waste of his time and ours.”

    Do you labor under the illusion that modern world views are always more revealing than previous formulations? If so, anything or anyone who could disabuse you of that fantasy would not be wasting time.

    —-“Conclusion 2: Since Clive’s worldview is almost completely at variance with the consensus worldview that underlies virtually all of modern science and much of modern philosophy, to continue to discuss any of these subjects (except, possibly, his conception of what constitutes “logic” and “reason”), further discussion or attempts to present countervailing evidence would be entirely futile. Indeed, what would even constitute “evidence” when one adopts the definition of “mind” to which Clive apparently “adheres”?

    I can’t wait to hear about your consensus world view “that underlies virtually all of modern science, and much of modern philosophy.” Is it perhaps the Kantian skepticism, refuted by Reid in his own era and by Adler in the 20th century, or is it the Darwinian anti-teleological model that is crumbling before your very eyes, or is it perhaps the modernist tendency to ignore evidence for a finely tuned universe in favor of “infinite multiple universes.” Is that the consensus world view that you are touting.

    —-“In brief, I’ve got better and more interesting things to do with my time than argue with a throwback to the Scholastics…”

    You would be far better off to burn the books you are reading, lock yourself in a room for about five years, and read everything that Chesterton ever wrote. Remember, you are the same person who asserted, as absolute truth, that there are no absolute truths. Anyone who is grounded in such an irrational position as that cannot afford the luxury of sneering.

  119. 120

    Allen,

    —-”P.S. I find it interesting that a person with Clive’s beliefs about reality would find himself comfortable moderating a website in which the explicitly stated viewpoint of the founders and moderators is that evolution (including evolution by natural selection) has happened (including, presumably, evolution of the “mind”)”

    Your assumption goes awry with the very word “presumably”. There is no presumption that the mind has evolved “by default.” This is a red herring. And so are your other posts. You can’t have an actual fruitful dialogue with me, so you try to paint me as being at odds with everything, science, philosophy, in an attempt to discredit me in general. But notice, the argument hasn’t advanced because of this red herring. The argument is just where it was, no matter how you try to define me. This tactic is called “Bulverism” by C.S. Lewis, where you do not engage a man['s argument, you simply try to discredit him on other grounds and explain how he got to be so silly. But you cannot actually prove the silliness by the tenets of the actual argument.

    "The modern method [of argumentation] is to assume without discussion that [your opponent] is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it Bulverism. Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third — ‘Oh you say that because you are a man.’ ‘At that moment’, E. Bulver assures us, ‘there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.’ That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth [and Twenty-First] Century.”

    –C. S. Lewis, “Bulverism,” in God in the Dock, p. 273

  120. 121

    Allen,

    I never said that the mind only adheres to principles of logic and reason, I included sentiment and art and aesthetics and morality. A great bit of what you said about me is a mischaracterization. But notice, all of these things are immaterial. Here is my version of the philosophy of mind:

    “I am not going to maintain that what I call Transposition is the only possible mode whereby a poorer medium can respond to a richer, but I claim that it is very hard to imagine any other. It is therefore, at the very least, not improbable that Transposition occurs whenever the higher reproduces itself in the lower. Thus, to digress for a moment, it seems to me very likely that the real relation between the mind and body is one of Transposition. We are certain that, in this like at any rate, thought is intimately connected with the brain. The theory that thought therefore is merely a movement in the brain is, in my opinion, nonsense, for if so, that theory itself would be merely a movement, an event among atoms, which may have speed and direction, but of which it would be meaningless to use the words “true” or “false.” We are driven then to some kind of correspondence. But if we assume a one-for-one correspondence, this means that we have to attribute an almost unbelievable complexity and variety to events in the brain. But I submit that a one-for-one relation is probably quite unnecessary. All our examples suggest that the brain can respond—in a sense, adequately and exquisitely respond—to the seemingly infinite variety of consciousness without providing one singly physical modification for each single modification of consciousness.

