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Thomas Nagel  (b. 1937)  Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University  Web  Amazon  GBS

In fact, the objective capacity is a complete mystery. While it obviously exists and we can use it, there is no credible explanation of it in terms of anything more basic, and so long as we don't understand it, its results will remain under a cloud.

Some may be tempted to offer or at least to imagine an evolutionary explanation, as is customary these days for everything under the sun. Evolutionary hand waving is an example of the tendency to take a theory which has been successful in one domain and apply it to anything else you can't understand -- not even to apply it, but vaguely to imagine such an application. It is also an example of the pervasive and reductive naturalism of our culture.    The View From Nowhere  1986  p.78

An evolutionary explanation of our theorizing faculty would provide absolutely no confirmation of its capacity to get at the truth. Something else must be going on if the process is really taking us toward a truer and more detached understanding of the world.    The View From Nowhere  1986  p.79

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.

My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous over use of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind, Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental feature of the world. Instead they become epiphenomena, generated incidentally by a process that can be entirely explained by the operation of the nonteleological laws of physics on the material of which we and our environments are all composed. There might still be thought to be a religious threat in the existence of the laws of physics themselves, and indeed the existence of anything at all – but it seems to be less alarming to most atheists.    The Last Word (1997) pp. 130-131

Reason is whatever we find we must use to understand anything, including itself. And if we try to understand it merely as a natural (biological or psychological) phenomenon, the result will be an account incompatible with our use of it and with the understanding of it we have in using it. For I cannot trust a natural process unless I can see why it is reliable, any more than I can trust a mechanical algorithm unless I can see why it is reliable. And to see that I must rely on reason itself... If we think at all, we must think or ourselves, individually and collectively, as submitting to the order of reasons rather than creating it.    The Last Word  1997  p.143

Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell... is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter -- something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin... He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.    The Sunday Times  November 25 2009


Kenneth Nealson  (b. 1943?)  Wrigley Professor of Geobiology at USC College  Web  AV

Nobody understands the origin of life. If they say they do, they are probably trying to fool you.    The Search for the Scum of the Universe  May 21 2002


Paul Nelson  (b.1958)  Fellow of the Discovery Institute  Web  AV

It will be useful to formalize Gould's argument:
1. If p is an instance of organic design, then p was produced either by a wise creator, or by descent with modification (evolution).
2. If organic design p was produced by a wise creator, then p should be perfect (or exhibit no imperfections).
3. Organic design p is not perfect (or exhibits imperfections).
The conclusion follows that
\ Organic design p was not produced by a wise creator, but by descent with modification.

Premises 1 and 2 are theological. Gould's terms for the creator, in the passages cited above and in other instances of this argument, include "a perfect engineer" (1977, p.91), "a sensible God" (1980, pp.20-21), "a rational agent" (1983, p.164) and "a wise creator" (1983, p.258). Premises 2 and 3 refer also to "perfection," and we may infer that Gould holds that humans can readily discern the presences or absence of perfection when they examine organic designs.    Biology and Philosophy  October 1996  p.499    see also: Cornelius Hunter

Suppose one argues contra Darwin, that we have every reason for thinking a creator would have designed each species of orchid to show homologies with ordinary flowers. How, by everyday scientific methods, would one go about settling this dispute? One may assume or deny the truth of Darwin's particular theological aesthetic, but it is hard to see how that assumption is binding on other observers (or why we should take it as intelligible).     Biology and Philosophy  October 1996  p.512

But the arguments for evolution that we shall consider are formulated in theological terms, usually explicitly so -- a practice plainly inconsistent with methodological naturalism. We aren't supposed to be able to say anything, scientifically speaking, about God. Whatever we claim to know about God may be true or false, considered theologically or philosophically, but that knowledge isn't the stuff of scientific explanation. How, then, do so many evolutionary biologists speak with confidence about what God would or would not have done?    Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics  (2002)  p.679-80

Given the conventional conception of the creator, there seem to be no limits on what is possible, nor any reason (short perhaps of logical contradiction) why one hypothetically possible panda should be preferred, as a counterfactual ideal, to another. If "perfection" is limited only by one's imagination, then specifying an ideal phenotype, for the panda or any other organism, quickly becomes a fanciful exercise. Why couldn't the creator have given pandas the ability to fly?    Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics  (2002)  p.689

