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Monday, July 06, 2009

Some Smart Critters

Here:

"By contrast, an ant nest or a beehive can behave as a united organism in its own right. In a beehive, the workers are happy to help the community, even to die, because the queen carries and passes on their genes."

Who knew ants were familiar with genetic theory?

39 comments:

  1. Who knew ants had emotions such as happiness?

    Anthropomorphizing remains one of the silliest things.

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  2. Don't these scientists know that evolution has no purpose?!

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  3. 1) James, I spoke with several representative ants: none of them could remember ever being happy. Nevertheless, they seemed to think (somewhat wistfully) that happiness was possible.

    2) Bob, we don't know that evolution has no purpose. We only surmise that purpose doesn't help to characterize the processes of evolution. It's our model of evolution that has no purpose. Our lingo almost always identifies the model with the modeled, so I forgive you. This time.

    3) L. Ron Hubbard claimed to have investigated the spiritual nature of ant colonies. He said that the colony, not the ant, was the being.

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  4. Gene, ants used to behave blindly, based on rigid genetic dictates and pheromonal signalling initated bhy the queen, but scientists have recent discovered that the parasitc male drones in both various species of bees and their largely flightless ant relatives)have further cemented their postion by preaching that a supernatural superorganization (or "Borg", which naturally made ants in its own image) requires submission and selfless behavior in the worker classes.

    So apparently the workers are now happy to act selflessly, even though it is a likley overstatment to suggest that all workers understand the genetic basis behind the arthropod borgology.

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  5. Wabulon, have your discussions with representative ants indicated whether they believe there is an "objective" moral order to the universe and, if so, sketched and outline of it?

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  6. Wabulon,

    Sorry, I was just making a joke. One of my pet peeves is that evolutionary scientists often don't follow the straitjacket they teach kids. Here's a recent example where I poked fun at an evolutionary explanation of something.

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  7. Bob, one of my pet peeves is religious fanatics making sh*t up as they go to suit their particular prejudices. Often, this results in murder, mayhem, and general human suffering. Compared to that, anthropomorphization and other harmless foibles of the human mind strike me as irrelevant and at best cause for raised eyebrows.
    I find it funny that you direct your ire on such small things - such as using imprecise language when talking about evolution - but are strangely silent when religious language is used to justify hateful acts against people, such as homosexuals or atheists.
    Does it bother you that in the US, the vast majority of people believe - without, and probably against all evidence - that an atheist cannot be as moral as a Christian, and consequently would never agree to have an atheist run for public office - and even use violence against them?

    http://atheism.about.com/b/2005/04/29/thank-god-for-violence-against-atheists.htm

    Just asking.

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  8. PS: yes, the story the link refers to IS a joke, I think. BUT - there have been many documented cases of violence being used against atheists. In Germany, a recent case involved a group of Turkish kids hunting down another Turkish kid after the latter had openly stated he does not believe in god. THAT was no joke.

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  9. Here's a list of real events:

    http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/downey_24_4.htm

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  10. scineram11:46 AM

    Why should an atheist be moral?

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  11. They would "never agree to have an atheist run for public office"?

    Do you mean they wouldn't vote for one? That's entirely sensible -- the person is in denial regarding the transcendental ground of all being, which is certainly a pretty big strike against them. As Plato said, an ordered polity can only come from rulers with ordered souls.

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  12. Scineram - what has theism to do with morality, apart from theists claiming that it does?

    Gene - that was probably one of the most nonsensical things I have ever seen you write.

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  13. Anonymous7:30 PM

    Ants don't know evolutionary theory, but it still works.

    Primitive peoples have never heard of a concept called "arbitrage" but act on it nonetheless.

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  14. One of my pet peeves is that evolutionary scientists often don't follow the straitjacket they teach kids.

    Bob, teaching science isn`t a "straightjacket", as much as logic and the scientific method may be at odds with human nature.

    Besides your peeve being plainly wrong, it`s a bit rich coming from someone who believes that all truths are written in a book more or less dictated by God.

    As Plato said, an ordered polity can only come from rulers with ordered souls.

    Gene, are leaders directed by their "souls" or their minds?

    But where are you going with this? Were all polities prior to Christendom unordered, or could pagan leaders also have minds ordered by the predominant religion in their society?