    I have tried to stress throughout the inevitableness of the error made about every transposition by one who approaches it from the lower medium only. The strength of the critic lies in the words “merely” or “nothing but. He sees all the facts but not the meaning. Quite truly, therefore, he claims to have seen all the facts. there is nothing else there, except the meaning. He is therefore, as regards the matter at hand, in the position of an animal. You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all fact and no meaning. And in a period in when factual realism is dominant we shall find people deliberately inducing upon themselves this doglike mind. A man who has experienced love from within will deliberately go about to inspect it analytically from outside and regard the results of this analysis as truer than his experience. The extreme limits of this self-binding is seen in those who, like the rest of us, have consciousness, yet go about the study of the human organism as if they did not know it was conscious. As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above, even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to talk of any final victory over materialism. The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility. There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral bio-chemistry.”
    —-Transpositions, C.S. Lewis

    And further,

    “The idea that the myth (so potent in all modern thought) is a result of Darwin’s biology would thus seem to be unhistorical. On the contrary, the attraction of Darwinism was that it gave to a pre-existing myth the scientific reassurances it required. If no evidence for evolution had been forthcoming, it would have been necessary to invent it. The real sources of the myth are partly political. It projects onto the cosmic screen feelings engendered by the Revolu­tionary period.

    In the second place, we must notice that Darwinism gives no support to the belief that natural selection, working upon chance variations, has a general tend­ency to produce improvement. The illusion that it has comes from confining our attention to a few species which have (by some possibly arbitrary standard of our own) changed for the better. Thus the horse has improved in the sense that protohippos would be less useful to us than his modern descendant. The anthro­poid has improved in the sense that he now is Ourselves. But a great many of the changes produced by evolution are not improvements by any conceivable standard. In battle men save their lives sometimes by advancing and sometimes by retreating. So, in the battle for survival, species save themselves sometimes by increasing, sometimes by jettisoning, their powers. There is no general law of progress in biological history.

    And, thirdly, even if there were, it would not follow—it is, indeed, manifestly not the case—that there is any law of progress in ethical, cultural, and social history. No one looking at world history without some preconception in favor of progress could find in it a steady up gradient.”
    —-The World’s Last Night, C.S. Lewis

    “Dr. Joad’s article on ‘God and Evil’ last week suggests the interesting conclusion that since neither ‘mechanism’ nor ‘emergent evolution’ will hold water, we must chose in the long run between some monotheistic philosophy, like the Christian, and some such dualism as that of the Zoroastrians. I agree with Dr. Joad in rejecting mechanism and emergent evolution. Mechanism, like all materialist systems, breaks down at the problem of knowledge. If thought is the undesigned and irrelevant product of cerebral motions, what reason have we to trust it? As for emergent evolution, if anyone insists on using the word God to mean whatever the world happens to be going to do next, of course we cannot prevent him. But nobody would, in fact, so use it unless he has a secret belief that what was coming next will be an improvement. Such a belief, besides being unwarranted, presents peculiar difficulties to an emergent evolutionist. If things can improve, that must mean that there is some absolute standard of good above and outside the cosmic process to which that process can approximate. There is no sense in talking of ‘becoming better’ if better means simply ‘what we are becoming’—-it is like congratulating yourself on reaching your destination and defining your destination as the place you’ve reached. Mellontolatry, or the worship of the future, is a fuddled religion.”
    —-Evil and God, C.S. Lewis

    And as far as the “historical” argument of the evolution of mind:

    “Science is weak about these prehistoric things in a way that has hardly been noticed. The science whose modern marvels we all admire succeeds by incessantly adding to its data. In all practical inventions, in most natural discoveries, it can always increase evidence by experiment. But it cannot experiment in making men; or even in watching to see what the first men make. An inventor can advance step by step in the construction of an aeroplane, even if he is only experimenting with sticks and scraps of metal in his own back-yard. But he cannot watch the Missing Link evolving in his own back-yard. If he has made a mistake in his calculations, the aeroplane will correct it by crashing to the ground. But if he has made a mistake about the arboreal habitat of his ancestor, he cannot see his arboreal ancestor falling off the tree. He cannot keep a cave-man like a cat in the back-yard and watch him to see whether he does really practice cannibalism or carry off his mate on the principles of marriage by capture. He cannot keep a tribe of primitive men like a pack of hounds and notice how far they are influenced by the herd instinct. If he sees a particular bird behave in a particular way, he can get other birds and see if they behave in that way; but if he finds a skull, or the scrap of a skull, in the hollow of a hill, he cannot multiply it into a vision of the valley of dry bones. In dealing with a past that has almost entirely perished, he can only go by evidence and not by experiment. And there is hardly enough evidence to be even evidential. Thus while most science moves in a sort of curve, being constantly corrected by new evidence, this science flies off into space in a straight line uncorrected by anything. But the habit of forming conclusions, as they can really be formed in more fruitful fields, is so fixed in the scientific mind that it cannot resist talking like this. It talks about the idea suggested by one scrap of bone as if it were something like the aeroplane which is constructed at last out of whole scrapheaps of scraps of metal. The trouble with the professor of the prehistoric is that he cannot scrap his scrap. The marvellous and triumphant aeroplane is made out of a hundred mistakes. The student of origins can only make one mistake and stick to it.

    We talk very truly of the patience of science; but in this department it would be truer to talk of the impatience of science. Owing to the difficulty above described, the theorist is in far too much of a hurry. We have a series of hypotheses so hasty that they may well be called fancies, and cannot in any case be further corrected by facts. The most empirical anthropologist is here as limited as an antiquary. He can only cling to a fragment of the past and has no way of increasing it for the future. He can only clutch his fragment of fact, almost as the primitive man clutched his fragment of flint. And indeed he does deal with it in much the same way and for much the same reason. It is his tool and his only tool. It is his weapon and his only weapon. He often wields it with a fanaticism far in excess of anything shown by men of science when they can collect more facts from experience and even add new facts by experiment. Sometimes the professor with his bone becomes almost as dangerous as a dog with his bone. And the dog at least does not deduce a theory from it, proving that mankind is going to the dogs–or that it came from them.

    In this sketch, therefore, of man in his relation to certain religious and historical problems, I shall waste no further space on these speculations on the nature of man before he became man. His body may have been evolved from the brutes; but we know nothing of any such transition that throws the smallest light upon his soul as it has shown itself in history. Unfortunately the same school of writers pursue the same style of reasoning when they come to the first real evidence about the first real men. Strictly speaking of course we know nothing about prehistoric man, for the simple reason that he was prehistoric. The history of prehistoric man is a very obvious contradiction in terms. It is the sort of unreason in which only rationalists are allowed to indulge. If a parson had casually observed that the Flood was ante-diluvian, it is possible that he might be a little chaffed about his logic. If a bishop were to say that Adam was Preadamite, we might think it a little odd. But we are not supposed to notice such verbal trifles when sceptical historians talk of the part of history that is prehistoric. The truth is that they are using the terms historic and prehistoric without any clear test or definition in their minds. What they mean is that there are traces of human lives before the beginning of human stories; and in that sense we do at least know that humanity was before history.

