Friday, December 22, 2006

Common design

"Now, that said, let me ask: is there any epistemic value in the concept of common design other than co-opt evidence for evolution?"

http://evangelutionist.com/blog1/2006/12/19/science-and-common-design/

i) This is a beautifully anachronistic statement of the issue. The concept of common design doesn't "co-opt" evidence for evolution. For one thing, the concept of common design goes back to the Judeo-Christian concept of divine creation, which antedates the evolutionary debate by centuries and millennia.

All I've done is to apply a traditional teaching to a new issue.

ii) In addition, to say it's co-opting the evidence for evolution begs the question of whether the evidence singles out evolution.

"I think there is not. In practice, the invocation of common design is clear in its utility; as Steve Hays says, why can’t any evidence for common descent simply be evidence for common design? The answer is… it can!"

Which is why the evidence for common descent is not, in fact, evidence for common descent. It's consistent with common decent, but it's consistent with common design. At that level, both explanations are empirically equivalent.

"And that’s precisely the problem. Common design is an infallible, unfalsifiable hypothesis, even in principle, and therefore useless scientifically."

Several more problems:

i) Science is not the sole gateway of truth.

ii) Not all truth is hypothetical.

iii) Why assume that reality is always engineered for the convenience of a scientist? Indeed, that would be a design concept.

"The natural response would be: Ok, what would be evidence that doesn’t support common design? Obviously, not all creatures are exactly alike, so common design allows for differentiation and specialization. What then, would argue against common design as an “explanation” for observed similiarities, functional or no? I don’t see that common design could possible be discounted; it can account for anything, as it invokes an unidentified but infinitely capable Designer."

i) The concept of design antedates ID-theory. And the Judeo-Christian concept of creation does not invoke an "unidentified" Designer.

ii) But suppose this were a debate over ID-theory. T-stone's problem is that because he's a dogmatic theistic evolutionist, he can't even stand the watered-down theism of ID-theory. And that's because some, but not all, ID-theorists are opposed to evolution.

"Such is the poverty of ad-hoc creationism."

The traditional, Judeo-Christian doctrine of divine creation is "ad hoc"?

"If you’re undisciplined in you epistemology, “Goddidit” becomes a reflex, and especially useful as a dismissive defensive weapon."

Notice how t-stone, who poses as a Christian, never takes into consideration the possibility that there are times when, in fact, "Goddidit" is the correct answer. He's a functional atheist.

He doesn't ask, "What is true?" but only "What is scientific?"

He'd rather believe something that's "scientific," but false over something that's true, but "unscientific."

"Vitamin C deficiencies shared across primates? No problem, it’s easily explained by common design, much easier than by common descent, by the way. Homologies? Evidence of common design, just like any other similarities you can name!"

Notice, once again, that he never allows himself to entertain the possibility that even some commonalities might be due to common design. As I say, he's a functional atheist.

Although he poses as a Christian, he regards it as utterly illicit for a Christian to ask himself: "If there is a Creator who designed the world and brought it into being, then what would such a world look like?"

To him, a Christian must never begin with revealed truths.

Instead, a Christian must act as if there is no God, as if we inhabit a godless universe. That's the only "scientific" way of doing science.

"We might suppose we have fine grained transitional evidence for evolving morphology and constitution from one species into a markedly different species."

Except that we don't.

"Would that be enough? No, because every evolved step in the sequence can be accounted for by an intervening miracle, a bit of special creation on God’s part rather than the product of variation and natural processes."

He erects a straw man argument to burn it down.

Incidentally, special creation doesn't disallow natural variations. That's another straw man argument.

"Is it wrong, then, to invoke the idea of 'common design in scientific inquiries like this?"

Two problems:

i) He's assuming that this can only be a "scientific" inquiry.

ii) And he defines science in systematically atheistic terms.

"I won’t say it’s wrong, but I will say that brings the inquiry to a stop in terms of science."

No, just the opposite. If you think something was designed, then that encourages you to look for an explanation rather than treat it as a brute fact or surd event. Belief in design is an impetus to scientific discovery. You only seek a rational explanation if you believe that a rational explanation is available, which assumes the rationality of nature.

"If common design is the reason for the similarities, than science can’t hope to account for them by natural mechanisms; the isomorphisms as the product of arbitrary intelligence, and thus beyond the ken of science."

So the mind of God is equivalent to "arbitrary intelligence."

"Steve Hays can wave away the compelling evidence for our common ancestry"

If, according to t-stone, common descent and common design are empirically equivalent, then there is no compelling evidence for common ancestry. Indeed, by his own admission, there would not even be any *distinctive* evidence for common descent, much less *compelling* evidence.

"In that respect, common design is a recapitulation of the idea of “mature creation” that YECs have adopted in response to the lopsided scientific evidence against their beliefs."

Yet another anachronism. Belief in mature creation was not adopted in response to modern science. This is simply an application of a traditional belief to a modern issue.

"Sure, the universe looks old, but God just created it to look and act billions of years ago, even though He created it all just a few thousand years ago."

i) As I've said before, the universe doesn't look any particular age.

ii) As I've also said before, a theistic evolutionist like t-stone believes quite passionately in a gap between appearance and reality as far as the age of the universe is concerned, only—for him—it's in the opposite direction.

For him, stars look younger than they really are, rather than older than they really are.

"Forced into a bind by the evidence for common descent, creationists invoke common design in the same way they invoked the idea of 'mature creation' when vexed by the overwhelming evidence for an old earth and universe."

i) But if, by his own admission, mature creation is empirically equivalent to the alternative theories of establishment science, then there is no "overwhelming" evidence for an old earth and universe. Indeed, there's no *distinctive* evidence for either.

ii) What t-stone does is to equate achronometic, natural processes with chronometric, artifactual processes, in a completely anthropomorphic fashion.

In t-stone's preschool universe, a rooster exists to tell us the time. And if the rooster doesn't wake him up in time for work, then God is a fraud.

"But they are both the epitome of the ad-hoc “just so” story, appealing to God’s plenary powers as a way out of the evidential vise they are in."

If you want examples of ad hocery, study the many versions of cosmology and evolutionary biology.

