Tag Archives: Darwinism

How brief was the period in which the Cambrian phyla suddenly appeared?

Cambrian Explosion
Cambrian Explosion

The Cambrian explosion refers to the sudden appearance of new body plans in the fossil record. ID proponents think that the period is between 5-10 million years at the most. Naturalists want to stretch out the period in which the body plans appear to tens of millions of years. The two sides can’t both be right. What’s the truth?

Evolution News has the answer.

Excerpt:

To establish the length of the most explosive period of innovation within the Cambrian explosion itself, Meyer cites the work of MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring and his colleagues as well the work of another group led by Smithsonian paleontologist Douglas Erwin. The Bowring-led study showed that (in their words) “the main period of exponential diversification” within the Cambrian lasted “only 5-6 million years” (emphasis added). Meyer explains:

An analysis by MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring has shown that the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation occurred in a sedimentary sequence spanning no more than 6 million years. Yet during this time representatives of at least sixteen completely novel phyla and about thirty classes first appeared in the rock record. In a more recent paper using a slightly different dating scheme, Douglas Erwin and colleagues similarly show that thirteen new phyla appear in a roughly 6-million-year window. (p. 73)

[…][T]ake a look first at the following figure that Bowring and his colleagues included in their definitive 1993 article, published in the journal Science. They use radiometric methods to date the different stages of the Cambrian period, including the crucial Tommotian and Atdabanian stages in which the greatest number of new animal phyla and classes arise. Note that the so-called Manykaian stage of the Cambrian period lasts about 10-14 million years. Note also that the main pulse of morphological innovation didn’t begin during this stage but rather during the Tommotian and Atdabanian — a period that they describe as taking between “5 to 10 million years,” and in a more detailed passage as taking about 5-6 million years.

[…]In the figure above, the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages of the Cambrian period together span only about 5 million years, starting at about 530 and ending about 525 million years ago. Bowring’s figure also depicts the total number of classes and orders present at any given time during the Cambrian period. The biggest increases in morphological innovation occur during the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages. Indeed, during this period the number of known orders nearly quadruples. Moreover, Bowring and his colleagues also make clear that this period corresponds to the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation as measured by the number of new phyla and classes that first appear. They note that, while a few groups of animals do arise in the earliest Manykaian stage of the Cambrian, the most rapid period of “exponential increase of diversification,” corresponding to the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages, “lasted only 5 to 6 m.y.”

You can see the figure they are reference in the Evolution News article.

Also, check out these clips that explain the Cambrian explosion:

Part 1:

Part 2:

The first clip features James Valentine, a professor of biology at the University of California who just co-authored a new book on the Cambrian explosion and is not a proponent of intelligent design.

The consensus among scientists regarding the period of time in which the new body plans appear is 5-6 million years. Biologically speaking, that’s a blink of an eye. You aren’t going that kind of complexity and innovation in such a short period of time any more than you can expect to win the lottery by buying 5-6 million tickets when the odds of winning are 1 in a googol (10 to the 100th power – 1, followed by 100 zeroes). You don’t have enough lottery tickets to make winning the lottery likely. Similarly, 5-6 million years is not enough time for naturalistic mechanisms to code brand new body plans from scratch. It would be like trying to research and write a Ph.D thesis during a single lunch hour. It’s just not enough time to produce the amount of information that’s required.

Video, audio and summary of intelligent design discussion, with Ben Shapiro and Stephen C. Meyer

Stephen C. Meyer and Ben Shapiro discuss evolution and intelligent design
Stephen C. Meyer and Ben Shapiro discuss evolution and intelligent design

(Re-posting this for those who missed it the first time around)

This is a must-see / must-hear conversation. Famous conservative Ben Shapiro discusses evolution and intelligent design with Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, author of “Signature in the Cell” (origin of life) and “Darwin’s Doubt” (fossil record). These are the two best books on intelligent design. Their conversation covers the most important issues in the origins debate.

So to start, here’s the full video:

And here is a link to the audio. You can download the MP3 there.

