Friday, March 23, 2012

Living for God


I’m going to comment on this article:


Craig never defends his claim that nothing temporary has significance or its implication that all temporary things are equally insignificant. He only repeats it, many times, as if it should be obvious. But is it true that nothing temporary has significance?

Has Craig argued that nothing temporary has significance? Or has he argued that human life lacks significance if we pass into oblivion? I don’t see why Craig’s contention wouldn't be true unless it's a special case of a general claim about all temporary things. That would only follow if human lives are analogous to everything else. For instance, a human being is not a falling leaf.

Think about great music or drama. Does a world-class performance of Tosca or King Lear lack significance just because it lasts only a few hours? Would it have more significance if it never ended? Hardly. Its significance in fact depends on its having a finite arc; it would lose its significance and become unbearably tedious if it went on forever. Nor does its finite length make it just as insignificant as an equally long nap. Clearly, then, we need a better measure of significance than mere duration.

That comparison is simplistic. What if, an hour after the performance, the audience suffered collective amnesia. No one remembered the performance. What’s the point of a world-class performance of Tosca or King Lear if it’s instantly forgotten?

There’s a reason we invented recording technology. We think it’s a waste if a great performance comes and goes without a trace. We try to preserve the past.

Likewise, we record (or photograph) things because we often want to hear or see the same thing more than one.

We know that people often try to make their lives significant by seeking purposes “greater than themselves.”...This version of the argument starts with the question “What’s so great about feeding starving children?” An answer comes pretty easily: “It relieves suffering by innocents and gives them a chance to flourish.” But notice that we can use our imagination to “step back” from that answer: imagine looking at Earth from a billion miles away or looking back from a billion years in the future. Having stepped back, we can ask: “What is (or was) so great about doing that?” Step back far enough and any purpose can begin to look small and trivial in the vastness of time and space. It’s a familiar enough idea that you can make something look insignificant, or even reveal its true insignificance, by stepping back from it. Think of parents who try to convince their tearful child that an embarrassing incident at school isn’t really a reason to stop living.
 
The argument exploits our ability to take the long view—to occupy a standpoint that makes any purpose questionable, no matter how significant it seems: Why bother pursuing that purpose? It’s not hard to get going down this path, as we’ve seen, and soon we may find ourselves seeking a purpose that transcends the limits of our earthly existence. “Our lives can’t have significance,” we may conclude, “unless their significance goes beyond our time on Earth.”

Several problems with Maitzen’s objection:

i) It isn’t clear how Maitzen went from ultimate significance to greatness. Something doesn’t have to be great to be good or worthwhile.

ii) Doing something “greater than ourselves” is a way of saying it serves a larger purpose. “Greater,” not in the sense of excellence, but teleology. What makes it important is that it’s part of something important. It contributes to something beyond itself. A part/whole, means/ends relation.

iii) Maitzen overlooks the asymmetry between a secular outlook and a Christian outlook at this juncture. From his atheistic standpoint, taking the long-range view of any particular event dilutes the significance of that event: “Step back far enough and any purpose can begin to look small and trivial in the vastness of time and space.”

But it’s just the opposite from a Christian standpoint: Because our little lives are purposeful in the great scheme of things, the long-range view enhances rather than diminishes the significance of our tiny lives and deeds. Even the lives of the damned are significance.

From a Calvinistic perspective, every life is special, for God wrote the story of everybody’s life. He wrote the story of your life. And my life. Customized. A unique narrative for each and every life. God planned every experience you have, down to the last detail.

And each life-story is part of a larger story. Interlocking stories. Synchronic and diachronic stories.

The smallness of our lives doesn’t make them insignificant. There can be meaning in miniature. God made us small. That’s good.

God’s story for the world is like the Mandelbrot set. There are lower scales of meaning as well as higher scales of meaning. Microscopic meaning as well as macroscopic meaning. Just what happens in one place on one day is packed with meaning. Higher resolution discloses ever more detail.

You can’t put an end to those pesky questions, no matter what you do. Any purpose that we can begin to understand, we can step back from and question. Consider what theistic religions offer as God’s actual purpose for our lives: glorifying him and enjoying his presence forever. Surely we can ask—I hereby do ask—“What’s so great about that?”

i) Even if it weren’t “so great,” something doesn’t have to be the greatest to be significant.

ii) If we were made to glorify God, if our fulfillment lies in doing what we were designed to do, then that’s significant.

For instance, a homosexual is physically and emotionally frustrated, for he wasn’t designed to find sexual fulfillment in another man.

Now, my opponent might offer this proposal: “Sure, we’d be disappointed to discover that we’re mere CO2 factories, so that can’t be our ultimate purpose. But if God had made us merely to produce CO2, then we’d find that purpose satisfying and would feel no inclination to question it. God adjusts our intellects and aspirations to fit the purpose he gives us.” But this reply is just speculation...

i) There’s a sense in which the whole debate is speculative. So what? That’s what philosophers do. Maitzen is a philosophy prof.

ii) But what’s so speculative? If, in fact, we were merely designed to produce CO2, then we’d find that satisfying. Then again, we might lack the intellect to find it either satisfying or dissatisfying. Does a clam find life satisfying? The question is inapplicable.

Conversely, if we find it boring to merely produce CO2, that’s because we were designed to find other things interesting. So Maitzen has postulated a false dilemma.

If we seek an absolute stopping point in our quest for purpose and significance, we’ll inevitably come up empty. Ultimate purpose can’t exist even if God does; it’s a fantasy that shouldn’t draw anyone to theism.

If human nature was designed by a wise Creator, then doing what we were made to do is, indeed, ultimately significant.

That’s hardly analogous to atheism, where men are the incidental byproduct of a mindless amoral process.

30 comments:

  1. If human nature was designed by a wise Creator, then doing what we were made to do is, indeed, ultimately significant.

    That’s hardly analogous to atheism, where men are the incidental byproduct of a mindless amoral process.