25 comments:

  1. Steve,

    Here's the thing. This whole post you're responding to is speaking about scientific investigation. When I ask what epistemic value an explanation has, that's a *scientific* question. In other words, how does this explanation add to the reliability and epistemic confidence of our knowledge?

    If you have an answer -- and you do, so do I -- that explains everything and anything, than it doesn't help you one bit in terms of science. Why, because all questions have the same answer! If all questions have the same answer, there's no meaning to the idea of question. It doesn't operate in a phase space.

    So when you say this:
    Which is why the evidence for common descent is not, in fact, evidence for common descent. It's consistent with common decent, but it's consistent with common design. At that level, both explanations are empirically equivalent.

    That's precisely correct, but only at a superficial level. As I said, an omnipotent God can account for *anything* phenomenologically, so it matches all evidence by it's nature as explanation. But science builds knowledge by ruling things out. The leading theory is properly described as the theory that is hardest to rule out.

    But there's a catch, and I think it escapes you. God is impossible to rule out, so why doesn't the God answer win every time. Because the God hypothesis in science has no way to be falsified. Because of this, the champion theory -- the theory that is hardest to rule out -- must also be *capable* of being ruled out.

    The God hypothesis doesn't have that quality. So it adds no epistemic strength from a scientific standpoint.

    So any "empirical equivalence" is superficial for this reason: common descent is at risk -- always -- of being falsified. One good horse skeleton from the Silurian period and it's all over. Common design isn't at risk at all, ever. And in that sense, they are empirically opposite.

    You say a bit later:
    i) Science is not the sole gateway of truth.

    I don't suppose that it is. As I've said here before, science disavows any claims or knowledge of metaphysical truth. It's strictly limited to natural contexts. As such, science avoids all the most important truths. In my post, I'm addressing common design as a scientific hypothesis. As a matter of science, common design is useless as far as I can tell. As a matter of theology or some other kind of philosophy it may be a featured poster child, and of utmost import and utility.

    You say:
    ii) But suppose this were a debate over ID-theory. T-stone's problem is that because he's a dogmatic theistic evolutionist, he can't even stand the watered-down theism of ID-theory. And that's because some, but not all, ID-theorists are opposed to evolution.
    I don't have a problem with the theism that drives much of the ID movement (not all IDers are theists). My beef with ID is that it is thoroughly non-scientific. At best its a "philosophy of science" critique of mainstream science. And if that's all they advanced it as, I think I would not object. But the ID folks have got themselves thinking they have a scientific leg to stand on here, and they don't.

    It's certainly possible in principle to do this. I can envision real science being deployed -- a true scientific revolution that *would* attest to "the fingerprints of God" as creator of our universe. As it is, any good faith effort in that area is being seriously set back by the shenanigans the ID movement is committed to now. It will be harder than ever for such science to get any credibility after the damage done by Dembski and fellow travelers.

    You said:
    Notice how t-stone, who poses as a Christian, never takes into consideration the possibility that there are times when, in fact, "Goddidit" is the correct answer. He's a functional atheist.

    He doesn't ask, "What is true?" but only "What is scientific?"


    I don't ask who created the universe, as I am confident I know that already -- it's God's world, he created everything that is. But that's not something I arrive at through science. Science is compatible with that understanding, but the means I arrive at that conclusion.

    So I'm quite comfortable "what is true?" in both scientific and non-scientific contexts. Science has a fairly rigid epistemology -- a specific rendering of what it means by "true". And once again, that construal of truth is completely agnostic with respect to metaphysics.

    Which is the reason it's a mistake to say that I'm a "functional atheist" with respect to science. Science is *agnostic* with respect to metaphysics, and thus cannot take a theistic or atheistic stance. I suppose you could say that I'm a "functional agnostic" when doing science, but that's nothing more than a nod to the rules of science. It doesn't suggest that I've lost whatever metaphysical beliefs I have when speaking in terms of science.

    I'm helping my son do his math here, homeschoolers that we are, and I suppose he is being a "functional agnostic" in doing his long division . There's simply no provision for metaphysics in long division, so insofar as he is (or I am) thinking about long division, he's a "functional agnostic". That's how formal systems work!

    Notice, once again, that he never allows himself to entertain the possibility that even some commonalities might be due to common design. As I say, he's a functional atheist.

    I *do* entertain those possibilities. It might be the case, manifestly. I keep saying it over and over: God can do anything. Since that's true, I know that the idea of common design is a plausible explanation.

    It's just useless in terms of science, as it can't be ruled out for *any* phenomena. It's epistemically void in terms of science. If that's what God did, just like mature creation, science will have no way to tell. It will be completely unable to identify that case, as God would be working against the causal relationships and physical processes that science investigates.

    Although he poses as a Christian, he regards it as utterly illicit for a Christian to ask himself: "If there is a Creator who designed the world and brought it into being, then what would such a world look like?"

    To him, a Christian must never begin with revealed truths.


    I understand God to be the creator of the Universe. Furthermore, I hold this to be a supernaturally revealed truth through God's Word. And I'm fascinated and awed by the glory and wonder of God's creation, and continually interested in learning more about how God did what he did. That's why I find science to be such a interesting and rewarding field -- it reveals bits and pieces of knowledge about how God structured and ordered creation.

    Those aren't illicit questions in my view. Those are natural and important questions for any person to ask.

    Instead, a Christian must act as if there is no God, as if we inhabit a godless universe. That's the only "scientific" way of doing science.

    Not at all. No acting necessary. No denial of God needed. Science is agnostic -- it has no opinions about the supernatural. It's a completely naturalistic epistemology. I'm just hoping this gets through one of these times. Christians go to their jobs every day as scientists and researchers. They don't need to deny God to do their work. The simply constrain their efforts to a sceintific episemology. God created the laws of the universe, and studying them is form of worship, not denial.

    You say:
    i) He's assuming that this can only be a "scientific" inquiry.


    Not at all. You're free to make non-scientific arguments. I do it all the time. But if you *do* attempt to speak in terms of science, common design is a useless theory. It may be correct, but science can possible rule it in or out.


    ii) And he defines science in systematically atheistic terms.

    (Sigh). Agnostic, Steve. Agnostic. Science is agnostic. It's a little hard to take anything you say on science seriously when you routinely fall down on the basics here.

