06 January 2007

Man at faregate refutes creationism

Three incidents relating to metro transport illustrate how humans think. Unfortunately, the process sometimes does not yield workable results. Full essay.


YCK said...

That was quite a long way to go to get to your point. Still I am relieved when you got there! Your reasons for the seductiveness of the idea is rather complete in listing the pull factors as far as I could see. But you could have listed the push factors of the percieved alternatives to religious fundamentalism/literalism. It is the idea that the world if irreligious would degenrate into some immoral cesspool. This and other fears are pointed out by Daniel Denett in his books.

The reasoning may be difficult to substantiate. But defending the good name of atheism is Sam Harris in ST Review today. I trust you must have read it.

Someone coined the term brights to describe people who do not subscribe to supernaturalism drawing an analogy with the gays.

There is even a website,
The Brights' Net, and it features essays by prominent people such as Daniel Denett (The Bright Stuff)and Richard Dawkins (Let there be Brights).

I hope more people would have thought about their religious positions. If being more religious and tolerant in Singapore means that American sponsored creationists can actually hold talks in respectable venues such as NUS, we have been there.

mingde said...

Thank you for this interesting perspective on the appeal of creationism.
I'm a fan of Richard Dawkins and is actively concerned about the spread of this pseudoscience in Singapore. I find the fact that fundamental regligious groups could spread this belief under the shroud of "religious tolerant" and "religious harmony" deeply disturbing.

Keemin Ngiam said...

"This humbling thought must surely undermine any tendency to think of purpose-built design as the most powerful process available."

Strictly speaking, no: It may be good evidence that human purpose-built design is not the most powerful process available, but unless you're assuming away the existence of a higher being, you cannot say that it "must surely" undermine any such tendency.

On a related note, I think what is purpose-driven from one angle, may seem iterative from another. I'm thinking of robotic mice in mazes, the sort featured in science competitions that bright secondary school students enter. The students are purpose-driven in their constant "evolution" of their mice, by which I mean the constant modifications they make to the mice’s hardware and software to help it navigate the maze. Do you think the mice (if sentient) perceive the purpose as well, or do you think they believe themselves to be merely undergoing an iterative process of constantly running through the same maze? (Assuming, of course, that they are not aware of the changes they are undergoing. It might help if you assume that the students keep breaking the mice apart and reconstituting them with new parts, i.e. creating a series comprised of Mouse v1.0, Mouse v2.0, and so on, roughly akin to evolutionary stages.) (Of course, there are more advanced programs that make mice truly self-adaptive and able to navigate new mazes independently. But even then, the programs themselves were probably not developed iteratively. Of course, such comparisons are invariably inadequate analogies, since any analogy I make to a seemingly iterative but really purpose-driven process, such as programming mice, will ultimately be an analogy to a human-initiated phenomenon. And as critics may point out, making such an analogy requires me to assume that there is a higher being that perceives purpose in evolution, what is to us a seemingly iterative process.)

I do like your observation about social analogies though, because that is a very real cognitive process all of us employ. In philosophical terms, it’s a clear example of knowledge via a posteriori means – through experience (roughly speaking – some philosophers may insist on a more precise definition). I’m not sure anyone ever learns something social completely a priori, i.e. intuitively without experience. Of course, a proposition is not false simply because it is discovered via a posteriori means. Otherwise, I would never be able to exit at Orchard MRT station simply by knowing how to enter at Woodlands MRT!

On another note, you may be interested to read the philosophical literature on the use of the concept of purpose in evolutionary biology. I'm quite rusty on it, but someone pointed out that evolutionary biologists kept on saying things like, "The purpose of the cornea is to...." It doesn't prove creationism at all, but may just be interesting to read and think about. If nothing else, it illustrates how deeply entrenched the language of purpose is in our everyday discourse, even for evolutionary biologists who should know better.

Chris said...

As many tourists here have been in the same position you were in (ie, not knowing to push the button), the Underground has now disconnected all the buttons and all doors open at all stops, except for certain stops with short platforms, where the first or last doors of the train do not open at all. This is announced on the train, but some tourists (I believe they are tourists, anyway) don't listen to the announcement and wait in vain in front of the door. Then when they realise the door actually will not open, they make a mad dash through the carriage to get to the nearest open door. This is most amusing in rush hour, unless you are one of the people whose toes are treaded on.