Someone actually put out an outline on Youtube, with a time-based index, so I’ll just steal that as a base, and add to it:

  • 1:34 What is your scientific background? Science undergraduate degree, professional geologist, later did a PhD in philosophy of science from Cambridge University.
  • 2:39 What is the difference between intelligent design and creationism? Creationism starts from the Bible and posits a shorter history of the universe. ID starts from the data of the natural world and is neutral about the age of the Earth / universe. Meyer accepts the old-Earth.
  • 3:36 How is Intelligent Design a scientific theory? The discovery of DNA reveals that code is central to living systems. Intelligent design uses the method of “inference to the best explanation” in order to argue that the best explanation for the code is an intelligent agent.
  • 6:10 What evidence would have to arise to make Intelligent Design Falsifiable? If a naturalistic mechanism was discovered that could produce biological information using the probabilistic resources of the universe, and the time available, then intelligent design would be falsified.
  • 7:26 Is religion separate from science or intertwined within it? There are three views: science is totally separate from religion, science is in total conflict with religion, science and religion agree on some issues, e.g. – the origin of the universe and Genesis 1:1. There are areas where science and religion overlap.
  • 9:55 Why are the most prominent Darwinians also militant atheists? Evolution is a theory that tries to explain nature using naturalistic mechanisms, so it is compatible with atheism.
  • 10:45 What does the theory of evolution say? The term evolution has multiple meanings, and should be defined before discussions. It can refer to change over time. It can refer to animals changing slightly to adapt to enviromental changes. It can refer to the idea that all animals evolved from simpler life forms, and that there is a tree of life showing how different types of organisms share common ancestors. And it can refer to the idea that purely undirected processes can explain the history of life using purely materialistic forces. It’s that final view that intelligent design challenges.
  • 13:15 Where is the discontinuity in naturalistic processes in the development of life? The first discontinuity is the origin of simple life from non-living components. The second discontinuity is the sudden appearance of different body plans in a very narrow window of time in the Cambrian era.
  • 15:42 Why does information theory suggest that code requires some sort of designer? DNA is a true information-bearing system identical to the software in computers, e.g. – operating system, applications.
  • 19:45 Can information be created by random mutation, and favorable mutations preserved by natural selection? Just as in software code, instructions must be added in order to develop new functionality. Random additions of characters will almost always degrade biological function. The number of possible sequences that do nothing useful is vastly higher than the number of sequences that perform biological functions. Doug Axe did research on this at Cambridge University, and he found that the number of functional sequences of amino acids is 1 in 10 to the 77th power. Given the probabilistic resources (replicating organisms)and the time available, it is extremely unlikely to find sequences that have functional information by chance.
  • 25:05 What about Stephen Jay Gould’s model of punctuated equilibrium – doesn’t it explain the sudden jumps in information? Gould’s mechanism is accurate according to the fossil record, which shows a lot of jumps. But he did not have a naturalistic explanation for sudden jumps in biological function. Darwinian mechanisms work slowly and would (in theory) produce different body plans gradually. But this is not what the fossil record shows.
  • 27:22 What is the mechanism for injecting information in the theory of intelligent design? The information comes in from an intelligence when new major body plans appear, and minor variations within types could be explained by evolution.
  • 29:25 Does the Miller-Urey experiment provide a naturalistic explanation for the building blocks necessary for the origin of life? The MU experiment only produced a few types of amino acids, it doesn’t say anything about how to sequence the amino acids in order to form protein folds that can perform biological functions. The MU experiment also pre-supposes conditions on the early Earth (reducing gases) that do not match what was there (oxidyzing or neutral gases).