The thumb may have some primary function for which it was designed, and the panda has co-opted it secondarily to  strip bamboo. One may have failed to identify the correct reference situation by which to judge the design, perhaps by observing too little of the panda's life-history. The flippers of marine turtles, for example, strike us as a badly designed for digging holes in beach sand to place eggs. The same flippers, however, perform efficiently in the water, where the turtles spend most of their time. Which reference situation do we employ?    Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics  (2002)  p.690

Defenders of naturalism usually add the adjective "methodological" (MN), to distinguish this precept from philosophical natualism (i.e., the doctrine that nature is the whole of reality, and God does not exist; abbreviated as PN). For the practice fo science, however, MN versus PN is a distinction without a difference. Ask oneself a simple question. Suppose life actually were designed by a nonhuman intelligence -- would MN allow us to discover that? If the answer is no, then MN hinders scientific discovery and dictates the shape of reality as thoroughly as PN. If the answer is yes, then MN is superfluous and says nothing more than science should be empirical and testable.     Darwin's Nemesis  2006  p.344

Like nearly all national science organizations, the AAAS has repeatedly insisted that there is no scientific controversy about intelligent design... Skeptical observers might say that leading journals such as Science or Nature are happy to publish research articles addressing the intelligent design controversy, as long as those articles claim that ID is wrong. Skeptics might also note that the senior author on the Bridgham et al. paper, Joe Thornton, states on his University of Oregon webpage that one of his main research goals is “to illustrate how a complex, tightly integrated molecular system -- one which appears to be ‘irreducibly complex’ -- evolved by Darwinian processes hundreds of millions of years ago.” But of course we must remember that the concept of irreducible complexity has stimulated no research, which is why Professor Thornton is working hard to solve the problem.     Debating The Controversy That Doesn’t Exist  April 6, 2006

It's a funny thing that questions that aren't properly answered don't go away.     Expelled  April 18 2008  22.17

Evolution is a kind of funny word -- it depends on how one defines it. If it means simply change over time even the most rock ribbed fundamentalist knows that the history of the earth has changed -- that there's been change over time. If you define 'evolution' precisely though to mean 'the common descent of all life on earth from a single ancestor via undirected mutation and natural selection', that's textbook definition of neo Darwinism, biologists of the first rank have real questions.     Expelled  April 18 2008  22.44

To make this argument work, one needs to know what an intelligent designer would have done, and some metric for assessing whether the actual biological feature in question hits, or fails to hit, that target. Coyne leaves these assumptions implicit in his book, but they play a role in his argument nonetheless. The designer Coyne thinks his examples refute is a Paleyesque optimizer, which means the whole of Coyne’s “bad design” argument is conditioned (logically) on that theological construct. Change the theology, and the argument miscarries.

The reader can see this for himself by swapping in, as intelligent designer, not a Paleyesque optimizer, but a deity with limited power (á la John Stuart Mill), or a “malevolent” deity (e.g., Kali). The range of logically possible designers requires that one fix the meaning of “intelligent designer,” either by using one’s own theology (or philosophy), or borrowing the same from one’s interlocutor.

But Coyne is arguing against American creationists and IDers, not John Stuart Mill or the neighborhood Kali-devotee, the reader is doubtless thinking.

Yes, and that’s just the point. As I said in the Bloggingheads segment, the content of evolutionary biology, at least as Jerry Coyne explains it, is thus conditioned on some local variant of intelligent design, as understood by Jerry Coyne. Paradoxically, ID ends up inside biology because Jerry brings it there to make his case for undirected evolution.    Uncommon Descent  July 26 2009

Saying that a physical or natural regularity is causally insufficient to produce a particular effect is no more unreasonable than saying it is unlikely the janitor performed the surgery.

This is not to deny the causal reality of physical regularities. Gravity works. The janitor mops up. And without janitors — and nurses and parking lot attendants and all the rest — hospitals could not function. But Clouseau will waste his time interviewing those people, if he genuinely wants to know who reattached the severed hand successfully.

You need a surgeon for that, meaning a cause sufficient to produce the effect in question.    Uncommon Descent  February 12 2010


Isaac Newton  (1642 – 1727)  Web  GBS

The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed  from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. 

