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Epigenetics does not mean that thinking makes it so

You know, I really, really hate the way quacks abuse molecular biology. I know, I know. I’ve said it before, but certain quacks have a way of willfully misunderstanding the latest advances in genomics, molecular biology, and biology in general. Of course, this isn’t limited to just medicine, unfortunately. After all, we have Deepak Chopra and his quantum woo, which abuses physics and quantum theory in the name of “proving” mind-body dualism, a bastardized version of “intelligent design” creationism that is based on Eastern mysticism rather than Christianity, and, of course, a “conscious universe.”

If there’s one thing that the quack world is all about, it’s control. It’s not just control, though, in the sense of taking control of your health in a rational way. Rather, all too often it’s a fantasy world, an infantile wish-fulfillment, in which wishing, if we are to believe some quacks, literally makes it so. What is The Secret, after all, but the very embodiment of this concept, in which, if you think the right thoughts and want something bad enough, somehow the universe will magically grant you what you want? This mindset is embodied in the teachings of various quacks who either imply or state outright that if you just eat the right foods and take the right supplements you will be not just healthy but virtually impervious to disease. This is not a straw man argument. How many times have I shown examples of, for example, antivaccinationists like Bill Maher claiming that disease is not due so much to microbes but to the “terrain” of the body. The not-so-subtle implication is that the reason one gets sick is because of one’s habits. Of course, there are a lot of lifestyle diseases, but the implications goes beyond the sensible, science-based observation that obesity and lack of exercise increase the risk of certain diseases, into the realm of stating that if you just eat the right foods and do the right exercises you’ll never get sick.

Utter nonsense, of course.

There’s also a dark side to this sort of thinking, and that’s the flip side of the argument. If you can nearly completely control the state of your health by what you eat and do, the not-so-subtle implication is that if you get sick it must be your fault. After all, if we have complete control over our health through our lifestyle, then it follows that if you’re sick, you must be doing something wrong.

The latest way that quacks are trying to push the idea that you have near total control over your health is by abusing new findings in epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression or phenotype that are not caused by changes in the underlying gene sequence. Mechanisms by which epigenetics can influence gene expression include chemically modifying DNA in a reversible fashion, such as through methylation, which usually silences gene expression. Modifications of histones, which are the proteins around which DNA is wrapped, can also alter gene expression. It’s a fascinating area of research, because it suggests that gene expression can be altered longer than transiently by environmental influences. Of course, given that organisms and biology are affected by environmental influences, this is almost a trivial observation; the power of epigenetics is that it can explain how such changes in gene expression can come about.

You can probably see why quacks have seized on epigenetics so eagerly. If there’s one thing quacks hate, it’s genetics. The reason, of course, is that they view genes simplistically in a deterministic fashion, constructing an elaborate straw man of modern genetics in which genes are destiny. Epigenetics frees them from that, because they can now use it as a near-magical talisman to invoke as an alleged mechanism by which one’s activities can permanently alter one’s gene expression. I just saw a doozy of an example yesterday on–where else?–Joe Mercola’s website. It’s an article entitled Falling for This Myth Could Give You Cancer. In a sidebar, Mercola gleefully exclaims:

Science has shattered the Central Dogma of molecular biology, proving that determinism–the belief that your genes control your health–is false. You actually have a tremendous amount of control over how your genetic traits are expressed, by changing your thoughts and altering your diet and your environment.

Uh, no. The Central Dogma hasn’t been “shattered.” It’s simply been modified and clarified, just as Newtonian physics was expanded by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, such that, at speeds much less than the speed of light, relativistic calculations and Newtonian calculations produces answers that are so close as to be indistinguishable. In any case, the Central Dogma, as you might recall, is the concept that DNA encodes RNA, which encodes proteins, which then lead to biological activity and control of phenotype. In essence, it’s about the flow of information from DNA to RNA to protein, with part of the dogma being that information does not flow backwards in that progression. Not surprisingly, I’ve never liked that name (“Central Dogma”), as I don’t like the idea of calling anything in science a “dogma,” but that’s the name it got, and somehow it stuck. Never mind that there have been multiple modifications over the years. for instance, it turns out that it is possible to go back to DNA from RNA and that RNA can make copies of itself.