  • 32:00 Is the RNA world hypothesis is a good explanation for the origin of life? Evolution requires that replication already be in place, because evolution assumes that mutations appear during the replication. The RNA world hypothesis suggests that sequences contain information, but also catalyze origin of life chemistry. The problem with RNA world is that it starts with self-replicating systems. And those replicating systems require the scientist to inject information into the system to get even the simplest replication started.
  • 34:56 How do scientists respond to the critiques of Darwinism proposed by intelligent design advocates? By and large, they accept them. They think that mutation and selection works once living systems are in place, but they realize it has no explanation for the origin of life or the sudden origin of body plans. (Tells about the  conference of the Royal Society, where problems with Darwinian mechanisms were discussed, and the 2003 MIT Press book by Muller and Newman).
  • 37:16 Why do people hold to Darwinian evolution in the face of these problems? Many scientists presuppose methodological naturalism, which requires that any explanation for the origin of life and the origin of major body plans involve materialist explanations only. No intelligent agents are allowed. The problems occur when assumption of naturalism causes scientists to propose incorrect explanations for what we observe in nature. It’s also not clear how naturalistic mechanisms could produce organisms who are capable of reason and free will.
  • 40:43 Does naturalistic evolution have an answer for conscious minds, reasoning, free will? No, consider the work of atheist scholar Thomas Nagel, who argues in his book “Mind and Cosmos” (Oxford University Press 2012) that the existence of mind is a disproof of the neo-Darwinian explanation for life. Darwinism stops us from accepting the reality of minds.
  • 42:06 So do naturalistic evolutionists have to explain away the mind as an illusion? First, we humans have immediate experience of consciousness, reason and free will. Second, our whole legal system is based on the idea free will, because you can’t hold someone guilty unless they chose to do something they knew was wrong. Third, we have an epidemic of suicide among young people. This is caused by a crisis of meaning. Intelligent design opens up the possibility of their being a mind behind the universe, who we could have a relationships with.
  • 44:53 Why aren’t schools allowed to be honest about the problems with neo-Darwinian evolution? The intellignt design view is to that teachers should be allowed to teach all the vidence for Darwinian evolution, and also discuss some of the problems with the theory. Students learning science should not be told that everything is solved. Students learn science better when they are presented with peer-reviewed evidence for and against a theory, rather than being indoctrinated.
  • 47:37 Is intelligent design theory connected to God? Intelligent design infers from the information content in nature that a mind with capabilities like ours injected information into living systems. Intelligent design is agnostic about the designer, because in principle, embodied or unembodied agents could inject information into living systems. Intelligent design is friendly to theism, because theists will immediately identify the mind as God. Furthermore, the fine-tuning in the initial conditions of the universe is another intelligent design argument. In that case, since the design occurs at the beginning of the universe, the intelligent agent acting prior to the creation of the universe would have to be supernatural, i.e. – God.
  • 50:53 Can naturalists say that the imposition of “function” on a sequence is arbitrary, in the same way that the English language is arbitrary? This won’t work, because biological function is not arbitrary in the same way as language. Biological function is not arbitrary, because sequences can be tested for function objectively by observing whether sequences can perform functions necessary for life, e.g. – replication.
  • 52:43 Doesn’t the multiverse explain away the improbabilities of the fine-tuning, the origin of life, and the development of life? No, because all models of the multiverse require fine-tuning in the mechanism that generates the different universes.
  • 55:42 What about cosmological models that eliminate the beginning of the universe? The standard Big Bang model and the inflationary model both posit a beginning of the universe. There is also the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theory which proves that any universe that is expanding requires a beginning. The only chance for naturalists is quantum cosmologies, but this doesn’t work because 1) it requires an abstract reality of mathematics to actualize the physical universe, but this presupposes a mind. 2)  The model requires an earlier input of information, which can only have come from a mind.