A Heavenly Master governs all the world as Sovereign of the universe. We are astonished at Him by reason of His perfection, we honor Him and fall down before Him because of His unlimited power. From blind physical necessity, which is always and everywhere the same, no variety adhering to time and place could evolve, and all variety of created objects which represent order and life in the universe could happen only by the willful reasoning of its original Creator, Whom I call the Lord God.    Principia

We are therefore to acknowledge one God, infinite, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, the Creator of all things, most wise, most just, most good, most holy.    "A Short Scheme on the True Religion"

Where natural causes are at hand God uses them as instruments in his works, but I do not think them alone sufficient for the Creation.    Letter to Thomas Burnett


Jane Oppenheimer  Professor of Biology and History of Science 

 It was a failing of Haeckel as a would-be scientist that his hand as an artist altered what he saw with what should have been the eye of a more accurate beholder. He was more than once, often justifiably, accused of scientific falsification, by Wilhelm His and  by many others. For only two examples, in "Anthropogenie" he drew the developing brain of a fish as curved, because that of reptiles, birds, and mammals is bent. But the vesicles of a fish brain always form in a straight line. He drew the embryonic membranes of man as including a small sac-like allantois, an embryonic organ characteristic of and larger in reptiles, birds, and some nonhuman mammals. The human embryo has no sac-like allantois at all. Only its narrow solid stock remains to conduct the umbilical blood vessels between embryo and placenta. Examples could be multiplied significantly.    "Haeckel's Variations on  Darwin"

The blind adoption of Haeckel's doctrines by such workers in bordering fields, and their infection with his faith that "Development is now the magic word by means of which we shall solve the riddles by which we are surrounded", is less reprehensible than their uncritical acceptance by the professional embryologists who swallowed them with as much gullibility, and who remained utterly unperturbed by the fact that Haeckel himself was never in any sense a professional embryologist. The seduction of embryology by a fanatic who expresses himself even metaphorically in terms of magic represents a darker chapter in its history.    Essays in the history of Embryology and Biology  (1967)  pp. 153-154


Henry Fairfield Osborn  (1857 – 1935)  Professor of Comparative Anatomy at Princeton   President of the American Museum of Natural History   President of the Second International Congress of Eugenics 1921  Web  Amazon  GBS

If there is a Providence hanging over the affairs of prehistoric men, it certainly manifested itself in this case, because the three minute fragments of this second Piltdown man found by Dawson are exactly those which we should have selected to confirm the comparison with the original type.    Natural History  November 1921  p.581

Seeing is believing, and the writer eagerly looked forward to a return to the British Museum after so many years of absence and to the opportunity of examining these precious documents, an opportunity which was most cordially extended to him by Doctor Woodward. After attending on Sunday morning, July 24,1921, a most memorable service in Westminster Abbey, a building which enshrines many of the great of all time, the writer repaired to the British Museum in the afternoon to see the remains of the now thoroughly vindicated 'dawn man' of Great Britain.    Natural History  November 1921  pp.581-582 

In conclusion, the writer desires not only to recant his former doubts as to the association of the jaw with the skull, but to express his admiration of the great achievement of his life-long friend, Arthur Smith Woodward, in making the discovery and in finally establishing beyond question the authenticity of the 'Dawn Man' of Piltdown.    Natural History  November 1921  p.590 

The standard of intelligence of the average adult Negro is similar to that of the eleven-year-old youth of the species Homo sapiens.    Collected Papers  1921  p.5

The descriptive term 'Dawn Man' is adapted from Smith Woodward's designation of the Piltdown race of Sussex, England, as belonging to a genus, anthropos, distinct fro the Homo of Linnaeus. ... We prophesy that the Dawn Man will be found in the high Asiatic plateau region and not in the forested lowlands of Asia, but many decades may ensue before this prophecy is either verified or disproved.    Collected Papers  1921  p.269

Nearer to us is the Piltdown man, found not far from seventy-five miles to the southwest of Ipswitch, England; still nearer in geologic time is Heidelberg man, found on the Neckar River; still nearer is the Neanderthal man, whom we now know all about -- his frame, his head form, his industries, his ceremonial burial of the dead, also evidence of his belief in a future existence; nearer still is the Cro-Magnon man, who lived about 30,000 years ago, our equal if not our superior in intelligence. This chain of human ancestors was totally unknown to Darwin . He could not have even dreamed of such a flood of proof and truth.    Evolution and Religion  March 5 1922  VII p.14

It has been suggested humorously that the animal should be named Bryopithecus after the most distinguished Primate which the State of Nebraska has thus far produced. It is certainly singular that this discovery is announced within six weeks of the day (March 5, 1922) that the author advised William Jennings Bryan to consult a certain passage in the Book of Job, "Speak to the earth and it shall teach thee," and it is a remarkable coincidence that the first earth to speak on this subject is the sandy earth of the Middle Pliocene Snake Creek deposits of western Nebraska.     Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  April 25 1922  p.246    see also: Nebraska Man