    Out of time for now. I'll try to get back to this later this evening.

    -Touchstone

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  2. I have to say, I have truly enjoyed the various interactions between Steve and touchstone on Triablogue and I feel like I am learning a lot, so I would like to say thanks to these two brothers.

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  3. Steve said:
    No, just the opposite. If you think something was designed, then that encourages you to look for an explanation rather than treat it as a brute fact or surd event. Belief in design is an impetus to scientific discovery. You only seek a rational explanation if you believe that a rational explanation is available, which assumes the rationality of nature.

    Consider this hypothetical: the earth was "poofed" into existence 6,000 years ago by God. It looks old, acts old, yet it's young, per God's powers. Now, as a scientist, how do you propose that we might learn more than that about the process of creation? If this kind of creation, this design for the world is what actually happened, how is that impetus for additional discovery.

    Do we start researching how God acts supernaturally to perform miracles? How do we scientifically proceed in this case?

    If that's what happened, there's no point in proceeding scientifically as to the mechanisms of creation. It's a supernatural phenomenon. And the role of science has vanished from the picture.

    That's not a problem. But it is a fact. Suggesting that's a spur for science is silly. That's where science bows out.

    Steve said:
    If, according to t-stone, common descent and common design are empirically equivalent, then there is no compelling evidence for common ancestry. Indeed, by his own admission, there would not even be any *distinctive* evidence for common descent, much less *compelling* evidence.

    If you are simply inclined to say "Goddidit" as the explanation for any given phenomena, then there's no *distinctive* evidence for *anything*, *anywhere*. Do we have evidence for gravity pulling us to the center of the planet? Yes, but it's not distinctively evidence for gravity in Steve's model, because, well, God could just be providing all the miraculous ad-hoc forces that just *look* like like evidence for gravity. God *is* all-powerful, right?

    So yes, if miraculous intervention by an omnipotent God is the preferred answer for any scientific question, then there is no distinctive evidence for any scientific theory. God's miraculous powers can account for anything.

    Science operates on the assumption that nature obeys physical laws and constraints.

    Steve said:
    Yet another anachronism. Belief in mature creation was not adopted in response to modern science. This is simply an application of a traditional belief to a modern issue.

    The ancients didn't have scientific evidence for an ancient earth and universe, so any belief on their part wasn't over against the evidences like those that Hubble provided. It *is* novel now. Never before the 20th century has Christianity (or significant parts of it at least) denied the evidence of nature as it has in the last 100 years. YECs may be right, but they are completely new on the scene in terms of the mountains of scientific evidence they reject.

    Steve said:
    i) As I've said before, the universe doesn't look any particular age.

    ii) As I've also said before, a theistic evolutionist like t-stone believes quite passionately in a gap between appearance and reality as far as the age of the universe is concerned, only—for him—it's in the opposite direction.

    For him, stars look younger than they really are, rather than older than they really are.


    Well, here's a simple question, Steve. How old are the stars, really? I gave the example earlier of supernova SN1987A, and how it is measured out at approximately 170,000 years old. I'm agreeing with the conclusion of the astronomers that studied it -- the original star went supernova about 170,000 years ago, and the light just finished the trip to earth in February 1987.

    Is my affirmation of 170,000 years too little, too much, or just right? If it's not right, what science are you basing this on?

    Steve said:
    i) But if, by his own admission, mature creation is empirically equivalent to the alternative theories of establishment science, then there is no "overwhelming" evidence for an old earth and universe. Indeed, there's no *distinctive* evidence for either.

    Right. As above, mature creation may be correct, but it's purely useless as a matter of science. It inherently non-scientific. See my above comments as to why.

    Steve said:
    ii) What t-stone does is to equate achronometic, natural processes with chronometric, artifactual processes, in a completely anthropomorphic fashion.

    No idea what this means. What's being anthropomorphized here?

    Steve said:
    In t-stone's preschool universe, a rooster exists to tell us the time. And if the rooster doesn't wake him up in time for work, then God is a fraud.

    Missed the cleverness hidden in here, too, alas.

    -Touchstone

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  4. B O R I N G

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  5. Touchstone said:
    ---
    If you have an answer -- and you do, so do I -- that explains everything and anything, than it doesn't help you one bit in terms of science. Why, because all questions have the same answer! If all questions have the same answer, there's no meaning to the idea of question. It doesn't operate in a phase space.
    ---

    If this disqualifies God in your book, then it ought to disqualify natural selection too.

    Remember, Darwin himself defined "natural selection" as being equivelent to "survival of the fittest."

    Survival is defined as "leaving offspring." Remember, survival is not refering to individuals, but to the species as a whole. The species has to have offspring.

    Fitness is defined as "leaving offspring." Fitness has no bearing, in evolution, on any characteristic. The only measurement we have is whether or not the species continues.

    Thus, survival of the fittest is merely saying "Organisms that have offspring are organisms that have offspring."

    This is an empty tautology. It results in "all questions hav[ing] the same answer!"

    Granting that your original position regarding whether such a thing would actually be unuseful, how does evolution escape the hatchet you've tried to bring down on creationism?

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  6. Or, to put it another way, how can you use the tautology of natural selection to either predict or explain anything?

    If science is about prediction and explaining, natural selection is not science.

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  7. Calvindude,

    Maybe this will help clear things up. Darwin, in The Origin of Species introduced two terms as a matched pair: 'natural selection' and 'artificial selection'. 'Artificial selection' Darwin illustrated with a farmer's choice of which of his stock gets to breed. 'Natural selection' was offered as the 'natural' alternative, with the natural environment determining who survived and reproduced.

    That's it. There's nothing problematic about those definitions.

    Just as an aside, I don't believe Darwin used the term "survival of the fittest", at least in his original publication of The Origin of Species. Rather I think an economist named Spencer popularized the term, and drew parallels between it and Darwin's term "natural selection", parallels which Darwin later affirmed.

    At any rate, calling it "natural selction" or "survival of the fittest", it's just a description of the way nature works. If I said "championship of the best teams", it would be similarly tautologous as a baseball adage, and similarly not a problem. In both cases, we are describing a normative process, that's all. The World Series produces -- definitionally -- best team in the league, and the environment produces the most fit organisms among all the candidates.