If you listen to this lecture, or watch the video, and you enjoyed it, then please share. If you have questions, I can try to answer them for you – just leave your question in the comments, or shoot me an e-mail, or message me from the blog’s Facebook page, or direct message me on Twitter. I’ve invested a lot of time in this, and have been studying intelligent design since the late 1990s.

By the way, I listen to the Ben Shapiro podcast, (and the Andrew Klavan podcast), every day. I never miss an episode, and I think if you give them a try, you’ll enjoy them, too.

Stephen C. Meyer lectures on intelligent design and the origin of life

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

A MUST-SEE lecture based on Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s book “Signature in the Cell“.

I highly recommend watching the lecture, and looking at the slides. The quality of the video and the content is first class. There is some Q&A (9 minutes) at the end of the lecture.

Topics:

  • intelligent design is concerned with measuring the information-creating capabilities of natural forces like mutation and selection
  • Darwinists think that random mutations and natural selection can explain the origin and diversification of living systems
  • Darwinian mechanisms are capable of explaining small-scale adaptive changes within types of organisms
  • but there is skepticism, even among naturalists, that Darwinian mechanisms can explain the origin of animal designs
  • even if you concede that Darwinism can account for all of the basic animal body plans, there is still the problem of life’s origin
  • can Darwinian mechanisms explain the origin of the first life? Is there a good naturalistic hypothesis to explain it?
  • there are at least two places in the history of life where new information is needed: origin of life, and Cambrian explosion
  • overview of the structure of DNA and protein synthesis (he has helpful pictures and he uses the snap lock blocks, too)
  • the DNA molecule is composed of a sequence of bases that code for proteins, and the sequence is carefully selected to have biological function
  • meaningful sequences of things like computer code, English sentences, etc. require an adequate cause
  • it is very hard to arrive at a meaningful sequence of a non-trivial length by randomly picking symbols/letters
  • although any random sequence of letters is improbable, the vast majority of sequences are gibberish/non-compiling code
  • similarly, most random sequences of amino acids are lab-proven (Doug Axe’s work) to be non-functional gibberish
  • the research showing this was conducted at Cambridge University and published in the Journal of Molecular Biology
  • so, random mutation cannot explain the origin of the first living cell
  • however, even natural selection coupled with random mutation cannot explain the first living cell
  • there must already be replication in order for mutation and selection to work, so they can’t explain the first replicator
  • but the origin of life is the origin of the first replicator – there is no replication prior to the first replicator
  • the information in the first replicator cannot be explained by law, such as by chemical bonding affinities
  • the amino acids are attached like magnetic letters on a refrigerator
  • the magnetic force sticks the letters ON the fridge, but they don’t determine the specific sequence of the letters
  • if laws did determine the sequence of letters, then the sequences would be repetitive
  • the three materialist explanations – chance alone, chance and law, law alone – are not adequate to explain the effect
  • the best explanation is that an intelligent cause is responsible for the biological explanation in the first replicator
  • we know that intelligent causes can produce functional sequences of information, e.g. – English, Java code
  • the structure and design of DNA matches up nicely with the design patterns used by software engineers (like WK!)

There are some very good tips in this lecture so that you will be able to explain intelligent design to others in simple ways, using everyday household items and children’s toys to symbolize the amino acids, proteins, sugar phosphate backbones, etc.

Proteins are constructed from a sequence of amino acids:

A sequence of amino acids forming a protein
A sequence of amino acids forming a protein

Proteins sticking onto the double helix structure of DNA:

Some proteins sticking onto the sugar phosphate backbone
Some proteins sticking onto the sugar phosphate backbone

I highly, highly recommend this lecture. You will be delighted and you will learn something.

Here is an article that gives a general overview of how intelligent design challenges. If you want to read something more detailed about the material that he is covering in the lecture above related to the origin of life, there is a pretty good article here.

There is a good breakdown of some of the slides with helpful flow charts here on Uncommon Descent.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Greg Koukl debates Michael Shermer on God, atheism, meaning and morality

Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!
Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!

The full transcript of a debate between Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, and Greg Koukl, president of Stand to Reason. This debate occurred on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, and was moderated by Hugh Hewitt.

HH = Hugh Hewitt
GK = Greg Koukl
MS = Michael Shermer

Here is the full debate transcript from Stand to Reason.

And here’s an excerpt:

GK: Right. Actually, the big question here, Hugh, is whether it’s possible to be good without God. Now I’m not talking about whether it’s possible to be good without a belief in God. I certainly think that’s possible, but be good without God. And the answer to that question hinges entirely on precisely what you mean by good. And so I was going to give an illustration. So a man drags a young girl into the alley, he sexually abuses her, strangles here, and tosses her into the dustbin. Is that act wrong? Now I think everybody listening is going to admit it is wrong. But here is the real question. What do we mean when we say that that act of rape and abuse and murder is wrong? Are we describing the action itself, the object? Are we saying that the object, the rape, the murder, has a quality of being wrong, and therefore, wherever that rape goes, the wrongness follows it, just like your height, 6’ 2”, or whatever it is, is an objective quality of you. Wherever you go, your height follows you in the same way. Does the wrongness follow the rape? Well, if it’s a quality of the rape, if it’s an objective quality of the rape, then it does. And it doesn’t matter what people think about it, or what cultures decides, or what your evolutionary conditioning is. The rape is still wrong. The other alternative is that you’re not talking about the rape. You’re talking about yourself. You’re talking about your genetic conditioning. You’re talking about your culture’s decision about that kind of thing. And if that’s the case, then the truth of the wrongness of the rape is simply in the individual or the subject. And this is why philosophers distinguish between ethical objectivism and ethical subjectivism. Now there’s lots of different subjectivisms in ethics. But simply put, if you’re an ethical subjectivist, you’re a relativist. And actual ethics don’t exist. Ethics are an illusion. If you conclude that ethics are an illusion, there’s lots of different ways to explain it. Michael’s written a really great book, I think, called The Science Of Good And Evil. I’ve read most of it, and it’s well written, and it’s very compelling. But it’s a description about how the illusion of ethics has taken place. If you want to go that route, you’re welcome to go that route. But what you can’t do is you can’t then talk about morality as if it’s objective when your explanations are subjective. So this is a problem that I think all atheists, including Michael, have to solve. Are ethics objective or relative? And if they’re relative, then how can we make moral judgments that are meaningful on other people?

HH: Michael Shermer?

MS: Wow, let’s just get right into it. Well, I don’t think it’s quite so black and white. That is to say I think there are provisional moral truths that exist whether there’s a God or not. In other words, it’s wrong, morally, absolutely morally wrong to rape and murder. And that would be true whether there was a God or not. In other words, if…is God saying that it’s wrong because it’s really wrong, and He’s instructing us in his Holy Scripture that it’s wrong? Or is it only wrong because He said so? And if it turned out there wasn’t a God, would that make it okay? And my answer is no, it really is wrong, whether God says it’s wrong or not. That is to say I think it really exists, a real, moral standard like that. Why? Well, because first, you could ask the person who is being affected, we should always ask the moral recipient of the act, how do you feel about being raped or murdered or stolen from or lied to. And the moral actor will tell you, it doesn’t matter whether, if I could use a current example, I haven’t any idea if Tiger Woods and his wife are religious or not. But you can just ask his wife whether it was morally right or wrong, and she’ll tell you. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a God or not. It’s wrong. And so that’s the first principle. Just ask. Ask the moral recipient of whether it’s right or wrong. But I think Greg’s after something deeper, that is to say is there something even deeper still behind the moral actor’s feelings about how they’re treated. And the answer is yes, I think so. We’re a social species. We don’t live in isolation. We live as members of a group. And as such, there’s no possible way our group could survive, be cohesive, be a unit of any kind of solidarity against other groups, or against a harsh environment. If there were too much violations of social norms, that is if there were constant lying and cheating and raping and murdering, there’s no way a social group could hang together. And as such, as we all know, we’re very tribal. We’re tribal against other groups, but within our groups, we’re very pro-social, altruistic, cooperative. We have a good and evil in our nature. So to this extent, I find myself interesting often in agreement with my conservative friends on most of the things they consider morally, moral truths. That is, we share the same moral values, even though I come at it from a different perspective.

HH: Greg?

GK: Yeah, I’m actually not after something deeper here, Michael. At least to start out the discussion, I’m trying to be as simple and clear and precise as possible, because it’s very easy to weave together a bunch of things that sound persuasive, but turn out to be different things. Like for example, Darwinian evolution, which is a materialistic process, and here I mean the blind watchmaker thesis, the neo-Darwinian synthesis, natural selection working on mutations, and a kind of a cultural evolution that Michael has just referred to as we work together as a group to survive as a group. Those are two entirely different things. One is materialistic, Darwinian, the other one is intelligent design, quite frankly, where the group gets together and makes some determinations to encourage some behavior and discourage others. What I’m trying to do is to be able to answer the question that came up initially, is God necessary for morality, which Michael denies. It’s to say well, what is it that morality, that we’re trying to describe? It is either objective, and therefore an immaterial obligation that applies to certain behaviors, or it is subjective. The things that Michael described were variously subjective, evolutionary elements, subjective cultural elements, but then he affirmed that we all have good and evil in our nature, or an awareness of that. I agree with that entirely. We all are aware of those things. That’s why even if we don’t believe in God, we can still know morality and follow it. The question is what accounts for real, genuine objective morality?

