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Friday, September 10, 2010

Silence Is Goulden

Just finished Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life, his description of the Cambrian explosion and what he sees as the philosophical implications arising from those distant events. The science writing is very good, although I understand his conclusions are still disputed.

But when Gould goes to draw the "implications" of the events he describes, what we get is typical scientistic nonsense. For instance, Gould contends that the very long time life has existed on Earth compared to the very short time, relatively speaking, that humans have existed demonstrates that the telos of life cannot been to have create humans. Yes, and I suppose if we can show that a composer spent twenty years composing, and then comes out with a one hour symphony, this demonstrates that the purpose of all that composing could not possibly have been the symphony, since the composing lasted so much longer than the symphony!

11 comments:

  1. Is the telos of a feather to keep a bird warm, or to allow it fly?

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  2. Off topic, Silas. I was pointing out that Gould has a bad argument, not putting forward a teleological theory of biology. If you'd like to discuss Gould's argument, here's the place! If not, find a post thread where the teleology of feathers is being discussed.

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  3. I bring that up because, while certainly a telos could be "a long time in the making", that wouldn't explain the constant "repurposing" of components, one of which was eventually responsible for humans. If you're going to call humans the telos, you're not just arguing against the relatively short time, but the relatively random purpose. I think this breaks your comparison.

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  4. No, Silas, I'm not arguing for anything. I'm saying Gould presented a very bad argument.

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  5. And you presented a very bad representation of his point, too.

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  6. "Consider the primal tale of Genesis, presenting but a few thousand years old, inhabited by humans for all but the first five days, and populated by creatures made for our benefit and subordinate to our needs. Such a geological background could inspire Alexander Pope's confidence [that the world has a purpose]...

    "To this cosmic redefinition, my profession contributed its own special shock -- geology's most frightening fact, we might say. By the turn of the last century, we knew that the earth had endured for millions of years, and that human existence occupied by the last geological millimicrosecond of this history -- the last inch of the cosmic mile, or the last second of the geological year...

    "We cannot bear the central implication of this brave new world. If humanity arose just yesterday as a small twig on one branch of flourishing tree, then life may not, in any genuine sense, exist for us or because of us." -- Wonderful Life, p. 44

    So, in other words, he claims exactly what I said he did: a great length of "background" work leading up to some result is good evidence that result is not the purpose of that work! I got him exactly right, but you made me type all this in to show that.

    Bye again, SIlas.

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  7. Silas, of course, dragged in the repurposing argument. But whether or not Gould makes that argument, that's not the argument I was discussing. And it is entirely independent of the "Whoa, that's a long time!" argument -- the repurposing argument, if it worked (which it doesn't) would work over short or long time scales, so the "Whoa, that's a long time!" argument is irrelevant to it.

    It's just Silas showing why he's banned from web sites worldwide.

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  8. Gould's point about the time lag is still evidence, even if it's isn't irrefutable evidence (which no one should strive to find anyway).

    "Bobby was born in America 20 years ago. So he probably speaks English."

    Gene's response: "No, he could have been abducted to Cambodia."

    (And yes I understand the difference between disagreeing with an argument vs. disagreeing with a conclusion. It's still a pretty strict standard you have for what to talk about here. Even if I haven't said something relevant to your refutation, don't you want to defend your position on teleology in the context of birds?)

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  9. Silas: The telos of a feather is to contribute to the manufacture of extravagant hats.

    Gene: The teleology of feathers has now had contributions from two discutants. Argal, the teleology of feathers is now being discussed here. I have spoken.

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  10. Since you're back on topic Silas, I've posted this. But:

    "Gould's point about the time lag is still evidence, even if it's isn't irrefutable evidence..."

    Evidence of what? It's certainly NOT, as I've explained, evidence against teleology. The length of time X takes to result in Y has nothing to do, one way or the other, with whether or not Y is the intended or accidental result of X. Nothing.

    And, anyway, intelligent theists took the "7 days" of creation metaphorically -- see Augustine writing in 400 if you doubt this. If you told Augustine that those first five days took 4.5 billion years, his response would have been "So what?" and not the "shock" Gould thinks he ought to have felt.

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  11. But Silas, you're example of Bobby is apropos, because just like we are familiar with millions of examples of people born in America and see that after 20 years almost all of them speak English, so, too, we have study millions of universes and seen that, in those examples with Creators, it never took the Creator billions of years to bring about the result He was aiming at.

    Oh, on second thought, the example was nonsense, wasn't it?

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