The anthropoid Primate characters of the tooth are confirmed by another water-worn third upper molar previously found by William D. Matthew in the same beds but not described because it was not sufficiently distinctive. These two teeth establish the existence in the Pilocene period of a new and independent type of anthropoid, intermediate in the structure of its grinding teeth between the anthropoid ape an d the human type.    Proceedings of the National Academy of Science   August 1922  p.245

Fresh and very violent attacks on the Darwinian theory have been made during the last two or three years all over the United States, especially under the leadership of William Jennings Bryan, a man of ingenious and fertile mind and persuasive powers of oratory, gifted as a politician and as a religious advocate.    Nature  August 26 1922  p.281

Finally, of the utmost rarity are the remains of the Primates, because during the eight seasons of continuous and expert search we have only discovered two teeth, namely, the tooth now regarded as a third superior molar of an old individual of Hesperopithecus found by Dr. W. D. Matthew in 1908, and the type tooth of Hesperopithecus haroldcookii found by the geologist Harold J. Cook in 1921. We are this season renewing the search with great vigour and expect to run every shovelful of loose river sand which composes this deposit through a sieve of mesh fine enough to arrest such small objects as these teeth. Even by this laborious and painstaking method the probability of finding more material is not very great.    Nature  August 26 1922  p.282

My original characterization and description has been fully justified by intensive research of the past two months. I have not stated that Hesperopithecus was either an Ape-man or in the direct line of human ancestry, because I consider it quite possible that we may discover anthropoid apes (Simiidae) with teeth closely imitating those of man (Hominidae), just as we have discovered in the true Piltdown man (Eoanthropus) teeth closely imitating those of the chimpanzee.    Nature  August 26 1922  p.283

Three years ago William Jennings Bryan made a pledge which he has not fulfilled. This pledge was published on the Lord's Day, February 26, 1922, and was read by a million people. It was so sincere in tone and was accompanied by so earnest a statement that I for one took it at its face value and, trusting that the pledge would be kept, published a reply entitled "Evolution and Religion" on the following Sunday, March fifth. I call attention to the character of this pledge: Truth is Truth and must Prevail. Many of my scientific friends ask me, "Why answer Bryan?" I reply that to me Bryan is not an individual; he is a type. He presents the gospel to thousands of Americans all over the land who are convinced by his sermons that there is some antagonism between the Creator and His Creation, Between God and Nature. This is not a Truth; it is an ill-starred state of opinion, disastrous to true religion, disastrous to morals, disastrous to education... To my mind there is no antagonism between the Creator and His Creation. Denial of the truth of nature is atheism disguised as religion... To those serious and earnest seekers after the Truth, from 500 B.C. to the present time, we have the contrasting attitude of the Great Commoner; if all the evidence for the Truth were piled as high as Ossa upon Pelion, if proof were heaped upon proof, the Truth would not prevail with him, because all the natural avenues of the Truth are tightly closed.    The Forum  June 1925  p.796-9

It is noteworthy that shortly after his pledge to accept the Truth appeared in 1922, the Earth spoke to Bryan and spoke from his own native state of Nebraska, in the message of a diminutive tooth, the herald of our knowledge of anthropoid apes in America. It happens that teeth, incased in enamel, as the most enduring animal substance in the whole order of living nature, defy all the vicissitudes of time and of subterranean burial and take first rank among nature's hieroglyphics of the past. I once traveled several thousand miles to see a single tooth, known to science as Microlestes antiquus, signifying "the ancient little robber". Despite its "rhaetic" age, surpassing the hoary antiquity of Jurassic time, this tiny tooth, no larger than a pin-head, is shown with its ancient enamel lustre and truthfully tells an unvarnished tale of the life conditions of an epoch in which the "ancient little robber" flourished.    The Forum  June 1925  p.799

The world-wide interest aroused by the discovery in Nebraska of Hesperopithecus, "the ape of the western world", is in widest possible contrast to the dimunitive and insignificant appearance of the single grinding tooth of the right side of the upper jaw, which speaks of the presence of the higher or manlike apes in our western country at a time when the ancient "Territory of Nebraska" was in close touch with the animal civilization of Asia and of western Europe. This Hesperopithecus tooth is like the "still small voice"; it is by no means easy to hear its sound. Like the hieroglyphics of Egypt, it requires its Rosetta Stone to give the key to interpretation. Our Rosetta Stone is comparison with all the similar grinding teeth known, collected from all parts of the world, and described or figured in learned books and illustrations. By these means this little tooth speaks volumes of truth, -- truth consistent with all we have known before, with all that we have found elsewhere. The evidence is strongly supported by many other and more complete fossil specimens that speak of a fresh tide of migration from the Old World to the New perhaps a million years ago.    The Forum  June 1925  p.800