    If that's your attitude, then you'd better stick with religion, Steve. Me, I am what I am, and I'm neither mindless nor amoral. I could perform the same kind of disquisition on your position: if we are the creation of an omnipotent and omniscient God, then we are just His mindless puppets whose script is already written, and are thus meaningless.

    Suum cuique.

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  2. ZILCH SAID:

    "Me, I am what I am..."

    Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer could say the same thing. So your tautology proves nothing one way or the other.

    "...and I'm neither mindless nor amoral."

    i) Notice that I was referring to the process, not the end-product.

    ii) You're not mindless because God made you. I can't comment on your morality, but the issue is what grounds morality.

    "I could perform the same kind of disquisition on your position: if we are the creation of an omnipotent and omniscient God, then we are just His mindless puppets whose script is already written, and are thus meaningless."

    You're making assertions without supporting arguments. If we're the creation of an omnipotent, omniscient God, how does that make us "mindless"?

    Likewise, how does that make us "puppets"? You mean, sentient puppets?

    BTW, are you a puppet of natural selection?

    How is a divinely-planned life "meaningless." Where's the argument to support your conclusion?

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  3. Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer could say the same thing. So your tautology proves nothing one way or the other.

    We weren't talking about morality here, were we? Sure, Bundy, me, you, lizards, and the Universe are all what they are. All I was saying is that I am what I am despite whatever pejorative adjectives you imagine must inhere in my atheistic viewpoint.

    I said:

    "...and I'm neither mindless nor amoral."

    You replied:

    i) Notice that I was referring to the process, not the end-product.

    So you don't dispute that minds and morals could be the result of evolution?

    ii) You're not mindless because God made you. I can't comment on your morality, but the issue is what grounds morality.

    That's your claim. It would help if you had some evidence to support it. And as to what "grounds" morality, I would say that morality doesn't have any absolute "grounds", but is rather a product of evolution, both genetic and cultural. That's why non-human animals can be seen to have at least the beginnings of a moral sense.

    If we're the creation of an omnipotent, omniscient God, how does that make us "mindless"?

    If we're the creation of an omnipotent, omniscient God, then we might well believe that we have "minds", but God wrote our scripts and knows every decision we will make, and created us knowing this: thus, we are more like a cartoon with every panel filled in than like animals who can make decisions with minds that weigh alternatives, which of course is my view.

    Likewise, how does that make us "puppets"? You mean, sentient puppets?

    Sure, on theism, we're "sentient" in the same way Fred Flintstone is "sentient" when he "sees" Barney. All prescripted.

    How is a divinely-planned life "meaningless." Where's the argument to support your conclusion?

    Likewise. Sure, we might have "meaning" to God in the same way a pot has a "meaning" to a potter, but the meaning is not our meaning, but only God's: how can we have meaning for ourselves if we are just a four-dimensional worm pinned down immovably in spacetime, in aspecto aeternitatis?

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  4. Hm, maybe we should take secular evolutionists at their word when they tell us 98% of human and chimpanzee DNA is identical. After all, they're free to speak for themselves, aren't they?

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  5. Not sure what you're getting at here, rocking. Do you dispute this finding of genetics? Or do you imagine that 98% monkey see equals 98% monkey do? I don't, except at the level of cellular metabolism, which is after all what most of the genes regulate, not behavior.

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  6. zilch said:

    "Do you dispute this finding of genetics?"

    1. Since you bring it up, see here and here.

    2. "Genetics" doesn't "find" anything. Scientists, physicians, and other people working in genetics "find" or make discoveries about genetics. There's nothing wrong with evaluating their research.

    "Or do you imagine that 98% monkey see equals 98% monkey do? I don't, except at the level of cellular metabolism, which is after all what most of the genes regulate, not behavior."

    Au contraire!

    1. For one thing, although DNA consists of genes, I wasn't talking about genes but DNA. (Not to mention I wasn't talking about what I believe but what secular evolutionists believe.)

    2. For another, DNA primarily codes for mRNA which in turn and with the help of tRNA forms amino acids. Amino acids are added to a polypeptide chain and eventually forms proteins. Some proteins are involved in cellular metabolism. But hardly all proteins are involved in cellular metabolism. So it's not as if "most...genes" directly "regulate" "at the level of cellular metabolism." That'd be proteins, among other molecules. Again, not genes directly.

    3. Plus, "at the level of cellular metabolism" is itself a bit vague.

    What "level" of cellular metabolism are you referring to? Cellular metabolism could include massive molecules like complex carbohydrates to tiny ones like electrons and protons such as in the protein pump portion of oxidative phosphorylation. Likewise, DNA is a double helical structure consisting of two anti-parallel sugar-phosphate backbones held together by ester bonds on the outside and nitrogenous base-pairs held together by hydrogen bonds on the inside. The base-pairs are adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. So DNA is itself far larger than an electron or proton.

    So you're saying "genes" "regulate" at this level(s), and not the "level" of "behavior," but which level(s) are you talking about? And whichever level(s) you pick, how is it that "genes" directly "regulate" at these levels?

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  7. zilch said:

    "Not sure what you're getting at here, rocking."

    Maybe I was just monkeying around.

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  8. rocking- yes, I'm no scientist, but I know the basics of this stuff pretty well. What's your point here? You made a rather inscrutable jibe about "taking secular evolutionists at their word" and I was just trying to make sense of it. Could you please back up and explain what you meant? Thanks.

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  9. Okay, just monkeying around. That's fine.

    cheers from vernal Vienna, zilch

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  10. ZILCH SAID:

    “All I was saying is that I am what I am despite whatever pejorative adjectives you imagine must inhere in my atheistic viewpoint.”

    You seem to be easily offended. Of course, I guess I can understand why someone who’s just a more advanced monkey species might suffer from an inferiority complex.

    “So you don't dispute that minds and morals could be the result of evolution?”

    i) Actually, evolutionary atheists like Paul & Patricia Churchland dispute that minds could be the result of evolution.

    ii) In theory, evolution could foster a sense of social obligations, but that would be illusory. Natural selection tricking us because altruism confers a survival advantage on our offspring. That wouldn’t correspond to objective moral facts.