    Human civilisation is older than human records. That is the sane way of stating our relations to these remote things. Humanity has left examples of its other arts earlier than the art of writing; or at least of any writing that we can read. But it is certain that the primitive arts were arts; and it is in every way probable that the primitive civilisations were civilisations. The man left a picture of the reindeer, but he did not leave a narrative of how he hunted the reindeer; and therefore what we say of him is hypothesis and not history. But the art he did practice was quite artistic; his drawing was quite intelligent and there is no reason to doubt that his story of the hunt would be quite intelligent, only if it exists it is not intelligible. In short, the prehistoric period need not mean the primitive period, in the sense of the barbaric or bestial period. It does not mean the time before civilisation or the time before arts and crafts. It simply means the time before any connected narratives that we can read. This does indeed make all the practical difference between remembrance and forgetfulness; but it is perfectly possible that there were all sorts of forgotten forms of civilisation, as well as all sorts of forgotten forms of barbarism. And in any case everything indicated that many of these forgotten or half-forgotten social stages were much more civilised and much less barbaric than is vulgarly imagined today. But even about these unwritten histories of humanity, when humanity was quite certainly human, we can only conjecture with the greatest doubt and caution. And unfortunately doubt and caution are the last things commonly encouraged by the loose evolutionism of current culture. For that culture is full of curiosity; and the one thing that it cannot endure is the agony of agnosticism. It was in the Darwinian age that the word first became known and the thing first became impossible.

    It is necessary to say plainly that all this ignorance is simply covered by impudence. Statements are made so plainly and positively that men have hardly the moral courage to pause upon them and find that they are without support.”
    The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton

    Your supposedly true narrative accounts, which are really just-so stories, that are designed to convince me of the evolution of mind, betray themselves, for your story shouldn’t have to rely on your imagination as a story teller in such an effort at seeming plausible. It’s the fact that you have to rely on so much effort at all that is telling. The more ingenious your story, the more perverse, because real science shouldn’t need to rely on high abstractions and plausible stories.

    StephenB is right, in my humble opinion, you would greatly benefit from reading Chesterton.

  121. I have read Chesterton (and Lewis), and been almost completely unmoved, and equally unconvinced. Indeed, in my experience and as illustrated in the long selections you have posted above, Chesterton and Lewis are both very long on argument and very short on evidence. Their method (and apparently yours) is Socratic (or, more accurately, Platonic) and mine is Aristotelian and Baconian. As a scientist, when talking and writing about scientific subjects (such as the antiquity of our species and our planet and what we can reasonably infer about then, based on the available evidence), I prefer to stick to empirical evidence and what can be reasonably inferred from it.

    By contrast, you assert that the only path to Truth is via intuition and argument, using whatever rhetorical techniques you can to make your point. From the way you frame your arguments, it seems clear to me that empirical evidence is entirely beside the point and without merit, except where it can be mobilized (often by misrepresenting both its content and the spirit in which it was obtained) to further your objective, which is not to “hold, as ’twere, a mirror up to nature”, but rather to force my conception of “nature” to conform wholly to your definition of it.

    As for stephenB’s very telling suggestion that I burn all my books and rely on Chesterton alone for my definitions of reality (with, perhaps, a little C. S. Lewis thrown in), I have always regarded anyone who suggests burning any books for any reason (except, perhaps, for keeping one’s family alive in a blizzard) to be advocating perhaps the greatest sin a person can commit against the life of the mind. I cannot forget those who, still in living memory, not only advocated the burning of books but also gleefully participated in their destruction, and cannot help but recall to what other things (and to whom) those cheerful bookburners then shifted their murderous attention.

    I also regard anyone who insists that there is one and only one answer to every question, and that this answer may only be found in the writings (or recorded utterances) of any historical figure to be not only anti-intellectual, but also very characteristic of that small but influential group of people whose insistence on the absolute truth of their positions has led to the most horrifying episodes in the long, sad history of human intolerance.

    And so, here at the conclusion of my participation in this thread, I will state once again (so that there can be no mistake): We do not agree on even the most basic assumptions about the nature of reality or the mind. Furthermore, you insist that in this disagreement you are absolutely correct and that I am steeped in absolute error. Furthermore, you consistently imply (and sometimes flatly state) that this failure of mine to agree with your position constitutes a telling commentary on my lack of intelligence, lack of learning, and (implicitly, but very clearly) my lack of (or, at least, disregard for) consistent moral values (and, by extension, a similar lack in anyone who entertains the possibility that my position might have merit). Under such circumstances, I have nothing more to say to you, and henceforth will not respond to your comments for any reason whatsoever.

