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  #1  
Unread October 31st, 2004, 07:39 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Default For Juliet: Review of A Devil's Chaplain by Richard Dawkins

Whether in short essays or book reviews, Dawkins is at his best when he attacks, defends, or counterattacks. A Devil's Chaplain shows this fencing master to be fit, agile, and combative nearly 30 years after The Selfish Gene. He thrusts and parries in five sets, each set consists of 4-8 essays, written between 1991 and 2003, and a final essay in regard to religion vs. science, written on behalf of his daughter, Juliet. You will find, however, not only brilliance and precision but also a fundamental contradiction within Dawkins's view of human will.

The Chaplain's Backbone

Dawkins first strongly endorses the unity of life, undresses postmodernists (not an inspiring sight!) and gives tribute to Frederick William Sanderson (1857-1922) , a master teacher, one who catalyzed not ritual but active discovery by his young charges at Oundle School in the U.K. Hooray for all this great stuff! Dawkins next demonstrates the subtle but irresistible force of natural selection but, paradoxically, avers that humans escape genetic interests.
Third, "The Infected Mind" tells us one more time about ideas that imitate viruses and move from carrier to carrier. (Dawkins, however, tells us little about the foundations for such processes. Some of the network people can supply structure beneath his constructions. Especially see Watts, 2004; Barabasi, 2002; Strogatz, 2003; and Brody, 2004.) Fourth, he gives us memorial tributes to Douglas Adams, W. D. Hamilton, and John Diamond. (This last one also skewers homeopathy!) His sixth and near-final section pivots around our African heritage. (I treasure one image on p. 235: "The engagingly filthy town of Laum...Skeletal cats sleep in patches of sun. Black-veiled women like crows walk obsequiously past men seated on doorsteps, talking the heat and the flies away." These few lines reserve Dawkins a spot in Westminster next not to Darwin but to Eliot!)

Neodarwinism and Evo-Devo: About Section Five

There is a quarrelsome, proud tribe known as "neodarwinians" who believe that evolution moves in small steps, arises when natural selection acts on small random mutations, and that most of human nature was crafted during a recent ice age, the Pleistocene, when individuals in small groups reproduced or died in relation to their success in hierarchies, trade, and cooperation. Evolution, like constipation, must be slow, painful, inconvenient, and unpredictable, genes matter more than organisms, human society was the driver for human intelligence, and neodarwinism is the only light under the basket.

Their story seems plausible except that we also find startling similarities between human conduct and what we see in birds. Implication: much of our social prowess was crafted long before we stood upright and we carried out of the Pleistocene the baggage that we carried into it! Thus, a group in developmental biology believes in master plans that support infinite arrays of small differences (Gerhart & Kirschner, 1998; Kirschner & Gerhart, 1998; Gould, 2002) and is open to evolution's sometimes moving in rapid steps or larger steps (as when entire genes and chromosomes are duplicated, when there is change in a transcription gene, or when severe stress disrupts normal development and leads to a "throwback" in one segment [Raff, 1996]. Concept: we humans have segments and each of our segments responds to its own selective pressures!) The developmentalists often endorse the concept that living creatures convert physical settings into environments and that an occupant and its nest represent a construction. Human intelligence drives the development of human societies.

Dawkins usually aligns with the neodarwinians and Gould with the evolutionary-developmental group: the mutual acrimony between groups sometimes achieved national attention (As when Gould and camp used a NY Times ad to roast neodarwinian E.O. Wilson on a Marxist spit) but usually remained a very local disturbance, full of sound and fury in its teacup.
Dawkins gives us five essays that review Gould's thinking. The first two recognize substantial agreements with Gould, the next two are more hostile as Dawkins becomes a sheepdog for neodarwinism and bites off clumps of Gould's fur. I'm unsure as to motives: Dawkins may have attacked Gould or may have been simply defending himself. The final essay in this section is a postmortem tribute to Gould and their alliance against creationism. Symbiosis?: first greet, next resist, and then honor the dead...

Whatever Gods May Be, Juliet is the Sun...

In his final essay, Dawkins considers religion to be an imposed environment warns his daughter against the mental fondling that she might experience from theists. A different view of religion, however, accepts it as a self-chosen environment for half of its participants.
Tools change with invention or discovery, beliefs change with generations. First, life evolves in moderate constancy: not too much or too little. (See Kauffman, 1995, on phase transitions; also, Brody, 2002.) It is no surprise that genes, languages, customs, cultures, and religions tend to be conservative and buffer the impressive genetic variability that we find in humans. At each of these levels, big steps are polished in small amounts, we keep what worked last week, and imams now signal old rituals with new technology.