    “That's your claim. It would help if you had some evidence to support it.”

    I don’t have to reinvent the wheel for your benefit.

    “And as to what ‘grounds’ morality, I would say that morality doesn't have any absolute ‘grounds’, but is rather a product of evolution, both genetic and cultural. That's why non-human animals can be seen to have at least the beginnings of a moral sense.”

    In which case it’s just a projection. Make-believe morality. An arbitrary social construct.

    “Thus, we are more like a cartoon with every panel filled in than like animals who can make decisions with minds that weigh alternatives, which of course is my view.”

    The deliberations and decisions which animals make (which animals?) are the end-result of a causal chain of antecedent conditions, events, and natural forces.

    Your naturalistic alternative is just as deterministic as predestination, only your deliberations and decisions would be necessitated by mindless natural predeterminants.

    “Sure, on theism, we're ‘sentient’ in the same way Fred Flintstone is ‘sentient’ when he ‘sees’ Barney. All prescripted.”

    What makes you think someone whose existence is prescripted lacks consciousness? How did you arrive at that illogical conclusion?

    “But the meaning is not our meaning, but only God's: how can we have meaning for ourselves.”

    From a secular standpoint, the meaning you (imagine you) have is not your own meaning, but what you’ve been programmed to think, feel, and do by blind physical predeterminants.

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  11. Oh, and by the bye- just took a gander at the Nature article you linked to, which is titled "Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence". Does this mean you are a theistic evolutionist? Can't you go to Hell for that?

    Just kidding.

    cheers, and thanks for the civility. Drop me a line if you're ever out this way, and lunch is on me.

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  12. Steve, you're really going hammer and tongs here- I bet you can type even faster than I can. I should have said in my last comment that it was addressed to rocking, not you. Not that I wouldn't treat you to lunch, too.

    You say:

    You seem to be easily offended. Of course, I guess I can understand why someone who’s just a more advanced monkey species might suffer from an inferiority complex.

    No, I'm actually pretty thick-skinned. Comes from hanging around Calvinists a lot. I was just engaging in a little tit for tat. And why should being "just" a more advanced monkey species (actually, humans are apes, not monkeys, although a cladist would say we were monkeys too, as well as mammals, reptiles, fish....) be any reason for an inferiority complex? I think monkeys are pretty wonderful, and humans are even more wonderful- even Calvinists. No offense.

    i) Actually, evolutionary atheists like Paul & Patricia Churchland dispute that minds could be the result of evolution.

    They do? Where? But even so, I don't think it's the prevailing opinion, and it's not mine.

    ii) In theory, evolution could foster a sense of social obligations, but that would be illusory. Natural selection tricking us because altruism confers a survival advantage on our offspring. That wouldn’t correspond to objective moral facts.

    "illusory", "tricking", and "objective moral facts" are only appropriate descriptions here if God exists, which you haven't established.

    In which case [no God] it’s just a projection. Make-believe morality. An arbitrary social construct.

    Same thing. What is, is. You are only justified in calling it "make-believe" if you can demonstrate that there is an absolute objective source of morals, i.e. God. You haven't yet done so.

    From a secular standpoint, the meaning you (imagine you) have is not your own meaning, but what you’ve been programmed to think, feel, and do by blind physical predeterminants.

    Fair enough. I was just pointing out that positing an omniscient omnipotent God makes you just as programmed. The difference is that on atheism, since we don't know our future, and no one else does or controls it, our decisions, while they may be inevitable in the sense that they are the result of determined physical processes, they are not inevitable from the only perspective that matters: our own.

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  13. ZILCH SAID:

    "I think monkeys are pretty wonderful, and humans are even more wonderful- even Calvinists. No offense."

    Well, as Mark Wahlberg says in Planet of the Apes, "Never send a monkey to do a man's job."

    "They do? Where?"

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/materialism-eliminative/

    "But even so, I don't think it's the prevailing opinion, and it's not mine."

    Irrelevant. The question is which position is more consistent with Darwinian physicalism.

    "'illusory', 'tricking', and 'objective moral facts' are only appropriate descriptions here if God exists, which you haven't established."

    To the contrary, Darwinian philosopher Michael Ruse (among others) uses the same argument.

    http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/ruse.htm

    "You are only justified in calling it 'make-believe' if you can demonstrate that there is an absolute objective source of morals, i.e. God."

    Another one of your illogical claims. It can be make-believe on its own grounds, regardless of the Christian alternative.

    "I was just pointing out that positing an omniscient omnipotent God makes you just as programmed. The difference is that on atheism, since we don't know our future, and no one else does or controls it, our decisions, while they may be inevitable in the sense that they are the result of determined physical processes, they are not inevitable from the only perspective that matters: our own."

    i) Except that if you retrace the process, you know it was inevitable.

    ii) And that's not the primary difference. The primary difference is the difference between a rational source (God) and a mindless source (nature).

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  14. Steve- you said:

    Actually, evolutionary atheists like Paul & Patricia Churchland dispute that minds could be the result of evolution.

    I asked:

    They do? Where?

    You linked here.

    Fascinating as that article on eliminative naturalism is, I didn't see any place where either Churchland averred that minds could not be the result of evolution. In fact, the word "evolution" doesn't come up in the entire article, and I don't see how you can construe it to be the subject. Can you show me the quote?

    But even so, I don't think it's the prevailing opinion, and it's not mine.

    Irrelevant. The question is which position is more consistent with Darwinian physicalism.

    Okay, show us why minds could not have evolved, Steve.

    'illusory', 'tricking', and 'objective moral facts' are only appropriate descriptions here if God exists, which you haven't established.

    To the contrary, Darwinian philosopher Michael Ruse (among others) uses the same argument.

    Ruse does say that ethics are an illusion, but only in the sense that objective ethics don't exist, on his view. He goes on to say that we need ethics nonetheless. This is pretty much my position as well, but I wouldn't have used the word "illusion". He certainly doesn't say there are "objective moral facts."

    You are only justified in calling it 'make-believe' if you can demonstrate that there is an absolute objective source of morals, i.e. God.

