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Monday, August 14, 2006

Ten weirdest cosmology theories in print today: In Fluffo's litterbox tomorrow

Here's a link to the 10 weirdest cosmology theories (that New Scientist is prepared to take seriously enough to publish), and yes they are weird. Here's one:

10. In the Matrix - Maybe our universe isn't real. Yale Philosopher Nick Bostrum has claimed that we are probably living inside a computer simulation. Assuming it ever becomes possible to simulate consciousness, then presumably future civilisations would try it, probably many times over. Most perceived universes would be simulated ones - so chances are we are in one of them. In that case, perhaps all those cosmological oddities such as dark matter and dark energy are simply patches, stuck on to cover up early inconsistencies in our simulation.

Right, prof. Right ... uh ...

Now, I don't mind a bit of fun, like anyone else. I thought the turtles all the way down theory was okay, actually, except for the giant turtles. If they could get rid of that part, ...

I find intriguing the fact that the type of people who take this stuff seriously would probably oppose allowing teenagers to learn that there are evidence-based problems with Darwinism.

I am really looking forward to a reputable social scientist doing a serious study on who believes Darwinism and why.
Check out the current discount price for Faith@Science, a collection of essays on a variety of topics at the intersection of Faith Avenue and Science Street.

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Materialist nonsense watch: Gagarin probably never said "I don't see any God up here" - was likely a Christian

According to an ENI article by Jonathan Luxmoore,

The world's first person in space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, publicly advocated rebuilding Moscow's destroyed Christ the Saviour basilica despite being depicted as a committed atheist by the Soviet regime, a former friend has revealed.

"Like every Russian, Gagarin was baptised - and, as far as I know, he was a believer," said Colonel Valentin Petrov, an associate professor at Russia's Gagarin Air Force Academy. "Gagarin's motive was very simple: patriotism cannot be promoted without knowledge of one's roots."

Most interesting is this comment:
"The cosmonaut was often quoted as stating "I don't see any God up here" after exiting the earth's orbit, although the remark did not appear in verbatim transcripts of his flight."

Assuming this checks out, and I don't know a good reason to doubt it, as the entire Soviet regime was built on lies, it's going to take a long time, I suspect, to dematerialize our culture. So much that we think we know probably AIN'T so.

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Bored?: Movies are the answer!

I'll be doing revisions to The Spiritual Brain all next week, so blogging could be spotty. However, a friend has pointed out that if you enter "intelligent design" in Google's video search engine, you come up with some great videos. Here's a search that turns up a number of films related to the ID controversy. But first, my friend recommended Octopus eats shark. Wow. Octopi give this one EIGHT thumbs up!

(Note: Please do not write to me to tell me that octopi do not have thumbs. I may be a non-scientist, but if you do that, you are a dork.)
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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New Film Special: Darwin's Deadly Legacy?

Apparently, Coral Ridge Hour, hosted by Dr. D. James Kennedy, is hosting a special called Darwin's Deadly Legacy, on the legacy of social Darwinism (= sterilizing or murdering people who are thought to be unfit, sometimes called eugenics). There is a whole history there, ably recounted in a sober way by Richard Weikart's From Darwin to Hitler.

I think it quite worthwhile that Coral Ridge wants to explore the legacy of social Darwinism, on the "never again" principle.

However, some cautions might also be well advised.

Strictly speaking, the social Darwinists were completely off the wall in their understanding of Darwinism, as agnostic Australian philosopher David Stove points out.

For example, Darwin himself disapproved, apparently, of vaccination because it preserved weak people. He wrote in 1874:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poorlaws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. (p. 9, quoting Darwin, c. (1874) The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (2nd edition) John Murray, London, Vol. I, pp. 205-6.)

Now, in writing as he did in this specific instance, Darwin was being a true Darwinist (though according to Stove's Darwinian Fairytales, he often wasn't).

That is, if you believe that natural selection is the main force that creates diversity and adaptation in the world, you should not interfere via eugenics. After all, the prison sociopath's selfish genes are probably much better adapted to sheer survival and continuance than are those of the musical genius. The prison socio may well produce eight children on his "trailer weekends," whom he compels taxpayers to support. The musical genius, by contrast, may produce one or two at best, but very often none.

Yet most human beings who have ever lived would prefer to forego the evolutionary benefits of the sociopath's selfish genes. Whenever they can, they execute him or keep him locked up, and offer awards, prizes, and fan clubs to the musical genius instead. That approach to human survival seems quite sound to me - but it is hardly Darwinism.

Here's where the social Darwinists went wrong: They took from Darwinism the lack of respect for the human being as anything other than a brainy ape. But they still wanted to smuggle into Darwinian philosophy at least some respect for human culture and decency, because they were not willing to give all that up. So they developed the worst possible solution: Instead of helping the halt, the lame, and the blind, as well as bumpkins and dullards, because God loves them (the traditional view) OR letting nature take its course (the only reasonable Darwinian view), the social Darwinist came up with a new view that was far worse than either: A system for mass riddance of people who fail a cultural or medical standard.