Second, coming together can be seen as a flexible, deeply ancient adaptation that supplies not only clumps of bacteria but also metazoans with protection, mates, food, reassurance, and the resources and signals for exploration and migration. For schools, swarms, flocks, herds, or congregations in churches or malls, the outcomes are matched to the evolved nature of the participants, whether for fish, bees, birds, cattle, or peoples. Even plants and Democrats cluster for the same advantages.

Martin and others (1986), however, found a significant genetic loading for "religiosity" but not for religion. That is, communicating with unseen beings may be more inherited but our rituals and whether we practice them on a Saturday or Sunday is very much a function of our rearing. Juliet will define her own religious impulse as a function of genes that she shares with her mother or with her father. If she becomes a theist, Dawkins will blame her schooling; if she does not, then he will credit his lectures but in neither case will he recognize that some of her outcomes were favored at the moment of her conception! She, like every living creature, will seek or manufacture settings that are consistent with her nature and as every parent discovers, Dawkins will find that his lectures may contribute, at most, 2-10% of the variance in her long term outcomes.

Conclusions

Science and religion both arose from human nature and, therefore, can be not only antithetical but also quite similar. Science, like religion, seeks Big Truth rather than clusters of local truths and both defend their methods whatever their accompanying tools and explanations: we scientists, however, discover initial conditions and procedures and, thereby, weave a fabric of beliefs that is subject to continuous revision through our five senses and a process of systematic replication. In contests between fingertips and ideologies, scientists choose fingertips for the same reasons that self-arranged, unique environments eventually defeat imposed ones.

Within science, changes in belief and tradition are to be sought if they better align circumstances with instinctive human needs: again, for protection, mates, food, reassurance, and the resources and signals for exploration and migration. Science, more than religion, is a selective, exploratory organization like that we find in cells, immune systems, brains, or the termites that build cathedrals 30 feet high, complete with chambers and air conditioning. Biochemist or bee, the "architect above" is really an "architect within," even if, for genetic reasons, you must believe that a god inserted it.

Ironically, Gould and Lewontin ? Lewontin is a geneticist of the first rank? strenuously believe that humans escape their genes; so does Dawkins who often affirms the priority of genes over organisms! So did Thom Huxley! That is, evolved human minds make choices that are not moored to biological advantage. Both camps assert there to be one great family of life wherein every living species has the same temporal seniority but they also invent a schism between birds and bipedal characters in straw hats! Bah! I think they find their own faces in too many mirrors. The assertion of a disinterested free will is neither more nor less supported by coat hook or platform than assertions of a living deity. This confusion will be reconciled not by the elders in this generation but by the von Humbolts, Darwins, Kirks, and Spocks in the next.

Dawkins gave us The Selfish Gene in 1976 and maintained an incredible energy and focus for 332 pages. His next books have been progressively more labored, perhaps in relation to changes in his levels of dopamine and testosterone or because of the same processes that we find in evolution: big stuff leads to smaller stuff as environments and occupants, such as Dawkins and his audiences, each stabilize the other. Complex, micro-evolved, very stable ecosystems result. (So do tests of reader persistence such as An Ancestor's Tale!) Per Bak (1996, cited in Kauffman, 2000) noticed these patterns in nature as did Albert Barabasi (2002) when he told us about power laws in emergent organizations. A Devil's Chaplain, however, reverses this course but as a collection of brief essays that match impatient readers to a writer who shares that quirk. Buy, read, and get infected by, if you're vulnerable, A Devil's Chaplain!

References
Bak, P. (1996) How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality. NY: Copernicus.
Barabasi, A-L (2002) Linked: The New Science of Networks. NY: Perseus.
Brody, J., (2002) From Physics and Evolutionary Neuroscience to Psychotherapy: Phase Transitions and Adaptations, Diagnosis and Treatment. In G. Cory & R. Gardner (Eds.) The Evolutionary Neuroethology of Paul MacLean: Convergences & Frontiers, Praeger-Greenwood, pp. 231-259.
Brody, J. (2004) Bipolar disorder: self-interested networks, cycling, and their management. In M. Brown (Ed.) Progress in Bipolar Disorder Research. Hauppage, NY: Nova Science Biomedical Series.
Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford.
Dawkins, R. (2004) The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. NY: Houghton Mifflin.
Gerhart, J. & Kirschner, M. (1997) Cells, Embryos, and Evolution. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Gould, S. (2002) The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Belknap.
Kauffman, S. (1995) At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self Organization and Complexity. NY: Oxford.
Kauffman, S. (2000) Investigations. NY: Oxford.
Kirschner, M. & Gerhart, J. (1998) Perspective: Evolvability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 95(15), 8420-8427.
Lewontin, R. (2000) Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, Environment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Raff, Rudolf (1996) The Shape of Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Strogatz, S. (2003) Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. NY: Hyperion.
Watts, D. (2004) Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Copyright, James Brody, 2004, all rights reserved

