Monday, September 17, 2007

The Candide Lemma (Steven Pinker on Design)

Pinker is a psychology professor at Harvard University, and best-selling author and linguist.

""....Our own bodies are riddled with quirks that no competent engineer would have planned but that disclose a history of trial-and-error tinkering: a retina installed backward, a seminal duct that hooks over the ureter like a garden hose snagged on a tree, goose bumps that uselessly try to warm us by fluffing up long-gone fur.

The moral design of nature is as bungled as its engineering design. What twisted sadist would have invented a parasite that blinds millions of people or a gene that covers babies with excruciating blisters? To adapt a Yiddish expression about God: If an intelligent designer lived on Earth, people would break His windows.

The theory of natural selection explains life as we find it, with all its quirks and tragedies. We can prove mathematically that it is capable of producing adaptive life forms and track it in computer simulations, lab experiments and real ecosystems. It doesn't pretend to solve one mystery (the origin of complex life) by slipping in another (the origin of a complex designer).

Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.""""

Pinker, unlike many of the neo-Darwinists (Dawkins hints at the issue, but does not really develop it) points out a central problem of any putative "Design arguments": a Designer would by definition have knowingly designed the bacteria that caused the black plague (--and all other nasty organisms, whether viruses, or T. Rex). However obvious that point is (it was obvious to Voltaire, the Marquis Of Arouet, and really to the more skeptical of the Founding Fathers such as Franklin and Jefferson (who kept a bust of Voltaire in his study)), it remains a rather powerful counterargument to theological "naturalism"--and really to any religious claims. For Voltaire, the Lisbon quake of his time (and the tidal wave which resulted in the deaths of 10,000 people) offered ample evidence of a lack of a perfect Designer--and the Indonesian tsunami of 12/2004 Lisbon x 30. Yet neither tsunamis nor plagues (nor world wars) phase the modern fundie: each sunday he marches into his chapel and gives thanks to his volcano "God".

16 comments:

J said...

No, McChronic, you need a bit more clarification on informal fallacies (Saganski himself was not the worst informal logician): ad hominem is NOT the same as a criticism, or even an insult. Ad hominem occurs when someone says an argument is invalid simply based on the presumed character of the person making it: "X's argument (in favor of death penalty, abortion, gun control, etc. etc.) does not carry any weight because X is conservative, democrat, stalinist, criminal deviant, whiggah, Tasmanian, whatever," In fact you are committing ad hominem (to some degree) when you refuse to post someone's comments because of what you assume about their character.

I didn't say your post was invalid BECAUSE you are not a hippie, I simply claimed you are not an authentic hippie (and provided reasons for that claim). Cannabis partaking in itself does not a hippie make (speaking of cannabis, perhaps you recall some comments a few months back by perezoso where he actually argued for decrim. of pot, and pointed out the BS of the US supreme court in regards to the medicinal pot issue (the Scalia court put it back on controlled substance list, even after majorities voted for legalized med. pot). Yet you refused to post or discuss the issue. More evidence of non-hippiness).

J said...

S & D. was cool. Not my fave Dead tune, though the metaphor ain't the worst--there are Samson and Delilah stories going down every day, right. Bobby W. playin' a Tele? Odd. I think Bob's a bit of a street preacher. Jerry or Phil or Keith Godchaux or Pigpen or the drum boys were no street preachers................bit cynical but that's how I feel.........

Note old Wharf Rat youtube next to S & D. it: now, that's the old GD: Hunter and JG.

J said...

"""I don't want to have to write that much to keep up, and I don't want other voices to be relatively diminished. It's up to me to not filter you to win debating points or whatever.""""

You have, however, filtered my writing to win debating points. That happens when Bege-chek starts into his insults as well: you call me on ad hominems (usually not an accurate call), and then allow bege-chek to fire away (blanks, usually---if not backfires, since his poor English comes off as comical).


I enjoy some of your posts (the Pollan/Sagan post at least started off well, until more or less derailed by bege-chek), since you, unlike your blog-comrades, at least on occasion avoid the ID politics and BS of most of neo-liberals (one personious not mentioned), but then you permit the BS and emotional rhetoric: ye olde "Bush is satan, and so is anyone who ever supported any conservative cause whatsoever" meme.