  122. I tend to agree with Allen here. It’s one thing to disagree with someone, but it’s another to treat someone you disagree with with arrogant contempt. For people who profess to supposedly believe in absolute moral truths, I find this lack of humility and civility to be, frankly, hypocritical.

    One of the fundamental ways in which I disagree with many here is that I believe that truth must be searched for in many places and in many ways, and that whatever truth I find will need to balance a number of different perspectives.

    This is obviously in contrast to those that feel that absolute truth exists, that there is only one path to it, and that anyone who doesn’t agree with this is irrational.

    Case in point:

    Atheism is not really an intellectual position at all. It is a cry of wrath from those who resent a purposeful creator that would presume to place moral demands on his creatures, a firm resolution to reject objective morality in all its manifestations, and an intractable conviction that they should be permitted to become a law unto themselves.

    I would never have these kinds of feelings towards someone who disagreed with me about philosophy and religion. I will of course argue against certain positions, but I believe that people with different positions that I have are making just as genuine efforts to explore the big questions of life as I am.

  123. 124

    Two points:

    - C.S. Lewis obviously didn’t know anything about dogs.

    - Chesterton may in 1925 have been able to cling to the notion that there was no human prehistory and no reliable methods of investigating that prehistory, but to advocate his position in 2009, in the face of hominid finds and advances in paleoanthropology in 80+ years since, is to engage in a flat denial of reality.

  124. Atheism is not really an intellectual position at all. It is a cry of wrath from those who resent a purposeful creator that would presume to place moral demands on his creatures,

    Hazel, suppose someone said Christianity was a warm and fuzzy superstition created to insulate weak people from the cold, harsh reality of nothingness? Would that be mean? Not necessarily, not if he actually believed it.

    Of course, when that fallacy was pointed out to him and he continued to hold it, he’d reveal himself not to be that interested in reality, harsh or otherwise.

    A hard and fast atheist or agnostic is someone who has pretty much given up on pursuing truth and has stopped thinking.

    OTOH, a skeptic — and this can be an atheist or agnostic or one who can’t immediately accept certain miracles a la St. Thomas — is one who takes a rather honorable position. It’s better to admit you don’t know that to pretend to believe.

  125. tribune writes, “It’s better to admit you don’t know that to pretend to believe.”

    This is my main position – that we can’t know the nature of the metaphysical ground of the universe.

    Try telling that to all the people here who consider one irrational if they don’t see that the universe “screams God.”

    Also, Tribune writes, “A hard and fast atheist or agnostic is someone who has pretty much given up on pursuing truth and has stopped thinking.”

    That’s not only wrong, it contradicts what you said in the first quote, because an agnostic is one who would rather live with uncertainty than believe things that are not true.

    Also, atheists and agnostics have not given up searching for truth – they are just searching for it in different places. Rather than thinking that truth can be found in theistic belief they, and I include myself here, search for truths by examining the world around us. Accusing me, which you are implicitly doing, of having “given up on pursuing truth and has stopped thinking” is just another example of the arrogance and contempt that I am pointing out.

  126. Hazel –This is my main position – that we can’t know the nature of the metaphysical ground of the universe.

    That is the classic definition of the agnostic but that is not my position.

    One can know the metaphysical ground of the universe (i.e. God). One, however, may not know this.

    And if one doesn’t it is proper to admit it.

    Also, Tribune writes, “A hard and fast atheist or agnostic is someone who has pretty much given up on pursuing truth and has stopped thinking.” That’s not only wrong, it contradicts what you said in the first quote . . .

    It’s not and it doesn’t. When one says there is no God or one can’t know truth, then one closes one mind.

    That’s different than saying ‘I don’t know’.

  127. re Tribune at 127:

    But you are assuming that the truth is that there is God, so that one is not searching for truth if one is not searching for God. Since I don’t believe in God I don’t accept this argument.