    It seems evident that all human societies have religions of various sorts, used to coordinate members of society and abate commons problems.

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  15. "Gene, are leaders directed by their "souls" or their minds?"

    To create a well-ordered polity, they must be directed by their souls connection with the divine ground of being.

    "But where are you going with this? Were all polities prior to Christendom unordered..."

    Are you not aware that Plato was "prior to Christendom"?

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  16. "To create a well-ordered polity, they must be directed by their souls connection with the divine ground of being."

    Ok, I think I'm outta here. First Bob, now you.

    Bizarre.

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  17. Gene, was Plato a leader?

    In any case, is Plato really saying anything more that ordered polities cannot be maintained if, as judged by a community`s fundamental standards, its leaders are insane?

    (Bob, apologies for not keeping my straits straight.)

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  18. TT wrote:

    Bob, teaching science isn`t a "straightjacket", as much as logic and the scientific method may be at odds with human nature.

    Besides your peeve being plainly wrong...


    Tom, what are you talking about? Do you really think I'm objecting to the teaching of the "scientific method" in biology class, or that I'm PO'd about their casual use of Modus Ponens in high school?

    I'm saying that they teach you in biology class that if you think evolution has a higher purpose, you are wrong and you haven't understood the theory.

    But there is no way to deduce that from naturalistic observations. This is one of the biggest confusions over Intellgent Design theory. Michael Behe (I believe) thinks that probably all life forms are descended from a single cell, i.e. he endorses the theory of common descent.

    What he disputes is that this happened because of "mere" random mutation and natural selection.

    For many high school (and higher) biology teachers, that distinction doesn't even compute. They didn't even realize they were smuggling in teleological elements where their evidence was only referring to physical facts.

    And then, on top of all that, many biologists don't even obey their own dictates. As Gene's example shows, they quite often revert to "intentional" language when talking about life forms; they can't help themselves.

    Anyway, please spare me your defenses of "logic" and "the scientific method." Of course I'm not expecting biology teachers to bust out Genesis in the classroom. I'm not objecting to science, I'm objecting to scient-ism, or the tendency of some scientists to elevate the results of a physical experiment or observation far out of proportion to what it really tells us about the nature of reality.

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  19. Bob, you complained about evolutionary scientist teaching a straitjacket to kids; I took your implication being that you viewed teaching evolution itself is the straitjacket.

    You have clarified to say you meant "the tendency of some scientists to elevate the results of a physical experiment or observation far out of proportion to what it really tells us about the nature of reality." This seems a bit different from criticising the "teaching" of evolution generally to "kids".

    I`m sorry if I got you wrong, but you might trying to be more careful, along with critizing those who misinterpret you.

    "I'm saying that they teach you in biology class that if you think evolution has a higher purpose, you are wrong and you haven't understood the theory."

    I think evolution is generally very thinly taught in public schools, and have never heard this complaint. I was certainly never taught that evolution couldn`t have a higher purpose, even though the theory itself clearly is based on premises that evolution is not driven by divine purposes and simply tries to explain the diversity and variability of life based on physical processes and mechanisms.

    Gene's example shows nohing more than scientists are also human and therefore make sloppy but quite natural mistakes about "intentions" in nature.

    I`m reluctant to discuss ID and Bede as you haven`t provided an opinion of your own.

    But I do notice that you haven`t addressed the straitjacket that religious belief and sacred scriptures very often pose on understanding the world.

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  20. "In any case, is Plato really saying anything more that ordered polities cannot be maintained if, as judged by a community`s fundamental standards, its leaders are insane?"

    Well, yes, Tom, he was saying much more than that. Real leaders ought to have turned away from the shadows on the cave walls and ascended up to the light.

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  21. "Ok, I think I'm outta here."

    I understand. Maintaining a state of denial can be hard work.

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  22. Tokyo Tom - religious teachings ain't straight jackets, man. The FREE YOU. From thinking.

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  23. "Tokyo Tom - religious teachings ain't straight jackets, man. The FREE YOU. From thinking."

    Yes, James, it's amazing how their encounter with the divine freed Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Kepler, and Newton from thinking -- what a bunch of dumbasses they were compared to you!