    Another one of your illogical claims. It can be make-believe on its own grounds, regardless of the Christian alternative.

    Make-believe implies a comparison with something not make-believe, or it doesn't mean anything. If there's no God or other source of absolute morals, then no such comparison obtains, so the term "make-believe" is meaningless.

    I was just pointing out that positing an omniscient omnipotent God makes you just as programmed. The difference is that on atheism, since we don't know our future, and no one else does or controls it, our decisions, while they may be inevitable in the sense that they are the result of determined physical processes, they are not inevitable from the only perspective that matters: our own.

    i) Except that if you retrace the process, you know it was inevitable.

    Retracing the process is not even remotely possible, so the inevitability at the quantum level is beyond our scope and thus meaningless, at least as far as living our lives and making decisions goes. Free will is a process, not a condition, and it depends upon not being omniscient.

    ii) And that's not the primary difference. The primary difference is the difference between a rational source (God) and a mindless source (nature).

    Nature as a whole is mindless, but Nature in the form of Natural Selection has produced rationality. In either case, with or without God, we have minds.

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  15. zilch said:

    "Oh, and by the bye- just took a gander at the Nature article you linked to, which is titled 'Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence'. Does this mean you are a theistic evolutionist?"

    Among other things, the article goes show how much is unknown as well as controversial among evolutionary geneticists with regard to the state of questions like common ancestry, similarity to chimps and apes, etc.

    "In either case, with or without God, we have minds."

    Without God, can you prove we have minds? Can you even prove other objects external to your nervous system exist? What if it's all an illusion? What if you're just a brain in a vat? Anyway, I'm sure you're familiar enough with all this, so I don't need to rehearse the arguments for you again.

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  16. Among other things, the article goes show how much is unknown as well as controversial among evolutionary geneticists with regard to the state of questions like common ancestry, similarity to chimps and apes, etc.

    Could you show me exactly where in this article that our common ancestry with chimps is questioned? I sure didn't see anything there. Sure, there's debate about fine points, including exactly when the human line diverged from the lines leading to gorillas and chimps, but common descent is not seriously in doubt among scientists.

    Without God, can you prove we have minds? Can you even prove other objects external to your nervous system exist? What if it's all an illusion? What if you're just a brain in a vat? Anyway, I'm sure you're familiar enough with all this, so I don't need to rehearse the arguments for you again.

    No, you don't need to rehearse the arguments for me again, any more than I need to point out that you have no way of proving that your God is not an evil trickster who poofed the world into existence last Tuesday. What's the point? Proof only obtains within circumscribed systems of formal logic, such as Euclidean arithmetic, where, for instance, 2+2=4 is absolutely true. So what?

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  17. zilch said:

    "Could you show me exactly where in this article that our common ancestry with chimps is questioned? I sure didn't see anything there. Sure, there's debate about fine points, including exactly when the human line diverged from the lines leading to gorillas and chimps, but common descent is not seriously in doubt among scientists."

    Um, why don't you try using some of that gray matter in between your ears? This article claims, for instance, "In 30% of the genome, gorilla is closer to human or chimpanzee than the latter are to each other." So, if true, this is a change to the human evolutionary tree (however subtle). Of course I don't expect these scientists to claim any of this overturns common descent. That wasn't my point. Rather there are varying and sometimes conflicting beliefs evolutionists hold about our evolutionary tree. Likewise there are varying beliefs with regard to how much of our genome is shared with that of the chimp's as a result of this apparent discovery. Sure, all of them hold to evolution and common descent, but the field is hardly as unanimous as you make it out to be. Many evolutionists realize this too. But you don't seem to realize it. Many evolutionists would probably respond and say that this is simply how science works. We think we know this or that, but new discoveries are often auto-correcting previously thought-to-have-been-established scientific facts. In short, you seem to have a lot more blind faith in what science has established here than do actual evolutionists. That's the point.

    "No, you don't need to rehearse the arguments for me again, any more than I need to point out that you have no way of proving that your God is not an evil trickster who poofed the world into existence last Tuesday. What's the point?"

    The point was in response to your assertion: "In either case, with or without God, we have minds."

    "Proof only obtains within circumscribed systems of formal logic, such as Euclidean arithmetic, where, for instance, 2+2=4 is absolutely true. So what?"

    You seem to have a very narrow view of proof, evidence, logic. Am I talking about mathematical proof alone here? Is deductive proof the only valid form of proof?

    Anyway, this is neither here nor there since you've missed the point...again.

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  18. ZILCH SAID:

    “Fascinating as that article on eliminative naturalism is, I didn't see any place where either Churchland averred that minds could not be the result of evolution. In fact, the word ‘evolution’ doesn't come up in the entire article, and I don't see how you can construe it to be the subject. Can you show me the quote?”

    Is there some reason you’re unable to draw simply logical inferences on your own? The Churchlands are physicalists. (As well as Darwinians.) Evolution is a physical process, operating on physical materials. Evolution produces brains. Encephalization. However, the Churchlands don’t believe physical hardware can yield “minds.”

    “Okay, show us why minds could not have evolved, Steve.”

    If, as the Churchlands argue, brains aren’t minds, then a physical process can’t evolve minds.

    “He certainly doesn't say there are ‘objective moral facts.’”

    That’s the point. He’s a moral nihilist. And that’s because he subscribes to naturalistic evolution. So any moral instincts would be subjective. Something we project onto the world that isn’t actually there.

    “Make-believe implies a comparison with something not make-believe, or it doesn't mean anything. If there's no God or other source of absolute morals, then no such comparison obtains, so the term "make-believe" is meaningless.”

    That’s already been explained to you, but you lack basic reasoning ability. So let’s walk you through the argument one more time.

    Natural selection conditions higher animals to be altruistic. It cultivates a sense of social obligation in humans.

    But humans can also reflect on their evolutionary conditioning. At that point they realize that their moral instincts don’t correspond to objective moral norms. Natural selection programmed them to believe in right and wrong, but that’s a way of tricking individuals into prioritizing the survival of the species over their personal survival–like soldier ants that commit suicide to protect the nest.