    What’s complicated here is what does “I don’t know” mean – what is an agnostic.

    My position is that we – every single one of us – can not really know what the metaphysical truth is. However that doesn’t stop us from trying – people have invented numerous metaphysical belief systems and, more importantly, integrated them into their overall perspective on life.

    The dilemma we are all in, as a major feature of the human condition, is that we all need a metaphysical background for our beliefs even though we can’t actually know what that metaphysical background can’t be. Therefore when we invent (create, make up) such systems, we have to judge them not on their “Truth”, but rather on their success, as best we can judge, in helping us structure our lives and guide our actions.

    And, foreseeing the standard rejoinder here, there is no absolute criteria by which to judge what “success” means: another part of the human condition is that we have to make choices based on incomplete and somewhat circular knowledge, but since not choosing is not possible, we have to proceed in life despite this limitation.

    The good news is that feedback works: we constantly test our knowledge against further experience, and this is as true of our created metaphysical beliefs, although in a different way, as it is of our scientific beliefs.

    So when I say I don’t believe in God, I don’t mean that I know that he doesn’t exist, because I don’t think such knowledge is possible, but I also don’t think that the people who think he does exist truly have such knowledge either. However I do mean, when I say I don’t believe in God, that my belief system – the one I have thoughtfully developed over the course of my life – does not include God. This is a belief system that I have considered and rejected, in part – maybe large part – because of the certainty with which Christianity has proclaimed itself the one True religion.

  128. —–Allen MacNeill: “I have read Chesterton (and Lewis), and been almost completely unmoved, and equally unconvinced. Indeed, in my experience and as illustrated in the long selections you have posted above, Chesterton and Lewis are both very long on argument and very short on evidence. Their method (and apparently yours) is Socratic (or, more accurately, Platonic) and mine is Aristotelian and Baconian.”

    I seriously doubt that you have spend much time with Chesterton or Lewis, or that you have read either of them with an open mind. Chesterton makes more arguments in one paragraph than most writers make in five pages. The method he (and Lewis) uses is called “reason,” a commodity that is in short supply these days.

    —-”As a scientist, when talking and writing about scientific subjects (such as the antiquity of our species and our planet and what we can reasonably infer about then, based on the available evidence), I prefer to stick to empirical evidence and what can be reasonably inferred from it.”

    We know what you prefer, and I, for one, am telling you that your methodology is incomplete. We gain knowledge both by the intellect and by sense experience. Your empiricism is one extreme; rationism is the other extreme. Reason=realism, which takes both intellect and empirical observation into account.

    —-”By contrast, you assert that the only path to Truth is via intuition and argument, using whatever rhetorical techniques you can to make your point.

    No one has ever said that or anything close to that. What I am saying, (I can’t speak for Clive), is that empircal evidence is only half the story. That you would characterize that formulation as anti-empirical is one more bit of evidence that your approach is skewed.

    —-”From the way you frame your arguments, it seems clear to me that empirical evidence is entirely beside the point and without merit, except where it can be mobilized (often by misrepresenting both its content and the spirit in which it was obtained) to further your objective, which is not to “hold, as ’twere, a mirror up to nature”, but rather to force my conception of “nature” to conform wholly to your definition of it.”

    Everyone believes in evidence. The issue is, what one does with it. What, for example, do you do with the evidence the a DNA molecule functions much like a small factory. Answer: You ignore it because it doesn fit into your world view. World view often trumps evidence, a point that you continue to miss.

    —-”As for stephenB’s very telling suggestion that I burn all my books and rely on Chesterton alone for my definitions of reality (with, perhaps, a little C. S. Lewis thrown in), I have always regarded anyone who suggests burning any books for any reason (except, perhaps, for keeping one’s family alive in a blizzard) to be advocating perhaps the greatest sin a person can commit against the life of the mind. I cannot forget those who, still in living memory, not only advocated the burning of books but also gleefully participated in their destruction, and cannot help but recall to what other things (and to whom) those cheerful bookburners then shifted their murderous attention.”