Note like the recent spam of WR Pitt--that's the neo-liberal emoto-speak. Even most marxists tend to avoid that sort of lame generalizing and cute irony.

I am too busy trying to earn a living and your blog causes me too much stress , really.

Maybe if you post some more Dead material (or Dawkins related themes, economics, etc.) I might comment. There are actually some academics now who write on such bizarre things as the "Philosophy of the Grateful Dead", or the "Literary significance of Dylan lyrics, etc." I'm thinking that if I can get my "The Metaphysics of American Beauty", or "Wharf Rat: An Explication" published that could assist my writing career..........

Max said...

Not meaning to add any stress. Attempting to compliment... in my back handed way.

Good luck with the Dead tomes.

J said...

The Dead scholarship was meant as facetious, mostly: though there are some "academics" who do write on such topics. And one would like to think there is more to "Wharf Rat" than just mere entertainment for stoners. Reading the lyrics (though it was the music that first struck me---one of the early GD's more developed themes), I sense it is a rather political, not so spacy or mystical--almost like Twain or Jack London or something. Sort of simmering rage: listen to JG singing it in some of the older youtube vids you get that sense. OK, it's not Wagner, but verging on "high art" I would say.

Max said...

The Sheep's "Missy Io" did high class piano bar acts in Sacramento, occasionally performing in front of the governor and other politicos. She was also a major deadhead and one of her favorite tunes to perform was Wharf Rat. I always used to give her crap because she would change one particular line to "somebody else's crime." I think you know the one I mean.

J said...

Yes: the "f--ers." Miss Missy's playing was quite tasty at times. If JS had like featured Missy a bit prominently (and canned that loudmouthed "singer") and had a real rhythm section, you woulda had somethin'.........;)

Max said...

Here's a nice one.

(still have to suffer through the crappy rhythm section)

Max said...

BTW- rhythm section wouldn't have been quite so crappy if they would have allowed a little bit of goddamn bass to come through.

J said...

Cool. I agree it wasn't that the rhythm section's playing was so horrible, but that bass and drums were mixed way down. You could probably re-engineer some of the stuff (as I once suggested to your Pal-Rab), with big bass boost, and more kick-drum--and more instrumentals (i.e. less MouthRon) it could work..............

J said...

Yeah one of JS's nicest cuts: she has a nice rich voice--sort of reminds me of the broad with the Motels---a bit Grace Slick-like too, tho nicer. Funny I don't miss the usual vocalist............

J said...

Production-wise (since you raised the issue), I think the keys could be more full--or like an organ or mellotron sound would work. It's nearly indie-radio-worthy tho. Up the bass/drums. Leads are-- ok (sky?), but those old effects are a bit dated. Could be shredded, really...or.....call Gilmour (or Gilmour clone)........

J said...

A bit Hendrixy too: (ah wager one of sky's musickmentors). More distortion ala a marshall stack and some heroin, Sir Sky...........

Max said...

Yes, Shadow was a Sky piece, though I helped him with the bridge. Since you're momentarily open to non-onius Sheep, here's one with just the ewes singing. Mostly my composition.

Of course, both tunes are lyrics-onius.

J said...

Interesting digi-piano--you on keys or all Missy? Good vocals as well. She's a pro--or damn near. I like the prog-rock sound for most part: I'd have included a few more chromatic passages, but like the previous cut, that's close to radio-worthy. Does she still play live? Live rock--or any music-- has dried up for most part--thanks to DJs and hiphoppers.

That one Sac jazz lady---Jessica Williams (--she played at the "Broadway" club near the Tower in south sac: I saw her a few times---seems to recall you or one of Mudmen there) --has sort of made it. She's a bit too funky for my tastes but great player--the jazz bruthas like her.................

J said...

I wager Ms Williams' success may be due to talents in addition to her musickal skills, however.

I work on piano when I have time: not quite Keith Jarrett, but give some Bach preludes a shot, a bit of Debussy or Satie. Sort of moved away from rock scenes--or jazz. Lots of tragedy, and one might say exploitation. LA rock concert tix now outrageous: $50 or more for even cheap seats.

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