If they were true Darwinists, they would have just done nothing instead of done murder, for the same reason that Darwin saw a problem with vaccinations.

So we need to be clear here: Social Darwinism is very bad. But, strictly speaking, it is not Darwinism. No human being can live with what Darwinism entails, which is why it so quickly morphed into a bastard social Darwinism.

Neither Darwin nor most of his loyal followers clearly saw the problem because they could not live with the consequences of their own theory. The confusion continues: After the Nazi eugenic horror was fully revealed, people decided to get rid of social Darwinism, but assumed that it was Darwinism in some sense. They couldn't have lived with Darwinism either, but they did not realize that.

Then we reacted by vilifying the Nazis - which is 100 percent fine with me, as far as it goes - but, as Richard Weikart points out, we must see clearly the origin of the problem or we have no assurance that we won't repeat it: Darwinism cannot provide a reasonable account of the human being.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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Voice from the audience: "So when will Darwinism be history?"

Last night I was out giving a talk on the origin and development of the intelligent design controversy, when an engineer audience member asked me, "How long do you give Darwinism before it collapses?"

I found providing an answer difficult because I am not psychic, so I must rely on near term, high impact information when making predictions.

(For example, I figured that ID would become big news in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century because events recorded around 1991-2001 in the United States could have no other outcome - absent a nuclear holocaust or some other "all-bets-are-off" scenario, but you can't let unlikely events distract you when you are making predictions based on the flow of normal events.)

At some point, I pointed out that the Catholic Church is now spreading the news on prayer cards in many languages around the world that we are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution Each of us is the result of a thought of God". That is certain to have impact, but I am uncertain how to evaluate its strength.

So finally, I told him, "Look, I don't think we are going to get anywhere understanding the origin of life or of species until we understand what information is and how it relates to the other factors in the universe. Information in life forms clearly does not arise the way Darwin thought it did. Even species don't seem to arise the way Darwin thought they did. The recent challenge to demonstrate it on this blog did not turn up much. And that was supposed to be Darwin's big contribution.

But aw, it's been worse. The Washington Post was reduced to claiming that the introduction of Ontario squirrels to the Washington area by an ill-advised naturalist in the early twentieth century was an instance of natural selection at work, when the evidence for that is decidedly poor.

This reminded me of someone I quoted in By Design or by Chance?:
The key to a scientific understanding of design is not theology, but information theory. If design is a part of nature, then the design is embedded in life as information. But many people are not used to thinking in terms of an immaterial quantity like information. As G.C. Williams writes:

Information doesn’t have mass or charge or length in millimeters. Likewise, matter doesn’t have bytes. You can’t measure so much gold in so many bytes. It doesn’t have redundancy, or fidelity, or any of the other descriptors we apply to information. This dearth of shared descriptors makes matter and information two separate domains of existence, which have to be discussed separately, in their own terms. (G.C. Williams, "A Package of Information" in J. Brockman, ed., The Third culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1995) , p. 43.)

Williams' two separate domains unite in life forms. But how separate are the domains? Have we misunderstood the history of life because we are blinded by the influence of materialist theories. Do we look for a materialist explanation for information when it doesn't and can't exist?

So I told the questioner that I can predict this far: Scientists will not find serious answers by trying to prop up Darwinism but by looking more closely at information theory. When we understand the history of life better, Darwin's natural selection will be shown to play at best a minor, conservative role in maintaining fitness. We have yet to discover the patterns that govern the history of life.

I now wish I had remembered to point out that, historically, scientists have spent a lot of time and energy defending failing theories, before entertaining better ones.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
Blog policy note:Comments are permitted on this blog, but they are moderated. Fully anonymous posts and URLs posted without comment are rarely accepted. To Mr. Anonymous: I'm not psychic, so if you won't tell me who you are, I can't guess and don't care. To Mr. Nude World (URL): If you can't be bothered telling site visitors why they should go on to your fave site next, why should I post your comment? They're all busy people, like you. To Mr. Rudeby International and Mr. Pottymouth: I also have a tendency to delete comments that are merely offensive. Go be offensive to someone who can smack you a good one upside the head. That may provide you with a needed incentive to stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish. To Mr. Righteous but Wrong: I don't publish comments that contain known or probable factual errors. There's already enough widely repeated misinformation out there, and if you don't have the time to do your homework, I don't either. To those who write to announce that at death I will either 1) disintegrate into nothingness or 2) go to Hell by a fast post, please pester someone else. I am a Catholic in communion with the Church and haven't the time for either village atheism or aimless Jesus-hollering.

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