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  24. "Gene, are leaders directed by their "souls" or their minds?"

    Tom, please see Plato on the nature of the soul and its parts.

    (By the way, you're scare quotes are hilarious -- as if you could locate their minds in space and time any easier than their souls.)

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  25. By the way, James, I thought you were "out of here"?

    But truth is hard to ignore, isn't it?

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  26. Tom wrote:

    I was certainly never taught that evolution couldn`t have a higher purpose, even though the theory itself clearly is based on premises that evolution is not driven by divine purposes and simply tries to explain the diversity and variability of life based on physical processes and mechanisms.

    Tom, I've put in bold the part where you agree with what I said (even though you thought you were disagreeing with me). People are taught that it is biological fact that modern species evolved with no designer. The word "blind" in the famous book The Blind Watchmaker is referring to this. I would venture to say that 99% of biology teachers/textbooks don't even make the weaker claim of "hey we don't need to assume a designer," I think they say "there was no designer involved." They are not necessarily denying the existence of a God, they're just saying that the theory of Darwinian evolution per se does not rely on any purpose.

    Another way of seeing this: I definitely had it stressed to me that it was a self-serving mistake to say that humans were "highly evolved," that such talk misconstrued Darwin's theory.

    So that's fine as far as the theory goes, but Behe et al.'s point is that you can't look at nature and see whether that lack of purpose is true or false. Just like you can't look at a human beings cells under a microscope (or weigh them on a scale etc.) to determine if people act or not.

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  27. Gene, my quotes were simply to indicate what I consider a poorly defined term. Nothing scary, much less mocking, involved.

    Okay, so I guess you`re telling me I gotta re-read Plato before you`ll elucidate further. Your prerogative.

    (Smart people who grew up in religious societies (Darwin too) aside, doesn`t James have a fair point about how societies and individuals use religion to circumscribe thinking?)

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  28. ”I would venture to say that 99% of biology teachers/textbooks don't even make the weaker claim of "hey we don't need to assume a designer," I think they say "there was no designer involved."””

    You might be right about some teachers getting evolution wrong, but at least MY mother told me a million times not to exaggerate.

    "you can't look at nature and see whether that lack of purpose is true or false."

    Not sure if this is you or Behe, but the whole basis of science is to figure out how and why things work, other than "God made it that way”.

    `Night.

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  29. "'you can't look at nature and see whether that lack of purpose is true or false.'

    "Not sure if this is you or Behe, but the whole basis of science is to figure out how and why things work, other than "God made it that way”."

    True, Tom, but utterly irrelevant to what Bob said.

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  30. Capitalists often see society as an ant colony, and apply religion to support their privileged position. “After all, it’s an intelligent design that made ME the beneficiary of all the labor power in the mound. Why, I gave them instructions and a purpose in life, of course they owe me! “

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  31. James,

    You know how Silas is annoying because, even if I post a blog about Star Trek, Silas will say, "I find it rich Bob that you could talk about the 22nd century, since we would all be dead at that point if you and your polluter friends got their way"?

    Don't you see that you are doing the same thing? We're talking about a scientist overreaching on evolutionary theory, and you say I can't complain about that because you and I disagree about Christianity?

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  32. And yes, for the record, I think the Spanish Inquisition sucked. (But who could have expected it?)

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  33. TT, you keep disagreeing with me, and then your follow up comments illustrate the point I made (which you disagreed with).

    I claim that 99% of biology teachers claim that evolution has no higher purpose, and you (seem to) agree that they are wrong for saying that, and quibble with my percentage. I.e. you seem to be saying, "Yes they're wrong if they said that, Bob, but I bet fewer than 99% make the error you state."

    Then you go on to casually state that a theory that explains organisms through reference to God's intentions is unscientific.

    Is it just reference to God that is unscientific? Or what if we just say "some intelligence--maybe aliens--must have designed these cells, because there is no way this complexity could have arisen through mere chance mutations, even given 200 billion years"?

    Of course I'm jumping to conclusions somewhat when I say the following, but in this debate I feel like half the time you are accusing me of mischaracterizing the standard Darwinist position, and the other half you are beating me over the head with the standard Darwinist position as I have described it.