    Saying that baseball works on the "championship of the best team" is nothing more than a nod to the fact that "champion" defines "best", just as "survival" defines "fittest". Anytime you have a process that is definitional, you have a similar tautology -- that's how definitions work.

    That said, I haven't a clue what problem you see in this. Natural selection is definitional, and in an ex post facto sense. It's *not* predictive in the least. Natural selection is just a description of the results.

    Why you're thinking natural selection is itself predictive, I don't know. If it's definitional, it's not empirically predictive. Those two are mutually exclusive.

    Maybe you can point me at where you see "natural selection" being used to make empirical predictions rather than descriptions of results, and we can go from there.

    -Touchstone

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  8. Touchstone,

    Yes, Herbert Spencer coined the term. However, Darwin specifically linked it to his term Natural Selection (chapter four of "On The Origin of Species"):

    "This preservation of favorable individual differences and variations, I have called Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest."

    This was not in the original edition of On The Origin of Species, but Darwin obviously considered the two to be the same thing in the updated versions.

    Anyway, you said:
    ---
    At any rate, calling it "natural selction" or "survival of the fittest", it's just a description of the way nature works.
    ---

    No it isn't. It doesn't describe anything. It simply says that nature did it. In other words, it's the same emptiness you decry in "Goddidit." Natural selection = nature did it.

    Touchstone said:
    ---
    Why you're thinking natural selection is itself predictive, I don't know.
    ---

    Man, I sure wish you would learn to read some time.

    I never said it was predictive. I specifically said it wasn't. Now go back and read what I said in the previous post. If science deals with predictions (as it does) and if natural selection is not predictive, then natural selection is not science.

    This is really a simple thing to grasp if you stop your knee-jerk reactions and pay attention. See:

    1) Science deals with predictions.

    2) Natural selection cannot predict anything.

    3) Therefore, natural selection is not science.

    Secondly, I would also argue that natural selection does not give us explanation either. All it says is that "naturedidit" and nothing more. How did nature do it? Doesn't matter--it only matters that we rule out anything supernatural no matter what.

    So:

    1) Science deals with explanations.

    2) Natural selection doesn't explain anything.

    3) Therefore, natural selection isn't science.

    Again, this is a simple concept. Natural selection is neither predictive nor explanatory; it is therefore not science.

    Finally, your argument that natural selection is merely a definitional tautology doesn't help you at all. What does it define?

    Organisms that produce offspring are organisms that produce offspring.

    This definition doesn't prove evolution. It doesn't demonstrate anything other than organisms that produce offspring are organisms that produce offspring.

    Plug it into an argument and see how far you get:

    1) Organisms that produce offspring...etc.

    2) Evolution states organisms will produce offspring.

    3) Special creation states organisms will produce offspring without using evolution.

    4) 2 & 3 are both true under 1.

    5) Therefore, 1 has no bearing on the actual argument between 2 & 3.

    So you can keep your empty tautology, Touchstone. It doesn't solve anything for you. Natural selection is an impotent tautology that proves nothing. It exists solely as a rhetorical techinique to trick people into thinking there is substance in nothing.

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  9. Calvindude,

    Natural selection is explanatory, and when combined with the process of variation, it's part of what is possibly the single most important scientific explanation ever to be advanced, right up there with "everything is made up out of atoms" and "[internal] time slows down with increasing velocity".

    Here's a couple sentences from the Wikipedia entry on natural selection:

    Natural selection by itself is a simple concept, in which fitness differences between phenotypes play a crucial role.

    However, the interplay of the actual selection mechanism with the underlying genetics is where the explanatory power of natural selection comes from.

    (emphasis mine)

    Darwin proposed that heritable variation produced different alleles, and that natural selection -- the process of competition in nature for survival and the chance to reproduce -- combined with this variation explained how we came to have the diverse forms of living organisms that exist and have existed.

    So, you couldn't be more wrong. It's the "mother of all explanations", at least if you ask your local biologists. Without variation, natural selection doesn't explain much, if anything. But that's not how it's been advanced. From the beginning, Darwin advanced heritable variation matched with natural selection as the basic explanation of how the species came to be.

    And as long as we're at it, I should mention that this explanation is fundamentally different from an explanation that proposes that an omniscient God miraculously intervened. Darwin's explanation is trivially falsified, and the God explanation is perfectly unfalsifiables. If it were to turn out that there was no such thing as heritable variation, or that the allele for every animal were identical, or that changes in the allele had no possible bearing on the organisms potential for survival, Darwin's explanation would be dismissed, and you'd have never even known his name.

    If you talk to your friendly local biologist, she will likely describe fitness as a statistical disposition, and that this what breaks natural selection out of simply being a bit of circular explanation. Because fitness is a *statistical* property, fitness is ascribed to the allele rather than the organism itself.

    That means that a mutation in a wolf may lead to a much improved kind of fur -- a bit warmer, lighter, and water resistant, for example. Now, the variation accounts for the mutation that gave rise to this feature, and natural selection provides the explanation of the *statistical* advantage this change engenders in the wild.

    That's a key consideration, because if it's statistical, this beneficial change can still be wiped out in the wild -- the baby wolf with the extra warm and light fur may just be happened upon a fortunate predator who enjoys the young wolf for its lunch.

    In this case, Darwin explained that the variation represented a *statistical* advantage only -- natural selection is a *statistical* process, rather than a deterministic one. It's still definitional -- the winners are those that are defined to have won -- and tautologous in that sense, but it is this statistical relationship with the dynamics of variation that provided the revolutionary explanation in biology.


    -Touchstone

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  10. Sorry, a last comment that may help you understand this, Calvindude...

    When you said:
    1) Organisms that produce offspring...etc.

    2) Evolution states organisms will produce offspring.

    3) Special creation states organisms will produce offspring without using evolution.

    4) 2 & 3 are both true under 1.

    5) Therefore, 1 has no bearing on the actual argument between 2 & 3.


    There's an error in 4), because you've oversimplified 1) in attempts to make it look inert. 2) and 3) are not both true under 1), if 1) is Darwin's idea of natural selection, because of the statistical nature of the selection process connecting it with varying alleles.