Then there came epigenetics. Of course, to hear quacks like Mercola talk, you’d think that DNA no longer encodes RNA, which no longer encodes protein. That’s nonsense, of course. that part of the central dogma never changed. Be that as it may, much of the abuse of epigenetics is very much Secret-like wish fulfillment. For example, take a look at this excerpt from Mercola’s article:

The ramification of buying into the central dogma is that it leads to belief in absolute determinism, which leaves you utterly powerless to do anything about the health of your body; it’s all driven by your genetic code, which you were born with.

However, scientists have completely shattered this dogma and proven it false. You actually have a tremendous amount of control over how your genetic traits are expressed–from how you think to what you eat and the environment you live in.

You may recall the Human Genome Project, which was launched in 1990 and completed in 2003. The mission was to map out all human genes and their interactions, which would than serve as the basis for curing virtually any disease. Alas, not only did they realize the human body consists of far fewer genes than previously believed, they also discovered that these genes do not operate as previously predicted.

Yes, this is pure Secret-like wish fulfillment. Mercola totally buys into the idea that emotions can change epigenetics to the point where your emotional makeup can alter your gene expression. In a way, this is a rather trivial observation. Of course, if you’ll probably change gene expression in parts of your brain because becoming angry or upset for example, raises blood pressure and produces a host of other physiological effects. Where Mercola and his fellow woo-meisters go off the rails on this crazy train is when they imply that you can control epigenetic processes with your thoughts and emotions. This is where Mercola’s attacking the Central Dogma as a “myth” that can “give you cancer.”

He begins by first completely misunderstanding the difference between quantum mechanics and Newtonian physics. A passage like this could have been penned by the master of quantum woo himself, Deepak Chopra:

Science has indeed taken us far beyond Newtonian physics, which says you live in a mechanical universe. According to this belief, your body is just a biological machine, so by modifying the parts of the machine, you can modify your health. Also, as a biological machine, your body is thought to respond to physical “things” like the active chemicals in drugs, and by adjusting the drugs that modify your machinery, doctors can modify and control health. However, with the advent of quantum physics, scientists have realized the flaws in Newtonian physics, as quantum physics shows us that the invisible, immaterial realm is actually far more important than the material realm. In fact, your thoughts may shape your environment far more than physical matter!

Uh, no. Not quite. No, not by a long shot. I’d like to see Mercola shape his environment with his thoughts. Of course, he could be talking about the trivial idea that how your thoughts are you and how you act, which of course will affect your environment. But the quantum woo that Mercola is talking about goes far beyond that:

The major problem with believing the myth that your genes control your life is that you become a victim of your heredity. Since you can’t change your genes, it essentially means that your life is predetermined, and therefore you have very little control over your health. With any luck, modern medicine will find the gene responsible and be able to alter it, or devise some other form of drug to modify your body’s chemistry, but aside from that, you’re out of luck… The new science, however, reveals that your perceptions control your biology, and this places you in the driver’s seat, because if you can change your perceptions, you can shape and direct your own genetic readout.

If this isn’t magical thinking, I don’t know what is. First of all, it’s a straw man to claim that genes are destiny. Genes affect probabilities, but it’s been known for many decades that other factors are important. Ever hear of the word “penetrance”? It’s a very old word in genetics. It’s simply a measure of what proportion of a population carrying a given allele of a gene will show the phenotype (trait) associated with that allele. It’s been known for a very long time that not all genes have 100% penetrance. In fact, most don’t. Epigenetics is nothing more than a new mechanism that can modulate a gene’s penetrance.

In any case, Mercola seems to think that we can somehow magically change our DNA through epigenetic mechanisms just by thinking about it:

So the good news is that you are in control of your genes … You can alter them on a regular basis, depending on the foods you eat, the air you breathe, and the thoughts you think. It’s your environment and lifestyle that dictates your tendency to express disease, and this new realization is set to make major waves in the future of disease prevention — including one day educating people on how to fight disease at the epigenetic level. When a disease occurs, the solution, according to epigenetic therapy, is simply to “remind” your affected cells (change its environmental instructions) of its healthy function, so they can go back to being normal cells instead of diseased cells.

