Nature's Destiny - Michael Denton

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Nature's Destiny - Michael Denton

Post #1

Post by otseng »

This thread is to debate the book Nature's Destiny by Michael Denton.

The following debaters are allowed to participate:
Cathar1950
McCulloch
Confused
Furrowed Brow
otseng

Here is the agenda:
- Start off with background info of the author and book.
- Clarify any terms used.
- Cover one chapter at a time and debate the points made in that chapter. We might skip some chapters if we agree to it.
- Give closing arguments and final thoughts on the book.
- Go out for a drink.

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Post #131

Post by otseng »

Confused wrote:you are opting to rush through at a rapid rate of 1-2 chapters a day.
There are several reasons for this.

One is that I'd like to finish this thread and start rereading The God Delusion. Two is that I feel part 2 of the book is much weaker than part 1 (which actually Denton admits to). Third is that I actually do not agree with Denton's idea of directed evolution so there's not much for me to argue for.
QED wrote:Here's another opportunity to mention the central problem with the interpretation of such findings. Denton's conclusion is that there must be something intelligent guiding this "hazardous journey". The evolutionist would not disagree. Denton, they would say, has found the apparent "intelligence" that natural selection can supply.

Presuming that a sentient designer had good reason to adopt this particular mechanism, likewise the Theory of Evolution has equal access to whatever advantage such an adaption would confer. Once again, the symmetry is maintained with between natural and supernatural interpretation.
Actually, I would agree that Denton's view cannot be distinguishable with a completely naturalistic evolutionary process. And he does not present any method to test or falsify his claims.

So, though he does present the conundrums that exist to evolutionary theory, he does not really propose any alternative solution.
Human cognition has evolved to accurately model the external world as, more than most other animals, man has evolved in a direction that makes him reliant on the effective handling and adaptation of materials found in the environment.
However, simply being able to handle materials is not sufficient to undertake deep intellectual tasks.
I appreciate Davies point that the organ that does calculus now is essentially the same biological mechanism owned by cavemen, but calculus is built upon a series of simple operations that cavemen could probably perform individually.
The problem is that selective pressures had nothing to do with higher cognitive abilities. Therefore natural selection had no part in our ability of the sciences. Even if cavemen could do addition and subtraction, that would be all that natural selection could argue for.

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Post #132

Post by Furrowed Brow »

otseng wrote:
Furrowed Brow wrote:Well maybe the human brain has seen a few changes over that 250,000 years. It seems the human brain is still evolving.
It would appear that their findings only show the deleterious effect of evolution.
Their analyses focused on detecting sequence changes in two genes - Microcephalin and “abnormal spindle-like microcephaly associated” ( ASPM ) - across different human populations. In humans, mutations in either of these genes can render the gene nonfunctional and cause microcephaly - a clinical syndrome in which the brain develops to a much smaller size than normal.
The genes Microcephalin and ASPM are related to brain size. Mutations in humans CAN lead to microcephaly. What the researchers found was
Their statistical analysis indicated that the Microcephalin haplogroup D appeared about 37,000 years ago, and the ASPM haplogroup D appeared about 5,800 years ago - both well after the emergence of modern humans about 200,000 years ago. “In the case of Microcephalin , the origin of the new variant coincides with the emergence of culturally modern humans,” said Lahn. “And the ASPM new variant originated at a time that coincides with the spread of agriculture, settled cities, and the first record of written language. So, a major question is whether the coincidence between the genetic evolution that we see and the cultural evolution of humans was causative, or did they synergize with each other?”
So what we have for certain are changes in the human brain. Changes that coincide with major cultural changes. It is known that genes in questions contribute to brain size. Though it is also know that mutations can reduce brain size. It then seems much more work is needed.

However, even if the picture is not fully clear it is incorrect to say that humans being around 250,000 years ago were ready to do mathematics they would not use until the last 4,000 years or so; and that this is therefore a mystery. We know that the human brain today is now different from 250,000 years ago. Thus the presumption that the early brain was already prefigured for mathetmatics cannot just be be presumed. It is a premise that needs to be argued for (if not proved) if it is to amount to a meaningful mystery.

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Post #133

Post by QED »

otseng wrote:
QED wrote: Human cognition has evolved to accurately model the external world as, more than most other animals, man has evolved in a direction that makes him reliant on the effective handling and adaptation of materials found in the environment.
However, simply being able to handle materials is not sufficient to undertake deep intellectual tasks.
I think it was Richard Feynman who said "any idiot can do what another can." Deep intellectual tasks might just be a pompous description of what you get when you string a lot of simpler tasks together. I'm not at all convinced there's anything to answer for here.
otseng wrote:
QED wrote:I appreciate Davies point that the organ that does calculus now is essentially the same biological mechanism owned by cavemen, but calculus is built upon a series of simple operations that cavemen could probably perform individually.
The problem is that selective pressures had nothing to do with higher cognitive abilities. Therefore natural selection had no part in our ability of the sciences. Even if cavemen could do addition and subtraction, that would be all that natural selection could argue for.
But those cognitive abilities are the gateway to a broad range of other mental tricks. The ability to do some sort of division would soon on a highly social animal. I can't see these tricks not playing an important part of human evolution.