    Variation + natural selection propose that production of a new allele will have a statistical bearing on the fitness of the organism. As such, natural selection is an *expression* of variation. So 2) matches up with 1) as it provides a model for the variation that natural selection needs to produce statistically different results based on different alleles.

    3) doesn't provide a model for that variation, as you've expressly said it happens "without evolution". So it can't account for the statistical differences that are identified by natural selection, as it doesn't have the variation component that the natural selection uses as its input.

    If you can grasp this, then I think you have a handle on why natural selection is particularly tied to evolution, and not simply an observation that the "winners were the winners". I'm no expert on special creation, but I'm not familiar with how it would provide the input for the statistical advantages/disadvantages that provide the explanatory benefits for natural selection. If you can point me at the part of the theory of special creation that does this, I'd be obliged.

    -Touchstone

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  11. And it is a very good plan12/23/2006 11:04 AM

    Hey Touchstone. This article by J P Holding is EXTREMELY pertinent to the discussion you are having.

    He says it provides "a knockdown argument against the claim that homologous structures argue against intelligent design or special creation"!

    http://www.creationontheweb.com/content/view/4781

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  12. Very Good Plan,

    Thanks for the referral. I looked at the article, and would just say two things.

    First, this is misgiven:

    We can apply this analysis to a major evolutionary argument:
    1) If organisms X and Y have a common ancestor, they will have homologous structures;
    2) X and Y have homologous structures;
    3) X and Y have a common ancestor.

    This demonstrates that it is an example of the fallacy of affirming the consequent. The conclusion is not proven—the homologous structures could be due to a common designer, leaving a ‘biotic message’ that there is a single designer of life rather than many.2


    Evolution doesn't consider homologies a distinctive proof -- saltational theories would produce the same kinds of homologies. Rather, homologies are held out as a prediction of the theory. If Evolutionary theory is correct, structural and morphological homologies should be found, and in abundance.

    And so they are. That doesn't mean that other theories cannot also incorporate homologous structures as part of their predictions about how organisms should be constituted. In science, multiple theories often appeal to the same evidence and same predictions, causing an overlap. That's not a problem, so long as the theories can be differentiated and evaluated based on their distinctives.

    So saltational theories or other hypotheses that work from the idea of full genetic "front-loading" would also anticipate homologies. Evolutionary theory prevails over these theories not because of homologies -- they are a shared feature of those theories, but on the evaluation of points where they don't agree -- the role and mechanism of mutations in this case, for example.


    Second, as I said in comments to Steve, a "common design" argument can ride on top of *any* physical process argument. With an omnipotent God in view, there are no distinctive evidences; all evidence for all phenomena can be attributed to special intervention by an omnipotent God. This article is insisting on the "God explains all" hypothesis that Steve relies on. That's their right, as it is Steve's, but it's completely useless scientifically, because it explains all phenomena in all contexts.

    -Touchstone

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  13. Touchstone said:
    ---
    So, you couldn't be more wrong. It's [natural selection] the "mother of all explanations", at least if you ask your local biologists.
    ---

    Oh really?

    Let us look at this in a real-world example then.

    A man is faithful to his wife. The evolutionist says it is because nature has selected for that man to exist, since stable families are better socially.

    Another man is unfaithful to his wfie. The evolutionist says it is because nature has selected for that man to exist, since people need to spread their genes as far as possible.

    A third man simply decides to rape every woman. The evolutionist says it is because nature has selected for that man to exist for the same reason that the unfaithful man exists: to spread genes far and wide.

    That looks a lot like "naturedidit" to me. Contradictory things are both "proven" by the same assertion. How is this an "explanation" in any sense of the word?

    Or let me give you another example. My brother, my cousin, and I went to the Denver Museum of History and Science (or, as I call it, the Temple for Naturalistic Darwinism) about a year ago. As you go through the dinosaur exhibit, you get to a section on evolution. They had a computer game there to "prove" natural selection.

    How did it work? You had moths, some dark, others bright. Some were flashing, others weren't. The object of the game was for you to catch as many moths as you could.

    After you caught a certain number, the game would pause for a minute and produce a new generation of moths, based on the moths that were still surviving. Then, you repeated. This continued until you had a population quite unlike the original population.

    My brother, cousin, and I wrecked the theory. We knew what the intention of the game was--to evolve dark, non-flashing moths. So we purposely killed them off until all that were left were bright, flashing moths.

    But guess what? That "proved" natural selection too! Because the "environment" was against the dark, non-flashing moths when my bro, cousin, and I played.

    In other words, no matter what outcome happened, natural selection would be "proven" correct.

    That is simply another way of saying that natural selection is defined as true regardless of any evidence.

    But if you're going to take that approach, then you have to realize that there is no link between evidence and the theory. That is, the theory is true no matter what. There is no way to "prove" this theory because there is no evidence that can prove it correct; it simply must be true no matter what.

    This means it's a tautology, which means that your obfuscation aside, my point stands.

    Touchstone said:
    ---
    That's a key consideration, because if it's statistical, this beneficial change can still be wiped out in the wild -- the baby wolf with the extra warm and light fur may just be happened upon a fortunate predator who enjoys the young wolf for its lunch.
    ---

    Which is exactly why survival of the fittest is really survival of the lucky.

    Evolutionists play a shell game with the term "fittest" here. It has nothing to do with the popular conception of fitness, yet in order for the propoganda of evolution to work, the connotations have to be there.

    Touchstone said:
    ---
    There's an error in 4), because you've oversimplified 1) in attempts to make it look inert.
    ---

    Oh, is THAT all we have to do now. Well, YOU'RE wrong because you're oversimplifying 1) in an attempt to make it look potent.

    Touchstone said:
    ---
    Variation + natural selection propose that production of a new allele will have a statistical bearing on the fitness of the organism.
    ---

    I've given up on Touchstone being able to follow any argument. But there may be lurkers reading this, so I shall proceed.

    Variation must be added to natural selection (which means that even Touchstone realizes natural selection doesn't work as a whole).

    Of course, variations can be either good or bad. How do we know if a variation is beneficial to the organism? If the organism survives.

    Those that survive are those that survive. Once again, we're stuck with the same empty tautology, never able to move beyond it.