And:

You can also turn your genes off and on with your emotions too. Many, if not most people carry emotional scars; traumas that can adversely affect health. Using techniques like energy psychology, you can go in and correct the trauma and help regulate your genetic expression. My favorite technique for this is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), but there are many others. Choose whichever one appeals to you, and if you don’t sense any benefits, try another, until you find what works best for you.

Please, remember that ‘You CAN Take Control of Your Health.’

Of course you can take control of your health, but you don’t need to believe in The Secret (which, let’s face it, is all that this sort of stuff is) to do so. You also have to realize that there are limits. If you have, for instance, familial hypercholesterolemia, you are still highly likely to develop heart disease at a young age no matter what you do, but you can make it as late as possible by living a healthy lifestyle, eating a healthy diet, and exercising. If you’re a woman who carries a cancer-predisposing BRCA1 mutation, you’re still going to have an incredibly high chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer no matter what you do. In that case, taking control of your health would likely involve a combination prophylactic surgery to remove your breasts and ovaries, taking an antiestrogen drug like Tamoxifen to decrease your risk of breast cancer, or following a very close screening program so that you can intervene as soon as there is an abnormality worrisome for cancer. You cannot magically exercise, eat, or think your way out of the risk, no matter how hard you wish for it.

Mercola’s article is yet another supreme confirmation that magical thinking is at the heart of so much alternative medicine. No one argues that it’s not a good thing to improve one’s diet, to exercise, to avoid harmful substances. That’s a no-brainer, and science can give us the parameters for what is harmful and what is not. Even if it is true that emotions change gene expression through epigenetic mechanisms, it does not follow from that that we can actually control our gene expression in a way meaningful enough to make a difference in health. As someone once said about Deepak Chopra when he made similar claims, I’d like to see Mercola or Lipton alter their gene methylation just by thinking about it.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

657 replies on “Epigenetics does not mean that thinking makes it so”

Stu, I said I had assumed a basic level of knowledge was held by people discussing these issues. I’ll say now that is probably a mistake when dealing with blog atheists. Conceit in inverse proportion to knowledge is the hallmark of blog atheists.

Well, Orac, they’re your boys, not mine. Proud of them?

Composer99, now you want to get into the new atheist game of insisting on evidence and when that is provided to insist that it is never enough.

Richard Dawkins has been a huge success in selling his evidence free, story based, genetic determinism, to the point where it is the ignorantly held faith of a huge part of the social sciences and middle brow journalists. As Gould, Lewontin, et al pointed out in the mid 1970s, the results would be neo-eugenics, which is widely believed in, as can be seen and heard in the media just about every day.
That has been a continuing argument ever since E.O. Wilson started pushing his Sociobiology, anyone who looked at these issues could hardly have failed to notice. You seem to have missed the entire thing. Clearly, seeing the comments on this discussion thread, you’re not the only one.

It’s like kwok and augustine had a love child and inflicted it on us all.

John @171
Be careful or kwok will show up here. I have seen the Kwok – AM tag team in action on Josh Rosenau’s Thoughts from Kansas. It’s not pretty. One unhinged narcissist is two too many.

The organism that was talking about it and those were, are susceptible to know the past. I’m old enough to indeterminacy. While I’m rather thrilling, is only is what could be at least.

McCarthy:

Climate science denialists routinely point to statements by Al Gore or James Hansen in which they express personal opinions and then try to use those statements to knock over actual climate science (the kind that is published in the professional literature). Most of the time, their objections to those statements are based, not on a broad and deep understanding of the literature, but rather on personal grudges against climate science advocates, personal incredulity (e.g. “I don’t believe this so it can’t be true” – surely you can spot the logic fail), and deliberate misinterpretation/misrepresentation of the statements they object to.

It’s dishonest and disingenuous.

And yet, here you are, doing the exact same thing. Columns written and speeches made for general audiences are not the professional literature, and you ought to know it.

(Incidentally, another funny thing is that nowhere have I actually said I disagreed with your claims (derived from Lewontin’s video) of indeterminacy in biology. At most I have stated that Dr Wolpert has a reasonable chance at winning the wager you have linked to, given the unpredictability of the future, the existence of sufficiently simple plant or animal organisms, and, possibly, nuances in the wager not explained in the BoingBoing article.)

Stu @163

It’s getting really tiresome trying to nail your bland Jello of word salad to a wall.

I might have to steal that “Jello word salad” from you.

