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Telic Thoughts
An independent blog about intelligent design

Fitness: A Battle is Raging
Sat, 05 Nov 2011 06:49:27 +0000

What is fitness in evolutionary biology?

In an earlier post it was pointed out that John O. Reiss argues that the fitness landscape metaphor has teleological implications. If evolution is anything close to the metaphor then the process is fundamentally teleological.

Reiss also makes the following interesting remark:

The rigor of this approach, however, is lessened because there is as yet no universally agreed upon measure of fitness; fitness is either defined metaphorically, or defined only relative to the particular model or system used. It is fair to say that due to this lack, there is still no real agreement on what exactly the process of natural selection is. This is clearly a problem.

He is right, it is a problem and the role that fitness plays in evolution is a hot topic of debate. There are at least two ways that scientists and philosophers view fitness. The propensity view of fitness argues that fitness is a probabilistic propensity while a statistical view sees fitness as a subjective probability. The propensity view sees fitness as a causal factor while the statistical view "deprives fitness of any causal or explanatory power".

It is an ongoing discussion and here are a view articles discussing the role of fitness in evolutionary biology. Two ways of thinking about natural selection Selection and Causation (argues against a causal view) Fitness and Propensity's Annulment? Fitness (Stanford Encyclopaedia) Matthen and Ariew's Obituary for Fitness: Reports of its Death have been Greatly Exaggerated (argues for a causal propensity view) What fitness can't be (argues against a causal view)

How do you understand the concept of fitness? An intrinsic propensity or disposition or potential of an individual and/or a population that plays a causal role in biological change over time? Or is it a subjective probability? Do you have any other interpretation of the concept?

Item Category: Biology_gottaremovethis_
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On Heresy
Wed, 02 Nov 2011 17:29:03 +0000

Matt Ridley on why we need heretics.


Item Category: Climate Change_gottaremovethis_
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Reason Based Morality
Tue, 25 Oct 2011 17:59:34 +0000

Witness reason based morality in action.

China's "One Child Policy" is a very reasonable solution to overpopulation, which makes it reasonable to value males over females, which makes it reasonable to abort females in pregnancy up to late term, which makes it reasonable for society to care very little for the death of a small Chinese female.

All very reasonable.

HT: voxday

Item Category: Bioethics_gottaremovethis_
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Richard Dawkins Throws Harris, Krauss, Hitchens et. al. Under The Bus
Thu, 20 Oct 2011 15:00:09 +0000

Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn't, and I won't. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.


Item Category: Richard Dawkins_gottaremovethis_
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Colbert vs Pinker
Wed, 19 Oct 2011 16:28:37 +0000
The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Steven Pinker
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Item Category: Philosophy_gottaremovethis_
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Eyes Wide Shut
Sat, 15 Oct 2011 03:24:50 +0000

Jonathan M. at evolution news recently criticized the hypothesis of a monophyletic origin of the eyes.

The common evolutionary rationalization of this phenomenon is to posit that the gene in question had some kind of propensity for promoting the development of the respective structure. But this solution appears dubious, particularly in the case of the even more spectacular example of eye development...

Among these are the mammalian "Six" genes, and their analogue in Drosophila called sine oculis. These genes are deployed somewhat later in development than is Pax6. Even the convergently deployed genes Dach and dac (vertebrates and Drosophila respectively) are seemingly homologous in structure, but each possesses quite a restricted role and is utilized late in development. Moreover, the eyes of vertebrates develop from two embryonic tissues, namely the epithelium and optic vesicle, whereas the eyes of Drosophila develop from a single embryonic tissue: the imaginal disc.

The 3 subfamilies of Six genes are also conserved, 2 are involved in eye develpment , and 1 in muscle development both in mice and Drosophila. This shows that transcription factors can control any gene or developmental program as long as their targets have the appropriate cis-regulatory sequences. Therefore, their involvement in the eye or muscle program is due to evolutionary historical reasons, i.e. the latest common ancestor of mammals and insects already used them to control the respective developmental programs.

The structural genes located further downstream in the cascade are much less conserved. This means that with the same toolbox of transcriptional regulators very different eye-types can be generated.