    This is the power of Darwin's "natural selection"--it all relates to a tautology that is true. But it is the weakness of that term--it's a trivial truth that is true for every theory, from special creation to the hopeful monster theory. Whatever survives is what survives regardless of how it survives.

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  14. Calvindude,

    Looking back at previous threads with young earthers, I found a link I pointed to from Answers In Genesis, of all places. The article is called "Arguments we think creationists should NOT use".

    In this article, the AiG team have the following, under the heading Natural Selection Is A Tautology:

    Natural selection is in one sense a tautology. Who are the fittest? Those who survive and leave the most offspring. Who survive and leave the most offspring? The fittest. But a lot of this is semantic wordplay, and depends on how the matter is defined, and for what purpose the definition is raised. There are many areas of life in which circularity and truth go hand in hand. For example, what is electric charge? That quality of matter on which an electric field acts. What is an electric field? A region in space that exerts a force on electric charge. But no one would claim that the theory of electricity is thereby invalid and can’t explain how motors work; it is only that circularity cannot be used as independent proof of something. To harp on the issue of tautology can become misleading, if the impression is given that something tautological therefore doesn’t happen. Of course the environment can “select,” just as human breeders select. But demonstrating this doesn’t mean that fish could turn into philosophers by this means. The real issue is the nature of the variation, the information problem. Arguments about tautology distract attention from one of the real weaknesses of neo-Darwinism—the source of the new information required. Given an appropriate source of variation (for example, an abundance of created genetic information with the capacity for Mendelian recombination), replicating populations of organisms would be expected to be capable of some adaptation to a given environment, and this has been demonstrated amply in practice.

    Natural selection is also a useful explanatory tool in creationist modeling of post-Flood radiation with speciation (see Q&A: Natural Selection).


    I offer this in hopes that the same argument I've been making here -- natural selection *is* tautologous in a sense (as a standalone), but in concert with variation becomes a component of an explanatory framework -- coming from your guys at AiG might better headway in clearing this issue up for you.

    The AiG guys use the example of electric charge, which I think works fine to illustrate. Elliot Sober has used Newton's second law (F=ma) as a similar example of a tautology, a tautology which is only superficially a tautology (when F, m and a are all defined independently, the law becomes explanatory in defining their relationship.)

    What the AiG guys are advising here is good advice, and I affirm this quote here specifically, and that particle web page (the arguments that should NOT be used) generally.

    With respect to your examples, you're confusing the explanation being offered for natural selection.

    When you say:
    Contradictory things are both "proven" by the same assertion. How is this an "explanation" in any sense of the word?

    The outcomes are not at all contradictory. They are simply different outcomes based on different input. If I calculate the sine of the number 3, I get "0.052335956242943832722118629609078". if I take the sine of the number 4, I get something different - "0.069756473744125300775958835194143".

    Those are just as "contradictory" as your different outcomes with the moths. Should we dispense with the sine function in our maths?

    Natural selection is *function*, and hence, given different starting conditions (alleles), will produce different outcomes, given the same environment (selective filter). If you change the environment, then you will get different outcomes as well.

    Or, change the mass, and your force is different. Change the acceleration, and the same thing happens. Natural selection is a description of the relationship between input phenotypes and output phenotypes -- a function.

    Hope that helps!

    -Touchstone

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  15. Touchstone said:
    ---
    I offer this in hopes that the same argument I've been making here -- natural selection *is* tautologous in a sense (as a standalone), but in concert with variation becomes a component of an explanatory framework -- coming from your guys at AiG might better headway in clearing this issue up for you.
    ---

    A) They're not "my guys" at AiG. AiG is not my authority. I do not vet my theories based on what AiG says. I could care less what they say, I only care if it matches up to what is true.

    B) Let's suppose I cave here and say, "You're right, natural selection is a tautology that means something more than just a tautology." For some reason, I doubt you'll see that your exact arguments against the impotency of the tautology of Natural Selection work against the impotency of the tautology of "God did it." Remember, YOU--not me--brought up the issue in the first place. It was YOU who claimed the impotency of "Goddidit" while embracing "naturedidit" instead.

    Why do these arguments only work against the theist and not against your position?

    In other words, if you are correct in saying that natural selection is more than an empty tautology, then why isn't the assertion that God did it?

    (Oh, and to clear up any misconception, I'm not caving on this point; but since I want you to answer the above question first, I will refrain from responding to the rest until you do so.)

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  16. BTW, I believe that Calvindude is an OEC. So, pace Touchstone's insinuation, it's not as if Calvindude is getting his talking points from a YEC website.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Calvindude,

    You said:
    B) Let's suppose I cave here and say, "You're right, natural selection is a tautology that means something more than just a tautology." For some reason, I doubt you'll see that your exact arguments against the impotency of the tautology of Natural Selection work against the impotency of the tautology of "God did it." Remember, YOU--not me--brought up the issue in the first place. It was YOU who claimed the impotency of "Goddidit" while embracing "naturedidit" instead.

    Natural Selection is liable to falsification. That's what separates it from the "Goddidit" answer, and makes it fundamentally valuable in terms of science, where "Goddidit" is not. (And for Steve, who is prone to problems with switching into and out of thinking sceintifically, "Goddidit" *is* a fundamentally valuable answer in non-scientific contexts).

    For example, if experiments showed that variation had no observable correlation or impact on survival or fecundity, then we could dispense with the idea of of natural selection as an explanatory principle in the evolutionary model. Evolution is so thorough dependent on this interaction between heritable variation and environment that it would have to be scrapped completely, or at least restructured so completely that the theory would be unrecognizable from the classic scaffolding of evolution.

    In other words, if experimental observation showed that variations in beak sizes for Darwin's finches on the Galapagos had no statistical bearing on their survival, and that no other variations in their heritable traits had any statistical impact on their survival -- either negative or positive -- then this would falsify the explanation of natural selection, certainly for Darwin's finches, and would cast doubt on natural selection generally.

    If subsequent experiments also failed to demonstrate a correlation between heritable variations and probabilities for survival, across the board -- all kinds of species and environments -- then natural selection would be thoroughly falsified, and it would be back to the drawing board for evolutionary theory. Or, more precisely, back to the drawing board to begin afresh with a whole new theory.