    “Retracing the process is not even remotely possible, so the inevitability at the quantum level is beyond our scope and thus meaningless, at least as far as living our lives and making decisions goes. Free will is a process, not a condition, and it depends upon not being omniscient.”

    You’re confusing generalities with specifics. Most atheists are physicalists. They believe our decisions are the result of causal determinism.

    You also have an idiosyncratic definition of freewill, which you say depends on not being omniscient. That’s a claim you need to defend, not assume. For instance, atheist Daniel Dennett takes the position that if determinism is true, then there's less randomness. There's less unpredictability. To have freedom, you need the capacity to make reliable judgments about what's going to happen next, so you can base your action on it.

    You’re also assuming that quantum events figure in our decision-making process. That’s something else you need to argue for.

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  19. ZILCH SAID:

    "Nature as a whole is mindless, but Nature in the form of Natural Selection has produced rationality. In either case, with or without God, we have minds."

    i) A mindless process evolved rationality. In which case, our rationality is unreliable.

    ii) The fact that we have minds doesn't prove that natural selection was able to produce our minds. To the contrary, we can reason back from the existence of minds to the inadequacy of natural selection to produce our minds.

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  20. rocking, you say:

    Um, why don't you try using some of that gray matter in between your ears?

    I'm trying, but I guess atheists just don't have the wherewithal that you Christians do. Patience is a virtue.

    This article claims, for instance, "In 30% of the genome, gorilla is closer to human or chimpanzee than the latter are to each other." So, if true, this is a change to the human evolutionary tree (however subtle).

    Can you explain to me how this is "a change to the human evolutionary tree"? As I'm sure you know, genes have their own family trees. For instance, chimps have the same ABO system of blood types that humans have. I happen to have type B blood, and have thus this gene in common with some chimps, and not with all humans. Thus, in this respect, I am more "closely related" to some chimps than to some humans. The same goes, of course, for myriads of other genes, so it's not surprising in the least that gorillas might have 30% of their genes in common with chimps or humans, where chimps and humans don't have the genes in common. Doesn't affect the tree of human descent in the least.

    Of course I don't expect these scientists to claim any of this overturns common descent. That wasn't my point.

    Then why did you say "Among other things, the article goes show how much is unknown as well as controversial among evolutionary geneticists with regard to the state of questions like common ancestry, similarity to chimps and apes, etc."?

    Rather there are varying and sometimes conflicting beliefs evolutionists hold about our evolutionary tree. Likewise there are varying beliefs with regard to how much of our genome is shared with that of the chimp's as a result of this apparent discovery. Sure, all of them hold to evolution and common descent, but the field is hardly as unanimous as you make it out to be. Many evolutionists realize this too. But you don't seem to realize it. Many evolutionists would probably respond and say that this is simply how science works. We think we know this or that, but new discoveries are often auto-correcting previously thought-to-have-been-established scientific facts. In short, you seem to have a lot more blind faith in what science has established here than do actual evolutionists. That's the point.

    Er, where did I indicate any sort of "blind faith" in what science has established here? You said it yourself: evolution and common descent are not seriously questioned by scientists. Of course there's debate about exactly what happened when, and there are probably some questions that will never be answered in any detail, simply because there's not enough information available. But that doesn't affect the big picture: evolution happened, and we are related to the other apes, the other mammals, and so forth. If you have any evidence against this general conclusion, I'd like very much to see it.

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  21. I said:

    Fascinating as that article on eliminative naturalism is, I didn't see any place where either Churchland averred that minds could not be the result of evolution. In fact, the word ‘evolution’ doesn't come up in the entire article, and I don't see how you can construe it to be the subject. Can you show me the quote?

    Steve replied:

    Is there some reason you’re unable to draw simply logical inferences on your own?

    As I've said, probably because I'm an atheist. Be patient and spell it out for me, please.

    The Churchlands are physicalists. (As well as Darwinians.) Evolution is a physical process, operating on physical materials. Evolution produces brains. Encephalization. However, the Churchlands don’t believe physical hardware can yield “minds.”

    I repeat my question: please provide the direct quote.

    Okay, show us why minds could not have evolved, Steve.

    If, as the Churchlands argue, brains aren’t minds, then a physical process can’t evolve minds.

    Again: please provide the direct quote, rather than paraphrasing what you think the Churchlands argue. For the record, my view is that the mind is what the brain does.

    He certainly doesn't say there are ‘objective moral facts.’

    That’s the point. He’s a moral nihilist. And that’s because he subscribes to naturalistic evolution. So any moral instincts would be subjective. Something we project onto the world that isn’t actually there.

    Unless you can show that there is a hard line to be drawn between "subjective" and "objective", then your argument is meaningless.

    That’s already been explained to you, but you lack basic reasoning ability. So let’s walk you through the argument one more time.

    Gosh, thanks for your generosity. But why bother explaining to me if I "lack basic reasoning ability"?

    Natural selection conditions higher animals to be altruistic. It cultivates a sense of social obligation in humans.

    But humans can also reflect on their evolutionary conditioning. At that point they realize that their moral instincts don’t correspond to objective moral norms. Natural selection programmed them to believe in right and wrong, but that’s a way of tricking individuals into prioritizing the survival of the species over their personal survival–like soldier ants that commit suicide to protect the nest.


    Er... where did you get this stuff, Steve? Natural selection doesn't "condition" or "trick" anybody- it is simply differential survival of alternative alleles. Humans are different from ants in this respect, because in addition to the genetic tendencies towards building social groups, which ants also have, we have cultural traits, such as the formation of extragenetic laws, mores, religions, and so forth.

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  22. (cont.)

    Retracing the process is not even remotely possible, so the inevitability at the quantum level is beyond our scope and thus meaningless, at least as far as living our lives and making decisions goes. Free will is a process, not a condition, and it depends upon not being omniscient.

    You’re confusing generalities with specifics. Most atheists are physicalists. They believe our decisions are the result of causal determinism.