HH: One minute to the break, Michael Shermer.

MS: I’m not arguing for cultural evolution. I’m actually arguing as part of our, what you described as materialistic, natural selection, Darwinian evolution, that it’s not enough to just pretend or fake being a good group member. You actually have to believe it, feel it, and live it. So what I’m arguing is that natural selected certain moral sentiments, as Adam Smith called them, moral feelings, an actual empathy, Adam Smith talked about, we actually empathize with somebody else, we can put ourselves into their shoes and feel their pain, I’m arguing that’s very real. It’s every bit as real a part of our evolutionary heritage as our eyes and our hands.

– – – –

HH: Michael Shermer, when we went to break, you were saying that evolutionary biology has produced a real morality.

MS: Yeah, I think really, Adam Smith had it right in his very first book, The Theory Of Moral Sentiments, long before Darwin, that we actually have in our biological nature, our human nature, the capacity to feel other people’s pain. He called it empathy, we think of it often either as empathy or sympathy. That is, we really do connect to other people. A lot of good research on this now, brain scans, you can show somebody a little video of somebody they know, or have feelings for, getting pricked with a pin, and the same areas of their brain light up, the pain receptors, as in the person getting the pin prick. In other words, we have an evolved tendency to really be deeply, emotionally connected to our fellow group members. And that’s why I say groups like World Vision, where you want to adopt a child, it doesn’t help to show a picture of 10,000 starving African kids. What does affect us is one child, a picture of one child with a little biography. That’s how you get people to adopt a child to donate. The reason for that is because essentially they’re tricking the brain, our brains into making that stranger an honorary family member, an honorary within group member, which is why I argue that free trade is one of the best ways of defusing normal tribal tensions between people. It makes them honorary friends, honorary members. Well, what’s going on there is we’re tricking the brain into sort of this evolutionary rule of thumb – be nice to people that are like you and that are related to you, and that you know, and that are fellow group members, and don’t do what our natural tendency is, is to be tribal and xenophobic against those other guys. And free trade is one of the best things you can do for that. So I’m arguing that’s actually tapping something deep within us.

HH: Greg Koukl?

GK: Yeah, basically, I agree with Mike completely here. We do have this tendency, and it seems to be universal among humankind. The question is, what is that tendency, actually? And what is the best way to explain it? And I see like a handful of significant problems with using evolution to explain morality. The first one is that evolution is a materialistic process. And here, I’m going back to an original point, and I don’t want people to lose it. There is no way that you can take molecules, and reorganize them in any fashion, over any length of time, and have pop out of the mixture an objective moral principle that’s immaterial, and that applies to human beings. All you’re going to get is a reorganization of the molecules. And what they can produce, and this is what Mike has done in his book, and he mentioned just s few moments ago, they can produce sentiments. They can produce feelings. They can produce behavior. But this leads us to the second problem of using evolution to explain morality, is that morality is more than sentiments, feelings and behavior. Morality entails things like motive and intention. I mean, you could have a guy walk into a garage, walk out with a hose, and is that wrong? Well, it depends. Is it his hose or somebody else’s hose? Did he intend to take the other person’s hose? Is he borrowing the hose? So we can see here are elements that are part of the moral thing that needs to be explained, that are immaterial, and therefore the Darwinian explanation can’t even in principle go there. It can’t do that job. But here’s the worst problem. Regardless of what our sentiments happen to be regarding moral actions, we can feel good or feel bad or whatever, the problem is that morality is prescriptive, not merely descriptive. That is it tells us not just what we did, but what we ought to have done in the past, and what we ought to do in the future. That is not something that any Darwinian mechanism can describe, because nothing about my biology can inveigh upon me to act a certain way for moral reasons in the future. It doesn’t tell me why I should be good tomorrow. This is a huge difference between these two views, the descriptive and the prescriptive. Prescriptive is part of morality, and can’t even, in principle, be explained by an evolutionary materialistic system.

HH: Michael Shermer, I’ll give you a start on that. We have about 45 seconds to the break, so you may want to…we’ll come back after the break and pick up. But what’s your start to that?

