Language as “Darwin’s problem”

Noam Chomsky is not a conservative Christian but is rather a leftwing radical.  But in his day job, he is a pioneering linguist, having shown how all languages depend on “deep structures”–complex grammatical processes that are built into the human mind–that all languages have in common and that children can master almost without effort.

He has teamed with a famous anthropologist, Ian Tattersall, and other scholars (Johan J. Bolhuis and Robert C. Berwick) to pose the question How Could Language Have Evolved? They certainly believe in evolution and they try to find a minimalistic feature that might have evolved, but the article shows that language, with its irreducible complexity (the intelligence design term, not theirs), is very difficult  to explain in terms of random selection over time, to the point that the authors describe language as “Darwin’s problem.” [Read more...]

Natural Law reconsidered

Natural law as a grounding for morality  is basic to Roman Catholic ethics, though it is variously embraced or rejected by Protestants.   As contemporary society tries to normalize sexual behavior long considered not just immoral but unnatural, natural law ethics have come back into vogue among those who insist that sexual morality is not just a narrow religious conviction but something applicable to everyone.

Protestant philosopher R. J. Snell has written a new book that attempts a new formulation of natural law, one grounded in love.  After the jump, an excerpt from the book that first explains what we mean by natural law.  (And note how the concept that nature has a “design”–c.f. the intelligent design movement–is integral to the idea.)

Later, I intend to post something on the Christian case against natural law theory, and we can weigh the issues. [Read more...]

DNA encodes two languages, not just one

Scientists have discovered that DNA contains not just one but two languages, superimposed over each other.  They knew about the one that determines how proteins are made, but the other embedded language “instructs the cell on how genes are controlled.”

We sure are lucky that random processes led to the evolution of these two languages!  But don’t you need reproduction in order to have evolution?  And don’t you need both of these functions of the DNA to be already in place before there can be any reproduction?  I’m curious how Darwinists explain this.

The news story about this, quoted after the jump, uses terms like “language,” “writing,” “reading,” “meaning,” “information system,” and “instructs.”  So underlying all of life is language; that is, what the Greeks called a logos, the cosmic organizing Word. As in John 1:1-3.

[Read more...]

“A mind not a material process”

Intelligent Design scholar Stephen Meyer has a new book out, Darwin’s Doubt.  Emily Belz of World reports on a talk he gave in New York City in which he says that various scientists, from a purely secularist point of view, are challenging Darwinism and proposing alternative theories.  The issue, he says, is the growing evidence that the data in the universe points to “a mind not a material process.” [Read more...]

Stephen King on Intelligent Design and God

Stephen King is the living master of horror fiction and a pretty darned good writer by any standard.  NPR has an interesting interview with him on the occasion of his new novel, Joyland (which sounds like a good one), in which he affirms his belief in Intelligent Design. [Read more...]

If materialism is wrong, what can replace it?

Alvin Plantinga is surely one of the best living philosophers.  He is also an evangelical Christian.  The New Republic, no less, has printed his review of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.  Nagel, an eminent philosopher, is an atheist, but he recognizes the force of the intelligent design arguments and in this book (published by Oxford University Press), he dismantles the materialists’ assumptions.  What is especially interesting, though, is how Plantinga interacts with Nagel and challenges his atheism:

Nagel rejects nearly every contention of materialist naturalism. Mind and Cosmos rejects, first, the claim that life has come to be just by the workings of the laws of physics and chemistry. As Nagel points out, this is extremely improbable, at least given current evidence: no one has suggested any reasonably plausible process whereby this could have happened. As Nagel remarks, “It is an assumption governing the scientific project rather than a well-confirmed scientific hypothesis.”

The second plank of materialist naturalism that Nagel rejects is the idea that, once life was established on our planet, all the enormous variety of contemporary life came to be by way of the processes evolutionary science tells us about: natural selection operating on genetic mutation, but also genetic drift, and perhaps other processes as well. These processes, moreover, are unguided: neither God nor any other being has directed or orchestrated them. Nagel seems a bit less doubtful of this plank than of the first; but still he thinks it incredible that the fantastic diversity of life, including we human beings, should have come to be in this way: “the more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes.” Nagel supports the commonsense view that the probability of this happening in the time available is extremely low, and he believes that nothing like sufficient evidence to overturn this verdict has been produced. . . .

he thinks it is especially improbable that consciousness and reason should come to be if materialist naturalism is true. “Consciousness is the most conspicuous obstacle to a comprehensive naturalism that relies only on the resources of physical science.” Why so? Nagel’s point seems to be that the physical sciences—physics, chemistry, biology, neurology—cannot explain or account for the fact that we human beings and presumably some other animals are conscious. Physical science can explain the tides, and why birds have hollow bones, and why the sky is blue; but it cannot explain consciousness. Physical science can perhaps demonstrate correlations between physical conditions of one sort or another and conscious states of one sort or another; but of course this is not to explain consciousness. Correlation is not explanation. As Nagel puts it, “The appearance of animal consciousness is evidently the result of biological evolution, but this well-supported empirical fact is not yet an explanation—it does not provide understanding, or enable us to see why the result was to be expected or how it came about.”

Nagel next turns his attention to belief and cognition: “the problem that I want to take up now concerns mental functions such as thought, reasoning, and evaluation that are limited to humans, though their beginnings may be found in a few other species.” We human beings and perhaps some other animals are not merely conscious, we also hold beliefs, many of which are in fact true. It is one thing to feel pain; it is quite another to believe, say, that pain can be a useful signal of dysfunction. According to Nagel, materialist naturalism has great difficulty with consciousness, but it has even greater difficulty with cognition. He thinks it monumentally unlikely that unguided natural selection should have “generated creatures with the capacity to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond the initial appearances.” He is thinking in particular of science itself.

Theism would account for all of this and Nagel mostly agrees, though he raises some objections that Plantinga easily disposes of.  But here is where the issues get especially interesting.  What is Nagel’s reason for atheism, even though he cannot accept materialistic naturalism?  In an earlier book, quoted by Plantinga, Nagel is very honest in articulating what, I suspect, lies behind much atheism:

I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers…. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

[Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X