    How does that affect what I said, which is that we are in no position to unravel all the threads that lead to our particular decisions?

    You also have an idiosyncratic definition of freewill, which you say depends on not being omniscient. That’s a claim you need to defend, not assume.

    That may be another thread.

    For instance, atheist Daniel Dennett takes the position that if determinism is true, then there's less randomness. There's less unpredictability.

    Again, I'd like to see a direct quote. But I'm sure Dennett, and any scientist, would agree that even on determinism, there's still lots of unpredictability, because the amount of information in the world, compared to our ability to observe and deal with information, renders many particular predictions intractable.

    To have freedom, you need the capacity to make reliable judgments about what's going to happen next, so you can base your action on it.

    Yep, but again, "reliability" is not a yes/no affair.

    You’re also assuming that quantum events figure in our decision-making process. That’s something else you need to argue for.

    The whole world consists of quantum events, doesn't it? That would include decisions.

    i) A mindless process evolved rationality. In which case, our rationality is unreliable.

    Why? A mindless process builds crystals, which have order. Rationality is a particular kind of order. Why can it not have evolved? If you want to support Plantinga's EAAN, good luck- I'm ready and willing to debate it.

    ii) The fact that we have minds doesn't prove that natural selection was able to produce our minds. To the contrary, we can reason back from the existence of minds to the inadequacy of natural selection to produce our minds.

    You're right, having minds says nothing about whether or not nat sel is capable of producing mind, if we are not sure that God doesn't exist. Your contrary is sunk by the corollary argument- unless you can demonstrate that nat sel is inadequate to produce our minds.

    cheers from vernal Vienna, zilch

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  23. ZILCH SAID:

    “Again: please provide the direct quote, rather than paraphrasing what you think the Churchlands argue. For the record, my view is that the mind is what the brain does.”

    And according to the Churchlands, the brain doesn’t generate mental states. No beliefs, desires, qualia, &c.

    “Unless you can show that there is a hard line to be drawn between ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’, then your argument is meaningless.”

    You lack an elementary grasp of basic concepts. Objective moral norms would mean they exist independently of what humans think or do.

    You act as if only moral realists like me draw a hard line. Wrong. Moral relativists and nihilists also draw the same line, only they come down on the other side for the line.

    “Gosh, thanks for your generosity. But why bother explaining to me if I ‘lack basic reasoning ability’?”

    For the benefit of other readers who don’t suffer from your impediments.

    “Er... where did you get this stuff, Steve?”

    From Darwinians like Ruse and E. O. Wilson.

    “Natural selection doesn't ‘condition’ or ‘trick’ anybody- it is simply differential survival of alternative alleles.”

    You need to bone up on evolutionary psychology.

    “Humans are different from ants in this respect, because in addition to the genetic tendencies towards building social groups, which ants also have, we have cultural traits, such as the formation of extragenetic laws, mores, religions, and so forth.”

    Unfortunately for you, the father of sociobiology was an entomologist.

    “How does that affect what I said, which is that we are in no position to unravel all the threads that lead to our particular decisions?”

    That’s a red herring.

    “Again, I'd like to see a direct quote. But I'm sure Dennett, and any scientist, would agree that even on determinism, there's still lots of unpredictability, because the amount of information in the world, compared to our ability to observe and deal with information, renders many particular predictions intractable.”

    You keep missing the point. Dennett’s point is that the more predictability there is, the more control we have. More freedom rather than less.

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  24. Cont. “The whole world consists of quantum events, doesn't it? That would include decisions.”

    Quantum uncertainty or indeterminacy doesn’t automatically carry over to the macro world. You need to bone up on the distinction between quantum mechanics and relativity.

    “A mindless process builds crystals, which have order.”

    Actually, that’s an argument for intelligent design behind the process of crystal formation.

    “If you want to support Plantinga's EAAN, good luck- I'm ready and willing to debate it.”

    To judge by your performance thus far, your enthusiasm outpaces your ability.

    “Your contrary is sunk by the corollary argument- unless you can demonstrate that nat sel is inadequate to produce our minds.”

    Which is why I cited the Churchlands, although that continues to sail over your head.

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  25. Steve: could you please, for the third time, provide some direct quotes from the Churchlands where they say what you claim they say?

    Unless you can show that there is a hard line to be drawn between ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’, then your argument is meaningless.

    You lack an elementary grasp of basic concepts. Objective moral norms would mean they exist independently of what humans think or do.

    Sigh. Look, Steve, I'm trying to be civil. Could you please lay off the snark for just a bit? Sure, I kid you about being a Calvinist, but I don't accuse you of stuff I know you don't lack. Yes, I know what the concept of "objective moral norms" means.

    You act as if only moral realists like me draw a hard line. Wrong. Moral relativists and nihilists also draw the same line, only they come down on the other side for the line.

    When did I say that? Sure, I know that opinions about hard lines in morals are all over the map amongst atheists too.

    Gosh, thanks for your generosity. But why bother explaining to me if I ‘lack basic reasoning ability’?

    For the benefit of other readers who don’t suffer from your impediments.

    Impediments? How about some common courtesy, Steve?

    Er... where did you get this stuff, Steve?

    From Darwinians like Ruse and E. O. Wilson.

    Again, some direct quotes would be appreciated.

    Natural selection doesn't ‘condition’ or ‘trick’ anybody- it is simply differential survival of alternative alleles.

    You need to bone up on evolutionary psychology.

    I do my best. I did a minor in paleontology at UC Berkeley- what's your background in evolutionary science?

    Humans are different from ants in this respect, because in addition to the genetic tendencies towards building social groups, which ants also have, we have cultural traits, such as the formation of extragenetic laws, mores, religions, and so forth.

    Unfortunately for you, the father of sociobiology was an entomologist.

    Er, what does that have to do with what I said? Does E.O. Wilson say that humans don't have culture, or that ants do? Quote, please.

    Quantum uncertainty or indeterminacy doesn’t automatically carry over to the macro world. You need to bone up on the distinction between quantum mechanics and relativity.

