Life: Your Questions Answered, or at Least Asked

 

I asked my father and Paul Nelson to reply to as many of your questions about the Great Expectations conference as they could–beginning with the obvious: “Is it true that Paul Nelson believes that the world is only 6,000 years old?” (I paraphrase, but that idea came up in the comments.)

They’ve given their answers to a few more questions, including: “Do you guys believe in intelligent design?” and “Do you actually know anything about science?”

Perhaps most interestingly, you can hear my father talk about the technological and medical innovations to which this kind of research agenda might lead, if it proves fruitful. 

I experimented with reading your questions out loud and having them reply directly. Their answers were really interesting, but I discovered afterwards to my dismay that the sound quality on the video was lousy. I wasn’t close enough to the microphone and neither was my father. I figured everyone would just tune out after ten seconds, so I asked them to do it again.

I did upload the bad-quality video to YouTube, if you want to try to puzzle it out. You can probably discern that I tried to make sure everyone’s questions were at least asked. 

This recording worked better, but the answers aren’t as direct. I do think they’re responding, though, to the spirit of your questions. Do you agree? 

There are 32 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @TeamAmerica

    Interesting discussion. Basically they seem to be saying that too many scientists have become dogmatic, narrow-minded, and cowed by peer pressure. Wish I had a better background in the hard sciences so I could evaluate their points better. I have a question-Pierre Teilhard DeChardin, the French priest/paleontologist, predicted that humanity is evolving into a world-wide mind, which as I recall, he termed a ‘numinous.’ He was credited by someone as having thereby predicted the internet. Do they have any views on this idea?

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  2. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire

    I’m going to stop promising that they’ll answer every question asked here today because getting these clips to upload is proving way more difficult than I expected. (I’m increasingly persuaded that high-speed Internet access is more important to civilization than modern plumbing.) But I promise to ask them all and upload the answers as soon as I can. At this point it’s lack of Internet access, not the impulse to secrecy, that’s keeping us all from discussing these questions fully.

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  3. Profile Photo Member
    @TheMugwump
    TeamAmerica: I have a question-Pierre Teilhard DeChardin, the French priest/paleontologist, predicted that humanity is evolving into a world-wide mind, which as I recall, he termed a ‘numinous.’

    Also “noosphere” with an umlaut type thing over one of the o’s. The root, I believe, comes from the Greek word gnosis. The idea is that mind and brain are not the same thing. The brain is merely an organ that connects us to “mind” which manifests in human beings as thought. But, no, the noosphere is not the Internet. Be careful lest you stumble into the netherworld between mysticism and science where it’s easy to get lost.

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  4. Profile Photo Member
    @StephenDawson

    Claire, Dr Nelson and all, I apologise. I read Dr Nelson’s Wikipedia entry and it seemed to me to reasonably neutral except, perhaps, for the title (‘Paul Nelson (creationist)’). This article stated that in a book Dr Nelson ‘represented the young Earth creationist position’ and there was other mention of his alleged acknowledgement of accepting that position .

    I was foolish to accept the word of Wikipedia on such a charged topic, and I am glad to hear Dr Nelson doesn’t believe in a six thousand year old earth. Sir, I apologise.

    (I have just watched a chunk of a video clip of Dr Nelson in which he is debating and discussing ID with a skeptic and it is obvious that he is a serious and thoughtful individual.)

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  5. Profile Photo Member
    @StephenDawson

    One disclaimer, while I am at it: I may have implied Dr Nelson is a crank (for which I apologise), but I hope I didn’t really give the impression that I wouldn’t want to be associated with him, nor that there is any reason for anyone to be afraid of his views.

    To be clear, I am an atheist. But I am one who recognises that his view of the universe may, in fact, be wrong. I am one with Christians in believing that there is an objective reality. I hope, if Christians are right, I shall eventually come to their view. But I just don’t see it.

    My wife is a strong Christian, as are two of my three daughters. All my children went to an explicitly (not just nominally) Christian private school. I generally like and respect the Christians with whom I have occasional contact through these channels.

    I may disagree with Dr Nelson, but from the video I’ve seen so far, I respect him a great deal.

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Member
    @StephenDawson

    Around 1:45 or so into the video presented here Dr Nelson argues for the intellectual freedom to come to a different age-of-the-earth than the 4.6 billion years accepted by his Discovery Institute colleagues. I’m looking forward to seeing where this is going, but so far I applaud and agree with this statement. Even if one is wrong, one should have the intellectual freedom to go where one’s thinking leads.