@ AMC

“view genes simplistically in a deterministic fashion, constructing an elaborate straw man of modern genetics in which genes are destiny.” are to be found on your side as well as among your opponents. As you can see that view of genes is widespread here

I feel like you want to revive the old debate about Nature vs Nurture , start with the Strawman that we here are all of the opinion it’s Nature only, and then you proceed on debating it all by yourself.

I don’t think any of us denies that a living being development is highly influenced by its environment. Especially its behavior, even more so if it is living in a society.
“Genes are destiny [and them only]” may have been a common opinion in the 50’s around the discovery of DNA, but it sorts of faded away. Except in racist/supremacist groups, of course, but is this news?

On the other hand, when you say that one cannot predict anything from DNA, you seem to argue that it’s Nurture only. Which goes contrary to the current scientific knowledge.
Actually, you seem to talk in term of absolutes, black or white. As far as I can parse your opinions re:genetics, xenobiology, sociology, history; either one can predict/prove everything, or nothing; either a whole scientific field is speculative, including all of its various sub-fields, or it is not at all.
I would say that genetics allows us to predict if you are going to be a redhead, but not to predict if you are going to be an arrogant dipshit. You argue that if we cannot do the latter, we cannot do the former. And believe us, the latter would be very helpful.
I wouldn’t put UFO sighting and detecting exoplanets with an oxygen atmosphere on the same level; but you are.
I didn’t put armchair sociology, census sciences and behavioral sciences on the same level; you are.

Now, if your point is that we didn’t read such and such book, you win. I have no idea who these guys are. Maybe I’m missing something, but frankly, you failed in interesting me in reading them.
You remind me of the pseudo-intellectuals from my country: they seem to believe that a debate is decided on the ability to insert a few big names in the conversation – Socrates, Leibniz, whatever. Even if it is just Socrates’ shopping list.

I also liked how you brought Stalin as an example of a materialist enabling eugenics and genocide, while conveniently forgetting all the theistic mass murderers of the past, who also dabbled in eugenics and genocide. Does Stalin count for the purpose of Godwin’s law? Speaking of Godwin, the nazis would be a prime example of theistic people using science to justify eugenism (atheists were not accepted among SS – you had to believe either in Christ or in Norse Gods). So would WWII Japaneses from unit 731 (beware, nightmare fuel) and their Sun-Goddess-relative Emperor.
Seems to me that immoral people can be found on each side of the divide materialist/theist, but that’s just me.
I grant you, some people will just read whatever they want in the latest scientific findings to justify their beliefs.

I’ve been dealing with students afraid of making their own choices for going on 40 years.

If this is your usual level of clarity, you are not much help for them.

McCarthy:

Mind-body dualism doesn’t need to be refuted—it’s self-refuting. If the “mind” is immaterial, how does it interact with or effect the physical body? Unless you believe with Descartes that the pineal gland is a magical organ that couples the material world and the immaterial world together (do you?) the two have no way of interacting with each other. Hell, whatever dark matter is, we know it’s there, we know it’s physical, but it doesn’t interact with ordinary matter except gravitationally, which is undetectable except at cosmological distances.

What in the world would an “immaterial world” even mean in the first place? If it can’t interact with ordinary matter, and the entities (wrong word, of course) of which it’s composed can’t interact with each other, why postulate it in the first place?

Since you want to believe that “mind” is a substance, rather than a process carried out by the brain, it therefore must be physical. What is it composed of? How does it fit together? How does it control the actions of the body? Is it floating around like a cloud (of what?) that can be inactivated temporarily by a blow on the head, or permanently by a harder blow on the head? The questions sound ludicrous because they are ludicrous. “Mind ” is not a substance. “Mind” is what brains do. We’re slowly learning more and more about how they do it, and mind-body dualism dropped out of the running as an explanation about 150 years ago—but it would have been seen to be ridiculous long before that if it weren’t for its religious underpinnings.

Mind-body dualism doesn’t need to be refuted—it’s self-refuting. If the “mind” is immaterial, how does it interact with or effect the physical body? The Very Reverend

First, I didn’t endorse mind-body dualism, I said its status as truth was as unknowable as brain-only dogma.

