Science Archives



More Specifically: Evolution (7)

March 13, 2013

Quote of the Day: Enns on Religious Fear of Evolution

At present there is a lot of fear about the implications of bringing evolution and Christianity together, and this fear needs to be addressed head-on. Many fear that we are on a slippery slope, to use the hackneyed expression. Perhaps the way forward is not to resist the slide so much as to stop struggling, look around, and realize that we may have been on the wrong hill altogether.

- Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, p. 145


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September 12, 2012

Carroll on God and Physics

Sean Carroll has a great article on God, physics, and explanation up on his web-site. I've posted some comments regarding it over at Prosblogion.
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July 4, 2012

Happy Higgs Day!

Lauren and I baked a cake in honor of the Higgs boson! We brought it to a 4th of July barbecue where people mostly didn't know what it was... The cake displays the Feynman diagram for the main kind of event on which the discovery was based, namely, gluon fusion production of Higgs with the diphoton decay channel. Here's the diagram in non-edible form: In addition to being decorated, this is a no flour dark chocolate cake, made with 8 eggs, covered in a chocolate ganache, so it interacts very strongly with the Higgs field, and after you eat it...
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Topic(s): Science
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July 14, 2011

Quote of the Day: Hume on Space Travel

I've just returned from watching the last space shuttle launch. We also got to spend several days looking through the excellent museum exhibits at Kennedy Space Center, which I highly recommend. Anyway, all this time spent considering the history of American space flight, its effects on the individuals involved, and the effect it had on international politics, put me in mind of this quote from Hume: In general, it may be affirm'd, that there is no such passion in human minds, as the love of mankind, merely as such, independent of personal qualities, of services, or of relation to ourself...
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November 2, 2010

Leibniz Against Fine-Tuning

It appears that I'm going to be getting a bit behind on my Sobel series due to other commitments. Here is some Leibniz to make up for it. One of the problems with those forms of teleological (design) arguments that posit necessary 'gaps' in naturalistic explanation is that they are revisionary with respect to scientific practice: that is, it is a principle of scientific methodology to keep looking for naturalistic explanations no matter what. Now, most philosophers think that taking a revisionary attitude toward scientific practice is bad since the track record of science, on its current methodology, is stellar...
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October 8, 2010

Modern Cosmology and Theology

At the end of his discussion of fine-tuning arguments, Sobel briefly, and somewhat indirectly, discusses issues arising from attempts to combine theism with modern cosmology (pp. 285-287). In particular, many cosmologists now believe that the fundamental constants of nature were set by quantum fluctuations in the early universe. Stephen Hawking has suggested that such fluctuations might be very likely to produce a world like ours. If correct, the thought goes, this would undermine the fine-tuning argument. However, it would also do something more: if the laws of nature make it very likely, but not certain, that a world like ours,...
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September 29, 2010

Evolution and Teleological Arguments

Much of Sobel's chapter on teleological (design) arguments is devoted to Hume interpretation and to explaining Bayesianism. The latter seems to be one of several places where Sobel has not decided whether he is writing a textbook or a monograph. As for the former, the 'analogical' version of the teleological argument is, I think, not the strongest version and, although I haven't conducted a survey of the various treatments, I would be surprised if Hume's version turned out to be the best. After all, Hume is at most a half-hearted supporter of the argument; even he doesn't think his argument...
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June 21, 2009

Intelligent Design and Scientific Instrumentalism

John Beaudoin's recent paper "Sober on Intelligent Design Theory and the Intelligent Designer" contains the following fascinating remark in a footnote: [William] Dembski has suggested that the designer referred to in ID theory need not be real: it could in principle be treated by design theorists as a mere useful fiction, if that should better fit with a particular design theorist's philosophy of science. Beaudoin cites Dembski's No Free Lunch, p. 15, and The Design Revolution, p. 65. I haven't bothered to read too much on the whole ID thing because it is not closely related to my main philosophical interests and from a theological/religious perspective seems like a mere distraction. Furthermore, most ID types seem to me to exaggerate the problems of 'orthodox' evolutionary biology...
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November 11, 2008

Does Philosophy 'Trickle Down'?