MS: Well, the start would be that again, let’s not think of evolution just as nature red and tooth and claw, and it’s nasty, brutish and short, but that in fact, we have this whole other social evolution. And I’m not talking about cultural evolution where we consciously make decisions, but subconsciously, because it’s in part of our nature to actually, seriously, deeply feel for other people and their actions, and the consequences of our actions, so that we actually have a sense of right and wrong that we’re born with, but then culture taps into and tweaks, one way or the other.

– – – –

HH: Michael Shermer, when we went to break, Greg had made the argument that the Darwinian model simply cannot explain immaterial concepts like morality, that there’s just no way you can rearrange the molecules to get there. You’re saying well, yes you can.

MS: Yeah, I think so, because if we think of morality as another suite of emotions that are involved with other people’s behaviors, the consequences of our actions, how we feel about them, how people feel about us when we do these things, that’s as every bit as important a biological part of our nature as anything else we talk about. So let’s take a real simple emotion. When you’re hungry, nobody does any calculations about the caloric input/output ratios of eating an apple versus an ice cream, although now it’s posted on the walls for us to see. But we just feel hungry, and we feel hungry for certain kinds of foods. The feeling of hunger is a proxy for something else. Evolution’s done the calculating for us. You need food, so we’re going to, your hypothalamus is going to secrete these certain chemicals that causes your stomach to rumble and so on. When you’re attracted to somebody else, a member of the opposite sex, nobody does the calculation by, let’s say, a man finds a woman attractive who has a .67 hip to waist ratio, and an hourglass figure, although that is pretty much universal. Nobody walks about with calipers taking measurements of who they’re going to want to date or ask out. You just look around, and you just go wow, I really find this woman attractive. It’s a feeling you have, okay? So those are kind of simple emotions, but sliding up the scale, the moral emotions are really no different. When I lie to somebody, I’ve violated a social norm, and they respond in a very angry, hostile way. So those emotions that we both share, guilt, shame, anger, disgust, involved a social relationship that whether it was a norm violation, those are the kinds of emotions that are just like hunger and sexual attraction that are built into us by nature, by evolution. Or, if you wish, this is how God created the moral sentiments, just like He created everything else in the universe, through a process of nature. I think that’s equally reasonable to argue. So I don’t see that it has to be an atheistic viewpoint versus a theistic viewpoint to get to our moral sentiments. Why couldn’t God have used evolution to create the moral sentiments as I’ve described them?

GK: Yeah, well, you don’t actually believe that, I know, Mike, so this is kind of like adding God to the soup, you know, if it makes people feel better. But the basic argument is that evolution all by itself can do the trick. And I think if your listeners are listening carefully, what they’re going to hear is Mike has just described, and if I’m being unfair to your assessment here, let me know, Mike, that moral feelings are simply that. They are sophisticated emotions that do some work for us for survival, and even on a group level. Now there’s a name for this. It’s called emotivism. A.J. Ayer, the famous atheist, offered this description of morality. It’s a relativistic scheme of morality. Morality doesn’t actually exist, Ayer argued. There is no objective right or wrong. Rape isn’t wrong itself. What happens is, we have feelings about it, and we express it in moral language, but rape isn’t really wrong. So your listeners are going to have to ask themselves the questions. When they just survey their own moral senses, and we all have access to this, do we want to believe that scientists have figured out that really what we’re doing is feeling sophisticated, complicated emotions, and that the emotions are in us, and we are not seeing anything about the action? Or does it seem like rape is wrong? Look, when I say rape is wrong, I’m talking about the rape. When I say liver is awful, I’m talking about me. I’m talking about my own tastes and preferences. It’s interesting, as Michael has given his explanation, though, that he’s doing, and I don’t know if you are aware of this, Michael, but you’re doing the very thing that I kind of warned against. You give a description of the foundations of morality that turn out to be relativistic, but then there’s a smuggling of a more objectivistic morality in the back door, like when Michael says you don’t have to do what your nature tells you to do, in other words, what you’ve been programmed by evolution to do. You can kind of rise above that. Well, now we’re talking about a morality that isn’t dictated by evolution, but a morality that we can employ through our acts of will, to rise above this kind of brutish evolutionary morality. And that sounds suspiciously like the very thing that I’m talking about here.