Item Category: Creationism_gottaremovethis_
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Seeing is Believing
Thu, 13 Oct 2011 18:55:48 +0000

Item Category: Brain_gottaremovethis_
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Open Thread: Oh Deer...
Wed, 12 Oct 2011 07:51:00 +0000

First South Africa does not qualify for the soccer CAF cup, then the Aussies knock them out of the Rugby world cup and now their own wild is turning on them. Tough times... :mrgreen:

A thread for all those "facepalm", "Oh dear" or "dumbpiphany" moments.

Item Category: Humor_gottaremovethis_
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My Name Is LUCA
Thu, 06 Oct 2011 21:23:18 +0000

Scientists call it LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, but they don't know much about this great-grandparent of all living things. Many believe LUCA was little more than a crude assemblage of molecular parts, a chemical soup out of which evolution gradually constructed more complex forms. Some scientists still debate whether it was even a cell.

New evidence suggests that LUCA was a sophisticated organism after all, with a complex structure recognizable as a cell, researchers report. Their study appears in the journal Biology Direct.


The study lends support to a hypothesis that LUCA may have been more complex even than the simplest organisms alive today, said James Whitfield, a professor of entomology at Illinois and a co-author on the study.


Item Category: Front-loading_gottaremovethis_
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Rosenberg's Empirical Scientism and Empirical Naturalism
Fri, 30 Sep 2011 14:52:43 +0000

Alex Rosenberg in his new book "The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions", in his article for the New York Times and in the article "The Disenchanted Naturalist's Guide to Reality" writes to defend scientism and naturalism. There are of course different varieties of naturalism, for example neo-Aristotelian naturalism, Scholastic naturalism, methodological naturalism etc. So too for scientism. The way Alex Rosenberg describes his naturalism and scientism seems to imply a sort of Empirical Scientism and Empirical Naturalism whereby all knowledge is limited to the empirical sciences.

In his article to the New York Rosenberg defines his naturalism as:

Naturalism is the philosophical theory that treats science as our most reliable source of knowledge and scientific method as the most effective route to knowledge.

The term "science" appears to be used in this context to refer solely to the empirical physical sciences and NOT the other more general sciences such as logic, philosophy or metaphysics as previously discussed.

Rosenberg goes through great lengths in his book to clearly state what he means by "scientism". For example:

Let's expropriate the epithet. In the pages that follow, we won't use the label 'Bright' as a variant on atheist. But we'll call the worldview that all us atheists (and even some agnostics) share 'scientism.' This is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science's description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when 'complete,' what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today. We'll often use the adjective 'scientistic' in referring to the approaches, theories, methods, and descriptions of the nature of reality that all the sciences share. Science provides all the significant truths about reality, and knowing such truths is what real understanding is all about.

Rosenberg, Alex (2011-09-26). The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (Kindle Locations 300-305). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.


Scientism starts by taking physics seriously as the basic description of reality. Fortunately, we don't need to know much physics to answer our unrelenting questions. Even more fortunately, what we do need is relatively easy to understand and not at any risk of being overturned by future discoveries in physics. The slogan of Chapter 2, that the physical facts fix all the facts, will get repeated throughout the rest of the tour.

First, we see how these facts determine the biological ones, and then through biology, how physics fixes the rest of the facts about us.

Taking physics seriously has the surprising consequence that you have to accept Darwin's theory of natural selection as the only possible way that the appearance of purpose, design, or intelligence could have emerged anywhere in the universe. We'll see exactly why this is so and what this means for the persistent questions about the meaning of life in Chapters 3 and 4.

Scientism dictates a thoroughly Darwinian understanding of humans and of our evolution'-biological and cultural. But that does not in any way commit us to thinking about human nature or human culture as hardwired, or in our genes. It does mean that when it comes to ethics, morality, and value, we have to embrace an unpopular position that will strike many people as immoral as well as impious. So be it. Chapter 6 takes the sting out of the charge, however, without denying its basic accuracy. If you are going to be scientistic, you will have to be comfortable with a certain amount of nihilism. But as we'll see, it's a nice sort of nihilism.

Rosenberg, Alex (2011-09-26). The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (Kindle Locations 475-489). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.


IF WE'RE GOING TO BE SCIENTISTIC, THEN WE HAVE to attain our view of reality from what physics tells us about it. Actually, we'll have to do more than that: we'll have to embrace physics as the whole truth about reality.