One of the interesting things about George Berkeley as a historical figure is that he labors under the peculiar belief that he is writing philosophy out of pastoral concerns. I like to illustrate Berkeley's purposes by reference to the subtitles he gave to his works. The Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge is subtitled, "wherein the Chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences, with the Grounds of Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion, are inquired into." Berkeley thinks he has discovered two philosophical doctrines which are indeed "the Chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences" and also "the Grounds of Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion." These are the epistemic/linguistic doctrine of abstraction, and the metaphysical doctrine of corporeal substance...
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January 3, 2008

Quote of the Day: Some People Will Believe Anything

Sometimes the claims invented to support a theory in trouble are just rationalizations. I recently met a lively group of people standing in the aisle on a flight from London to Toronto. They said hello and asked me where I was coming from, and when I told them I was returning from a cosmology conference, they immediately asked my view on evolution. "Oh no," I thought, and proceeded to tell them that natural selection had been proved true beyond a doubt. They introduced themselves as members of a Bible college on the way back from a mission to Africa, one...
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June 26, 2007

Theological Implications and "Scientificness"

It is popularly believed that if a theory has theological implications, then the theory is somehow "unscientific." A post (NOTE: MovableType won't let me link directly to this post because the URL contains an unescaped ' contrary to the HTTP spec so the above link goes to the daily archive) at the Florida Student Philosophy Blog challenges this claim. I think the article is unnecessarily long and involved, but I'm quite impressed with the insight. The argument is a reductio that works more or less like this...
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March 26, 2007

The Conjunction of the Armstrong-Laws is God

D. M. Armstrong is the best known proponent of a currently quite popular understanding of natural laws. Laws so understood are, as a result, called Armstrong-Laws, or A-Laws for short. These are distinguished from L-Laws, named for David Lewis. L-laws are identical to regularities in events (but not all regularities are laws). Unlike L-Laws, A-Laws are actual metaphysical entities, which exist independently of their instances. That is, according to this theory, the Law of Universal Gravitation is a thing out there in the universe (not in the mind) which actually makes massive objects move toward one another. The attraction (no...
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March 12, 2007

A Note on Middle Knowledge and Berkeleian Philosophy of Science

A thought occurred to me just now as I was reading the end of Sydney Shoemaker's "Causality and Properties" and thinking, as usual, of a Berkeleian response. What, we ask, are the truth-conditions or truth-makers for statements about natural laws and causality? Shoemaker has a story about properties being defined in terms of dispositions to act a certain way in the presence of certain other properties, and he thinks we can flesh out these statements in this way. For Berkeley, of course, the properties of physical objects can have no causal efficacy. Instead, Berkeley takes these statements to be simple...
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February 23, 2007

Prepare for the Coming Ape War!

The Washington Post is reporting that researchers in Senegal have, for the first time, observed chimpanzees engaging in systematic production of arms (specifically wooden spears) for use against other primates (specifically "bush babies" - a sort of small monkey-like thing, also known as a "galago"). The weapons seem to be in a very early stage of development: of 22 trials observed by human researchers, only one resulted in the death of the target. Still, the researchers say that this is a major innovation in chimp weapons technology...
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Topic(s): Science
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January 1, 2007

Quote of the Day

"For when two things are raised by one and the same exertion, the lesser quantity will invariably yield more readily and the greater (which offers more resistance) less readily, to the force applied." - Plato (tr. Donald J. Zeyl), Timaeus 63c
So what you're saying is that an object's acceleration is directly proportional the force applied and inversely proportional to its mass. Didn't some other guy get famous for saying that? Hmm...
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November 15, 2006

Neurological Study of Glossolalia

An article in the Penn Almanac reports a neurological study on glossolalia (speaking in tongues). The researchers reported that brain activity observed while subjects speak in tongues suggest that they "are not in control of the usual language centers during this activity, which is consistent with their description of a lack of intentional control" ...
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Topic(s): Penn , Science , Theology
Posted by Kenny at 4:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

July 14, 2006

How Constant are 'Physical Constants'?