    Intellectual freedom is nothing if it does not include the freedom to be wrong. Because every so often a ‘wrong’ idea turns out, in the long run, to be right.

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  7. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire

    Over lunch, Paul suggested that the best way for him to offer his thoughts about all the comments and questions raised by these threads would be for him to join Ricochet.

    Of course it would be, I said.

    Obviously.

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  8. Profile Photo Member
    @Pseudodionysius
    ~Paules

    TeamAmerica: I have a question-Pierre Teilhard DeChardin, the French priest/paleontologist, predicted that humanity is evolving into a world-wide mind, which as I recall, he termed a ‘numinous.’

    Also “noosphere” with an umlaut type thing over one of the o’s. The root, I believe, comes from the Greek word gnosis. The idea is that mind and brain are not the same thing. The brain is merely an organ that connects us to “mind” which manifests in human beings as thought. But, no, the noosphere is not the Internet. Be careful lest you stumble into the netherworld between mysticism and science where it’s easy to get lost. · Jun 15 at 5:16am

    Takedown of de Chardin here.

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  9. Profile Photo Member
    @StephenDawson

    From around 8:00 (Mr/Professor/Dr/Your father) Berlinski expounds upon the exciting notion that there may be something more infusing the cosmos than mere random atoms in a vacuum. Such ideas are lovely, but there are many more lovely ideas in the world than there is evidence to give them credence.

    My mind — I like to think at least, and contra the video claims — is open to the possibility of teleology and purposeful design. But in my world view I would need some evidence to bring it from the level of possibility to probability.

    Dr Nelson moves from this to one of his colleague’s forthcoming paper on another type of cell which, he holds, is irreducibly complex. My guess is that in the near future biologists will come up with a plausible pathway to the development of that type of cell under Darwinian conditions.

    But even if they can’t, the present lack of an explanation does not prove the existence of an intelligent designer. It at most proves a lack of human intelligence in working things out.

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  10. Profile Photo Member
    @StephenDawson

    Another to be clear: I do not accuse Dr Nelson of not understanding science. But I do say that there are many creationists who clearly do not understand science. I am not one to think that science, as a scheme for understanding things, rather than as a body of knowledge, can be reduced necessarily to a neat Popperian or other formula. It exists, as with the other hard aspects of human existence and understanding, as an often vain, sometimes successful, attempt to discover objective reality through a variety of techniques including experiment and testing. Through prediction and failure. Through the passage of time to see what has fallen by the wayside, and what has survived.

    But I am immensely irritated when some creationists take to the pulpit promoting childish anti-evolution arguments (which, I imagine, made no appearance whatsoever at this Tuscany conference). I have on my shelf a recent book — The Skeptic’s Guide to God, by one D. Heenan — which is infuriatingly typical. When he appeared at my family’s church, my poor daughters were cringing with embarrassment, although apparently he was convincing to those predisposed to belief.

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  11. Profile Photo Member
    @BillWalsh
    ~Paules

    Also “noosphere” with an umlaut type thing over one of the o’s. The root, I believe, comes from the Greek word gnosis. The idea is that mind and brain are not the same thing. The brain is merely an organ that connects us to “mind” which manifests in human beings as thought. But, no, the noosphere is not the Internet. Be careful lest you stumble into the netherworld between mysticism and science where it’s easy to get lost. · Jun 15 at 5:16am

    Not picking on the estimable Paules, but they pay me the big bucks for linguistic pedantry around here. So…

    The umlauty thing here is a diæresis, which just tells you to pronounce the second vowel separately from the first (e.g., Noël or, say, coöperate in the New Yorker).

    Greek nóos (νόος) is mind, rather than ‘gnosis,’ knowledge. So like noetic rather than gnostic. (From “perceive” rather than “know.”)

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  12. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    Bill Walsh

    Greek nóos (νόος) is mind, rather than ‘gnosis,’ knowledge. So like noetic rather than gnostic. (From “perceive” rather than “know.”)

    I wonder… is it possible that both gnosis and nóos come from the same PIE root *gno-?

    Obviously, gnosis does. But I am not able to scare up an online etymology for noos/nous that goes beyond the Greek νόος, so I don’t know.