What shall we do with the Nebraska tooth? Shall we destroy it because it jars our long preconceived notion that the family of manlike apes never reached the western world, or shall we edeavor to interpret it to discover its real relationship to the apes of Asia and of the more remote Africa? Or shall we continue our excavations, difficult and baffling as they are, in the confident hope, inspired by the admonition of Job, that if we keep on speaking to the earth we shall in time hear a more audible and distinct reply? Certainly we shall not banish this bit of Truth because it does not fit in with our preconceived notions and because at present it constitutes infinitesimal but irrefutable evidence that man-apes wandered over from Asia into North America.    The Forum  June 1925  p.800-1

Man is what he is because he has never has an easy time of it; for at least 500,000 years he has been engaged in an incessant struggle for existence, a struggle in which his intelligence and his moral nature have played a very large part, certainly the predominating part in the higher races of man. The spiritual life of man, as will be more fully pointed out in another article, hat its dawn extremely far back in geologic time, and belief in life after death was an early development. Religion, in the sense of belief in a supernatural power or powers, followed later and was accompanied by superstition, magic, and the creation of a priesthood as intermediaries between man and the higher powers.    The Forum  June 1925  p.802

The truth of these records is truth of the most imperishable order, and it must prevail. It may inconvenience us, it may disturb us, it may completely upset many of our scientific ideas, it may run counter to our religious views; our duty is not to avoid the consequences of the truth but to face them and overcome them. Our moral and spiritual nature is strengthened, not weakened, by the spiritual and moral struggle for existence.

In our present search for the Truth we may remind the Bildads and the Bryans of the world of the rebuke of the Lord: "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? (38:1, 2). ... Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? He that reproveth God, let him answer it (40:2); and of Job's penitence: "Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not (42:2, 3)."     The Forum  June 1925  p.803

But the voice of anatomy. like the voice of all nature, never reaches the mental ear of the Great Commoner. It is the novel province of anatomy to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the structure, the origin and the history of man.    New York Times  July 12 1925  VIII  p.1

The third, or Piltdown race of the close of the age of mammals or beginning of the age of man, after a long period of most animated dispute about the character of the jaw and as to whether or not it belonged with the skull, is now definitely determined as a very important side branch of the Hominidae.  The veteran paleontologist of England, Arthur Smith Woodward, spent no less than nine years in searching thought the Piltdown gravels on the spot where the Piltdown man was found, in order to further establish the characters of the type which he named Eoanthropus dawsoni. I visited this locality myself in company with my fiend Smith Woodward, and on looking over the ground felt absolutely assured for the first time that the jaw did belong with the skull, although it looks far more like that of a chimpanzee than that of a human being, as indicated on our restoration above.    New York Times  July 12 1925  VIII  p.1

Nearer to us is the Piltdown man ... This chain of human ancestors was totally unknown to Darwin. He could not have even dreamed of such a flood of proof and truth.    Evolution and Religion in Education  (1926)  p.41  see also: Illustration

Care for the race, even if the individual must suffer -- this must be the keynote of our future. This was the guiding principle which underlay all the discussions of the Second International Congress of Eugenics in 1921. Not quantity but quality must be the aim in the development of each nation, to make men fit to maintain their places in the struggle for existence. We must be concerned above all with racial values; every race must seek out and develop and improve its own racial characteristics. Racial consciousness is not pride of race, but proper respect for the Purity of race is today found in but one nation -- the Scandinavian.     Man Rises to Parnassus  (1928)  p.220-1  


Dean Overman  GBS

Complete objectivity in science is an illusion. Because so much of one's analysis depends upon metaphysical assumptions, it should be acknowledged by this writer, and by all readers, that the answer one gives to a question depends to a great extent on the metaphysical position one has previously adopted. This is certainly true for theists and it is equally true for materialists. Frequently, the metaphysical conclusion is given as the rationale for a tortured interpretation of evidence. Theists and naturalists frequently refuse to follow evidence where it leads on the basis that to do so would result in a contradiction of their previous metaphysical conclusions.    A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization  (2001)  p.3

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