MSNBC is reporting on rising doubts among scientists - particularly Cambridge Univeristy astronomer Michael Murphy - as to whether key physical constants are actually constant. The new evidence goes beyond c-decay or the variable speed of light cosmology, and posits changes in the constants governing the four fundamental forces...
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Topic(s): Science
Posted by Kenny at 11:19 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

March 2, 2006

Dennett v. Swinburne on the Origin of Religion and the Existence of God

Prospect Magazine has published a series of letters between Richard Swinburne and Daniel Dennett regarding the existence of God and the historical origin of religious belief, following the publication of Dennett's new book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Dennett's book argues that an evolutionary explanation for religious belief exists, and that religion can and should be examined empirically by science with the initial presumption of "methodological naturalism" (i.e. we must assume for the sake of argument that God does not exist in order to take on this investigation). Swinburne argues that no such investigation can be adequately...
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January 30, 2006

"Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz"

I've just posted a new paper to my writings page, entitled "Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz." This is a topic that I've discussed quite a bit in the past few months, and this may be the end of it for a while. An earlier version served as a term paper for Professor Karen Detlefsen's undergraduate seminar on Leibniz at Penn last semester. It has undergone slight revision based on her comments. Please feel free to offer any responses or discussion you have in the comments section of this post. Any revisions made will be documented in the comments here as...
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January 13, 2006

Can High School Students Handle Philosophy?

Brian Leiter, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas Austin, points to an LA Times article about a lawsuit against a California public school district over an attempt to introduce an elective course entitled "philosophy of design." The suit charges that the course is about promoting a particular religion, rather than looking at the issue in the sort of balanced way a permissible "comparative relgion" course would. Now, if the charge is true and the course teaches only one viewpoint and seeks to convince students of that viewpoint, then it is a bad philosophy class (the constitutional issue is,...
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December 24, 2005

How Much of Science is Philosophy?

There is an interesting post over at Parableman about the relationship between science and philosophy, in the context of the Intelligent Design debate. Jeremy claims that (1) ID is clearly not religious in nature, and (2) its philosophical nature is not a good reason to exclude it from science curriculum, because everything else in science is philosophical too. It's worth a read. Personally I've been arguing for some time (not on this blog, in real life) that the vast majority of scientists don't have a sufficient grasp of the philosophical foundations of their fields to adequately pursue some of the...
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December 22, 2005

Let's Make Creation Science Not Suck

Nearly a month ago, I posted without commentary a Leibniz quote about materialism and supernaturalism. At the time I was busy with classes and didn't have time to really address the issue I saw the quote raising, but now that finals are over, I'd like to take a minute and look at this. When I read this quote, I immediately thought of "creation science." Leibniz here describes what he sees as two false extremes: the one is represented today by the likes of Peter Atkins, the Oxford Chemist who insists that in order to properly follow scientific methodology one must...
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December 15, 2005

Accuracy of Wikipedia vs. Brittanica

From Nature magazine via slashdot: a survey by experts of articles on 42 science related topics (e.g. "Cambrian Explosion," "lymphocyte," "neural network," "quark," etc. Complete list here) found that the Wikipedia articles contained an average 4 errors per article, whereas Encyclopedia Brittanica contained on average 3. Each encyclopedia contained four instances of "serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts" in the 42 articles surveyed. The rest were minor factual errors. Interestingly, the article with the most errors seems to have been the same for both Wikipedia and Brittanica: that on Dmitry Mendeleev, where Wikipedia contained 19 errors, and Brittanica...
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Topic(s): Science , The Web
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November 29, 2005

Quote of the Day

"We know that while there have been, on the one hand, able philosophers who recognized nothing except what is material in the universe, there are, on the other hand, learned and zealous theologians who, shocked at the corpuscular philosophy and not content with checking it's misuse, have felt obliged to maintain tha tthere are phenomena in nature which cannot be explained by mechanical principles; as for example, light, weight, and elastic force. But since they do not reason with exactness in this matter, and it is easy for the corpuscular philosophers to reply to them, they injure religion in trying...
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November 7, 2005

Renewable Energy and the Death of Quantum Mechanics (Wishful Thinking)