MS: But I don’t mean, there’s nothing to rise above by itself. Yes, we have to say rise above our tribal instincts to be xenophobic when we meet somebody who’s a stranger, who’s different from us. We all struggle against that, particularly in a black and white America, where there’s always been this underlying tension. Indeed, so culture helps us do that – education, travel, diversity of exposure to different people. That makes you a little more tolerant. Okay, but I’m not talking about that. What I’m talking about is tapping into the good part of our nature, the fact that in addition to that xenophobic tribalism we have, we also have this other side that almost never gets discussed in evolutionary…even in evolutionary circles, you’ll still hear evolutionary biologists talking about, in a way that Huxley did, and Herbert Spencer did in Darwin’s own time, that we have to somehow struggle mightily against our genes to overcome that nasty tendency we have to want to rape, kill, pillage and destroy. Well no, actually, we have this whole other side that’s just as genetically programmed into our nature. And the point of culture – education, politics, economics and so on, is to tap into the better angels of our nature as Lincoln said.

GK: Okay, here’s the question I have for you, Michael, then. You’ve identified that really, we have good and we have bad. That’s part of, under your terms, that’s part of our genetic nature, and we can choose to tap into what you call the good side. Why ever should we do such a thing if there is not a higher standard that directs our action to the better side, your words, than the bad side, your words, if really, ultimately, they are both the result of a genetic evolution, and from outside terms, neither is better than the other. Why should we do that, Michael?

MS: Yeah, well I don’t see how entering God into the equation changes that problem at all.

GK: Well, that’s the next step. What I’m trying to show is that the should comes from the outside, and if we can demonstrate that, then we can ask…

New study: parrots have similar brain mechanisms to humans

A cockatoo uses a little tool he made to reach a snack
A cockatoo uses a little tool he made to reach a snack

OK, it’s a fun Friday post. I guess most of my readers know that I love almost all the birds, and especially parrots. I have owned parrots most of my life, and want to get more, too. I also like to feed the wild birds who come to visit my house. One reason I like them so much is that they are very intelligent and obviously designed by a very clever engineer.

First, let me explain what convergence is, then we’ll look at a recent peer-reviewed scientific publication.

We have to start this Science Daily post with the definition of convergence in biology.

In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.

It is the opposite of divergent evolution, where related species evolve different traits.

On a molecular level, this can happen due to random mutation unrelated to adaptive changes; see long branch attraction. In cultural evolution, convergent evolution is the development of similar cultural adaptations to similar environmental conditions by different peoples with different ancestral cultures. An example of convergent evolution is the similar nature of the flight/wings of insects, birds, pterosaurs, and bats.

All four serve the same function and are similar in structure, but each evolved independently.

So, naturalists say that if two organisms have traits that are similar, it must mean that the trait evolved once in their ancestors, and then the modern species inherited the trait from those ancestors. If evolution is true, the only mechanism they have to develop traits shared by two organisms is mutation and selection. The problems occur when two organisms share similar traits, but they have no recent common ancestor, and no recent shared evolutionary history of mutation and selection.

Here’s the latest study from the New Scientist:

To learn more how these birds’ brains develop, Mello and his team compared the genome of the blue-fronted Amazon parrot with that of 30 other birds. They found that regions of the parrot genome that regulate when and how genes for brain development are turned on are the same as those found in humans. These so-called ultra-conserved elements evolved in both species at different times, but with similar results.

Well, parrots and humans are completely different creatures, with no recent evolutionary history, and no recent common ancestors. So, if these changes are due to evolution, then we should see them in the very very very distance common ancestor shared by birds and humans. But then shouldn’t they be in all the other animals who descend from that very very very distant common ancestor to?

Watch this:

I’ll tell you what the real explanation is: the real explanation is that God created birds and humans. And, like a clever engineer, he re-used components that produced the behavior he wanted in his birds and his humans. We know how this works, because this is how intelligent agents write code today. Why do we need a naturalistic theory that requires magic to work, when we have a simple explanation that we can  observe every time someone writes a blog post, or some code, or anything with information in it?

Anyway, however you feel about that, try to be kind to birds, as they are much smarter and more sensitive than most people think. Put out some bird feeders in the yard, if you don’t have an outdoor cat. And if you do have a cat, then why not put a bell on it, or keep it indoors?

Related posts