    Dropping velars before n’s is not uncommon — we do it with our own word “knowledge”, though we never changed the spelling. But just because nóos looks like gnos- with the g removed proves nothing. Lots of superficially similar words are unrelated, after all.

    I am curious, though.

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    Stephen Dawson:

    But I am immensely irritated when some creationists take to the pulpit promoting childish anti-evolution arguments (which, I imagine, made no appearance whatsoever at this Tuscany conference).

    As a Christian, I am immensely infuriated by this to. I would say it points not only to a lack of scientific understanding, but to a lack of faith as well.

    “Mainstream evolution”, even if wrong (and I have yet to be convinced that it is — I can make no sense of biology without this evolutionary paradigm), has provided biology with immense (some say too much) explanatory power. If it is an incorrect theory, it is not one to be demolished with childish retorts.

    More importantly, if God is really God over All, there is no reason He cannot be God over evolution: for He is God over chance itself.

    Evolution could itself be God’s creation. Chance — which by definition must be “purposeless” in an observable sense — could be God’s servant in ways beyond our observation. To not be able to imagine this seems to me a symptom of profound lack of faith in God’s ability to accomplish His purpose in ways that surpass our understanding.

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Member
    @DuaneOyen
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    …………………..

    “Mainstream evolution”, even if wrong (and I have yet to be convinced that it is — I can make no sense of biology without this evolutionary paradigm), has provided biology with immense (some say too much) explanatory power. If it is an incorrect theory, it is not one to be demolished with childish retorts.

    More importantly, if God is really God over All, there is no reason He cannot be God over evolution: for He is God over chance itself.

    I can’t think of any ID proponents who would disagree with this. The argument is the fundamental philosophical postulate that “the demarcation problem” restricts God to a position as the fantasy feel-good imaginary friend of the Believers, while the adult scientists get on with the real business of science, that is, pure naturalism. Dr. Berlinski always does a wonderful job of lampooning that particular conceit into metaphysical rubble, often using particle physics as the comparative analogue.

    But Midge, your last phrase does come perilously close to “directing chance”, I think. It actually turns Dawkins’ natural selection computer into God’s elected mechanism, providing chance a target to aim at.

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  15. Profile Photo Member
    @GreatGhostofGodel
    Stephen Dawson: My mind — I like to think at least, and contra the video claims — is open to the possibility of teleology and purposeful design. But in my world view I would need some evidence to bring it from the level of possibility to probability.

    Let me highly recommend the book described here, as well as The Physics of Immortality. I would also warn everyone about causal reasoning based on time flying like an arrow. No modern physical theory—not Newton’s, not Einstein’s, not Quantum Mechanics, not String Theory, not Brane Theory, not one of them—posits time flowing only in one direction. The fact that it seems to tells us about the human nervous system, not about why things are the way they are. That’s unbelievably difficult, but absolutely vital, to internalize in order to have a meaningful conversation about “why.”

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  16. Profile Photo Member
    @GreatGhostofGodel
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake I doubt there’s any way to prove God is using chance for anything…

    That’s good, because there’s no such thing as chance. :-)

    I’m content with unprovable things — studying math, I gotta be!

    Arrrrrgh! Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems do not say there are unprovable truths! Let me please recommend Gödel’s Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to its Use and Abuse. “Proofs” only exist in the context of a particular axiomatic system. Something that can’t be proven in one can be provable in a more powerful one. Please see also Probability Theory: The Logic of Science and its comments on Gödel incompleteness.

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Contributor
    @PeterRobinson

    Thank you, Claire–and thanks to your dad and Paul Nelson. More! More!

    And, if I may wade into deep waters, could you ask them if Karl Popper’s definition of scientific propositions as necessarily falsifiable strikes them as valid? I’ve heard it argued that the basic tenet of the Darwinist view is in and of itself unfalsifiable–a mere tautology–more or less as follows:

    Premise: Each evolutionary change in a species confers an adaptive advantage on the species. Question: How do you know that any given adaptive advantage does indeed confer an advantage? Answer: Because evolution selected for it.

    Does this make any sense to Drs. Berlinski and Nelson?