Last edited by James Brody; November 20th, 2004 at 10:28 PM.
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  #2  
Unread December 6th, 2004, 02:11 PM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Question Re: Richard's Daughter, Juliet: Review of A Devil's Chaplain

Interesting and useful review.

Who is "Martin and Others (1986)" ? I'd like to follow up on this work distinguishing the transmission of religion from the transmission of religiosity.

Todd
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  #3  
Unread December 7th, 2004, 05:59 AM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Thumbs up Re: Richard's Daughter, Juliet: Review of A Devil's Chaplain

Todd,

Eaves, L., Martin, N, & Heath, A. (1990) Religious affiliation in twins and their parents: Testing a model of cultural inheritance. Behavior Genetics, 20, 1-22.

Martin, N. G., Eaves, L. J., Heath, A. C., Jardine, R., Feingold, L.M., & Eysenck, H.J. (1986) Transmission of social attitudes. Proceedings National Academy of Science, 83: 4364-4368.
Lindon Eaves is a key name: former priest and now an integral part of research and interpretation of human behavior genetics research.

always good to hear from you!

Jim
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  #4  
Unread December 7th, 2004, 02:51 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Devil's Chaplain & disinterested free will

JimB writes:
Quote:
The assertion of a disinterested free will is neither more nor less supported . . . than assertions of a living deity.

The assertion that there’s a creator (living or otherwise), or at least the odds that we’re not here by chance, is actually more supportable.

What are the odds that the universe and we are by chance? Roger Penrose did the math (actually on the odds of the low entropy at the beginning, 13 billion years ago), and the odds are infinitesimal.

Since we’re not here by chance, it’s relatively easy for me to accept my gut instinct, telling me that I do indeed have at least some “disinterested free will.” Besides, no one truly believes, in their gut, otherwise; not even those less than completely authentic atheists you’ve mentioned, except for maybe the dead ones.

Last edited by Fred H.; December 7th, 2004 at 03:09 PM.
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  #5  
Unread December 7th, 2004, 07:34 PM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Cool Asking why the question matters

Quote:
The assertion that there’s a creator (living or otherwise), or at least the odds that we’re not here by chance, is actually more supportable.

What are the odds that the universe and we are by chance? Roger Penrose did the math (actually on the odds of the low entropy at the beginning, 13 billion years ago), and the odds are infinitesimal.

Since we’re not here by chance, it’s relatively easy for me to accept my gut instinct, telling me that I do indeed have at least some “disinterested free will.” Besides, no one truly believes, in their gut, otherwise; not even those less than completely authentic atheists you’ve mentioned, except for maybe the dead ones.
Hi Fred,

I agree with you that free will is tougher to sell than deity, although both are problematic in my opinion. Both rely on comparing various strong intuitions that we hold with empirical data. As I think Dan Wegner demonstrates in "The Illusion of Conscious Will," it is only moderately difficult to frame the classic free will question (that human will is an "uncaused cause") in an empirically testable way and then show some of its more blatant failures. We thereby show that our intuition is (partly) faulty. Will is caused and constrained, however not neccessarily a fatalistic prison. The intuition does tell us something of real value, that we do have choices even if not perfectly unconstrained in some absolute sense.

Arguments about the more common concept of free will (your "at least some" free will) seem pointless to me as well as they do to you since no sane person would seriously deny such a thing. We have responsibility in some sense for some subset of our actions because we have some ability to distinguish good from bad consequences and to predict and prevent the bad ones by controlling our own actions.

It seems to me that there is no equivalent empirical testing framework for the concept of a deity because it is so broad and so inclusive. It isn;t the existence of such a thing that is the issue, since it can take more forms than we can imagine, and have properties we cannot comprehend, but what it means to our lives. The place it really matters is when claims about deity are used to support claims of authority among mortals on earth. Authority is the lynch pin on which the meaningful philosophical arguments hinge.