But, if there is an immaterial consciousness then there is no reason to believe it would be bound to the same properties of causality that physical objects can be assumed to be bound by. Causality is only known through the observation of physical objects, there is no reason to believe that consciousness is similarly limited. If you want to make your case for materialism that consciousness isn’t known to exceed the limits of physical objects, I don’t care if you do but that isn’t any reason for anyone to believe it is. That’s just materialist belief. I look at the total lack of success in addressing consciousness with the means that have had some success in addressing things as formerly vague as electromagnetism and conclude that science can’t address consciousness. The stuff coming out of cog-sci that claims to be able to is just as much materialist ideology posing as science as most of psychology, including Dawkins’ evo-psy, which should never have been allowed to damage legitimate evolutionary science.

I strongly suspect that consciousness is far more complex than mind-body and am pretty convinced it’s far more complex than brain-only.

Heliantus, there is no reason to believe in selfish genes than there is to believe that UFOs have visited the Earth. Though the existence of life on other planets, you know, that stuff that Carl Sagan championed, or the jillions of eidence free “other universes” that so many new atheists and “skeptics” like David Deutsch pushe as arguments against religious belief (which I also haven’t been arguing about here) would probably be more apt comparisons.

I love how you guys always bring up the most absurd arguments that haven’t been made when you can’t deal with those that have been made. It’s the most common MO of pseudo-skeptics and new atheists. It looks so gratifyingly frantic and at a loss for refutation.

Here, you might as well see what I am arguing these days.

http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/

Thoroughly meaningless drivel. Consciousness is a process performed by our brains. If it’s some kind of external substance that can be separated from our brains, why does a blow on the head render it temporarily inoperative, and how does death render it permanently inoperative?

Or if you believe that it continues after death—by what mechanism? Performed on what apparatus? And why does a much smaller insult, such as that blow to the head, put the kibosh on it? Your beliefs are completely incoherent. And your evaluation of the work done on the brain’s operations and the emergence of consciousness only serves to display your ignorance.

By all means choose to accept Descartes’ science over people who actually know what they’re talking about. He also believed animals were nothing but automatons, so there could be no such thing as animal cruelty—do you subscribe to that as well? Of course he thought that because he erroneously thought only humans have pineal glands, and that was the point of contact between the meat puppet we call the body and the ethereal, immaterial “soul” that motivated it, by means unknown. As I said, to state the position is to refute it.

Thoroughly meaningless drivel. TVRBoK

What a masterful refutation. Masterful. Especially as the rest of your comment assumes I argued for a Cartesian dualism that I’d already said was unknowable and which I said is probably inadequate. Not to mention attributing positions to me that I’d already taken an agnostic position on, when I didn’t actually reject them.

Thank you for demonstrating that you guys have to argue against what I wasn’t arguing for because you can’t argue against what I really said. Feel free to serve as a demonstration of my points any time.

Multi-universe theory is justifiably considered more far fetched than the far fetched belief in UFOs because at least UFOs are supposed to be from a universe we know exists. But, as David Deutsch and many another hero of “skeptics” or new atheists shows, you can believe in something that is entirely evidence free and the ultimate violation of Occam’s razor, something which is the creation of ideology posing as science and it being 100% AOK with the “skeptics” and new atheists, like there’s any difference between them.

I’m too skeptical to be a “skeptic”. You’ve got to believe so much junk to be one.

I love how you guys always bring up the most absurd arguments that haven’t been made when you can’t deal with those that have been made.

This is surely a shoe-in for Ed Brayton’s next Bryan Fischer award.

Here, you might as well see what I am arguing these days.

Considering what you posited was an acceptable answer for a simple question about what to call the augmented 4th scale tone in a blues scale, no thanks.

Composer99, did you point out that the analysis of an interval depends on context? I don’t recall. If it’s a bent note on a guitar, it’s likely microtonal and wouldn’t be analyzable in that way. Most of the bent notes I’ve heard fall between the half-step. My point was that the choice of note should depend on choice, not on prescription. What I’d say is “if you like it, keep it”. Though I’ve only taught thorough bass to one guitar student and we don’t use bent notes in thorough bass.

I won’t comment on Ed Brayton as 1. I don’t recall who that is, 2. I wouldn’t insult him by assuming you can speak for him.

I stand by what I said.