    That kind of liability does not exist for Steve's conjecture that the explanation might be common design. There's no way in *principle*, not just in practical terms, but even *conceivably* that we would be able to say "This falsifies the idea of common design". This is due to the source of Steve's solution -- an omnipotent God. By virtue of God's omnipotence, there's no observational context that can't be accounted for by appealing to an omnipotent God. Natural selection, on the other hand, is just an emergent function that proceeds from lower level physical laws and processes. If evolutionary theorists have misidentified the processes involved there will be practical ways to tell that the explanation provided by natural selection is incorrect.

    So, just in case you were to hypothetically suspend your objections to perceived logical problems with the structure of natural selection, that is why it is fundamentally superior to "Goddidit" in terms of science. It has liabilities to falsification that make it risky, and their for epistemically valuable if it is not falsified by the evidence.

    -Touchstone

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  18. Steve said:
    BTW, I believe that Calvindude is an OEC. So, pace Touchstone's insinuation, it's not as if Calvindude is getting his talking points from a YEC website.

    If I recall from reading Calvindude's blog, he's "apathetic and agnostic" toward age of the earth issues. I don't recall him declaring himself an OEC, but I've only read a bit of his words.

    In any case, I don't hold out AiG as being a spokesman for anyone but themselves. The reason I think AiG's discouraging of the "tautology" complaint is meaningful is because there is *noone* more hostile to evolution than those guys. Calvindude may be an OEC, or not -- I don't care -- but it doesn't matter either way here, as I'm saying that even the most hardcore, strident critics of evolution will acknowledge that this isn't a meaningful line of pursuit.

    If you think they would give evolutionary theory a pass on this one just to be affable or charitable, you obviously haven't read much of Ham or Safarti.

    Even out at the extremes of anti-evolutionary criticism, this argument is discouraged. That is what I thought was worth commending to Calvindude.

    -Touchstone

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  19. Steve said:
    ---
    BTW, I believe that Calvindude is an OEC.
    ---

    Technically, I would be agnostic on the age of the Earth :-)

    I don't have any problem with an old Earth on the face of it. However, I do have lots of problems with the science involved in determining the age of the Earth. I also think that gradualistic Darwinists have vastly overstated the strength of their evidence for an old Earth.

    So my answer to "How old is the Earth?" is: Nobody knows and it doesn't really matter.

    Touchstone said:
    ---
    Natural Selection is liable to falsification.
    ---

    How?

    Touchstone said:
    ---
    For example, if experiments showed that variation had no observable correlation or impact on survival or fecundity, then we could dispense with the idea of of natural selection as an explanatory principle in the evolutionary model.
    ---

    Let's get this straight then, Touchstone. You say that variation is what is testable in the above, and that testing variation will enable you to determine if natural selection is falsifiable.

    If variation <> natural selection, then how does this falsify natural selection? All it would do is falsify variation.

    Unless you agree that variation is simply a synonym for natural selection (as Darwinist use the two terms), in which case my original point about them being empty tautologies still stands....

    Touchstone continued:
    ---
    Evolution is so thorough dependent on this interaction between heritable variation and environment that it would have to be scrapped completely, or at least restructured so completely that the theory would be unrecognizable from the classic scaffolding of evolution.
    ---

    Evolution is?

    I think you mean gradualistic Darwinism. That philosophy is what is tied to this mechanism. Evolution occurs all the time apart from Darwinistic frameworks. (But then again, Darwinists like to trade on the public's misunderstanding that all evolution must mean Darwinism--they bank on propaganda, not science.)

    Touchstone said:
    ---
    In other words, if experimental observation showed that variations in beak sizes for Darwin's finches on the Galapagos had no statistical bearing on their survival, and that no other variations in their heritable traits had any statistical impact on their survival -- either negative or positive -- then this would falsify the explanation of natural selection, certainly for Darwin's finches, and would cast doubt on natural selection generally.
    ---

    This wouldn't falsify anything. The Darwinist would merely say, "Beak size isn't a survivability advantage. Instead, it's bird metabolism that is chosen for" or any other thing needed. That's the whole point! With natural selection, whatever survives proves natural selection! It doesn't matter how they survive; if they do, it's because nature selected for that trait.

    That is why it's impossible to falsify it. The only way to falsify natural selection is if everything died, period.

    But aside from that, this is an interesting example you bring up for another reason. You are now camping on adaptations and pretending that the method of adaptation is equivalent to the method by which a new species, for instance, would evolve.

    The finch beak does not demonstrate any genetic mutation at all. It demonstrates variety within the present gene pool. But ask any animal husbandry farmer how far he can go, and you'll see there are limits.

    You can breed a dog to run faster...but only up to a point. At the point where it hits the wall inherent in the gene pool, it cannot "evolve" any further until there is a mutation.

    This goes back to your illustration of the wolf with a longer coat too. The length of hair in a species of wolf varies a great deal within the current gene pool. But consider what you cannot do. You cannot breed a wolf with neon-green fur, no matter how much "selection" you do.

    The only way to get neon-green fur is to have a mutation occur.

    If you have "proven" anything, it is only that which is not in doubt in the first place.

    All dogs, whether small poodles or huge great danes, are still dogs. There's a great variety in size and shape. But you don't get a dog with wings, for instance. That takes something else: mutation.

    So all the illustrations you've given for "natural selection" can only select for things already present in the gene pool. This doesn't prove species-to-species evolution at all.

    The Darwinist cop-out is to say, given enough time there will be a mutation; but seriously, how much time does a Darwinist have? Even if the Earth if 4.5 billion years old, mammals have only been around for about 65 million years. That means that we have to have a great rate of mutations occuring such that these little shrew-like creatures could mutate into every single kind of mammal that we have right now.

    Bear in mind, we have no evidence for any beneficial mutations; all we have evidence for is the ability to drive toward a specific goal within a currently existing gene pool.

    Furthermore, note that the Darwinian concept of natural selection works to decrease variety, not increase it. Thus, the weak die off; variety is lessened. If this is a perpetual thing, why did the variety occur in the first place?