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Post #134

Post by otseng »

Furrowed Brow wrote:We know that the human brain today is now different from 250,000 years ago. Thus the presumption that the early brain was already prefigured for mathetmatics cannot just be be presumed. It is a premise that needs to be argued for (if not proved) if it is to amount to a meaningful mystery.
Even if we suppose that cavemen did not have preconfigured cognitive capabilities to do calculus, then it would mean humans would've evolved later to be able to do it. But, exactly what selective pressure was responsible for this? How was man able to evolve to possess the higher cognitive abilities before it was able to be utilized?

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Post #135

Post by otseng »

"When I first wrote my treatise about our system, I had an eye upon such principles as might work with considering men, for the belief of a deity, and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose. Isaac Newton" (page 369)

We now arrive at the conclusion of the book.
page 370 wrote:it is all the more remarkable that the most presumptuous of all their beliefs, the central axiom of the Christian faith, on which the whole of medieval civilization was based, has stood the test of time and the critical scrutiny of four centuries of science.

The apparent demolition of the anthropocentric cosmos came about mainly through two great revolutions in thought... in astronomy ... rise of Darwinism.
We have now a rise of empirical scientific evidence that resurrects the old religious notion of anthropocentrism. And even more, if we analyze strictly on the empirical data, the idea of intentional design is the most plausible.

"Reinforcing further the teleological position is the fact that its credibility has relentlessly grown as scientific knowledge has advance throughout the past two centuries." (page 384)

"No other worldview comes close. No other explanation makes as much sense of all the facts." (page 385)

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Post #136

Post by Furrowed Brow »

otseng wrote:
Furrowed Brow wrote:We know that the human brain today is now different from 250,000 years ago. Thus the presumption that the early brain was already prefigured for mathetmatics cannot just be be presumed. It is a premise that needs to be argued for (if not proved) if it is to amount to a meaningful mystery.
Even if we suppose that cavemen did not have preconfigured cognitive capabilities to do calculus, then it would mean humans would've evolved later to be able to do it. But, exactly what selective pressure was responsible for this? How was man able to evolve to possess the higher cognitive abilities before it was able to be utilized?
Perhaps that question needs its own thread?

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Post #137

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We have now a rise of empirical scientific evidence that resurrects the old religious notion of anthropocentrism.
Yet Mosquitos, Crocs, Sharks, Tigers etc. all feed on Humans so we could go on to argue that these animals are even closer to the "centre of the cosmos" (as pointed out in a famous Chinese proverb I believe). Scientific evidence requires interpretation and for interpretation to be convincing it needs to be unambiguous.
And even more, if we analyze strictly on the empirical data, the idea of intentional design is the most plausible.
Disqualifying one or more metaphysical explanations on the basis that we have no empirical data for them should not be allowed to let another metaphysical explanation in by default.

It does nothing to deliver us with an unambiguous interpretation of the data. To be able to prove that there was intent, we must also prove that there are no other metaphysical "functional equivalents" that could lead to the same set of empirical observations.
"No other worldview comes close. No other explanation makes as much sense of all the facts." (page 385)
That's an even stronger claim. It says "we have a metaphysical theory, and no other metaphysical theory has as much explanatory power." I hope you appreciate that the trading of metaphysics in this way is really quite meaningless.

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Post #138

Post by otseng »

QED wrote:
We have now a rise of empirical scientific evidence that resurrects the old religious notion of anthropocentrism.
Yet Mosquitos, Crocs, Sharks, Tigers etc. all feed on Humans so we could go on to argue that these animals are even closer to the "centre of the cosmos" (as pointed out in a famous Chinese proverb I believe). Scientific evidence requires interpretation and for interpretation to be convincing it needs to be unambiguous.
None of them are able to handle fire, so they can be ruled out. This leaves humans to be unambiguously the sole candidate.
And even more, if we analyze strictly on the empirical data, the idea of intentional design is the most plausible.
Disqualifying one or more metaphysical explanations on the basis that we have no empirical data for them should not be allowed to let another metaphysical explanation in by default.
The difference is that Denton's data are all verifiable data. If we are to choose between a hypothesis backed with empirical data or a hypothesis with metaphysical possibilities, the former would make the stronger argument.
That's an even stronger claim. It says "we have a metaphysical theory, and no other metaphysical theory has as much explanatory power." I hope you appreciate that the trading of metaphysics in this way is really quite meaningless.
He doesn't state that "no other metaphysical theory has as much explanatory power", but rather, "No other explanation makes as much sense of all the facts." This includes both natural and supernatural explanations.

The fact that the conclusion arrives at the metaphysical in no way makes it meaningless. His argument is meaningful because he uses scientific facts, makes reasonable assumptions, provides logical arguments, and provides how to falsify it.