    I didn't say anything about quantum indeterminacy. I was merely pointing out that the world consists of events at the quantum level, which makes retracing the path leading to our decisions intractable. For the record, though, I don't see how quantum indeterminacy has any salient effect one way or another on decision making- if our decisions are indeterminite, how does that give us any freedom? It just means they are even in principle unpredictable.

    A mindless process builds crystals, which have order.

    Actually, that’s an argument for intelligent design behind the process of crystal formation.

    How so? Crystal formation is pretty well understood in terms of covalent bonding. If you think that you need God to explain the existence of the order inherent in matter, then you need an explanation for the order in God. Or does God have no order? Yes, it's a problem to explain why there is order at all, but positing a God is just sweeping the problem under a rug- a very big rug.

    If you want to support Plantinga's EAAN, good luck- I'm ready and willing to debate it.

    To judge by your performance thus far, your enthusiasm outpaces your ability.

    Why are you so tetchy, Steve?

    Your contrary is sunk by the corollary argument- unless you can demonstrate that nat sel is inadequate to produce our minds.

    Which is why I cited the Churchlands, although that continues to sail over your head.

    Er, no, you have mentioned the Churchlands, but you haven't actually cited them. Let's have a direct quote, and we'll see if it goes over my head.

    ReplyDelete
  26. ZILCH SAID:

    "How about some common courtesy, Steve?"

    Is there an authorized code of monkey etiquette?

    "Steve: could you please, for the third time, provide some direct quotes from the Churchlands where they say what you claim they say?"

    You need to learn how to draw logical inferences, not merely repeat back by rote like a parakeet.

    I've explained the logical implications of eliminative materialism, which you ignore.

    "Again, some direct quotes would be appreciated."

    It's not my duty to spoon feed you. Do your own study.

    "I do my best. I did a minor in paleontology at UC Berkeley."

    Which is hardly equivalent to evolutionary psychology.

    "what's your background in evolutionary science?"

    As if that makes any difference to you. For instance, Kurt Wise has a doctorate in paleontology from Harvard. Do you care? No.

    "Er, what does that have to do with what I said? Does E.O. Wilson say that humans don't have culture, or that ants do?"

    If you have to ask, you don't know. Do your own study.

    "For the record, though, I don't see how quantum indeterminacy has any salient effect one way or another on decision making- if our decisions are indeterminite, how does that give us any freedom? It just means they are even in principle unpredictable."

    As usual, you can't follow a simple argument. Remember that this was in connection with Dennett's argument about the interrelationship between determinism, predicability, and choice. Indeterminacy would be the opposite, thereby undermining predictability, and thereby undermining choice. Try to follow the bouncing ball.

    "If you think that you need God to explain the existence of the order inherent in matter, then you need an explanation for the order in God. Or does God have no order?"

    You seem to be regurgitating Dawkins' muddleheaded argument about divine complexity. Many philosophers, including atheists like Thomas Nagel, have taken Dawkins to task for his confusion.

    "Why are you so tetchy, Steve?"

    You have nothing to live for, yet the waste the time of those who do have something to live for.

    "Er, no, you have mentioned the Churchlands, but you haven't actually cited them."

    "Mention" is a synonym for "cite." Perhaps your English is rusty from speaking German so long.

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  27. How about some common courtesy, Steve?

    Is there an authorized code of monkey etiquette?

    Do you need an "authorized code" to be polite? I somehow manage without, most of the time.

    Steve: could you please, for the third time, provide some direct quotes from the Churchlands where they say what you claim they say?

    You need to learn how to draw logical inferences, not merely repeat back by rote like a parakeet.

    Steve, you made some specific claims about what the Churchlands said in a link you posted. I read the link and didn't find what you claimed they said. If you are not willing to put up quotes, then you might as well admit that you are confabulating.

    I've explained the logical implications of eliminative materialism, which you ignore.

    Again, some direct quotes would be appreciated.

    It's not my duty to spoon feed you. Do your own study.

    Same thing- I did my own study: I read your link. I didn't find what you claimed. What if I claimed that the Bible said that we should worship talking donkeys? Wouldn't you demand that I cite chapter and verse?

    I do my best. I did a minor in paleontology at UC Berkeley.

    Which is hardly equivalent to evolutionary psychology.

    True.

    what's your background in evolutionary science?

    As if that makes any difference to you. For instance, Kurt Wise has a doctorate in paleontology from Harvard. Do you care? No.

    Kurt Wise has a doctorate in geology, not paleo. But as I'm sure you know, he's one of the vanishingly few YECs among Earth scientists.

    Er, what does that have to do with what I said? Does E.O. Wilson say that humans don't have culture, or that ants do?

    If you have to ask, you don't know. Do your own study.

    I'll have to remember this as a one-size-fits-all answer to any question.

    If you think that you need God to explain the existence of the order inherent in matter, then you need an explanation for the order in God. Or does God have no order?

    You seem to be regurgitating Dawkins' muddleheaded argument about divine complexity. Many philosophers, including atheists like Thomas Nagel, have taken Dawkins to task for his confusion.

    Hmmm... even I, as skilled as I am, cannot type on a keyboard through regurgitation. So you don't think God is complex? And Nagel has his own muddleheadedness, but again, that's probably another bat time, another bat channel....

    Why are you so tetchy, Steve?

    You have nothing to live for, yet the waste the time of those who do have something to live for.

    All you have to do is ignore me or ban me, if that's your belief. I believe I have lots of things to live for, especially trying to make the world a better place for my children.

    Er, no, you have mentioned the Churchlands, but you haven't actually cited them.

    "Mention" is a synonym for "cite." Perhaps your English is rusty from speaking German so long.

    My English is certainly rusty, that I will admit. But in my rusty memory, "to cite" is more specific than "to mention", and it includes the implication of a specific quote. Which you have so far failed to provide.

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  28. zilch said:

    "I'm trying, but I guess atheists just don't have the wherewithal that you Christians do. Patience is a virtue."

    How long have you been commenting on Triablogue? How long have the Tbloggers been responding to you?