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  18. Profile Photo Member
    @BrianWatt
    Peter Robinson: …

    Premise: Each evolutionary change in a species confers an adaptive advantage on the species. Question: How do you know that any given adaptive advantage does indeed confer an advantage? Answer: Because evolution selected for it. …

    · Jun 15 at 2:11pm

    Peter – Can you provide the source of the stated premise about “adaptive advantage”? I’m asking because I’m not sure that’s a widely held belief or assumption given that upwards of 90% of the species ever created have become extinct. I could be wrong on this but I’d like to look into it if you have a source.

    I would think that the example of Neanderthals might also negate this premise – essentially that evolutionary changes only gave them a temporary advantage or even that some of the changes actually created a disadvantage rather than an advantage for them. And I think swirled up in this would be evolutionary changes that did not take into account severe climatic shifts or other external factors like resistance to viruses and bacteria.

    I’ve heard several evolution experts reject the notion that species are “improving” or being “perfected” over time but merely changing.

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  19. Profile Photo Member
    @StephenDawson

    I’ve heard several evolution experts reject the notion that species are “improving” or being “perfected” over time but merely changing.

    I am certainly no expert, but the orthodox understanding of evolution is indeed that ‘improvement’ or ‘perfection’ in some higher level sense are concepts that are not appropriate.

    Nature is a harsh beast. It may lead some species to a highly specialised mode of existence in a particular environment, and then pull the rug from under it by rapid change to some other environmental condition (including the introduction of a new competitive species, or a new predator species), wiping out the first creatures.

    This is a hard one for humans since we like to think that we have in some sense been perfected. This is a more supportable notion for those with a religious outlook — considering the early chapters of Genesis — but from an evolutionary perspective, we are extraordinary in the same way that other proliferating creatures are: we have been endowed with a set of characteristics which allow us to survive in our environment. We are, perhaps, even more exceptional in that our survival tool — the mind — gives us as a species greater range that others.

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Member
    @StephenDawson
    Paul Snively Let me highly recommend the … The Physics of Immortality. · Jun 16 at 1:29am

    One of the great things about living today is that you can go over to Amazon (as the link takes us) and see what other people think of a book.

    And surely this one must have as wide a dichotomy of view on it as any. Eighty people have reviewed it at Amazon. 27 gave it 5/5, 23 gave it 1/5 (the lowest possible score). Thanks for the recommendation, though.

    A latterly added word if I may: judging from the reviews of this book, the God which Tipler seeks to prove the existence of doesn’t seem to be the present God who, some Christians tell me, offers a personal loving relationship with His people, if only they ask.

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  21. Profile Photo Member
    @StephenDawson
    Paul Snively … Let me highly recommend the book described here … · Jun 16 at 1:29am

    I have always found the anthropic principle singularly unconvincing (the idea that if any of many of the fundamental properties of our universe were even slightly different, we would not be here, so perhaps it was designed for us.)

    One answer includes the cosmological views in which there are a multitude of universes, and we are in the one of the ones conducive to life.

    But I don’t think even that is needed. I today exist in a particular state due to an inconceivably long list of independent events stretching back billions of years, all the way though to the present. A tiny change in any one of an uncountable number of those events would have altered things sufficiently so that my particular state would be not be viable.

    But those things did happen. Looking forward, they were clearly fantastically unlikely. Looking back, they happened. Our particular set of cosmological constants may, in combination, have been unlikely (but against what standard?) But had they not been in place, we wouldn’t be here to wonder whether or not they proved the existence of God.

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  22. Profile Photo Member
    @StephenDawson
    Peter Robinson: … And, if I may wade into deep waters, could you ask them if Karl Popper’s definition of scientific propositions as necessarily falsifiable strikes them as valid? I’ve heard it argued that the basic tenet of the Darwinist view is in and of itself unfalsifiable–a mere tautology–more or less as follows: … · Jun 15 at 2:11pm

    I’m not sure that your example is an illustration of unfalsifiability. It is just one element of how the process of evolution works. In a sense the falsifiability of the modern theory of species formation is established by the existence of intelligent design theory. Should ID be proven to be true, then orthodox evolutionary theory would at least require enormous reworking (as I understand it, many Intelligent Design theorists accept that Darwinian evolution occurs at some level as well).

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  23. Profile Photo Member
    @BrianWatt
    Stephen Dawson

    I’ve heard several evolution experts reject the notion that species are “improving” or being “perfected” over time but merely changing.

    I am certainly no expert, but the orthodox understanding of evolution is indeed that ‘improvement’ or ‘perfection’ in some higher level sense are concepts that are not appropriate.