    You're right, someone who says, "It's thundering because God is mad" would be uttering an unscientific claim. Now if someone analyzed thunderclaps in terms of Morse code, and it turned out to say, "I love you and that's why I created all of you," then it's not so clear that it would be religious mumbo jumbo to think there was an intelligence behind it.

    But either way, this isn't merely about the proper boundaries of science. I don't think many biologists would concede, "It's true that each organism's form was designed in the mind of God, and He controlled every step of their evolution. But as a scientist, I can't really talk like that, so I will label those changes 'random mutations' as a functional term, even though in truth God is guiding the whole thing and it's not accidental at all."

    So what I'm saying is that I think many of the strongest supporters of modern evolutionary theory would reject the above, and they would say, "What are you talking about? We *know* evolution is a blind process, as surely as we know the law of gravity. We've proven it for all intents and purposes, as much as you can prove anything in the natural sciences."

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  34. Gene, was your now non-existent July 19 blog post "Morals Are Not Objectively Real and Neither Is..." objectively real, simply a figment of my imagination, slug bait or something else?

    If slug bait, then (a) you gotta do something about the quality of your readership, (b) this reader at least insists on slug bait with beer, and (c) I wonder if dissolving blog posts is the best way to kill slugs, or whether that problem might be best solved by using salt to pull the solvent from them.

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  35. Since it doesn`t exist, let`s make that July 10.

    More about its non-existence here:

    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/07/13/are-blog-posts-by-gene-callahan-objectively-real-perhaps-not-if-as-gene-might-have-suggested-the-universe-itself-does-not-exist-in-time-or-space.aspx

    Inquiring ants and all that.

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  36. "People are taught that it is biological fact that modern species evolved with no designer."

    Some people, certainly; but is this what 99% of what HS teachers say? I disagree with you.

    We agree that the theory of evolution itself offers a non-purpose-driven explanation for the diversity and relatedness of life, and that cannot itself prove the absence of a purpose to what the theory and science try to explain.

    the theory itself clearly is based on premises that evolution is not driven by divine purposes and simply tries to explain the diversity and variability of life based on physical processes and mechanisms.

    Where I said "the theory itself clearly is based on premises that evolution is not driven by divine purposes", what I meant was that the theory "tries to explain the diversity and variability of life based on physical processes and mechanisms", without assuming any external purposes.

    Sorry, but I didn`t "casually state that a theory that explains organisms through reference to God's intentions is unscientific." I said that science tries "to figure out how and why things work, other than "God made it that way"." A theory that refers to God`s intentions (or the intentions of other Watchmakers) COULD be scientific, if it provided insights and hypotheses that could be tested or otherwise provided more insightful that alternative hypotheses.

    "there is no way this complexity could have arisen through mere chance mutations, even given 200 billion years"

    This is a misunderstanding of the theory of natural selection; no creature random self-assembled. The chief point is that competition with the rest of nature tests various random changes, which changes that are advantageous to reproduction being favored.

    Darwin, in fact, started from understanding how humans, in breeding animals & plants with desired characteristics, played exactly the same role of favoring the propagation of changes that we preferred.

    "I don't think many biologists would concede, "It's true that each organism's form was designed in the mind of God, and He controlled every step of their evolution. But as a scientist, I can't really talk like that, so I will label those changes 'random mutations' as a functional term, even though in truth God is guiding the whole thing and it's not accidental at all.""

    I agree, but if biologists felt like the hand of God was evident and could be shown, I suspect they`d be happy to say it.

    "many of the strongest supporters of modern evolutionary theory would ... would say, "We *know* evolution is a blind process, as surely as we know the law of gravity. We've proven it for all intents and purposes, as much as you can prove anything in the natural sciences.""

    I don`t disagree w/ you, but even while these strongest supporters would be very skeptical of claims of purpose, scientists generally would be convince of purpose if purpose could be demonstrated. But a very strong case has been made that purpose is not needed to understand the variety & relatedness of life generally.

    Regards,

    Tom

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  37. Bob, I apologize. I was in a bad mood. The sentiment remains, but the timing was bad.

    I still like you :)

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  38. Scineram and James: I think Dostoyevski said it too.

    Gene: "...well ordered polity..."--does that mean that each conspiracy has a least member?

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