Making religion (or some equally totalistic atheist ideology) enforceably the ultimate authority, and the Church or State its mediator on earth leads to a very different kind of authority model from imagining nature as the ultimate authority, and empirical science its mediator, and with very different social and political consequences, regardless of whether a deity exists or whether we believe in it.

kind regards,

Todd
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  #6  
Unread December 7th, 2004, 09:14 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: The Devil & asking the right question

Todd says:
Quote:
It seems to me that there is no equivalent empirical testing framework for the concept of a deity because it is so broad and so inclusive.
Todd, forget about deity—wrong question, wrong test. The relevant question is what are the odds that the universe and we are here by chance?
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Unread December 8th, 2004, 06:14 PM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Cool Are we here by chance? I think not.

Quote:
Todd, forget about deity—wrong question, wrong test. The relevant question is what are the odds that the universe and we are here by chance?
For me that's a strenuously abstract question, but no I don't think our existence is the simple random outcome of cosmic dice.

I suspect that things could easily have been very different for us, or that our existence might never have occurred at all, based on different chance events happening, but I don't think we are here as some simple random outcome of cosmic dice. As the "anthropic principle"" suggests, an awful lot of things had to line up in particular ways to make us possible. "Random outcome" would be a very misleading way to think of it. More like one remarkable outcome of many possible ones, some of which are remarkable in other ways.

It suggests to me any of at least three broad implications: (1) an awful lot of universes and environments exist and that we are aware of being in one of the very few places that could support someone who can be aware of such a thing, (2) that there might more things similar to ourselves out there than we generally imagine, or (3) that there was some intention or plan to bring us about.

That step I can take with many theologians. Some of them, like the process theologians, who have no interest in theocratizing science, I can even walk with a little farther and understand their ideas in metaphorical and meaningful human terms. But eventually we part when my fascination with figuring things out in more or less mechanical terms runs up against their requirement of explaining the totality of human experience in a socially meaningful way.

At some point we have to decide whether spirit exists on its own or is a rather special way of looking at certain aspects of nature in its otherwise dreary looking physical form. I just find that leap to a literal existence of entirely independent spirit too far to jump. That's why a specific planning intelligence beyond our ken that guides evolution or intervenes in quantum mechanics or plays games with our microtubules just doesn't seem to work for me intellectually, even though those are tempting reconciliations of our intuitions and any of them would certainly provide a lot more comforting picture overall than a universe of nothing but cold, dark partcles and forces.

kind regards,

Todd
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Unread December 8th, 2004, 08:29 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Default Oddities

The computations are not equivalent: the present universe versus a robed old guy with human characteristics!

The present universe may be very likely (check Stu Kauffman, 1995, 2000) once you understand emergent outcomes. That is, any particular outcome is very unlikely but once we have a finite set of rules, star systems make calcium and iron through fusion. The variation is more in the details of life forms but they will occur.

Gosh! Our universe as an exploratory system with a few BIG rules and an infinity of details that flows from them!

If you accord "deity" standing to math, then welcome to my club of Pythagoreans!

Again consider, Fred, that you may have your faith because of a bent gene and I don't have your faith because of a different bent gene.

With kind regards...

JimB
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Unread December 8th, 2004, 08:50 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: The Devil and the odds of chance?

Todd, you say that asking what the odds are that the universe and we are here by chance is a “strenuously abstract question.” The physicist/mathematician Roger Penrose apparently didn’t think so, and backs it up with science and math.

Regarding the three implications that you suggest:
1. Regarding the “lot of universes” idea, there’s not much evidence, string theory notwithstanding, and it lacks elegance; I doubt Occam would approve.
2. Regarding “more things out there,” again, we have to work with the available evidence & science, and pay Occam his due.
3. Which leaves us with your “intention or plan.” I think Occam would concur.
And there’s really no need to “decide whether spirit exists”—as Penrose, who I think has indicated in times past that he’s a materialist, notes, we still don’t even know what matter (waves and/or particles?) is.
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Unread December 8th, 2004, 10:44 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Oddities & robed old guy

OK JimB, you and Todd are going to have to get out of your system that preconceived “robed old guy with human characteristics.” Perhaps hypnotism and/or electric shock?

Your emergent outcomes wouldn’t exist without the low entropy at the beginning, 13 billion years ago; and the odds that entropy would be so low are infinitesimal, at least according to Penrose’s math.

Perhaps we both have that “bent gene” you refer to, but that your faith is in chance, and/or in many universes, and/or in the atheism of the academics you study (except for great E. O. Wilson).

It’s a troubling question, isn’t it—what are the odds that the universe and we are here by chance? Seems to shake one’s faith in one’s atheism, doesn’t it? And just think of how happy you and Todd will make me this Christmas when y’all renounce your atheism.
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