    For the trillions of species of animals that currently exist or have existed in the past, wouldn't there need to be an extremely high rate of mutations occuring today? Not detrimental mutations--mutations that provide a surivability advantage? Where are all these good mutations?

    And this also begs the question: if survivability is the ultimate goal, then why evolve from a nearly immortal single cell creature in the first place? As Gould pointed out, it is bacteria--not humans--that natural selection would say are the most successful organisms on Earth.

    In any case, continuing, Touchstone said:
    ---
    If subsequent experiments also failed to demonstrate a correlation between heritable variations and probabilities for survival, across the board -- all kinds of species and environments -- then natural selection would be thoroughly falsified, and it would be back to the drawing board for evolutionary theory.
    ---

    A theory that claims to be true for all cases is refuted if one case is proven wrong. Darwinism is such a theory; therefore, we would not need to prove it in all cases for all species.

    Touchstone said:
    ---
    If evolutionary theorists have misidentified the processes involved there will be practical ways to tell that the explanation provided by natural selection is incorrect.
    ---

    Not when Darwinists want it to be true. None of my objections that I've brought forth are unique to me. Yet none of them are answered by Darwinists. Darwinists just assume the fight is over and these questions don't need to be answered.

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  20. Calvindude,

    You overlooked what I said regarding the finches. I used the beaks as a (famous) example of heritable traits that become meaningful in the selection process, but I also added this:

    and that no other variations in their heritable traits had any statistical impact on their survival -- either negative or positive -- then this would falsify the explanation of natural selection, certainly for Darwin's finches, and would cast doubt on natural selection generally.

    The emphasized part there is key, and you rolled right over it. If experiments can't show *any* statistical relationship between heritable traits and survival, then natural selection would be dismissed as an explanation -- falsified.

    You can spin yarns about conspiracies and coverups all you want, but the fact remains, experimental results that showed *no* statistical relationship between *any* heritable variations and survival would thoroughly refute Darwin's proposed explanation.

    -Touchstone

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  21. Touchstone,

    You are still failing to grasp the problem. Your emphasized section does absolutely nothing to alter my argument.

    Suppose that a finch gained a bigger beak, but yet it still died. The Darwinist will simply claim that a bigger beak was not a survival advantage. The Darwinist can merely chose a different trait.

    Of course, you recognize the problem this would arise. Which is why you are trying to muddy the waters. Now you claim that if we find no correlation between beak size and "no other variations in their heritable traits had any statistical impact on their survival", then natural selection is falsified.

    But of course, to know there are "no other variations..." one must be omniscient with regards to the species in question. You are saying that natural selection can only be falsified by proving a universal negative, which is impossible to do, and thus natural selection is impossible to falsify based on your own critera, which means it has no different epistemic value according to your own criteria than saying "God did it."

    Natural selection cannot be falsified because it is a puddy that covers every possible variation.

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  22. Calvindude,

    You are hung up on extremes once again. I didn't suggest that it was needed or possible to negate every possible variation. Rather, if the evidence starts piling up, experiment after experiment, all failing to show any statistical relationship, feature after feature, population after population, environment after environment, species after species, the weight of the evidence becomes compelling that natural selection is failed explanation -- it would be jettisoned.

    That's why I scoped it to finches specifically in the example, and said it would cast doubt on the general explanation of natural selection. If further tests all return negative results with respect to relationship between allelic variations and survival, then natural selection would be summarily dispatched.

    No "universal negatives" needed, or contemplated here. Simply a resounding consilience of experimental evidence that failed to demonstrate what natural selection explains.

    Falsified, in practical, everyday-science terms.

    -Touchstone

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  23. Touchstone said:
    ---
    Rather, if the evidence starts piling up, experiment after experiment, all failing to show any statistical relationship, feature after feature, population after population, environment after environment, species after species, the weight of the evidence becomes compelling that natural selection is failed explanation -- it would be jettisoned.
    ---

    Maybe in your dreamworld it would be. In the real world, however, scientists have a good reason not to even begin to question natural selection. It's called grant money.

    Furthermore, natural selection doesn't figure into very much science, if any at all. A chemist can go his whole life without considering whether natural selection is valid. About the only field it might be questioned in would be certain biological fields; and even then, if everyone assumes it to be correct at the outset they're not looking for ways to falsify it in the first place.

    Science can go to great depths without needing natural selection to be true. Technology can increase without it. It has a minimal effect on science as a whole, which is precisly why it can be so wrong and not impact anything--it doesn't impact anything either way!

    Furthermore, the few scientists that are looking into falsifying it can never be published in any scientific magazine precisely because they are going against scientific dogma. They are questioning that which must not be questioned. This is why they are muzzled in hopes that they cannot gain a wide enough audience.

    If Darwinists had such a great case, they ought to support full disclosure of the truth. As it is, they've had over fifty years to innoculate people in America and yet the vast majority of Americans reject gradualistic Darwinism. Darwinists bemoan this and claim it's due to Fundamentalism, but the vast majority of Americans are quite definitely not fundamentalists!

    Perhaps the reason Darwinism is failing so badly is because simple questions like the ones I ask of it cannot be answered by Darwinists. Instead, Darwinists say I shouldn't even be allowed to ask those questions.

    Touchstone said:
    ---
    If further tests all return negative results with respect to relationship between allelic variations and survival, then natural selection would be summarily dispatched.
    ---

    Once again, in your dreamworld.

    We don't even know what 99.9% of genes do, Touchstone. We don't know how they work together. We don't know any of that.

    Yet somehow we're supposed to be able to determine a difference in alleles for an organism?

    You're hedging your falsification of natural selection on something that is impossible for us to currently investigate, and yet you are still claiming it can be falsified. Once again, you are appealing to omniscience.

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  24. Calvindude,

    OK, have at then. Once you start talking conspiracy theories and tin foil hat rationalizations, it's a clear signal I'm wasting my time. You've slid into your own framework that's unrecoverable -- conspiracy theories are like "Goddidit" theories in science. There's no way to be talked out of them, they can account for any and all phenomena.

    Good luck with that.

    -Touchstone

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  25. Touchstone said:
    ---
    There's no way to be talked out of them, they can account for any and all phenomena.
    ---

    Just like Natural Selection....

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