Rosenberg, Alex (2011-09-26). The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (Kindle Locations 511-513). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Rosenberg also appears to link physics to a kind of mechanistic-cum-atomistic (MCA) view of matter. The core components of a MCA view of matter can be summed up as follows: 1) Homogeneous and of the same nature and only distinguished by quantitative differences of size, shape, mass, spin, tension (string theory) and motion. 2) Having no intrinsic finality or goal-directedness. 3) At the fundamental level has no conscious activity. 4) In ancient Greek atomism there are two fundamental principles, atoms (Greek = tomos) and the void. These are analogous to todays "fundamental particles" and "empty space-time" respectively. 5) All change is described in terms of the arrangement and rearrangement of these fundamental principles.

Rosenberg says:

The basic things everything is made up of are fermions and bosons. That's it. Perhaps you thought the basic stuff was electrons, protons, neutrons, and maybe quarks. Besides those particles, there are also leptons, neutrinos, muons, tauons, gluons, photons, and probably a lot more elementary particles that make up stuff. But all these elementary particles come in only one of two kinds. Some of them are fermions; the rest are bosons. There is no third kind of subatomic particle. And everything is made up of these two kinds of things. Roughly speaking, fermions are what matter is composed of, while bosons are what fields of force are made of. Fermions and bosons. All the processes in the universe, from atomic to bodily to mental, are purely physical processes involving fermions and bosons interacting with one another.

Rosenberg, Alex (2011-09-26). The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (Kindle Locations 523-530). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

So Rosenberg seems to endorse and assume some sort of MCA which of course is a metaphysical view not an empirical one. The logic and rationality of this view cannot be determined empirically. Aristotelian metaphysics is perfectly compatible with modern physics (and vise versa) so Rosenberg has to at least make an argument for why his particular metaphysical thesis is logically and rationally supportable. However, since Rosenberg's scientism and naturalism appears to limit all knowledge to empirical sciences it is also logically impossible to ever know whether such a position can ever be rational or irrational or logical or illogical. Pure blind faith that cannot in principle be logically grounded in reason (as opposed to how faith is normally understood) appears to support Rosenberg's metaphysical view.

Rosenberg also seems to endorse Darwin's view of natural selection as some sort of causal factor in biological change. In other words natural selection is prescriptive and not descriptive if we are to accept Rosenberg's view of natural selection. He writes:

When it comes to the biological realm, all that is needed to banish purpose is the recognition that the process of natural selection Darwin discovered is just physics at work among the organic molecules.

Rosenberg, Alex (2011-09-26). The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (Kindle Locations 911-913). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Darwin was a teleologist precisely because of his view of natural selection. So Rosenberg's assertion that natural selection banishes purpose seems incoherent. Aristotle's formal and final causality are preserved in Darwin's natural selection, however, natural selection as used by Darwin is some sort of extrinsic teleological factor or force or cause relative to the matter as conceived by the MCA metaphysical view of matter while the formal and final causes of hylemorphism are intrinsic to substances. This view of natural selection is another metaphysical view of Rosenberg and again, if we are to accept Rosenberg's scientism and naturalism then he will have to accept it on pure blind faith that cannot logically be grounded in reason.

One does not necessarily have to restrict oneself or conform to such a crude form of scientism and naturalism. One can adhere, in part, to a form of scientism that can merely be defined as the pursuit of knowledge by the unaided capabilities of the human intellect and human reason. There is no need to limit oneself to the empirical sciences or what the Scholastics described as 'real sciences' or 'scientiae reales'. We can of course be informed by the findings of the special sciences such as the empirical physical sciences, the social sciences and the mathematical sciences. The study of logic, what the Scholastics called 'scientia rationalis' or the 'rational science', is not off limits and we are free to employ the general sciences (metaphysics and philosophy) to answer deeper, more extensive and ultimate questions. Theology of course also tries to answer and reason about ultimate questions, however, it does so by making use of reason that is aided and enlightened by Divine revelation.

One can also adhere, in part, to a form of naturalism that is committed to studying the secondary or natural causes of reality (for example those described here). This is merely the methodological naturalism advanced by medieval thinkers and basically just Scholastic naturalism.

Rosenberg can have his empirical scientism, naturalism and "nice nihilism" that he will have to accept it on pure blind faith that cannot logically be grounded in reason. His version of scientism and naturalism just isn't the only version in town.

Item Category: Approaches_gottaremovethis_
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