    "Can you explain to me how this is 'a change to the human evolutionary tree'?"

    Why don't you read the article for yourself?

    "As I'm sure you know, genes have their own family trees."

    This is a bit vague. What are you referring to?

    Are you referring to comparative genomics, which mainly takes for granted that there are phylogenetic trees relating the various species on earth and this can be traced via comparative genomics? If so, how can you take it for granted when it's a point of contention?

    Or are you referring to something a bit more specific about genes? Supergenes? Gene complexes? Homeoboxes?

    After all, saying "genes have their own family trees" can have reference to genes within or without the same gene pool or population or species.

    Or are you alluding to Richard Dawkins' selfish gene meme in some way?

    Or something else?

    "For instance, chimps have the same ABO system of blood types that humans have. I happen to have type B blood, and have thus this gene in common with some chimps, and not with all humans. Thus, in this respect, I am more 'closely related' to some chimps than to some humans."

    1. Since you obviously didn't get it, I'll reiterate what I've said. I'm not arguing against evolution here. Rather I'm arguing against your view that there's a uniform consensus among evolutionists about modern evolutionary theory.

    2. What you've said about chimps and you sharing blood group or type B is quite wrong. Chimps do not have blood type B. They usually have blood type A, although very occassionally blood type O. Never B.

    3. What you've written is also highly oversimplified. At this point, it sounds sort of like you're arguing since John has the "gene" for brown eyes, he's therefore more "closely related" to dogs with brown eyes than people with blue eyes. Of course, without further details, it comes across as patently absurd. I suspect even a diehard evolutionist would perhaps cringe a bit at the way you're oversimplifying it (although he might prefer to overlook it) because it could lead to misrepresentation. Of course, I'm aware of stuff like blood transfusions between some humans and some chimps as well as other things like xenografts. But I'm saying all this because I'm not impressed by your cocksure attitude with regard to what you're saying particularly in light of your poor gloss over complex molecular genetics. Rather, you need to delve in specifics in order to make your case.

    4. Let's say for the sake of argument you're right. Let's say humans and chimps do share the same ABO polymorphism to the degree that you're arguing they share it. Your interpretation is that humans and chimps therefore must've inherited the ABO polymorphism from a common ancestor. But another evolutionist's interpretation could be that both humans and chimps independently evolved the same ABO polymorphism.

    5. Scientists rely in large part on average mutation rates to come up with the results of these comparisons. But why should we assume these average mutation rates are an accurate and reliable index (e.g. see here)?

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  29. "The same goes, of course, for myriads of other genes..."

    1. So you say. But once again you don't show. When in doubt, act confidently, I guess.

    2. What does degree of similarity tell us anyway? Take two sentences which are very similar: "I do believe in UFOs" and "I do not believe in UFOs." Both share much in common.

    Since it could be said most babies are approximately 75% water, babies share much in common with water.

    And so on and so forth.

    3. Genes make up about 1% of the total DNA in our genome. The rest of the genome was once upon a time called "junk DNA." But nowadays scientists know "junk DNA" is quite significant (e.g. see this image taken from this article).

    4. Moreover, some scientists these days believe the cell nucleus in which DNA resides as well as the rest of the cell could be more significant than the genome itself given that the cell (or certain parts of it) reads, deciphers, translates, and applies genetic information. Also, the cell often corrects mutations too. However, since the cell itself is coded by the genome, we have a chicken and egg problem. I can't see this problem resolved by an atheistic or blind and unguided evolution.

    5. Let's say (arguendo) humans and chimps share not 98% or 99% of their genomes but 100%. Let's say their genomes are identical. Yet if the preceding point (#4) is also true, then our genomes don't tell the whole story.

    6. I don't have time to talk about a lot of other things. But some might be interested in other papers like these (e.g. here; here; and here).

    7. As a side note, if people want to look into the specific genes, or compare the genomes of humans and chimps (and other species), Ensembl is a good site.

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  30. zilch said:

    "I do my best. I did a minor in paleontology at UC Berkeley- what's your background in evolutionary science?"

    1. I'm pretty sure I graduated from Cal more recently than you would've graduated. But I don't recall there being a paleontology minor when I was there. Rather you might get to take paleontology classes while majoring or minoring in I.B. (Integrative Biology) or Earth and Planetary Science, depending on whether you were more interested in the biological or the geological side of things, I guess.

    2. Since you bring it up, have you kept up with "evolutionary science" since you graduated? Yet you say above that you're no scientist. And you don't show familiarity with where modern evolutionary theory has headed such as toward molecular genetics. Are you familiar with molecular genetics? Molecular and cell biology?

    3. If you say you're not a scientist as you did above, then what makes you think you're competent enough to evaluate the scientific arguments on scientific grounds?

    4. In any case, why don't you deal with Steve's arguments rather than trying to make an argument from authority?

    "Kurt Wise has a doctorate in geology, not paleo."

    1. Wise's doctoral dissertation was titled "The Estimation of True Taxonomic Durations from Fossil Occurrence Data." This presumes some not insignificant work in paleobiology, which in turn overlaps with paleontology. So there's a degree of interdisciplinary work involved in his research. In fact, you should be aware of paleontology's interdisciplinary nature, given you said you minored in it.

    2. Not to mention Wise worked with Stephen Jay Gould to a significant extent.

    3. Also, here's what hostile sources cite:

    a. "Kurt Wise is a young earth creationist (YEC) Paleontologist. He studied paleontology under Stephen Jay Gould." (source)

    b. "Kurt Wise is a young earth creationist (YEC) Paleontologist. He studied paleontology under Stephen Jay Gould." (source)

    c. "I rediscovered a 1995 article by creationist paleontologist Kurt Wise in response to a question I got this morning." (source)

    d. "Wise received a doctorate in invertebrate paleontology from Harvard University, where he studied under the direction of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould." (source)

    "But as I'm sure you know, he's one of the vanishingly few YECs among Earth scientists."

    If your implication is truth is determined by consensus, then it's a very unscientific way of thinking (among other problems).

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