    I think you are getting a little carried away with a metaphor, don’t you. I don’t really think you should start a bonfire, nor do I really want you to “lock yourself in a room.” (That too was a play on words [I had better make the announcement from now on, if I don't mean something literally]) That, by the way, is more evidence that those who limit themselves to the empirical method are missing something important when they evaluate what is going on in the real world.

    —-”I also regard anyone who insists that there is one and only one answer to every question, and that this answer may only be found in the writings (or recorded utterances) of any historical figure to be not only anti-intellectual, but also very characteristic of that small but influential group of people whose insistence on the absolute truth of their positions has led to the most horrifying episodes in the long, sad history of human intolerance.”

    I, (nor Clive for that matter) am not saying that there is only “one way.” It is the one-way approach that I am criticizing. Which community is it that insists that Darwinism must be true no matter what? Which community insist that only modern thinkers have any wisdom? Which community is it that concocted “methodological naturalism” so that the one-way approach may be institutionalized? Which community pretends not to know that this initiate was taken when such disclaimers serve a strategic purpose?

    —-”And so, here at the conclusion of my participation in this thread, I will state once again (so that there can be no mistake): We do not agree on even the most basic assumptions about the nature of reality or the mind. Furthermore, you insist that in this disagreement you are absolutely correct and that I am steeped in absolute error. Furthermore, you consistently imply (and sometimes flatly state) that this failure of mine to agree with your position constitutes a telling commentary on my lack of intelligence, lack of learning, and (implicitly, but very clearly) my lack of (or, at least, disregard for) consistent moral values (and, by extension, a similar lack in anyone who entertains the possibility that my position might have merit). Under such circumstances, I have nothing more to say to you, and henceforth will not respond to your comments for any reason whatsoever.”

    Is this the same blogger who recently characterized Clive as “a slow learner” for expressing doubts about your defense of evolutionary biology.

  129. Under such circumstances, I have nothing more to say to you, and henceforth will not respond to your comments for any reason whatsoever.

    Egad! Another shunning. When will the madness end?

  130. Hazel–

    But you are assuming that the truth is that there is God

    No, I’m saying that the truth is findable.

    What’s complicated here is what does “I don’t know” mean – what is an agnostic.

    There is the common definition: one who doubts God’s existence but won’t claim to be an atheist, and there is the classic definition: one who believes that it is impossible to know God.

    I guess you would fall in the classic category.

    My position is that we – every single one of us – can not really know what the metaphysical truth is. However that doesn’t stop us from trying

    As Mr. Spock would say, “highly illogical”. :-)

    So when I say I don’t believe in God, I don’t mean that I know that he doesn’t exist, because I don’t think such knowledge is possible . . .

    I think a lot of what you object to with regard to comments about atheists since you seem rather tolerant and generally respectful of others beliefs.

    This is a belief system that I have considered and rejected, in part – maybe large part – because of the certainty with which Christianity has proclaimed itself the one True religion.

    Religion is a word that is loaded with connotations about compulsion to worship and follow dogmatic written codes.

    When I first read scripture, it seemed Jesus came to overthrow all that. Now Christian religion did develop for legitimate and necessary reasons: to provide comfort to the fearful, give structure to communities, to give moral guidance, to defend against injustice etc.; and I think Christian religion is generally a good thing.

    But Jesus is not about the religion.