From The Guardian via Slashdot: Dr. Randell Mills of Blacklight Technology claims to have invented a new energy source that supposedly works by moving the electrons of hydrogen atoms in ordinary water closer to the nucleus, thus causing a very large release of energy. Dr. Mills calls the new form of hydrogen "hydrino." The (alleged) new technology would reduce energy costs to about 24% of the coal energy, or 20% that of nuclear. There is only one problem: according to quantum mechanics, Dr. Mills's results are impossible. In standard quantum mechanics, the smallest possible distance between the electron and the...
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October 12, 2005

Leibniz on "Efficient" vs. "Final" Causes in Physics: Its Application to God, Science, and Miracles

So I'm taking this class on Leibniz this semester (for those of you who may be unfamiliar, that is Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the 17th century philosopher/scientist/mathematician, and the "other" discoverer of calculus), and I was reading his Discourse on Metaphysics today and came across this fantastic passage in section 19: Moreover, it is unreasonable to introduce a supreme intelligence as orderer of things and then, instead of using his wisdom, use only the properties of matter to explain the phenomena. This is as if, in order to account for the conquest of an important place by a great prince, a...
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September 27, 2005

The Right Way to Introduce Intelligent Design to Public Schools ...

is by teaching philosophy of science. Metaphysics and philosophy of science, no matter what anyone says, are "ontically prior" to experimental science. What that means is that you must have at least a working philosophy of science (with some difficult conceptual work it is possible to abstract away the metaphysics in most cases) in order to interpret the results of observations and experiments. Remember that "scientific method" thing you learned in high school (or, hopefully, middle school)? Scientists hold to a philosophical - not scientific - theory states that that method works. The details of this philosophical position will determine...
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August 28, 2005

Dennett: "Intelligent Design" Obscures Real Objections to Evolution

Daniel Dennet, a brilliant philosopher at Tufts University, known (to me) for his work on personal identity and philosophy of mind, is an avowed atheist. In today's New York Times, Dennet joins the "intelligent design" controversy with a lengthy Op-Ed. The article is four pages long, but I just want to focus on one thing he says and the conclusions he draws from it:
The focus on intelligent design has, paradoxically, obscured something else: genuine scientific controversies about evolution that abound. In just about every field there are challenges to one established theory or another. The legitimate way to stir up such a storm is to come up with an alternative theory that makes a prediction that is crisply denied by the reigning theory - but that turns out to be true, or that explains something that has been baffling defenders of the status quo, or that unifies two distant theories at the cost of some element of the currently accepted view.

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August 25, 2005

FDA to Regulate Medical Usage of Maggots and Leeches

No, I'm not joking. It has been decided that both qualify as "mechanical devices" for medical use and will be regulated accordingly. See the New York Times article here. Now if only they'd regulate mosquitos (out of existence)...
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Topic(s): Politics , Science
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August 8, 2005

"Innate" Gender Differences and ... Autism?

Today's New York Times features an Op-Ed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University arguing that, when viewed on the level of broad statistical tendencies across the whole of the human race, males and females exhibit marked neuro-psychological differences, in some ways similar to those suggested by Harvard president Lawrence Summers (you all remember the uproar that ensued). Eager to avoid the mistake made by Dr. Summers, Professor Baron-Cohen is very careful to emphasize the "on the level of broad statistical tendencies" part, and for this I applaud him. As he says in the article, "the differences that show up...
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Topic(s): Gender , Science
Posted by Kenny at 9:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 19, 2005

God, Science, and the Teleological (Design) Argument Revisited

I've just finished the deeply moving experience of reading one of the most brilliant, and beautiful, philosophy papers I have been exposed to to date. The paper, "Natural Theology, Methodological Naturalism, and 'Turtles all the Way Down'" by Dr. Del Ratzsch, a philosopher of science at Calvin College, appears in the latest issue of Faith and Philosophy, and academic journal published by the Society of Christian Philosophers. (The latest issue is dated October 2004 - they're a little behind.) The paper discusses a broad range of issues related to the interaction between theology and science. There are two points that I find particularly beautiful and compelling and would like to discuss. The first is his argument that the success of science (not any particular scientific endeavor, but the entire enterprise) actually amounts to experimental support (albeit inconclusive) for traditional monotheism. The second is his discussion of "infinite regression" of naturalistic explanations...
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