However, there is no evidence of other universes and no way to test it or to falsify it.

Denton provides a compelling scientific hypothesis for the teleological nature of life. He also provides an interesting argument for anthropocentrism with man's sole ability to use fire, and thus be able to ultimately understand nature.

For those that reject his conclusion, I would submit it's not because his argument is lacking, but because one has a bias beforehand of rejecting the supernatural.

This is evident in that Denton did not set out to argue for design, but concluded it as he was writing the book.

"Although this is obviously a book with many theological implications, my initial intention was not specifically to develop an argument for design; however, as I research more deeply into the topic and as the manuscript went through successive drafts, it became increasingly clear that the laws of nature were fine-tuned for life on earth to a remarkable degree and that the emerging picture provided powerful and self-evident support for the traditional anthropocentric teleological view of the cosmos. Thus, by the time the final draft was finished, the book had become in effect an essay in natural theology" (page xi)

So, if one has an open mind and will logically go to where the data leads without having an prejudged bias, then Denton's arguments makes a very compelling case for intentional design.

Atheists charge theists to use scientific evidence to show that a deity exists. But, then makes the rules that anything that alludes to the supernatural is not science. However, one cannot have it both ways. So, I believe Denton's argument sufficiently answers the charge of providing scientific evidence for a god.

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Post #139

Post by Confused »

Ok, I know I said I wasn't going to post anymore, but I had to add some final thoughts here.

otseng wrote:None of them are able to handle fire, so they can be ruled out. This leaves humans to be unambiguously the sole candidate.
None require the use of fire, so why should this make the universe designed with man as the ultimate creation? Only man must cook his food or he will get food poisoning, only man must wear heavy clothes and use heat (fire) for warmth.
otseng wrote:For those that reject his conclusion, I would submit it's not because his argument is lacking, but because one has a bias beforehand of rejecting the supernatural.
And I would submit that it has nothing to do with a preconceived bias towards the supernatural. I would submit that it is the nature of using science to validate something it isn't meant to validate. By saying that since science can't explain why X, Y, and Z are the best methods/materials/etc... then one can infer a metaphysical causation. It is nothing more than a fancy dressed up God of Gaps.
otseng wrote:This is evident in that Denton did not set out to argue for design, but concluded it as he was writing the book.


I beg to differ. He set out to argue for design by means of fine tuning. Without fine tuning, he would still have to reject evolution, as his first book did. With evolution now known as fact, he must now find a method to overcome his previous book without discrediting it completely. He does this with fine tuning.
otseng wrote:So, if one has an open mind and will logically go to where the data leads without having an prejudged bias, then Denton's arguments makes a very compelling case for intentional design.
I can look at the data he provided and easily see why one would conclude the anthropic principle. I won't say that I can't. What I will say is that using nature to discount the controversial methods of the evolutionary theory (natural selection, adaptation, chance mutations, etc...) in no way validates the hypothesis Denton claims. Empirical data shows that X is required for Y. It in no way says that for X to have Y, a Z (fine tuning, gentle hand) had to bring them together.
otseng wrote:Atheists charge theists to use scientific evidence to show that a deity exists. But, then makes the rules that anything that alludes to the supernatural is not science. However, one cannot have it both ways. So, I believe Denton's argument sufficiently answers the charge of providing scientific evidence for a god.
I have yet to see a charge of this. I have seen atheists question if science can prove or disprove a Deity. I have seen atheists question the validity of the bible, ie. can scientific/historical/cosmological/data validate anything in the bible. But not what you suggest. And Denton still falls woefully short of providing scientific evidence for a God. Rather he presents a hypothesis that can never reach the level of a theory simply because not only are his claims untestable (fine tuning, intelligent design) but they are also unsound. He uses scientific premises to come to a non-scientific conclusion.
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Post #140

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Confused wrote:And Denton still falls woefully short of providing scientific evidence for a God. Rather he presents a hypothesis…

Is it even worthy of being called an hypothesis? I doubt it. It don’t think it is an argument that could be formulated to be tested or falsified. Moreover ’ injudicious and leading language disguises the zero ground he actually gains in trying to say more than the weak anthropic principle. Denton’s argument is all about slippery semantics and not evidence.

Here are the problems with the logic of his case as I see it.

1/ General conclusions drawn from observation of this universe give zero logical support for any notion of optimal fitness. There is a huge semantic confusion.

2/ Any insistence that there is no alternative to the conditions that make for life is inconsistent with invoking purpose, destiny or design, without invoking alternative non observed theoretical possibilities like multiverses, or just plain old philosophical counter factuals.

3/ The singling out of life as a characteristic of a universe, singles out life as a special case. This is a value judgment not arguable for by way of statistics or science, or arguments of the form X is fit for life.

These problems are compounded by a one eyed presentation. From known observations of this universe Denton has overstated his case for the visible light spectrum and oxygen. He has also given a very skewed reading of Davies in his introduction.

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