  131. 132

    StephenB,

    I doubt anything will sway our friend Allen, he’s literally, as John Davison warned, entrenched in the muck and mire of evolution. That’s a dark hole. I try to offer some light StephenB, but some folks just don’t want to see it. Everything from Allen, in the way of argument, is either a mischaracterization, which shows me that he’s not interested in true characterizations and honest dialogue, or it is an emotional appeal. He emphasizes emotional appeals like “but also very characteristic of that small but influential group of people whose insistence on the absolute truth of their positions has led to the most horrifying episodes in the long, sad history of human intolerance.” Not seeing, of course, that this is an emotional appeal that is also a mischaracterization. Real and productive dialogue can’t continue with these tactics, we’ll be chasing rabbits down rabbit holes, and picking up the pieces that Allen has intentionally scattered, all to avoid the real issues.

  132. 133

    Allen,

    —-”I have read Chesterton (and Lewis), and been almost completely unmoved, and equally unconvinced. Indeed, in my experience and as illustrated in the long selections you have posted above, Chesterton and Lewis are both very long on argument and very short on evidence.”

    We need more argument, like the sort of Lewis and Chesterton, to make proper sense of the evidence, and I just don’t see the same level of insight of argument from the evolutionists pertaining to the same evidence.

    —-”As a scientist, when talking and writing about scientific subjects (such as the antiquity of our species and our planet and what we can reasonably infer about then, based on the available evidence), I prefer to stick to empirical evidence and what can be reasonably inferred from it.”

    They’re not strictly scientific questions, anything about nature and history is accessible as a general question, and no one should be ruled out by your category mistake, because the interpretation of the evidence, using better insight and argument and removing the inherent assumptions, indeed, the very crux of the matter, a man with a scientific training’s interpretation has no added value. And this is true for even evolution and the antiquity of our race. Science, you understand, is not a category in which only scientists can interpret data and have some magical additional ability with the inference and meaning of the data. I’m sorry Allen, I know you’re steeped in scientism, but that is a philosophy, and surely a philosophy which regards philosophy in general, of which you don’t have to be a scientist, as inferior to science is absurd and contradictory. On the question of antiquity, of which Chesterton was an expert, his opinion has just as much validity as an archeologist’s or anthropologist’s opinion on the interpretation of the matter. And to be honest, I find it surprising that this has to be pointed out. Nature, in general, cannot be hijacked by a methodology, and rule out all other advice and correction from the rest of humanity. On matters of inference and interpretation, a scientist’s interpretation has no added value.

    —-”From the way you frame your arguments, it seems clear to me that empirical evidence is entirely beside the point and without merit, except where it can be mobilized (often by misrepresenting both its content and the spirit in which it was obtained) to further your objective, which is not to “hold, as ’twere, a mirror up to nature”, but rather to force my conception of “nature” to conform wholly to your definition of it.”

    That’s the very definition of evolutionary psychology if I’ve ever seen it.

    And no, Allen, I’ve not mentioned anything about you being immoral or not having consistent moral values, I have not the faintest idea where you got that idea. And if you don’t want to discuss the merits of things with me, so be it. But I will still make my own arguments directed to you and about your posts. If you want them to go unanswered, that’s your business.

  133. Allen has been here going on 3 years and in that time he has provided a lot of good information on evolution and for the most part I have found it more than reasonable and I have learned a lot. Allen seems committed to a naturalistic view of evolution but on several occasions has questioned a lot of the gospel that is preached. For that, I thank Allen.

    When debates get into what I believe are more squishy areas, Allen has had very vocal opinions here and has openly criticized many of the posts here some very severely. We are talking about the nature of God, religion, social policies etc. And obviously Chesterton and Lewis are in this area.

    On evolution the debates have been more friendly and open as to what is held by the evolutionary biology community. He has rightly criticized some of our parochial beliefs. When you can pin him down, I have found him always honest on questions in this area. But Allen has never presented anything that he claims is overwhelming evidence for macro evolution or is absolutely contradictory to ID and has sort of admitted that we are not driven by religious blinders. He is on record that there is a big difference between Id and creationism which is unique for those backing a naturalistic explanation.

    So what I am saying is that there are two Allens in terms of the debates here, the one who comments on hard science, namely biology and evolution in particular and the one who comments on social/relgious/political issues.

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