    This is a hard one for humans since we like to think that we have in some sense been perfected. This is a more supportable notion for those with a religious outlook — considering the early chapters of Genesis — but from an evolutionary perspective, we are extraordinary in the same way that other proliferating creatures are: we have been endowed with a set of characteristics which allow us to survive in our environment. We are, perhaps, even more exceptional in that our survival tool — the mind — gives us as a species greater range that others. · Jun 15 at 3:00pm

    Edited on Jun 15 at 03:09 pm

    Stephen – Thanks so much for expanding and clearly articulating this point. Very well said!

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Stephen Dawson:

    Intellectual freedom is nothing if it does not include the freedom to be wrong. Because every so often a ‘wrong’ idea turns out, in the long run, to be right. · Jun 15 at 5:46am

    Certainly not.

    But I think a lot of the stigma people associated with the Intelligent Design movement complain about facing comes from the impression they give off of being people who start off with a conclusion (of a creator/intelligent designer) and work backwards from there. As opposed to evaluating the evidence, making observations, then predictions, and testing out what fits best. This leads to people like Michael Behe claiming the bacterial flagellum proves evolution wrong, only to have his own claims refuted. In a sense the legacy of the intelligent design movement thus far has been that of strengthening evolutionary theory.

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  25. Profile Photo Member
    @Pseudodionysius

    There is a motherlode of links to Thomist discussions of the ID versus Evolution controversy here.

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Member
    @SouthernPessimist

    This conversation is so over my head, I know I shouldn’t post a comment. It brought to mind to me, however, lines from a somewhat cheesy poem that seem to get to the essence of a discussion of intelligent design versus random scientific forces in creation.

    You have a right to be here. And whether or not this is clear to you, No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
    • #26
  27. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    Duane Oyen

    But Midge, your last phrase does come perilously close to “directing chance”, I think.

    I’m not sure what directing chance means. Could you explain?

    Duane Oyen

    It actually turns Dawkins’ natural selection computer into God’s elected mechanism, providing chance a target to aim at.

    Well, if God created everything and natural selection exists, then God created natural selection. It would then be one of “God’s mechanisms”. Elected? Only elected in the sense that God elects everything He creates for creation out of His lovingkindness.

    I doubt there’s any way to prove God is using chance for anything, or to distinguish between events where “God directs chance” and events where “God doesn’t”. I feel such speculations are unprovable, and I’m content with unprovable things — studying math, I gotta be!

    My gut instinct is that God Himself is a Big Unprovable. But life is more than proofs, and human experience broader than just science, precious as science is. And just as a life with science seems more beautiful to me than a life without science, a life with God at the center of Everything seems more beautiful to me than a life without God.

    • #27
  28. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    Paul Snively

    I’m content with unprovable things — studying math, I gotta be!

    Arrrrrgh! Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems do not say there are unprovable truths! Let me please recommend Gödel’s Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to its Use and Abuse. “Proofs” only exist in the context of a particular axiomatic system. Something that can’t be proven in one can be provable in a more powerful one. Please see also Probability Theory: The Logic of Science and its comments on Gödel incompleteness.

    How should I put this? I was trying to use mathematical unprovability merely as an analogy; I didn’t mean anything more than that by it.

    I’ve studied the incompleteness theorems in school and on my own (though I want to do more with them). I know not to apply them outside of an axiomatic system. What I meant by my remark is that, in learning about them, I also had to learn some epistemological modesty — and this feeling of epistemological modesty (not the theorems themselves) colors my impressions of life in general.

    That is all.

    • #28
  29. Profile Photo Member
    @StephenDawson
    Paul Snively

    Those reviews could only have been written by people who didn’t bother to read the book. · Jun 16 at 12:30pm

    No. they were very detailed, step by step reviews.

    • #29
  30. Profile Photo Member
    @GreatGhostofGodel
    Stephen Dawson No. they were very detailed, step by step reviews.

    I know. They still couldn’t have been written by someone who actually read the book, as Dr. Tipler is at great pains to establish the personhood, omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, and love (!) of the Omega Point, defining all of those terms through a combination of physics, information theory, and economics, complete with an appendix for scientists. A reviewer can say “I don’t understand the argument,” or “My definition of those terms is different.” They can’t claim “Tipler’s God isn’t a Person who loves all of humanity,” at least not if they’re being intellectually honest.

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