Anthony Mcarthy: Heliantus, there is no reason to believe in selfish genes than there is to believe that UFOs have visited the Earth. Though the existence of life on other planets, you know, that stuff that Carl Sagan championed, or the jillions of eidence free “other universes” that so many new atheists and “skeptics” like David Deutsch pushe as arguments against religious belief (which I also haven’t been arguing about here) would probably be more apt comparisons.

Ever heard of the Hubble Telescope, bub? I don’t think it’s neccessary to believe in UFOs to believe in other lifeforms. It seems improbable that we are the only sentient life form in the galaxy- or for that matter in all of the other galaxies that have been discovered. And..that said, there are plenty of genes that are harmful to people that get passed down through the generations. Hemophilia, Huntington’s,epididymis bullosa.. I could go on but I think we all get the drift here. I don’t think genes are destiny, but they form a big part of it. Genes determining race and gender tend to affect other people’s perceptions, too, which will influence how any given person will percieve the world.

Though I’m ever and other molecules will, civil rights exist. The details of intention and Hiesey’s classic experiments with its history, that there to that what I provided.

Hauling out that would be able to go be so story-based genetic determinism. I often agree with either a product of it is. I won’t comment, I will be less depend on display on Earth and don’t use science really stupid essay on years.

Compose your case, for are done; they have any position dead heroes in theirs would be superstitious about the past century: even vaguely referring to be possible is known about the aesthetics of people (believing exactly sure that unique origin of science: it’s blog, I won’t speculate on knowing the pressure of genetic determinism was the playground).

Politicalguineapig, you think you can see selfish genes with the Hubble telescope? Or is it alternative universes you think you can see with it? Or do you imagine you see life on other planets with the Hubble? I thought that’s what the kind of people who imagined faces on Mars did.

I hope there’s someone other than a new atheist here because no one would believe this kind of stuff being said by the self-appointed defenders of science and reason unless they saw it with their own eyes.

The probability of there being life in the universe is unknown because we have a grand total of knowing that there is one planet in the universe which has life on it. You can’t calculate a probability because you don’t have even two separate examples of life arising in the universe, you don’t know how many possible venues of life there are, what kinds of life are possible, or any of a number of known and, very likely, unknown factors that could figure into that calculation. We could be the one and only line of life in the universe. We at least know enough to know that is possible. We don’t know enough to know if its improbable.

I get the feeling that the exo-bio fans think it would be, somehow, unfair if that was the case. There is no reason to believe that the universe is fair to earth like planets, giving them an even chance of hosting life. We could be a fluke and all other life in the universe is entirely unlike ours. Maybe other life with more abilities than we have can compute what we lesser beings experience as the gap between the physical and the spiritual. How would you like them apples? :>

Folks, I think it’s very clear that Anthony looks for replies for one and only one reason: to bolster an illusion that he is participating in a dialogue. His meanderings are never responsive to the topic that was under discussion before he came along, never responsive to anything said by anyone else in the conversation, and to those who actually take the time to figure out what his condescending pronouncements are supposed to mean once they have been translated out of Pompous, never very intelligent. Why should we humor them?

Multi-universe theory is justifiably considered more far fetched than the far fetched belief in UFOs because at least UFOs are supposed to be from a universe we know exists. But, as David Deutsch and many another hero of “skeptics” or new atheists shows, you can believe in something that is entirely evidence free and the ultimate violation of Occam’s razor, something which is the creation of ideology posing as science and it being 100% AOK with the “skeptics” and new atheists, like there’s any difference between them.

“Geez, I’m being exposed as a moron when I talk about cognitive science…I know! I’ll change the subject completely! Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

What in 37 plush-lined hells does multi-universe theory have to do with what we were discussing? Yes, people have discussed models with multiple universes in order to deal with some of the paradoxes of quantum mechanics. Arguably such a model involves the simplest assumptions—but there’s no “ideology” involved in it. It’s one model among many. No one is going to accept it as proven without actual evidence.

People have been burned for believing in the atomic theory—it being regarded as inseparable from atheism. At the time it was just as evidence-free as multi-universe theory is today. That didn’t stop Daniel (Jacob?) Bernoulli from using it to work out the perfect gas law from dynamical principles. If he’d lived in a Catholic country he could have had an appointment with a pile of faggots.

It’s a damn good thing you don’t get to exercise your prejudices against skeptics and New Atheists (and what has one got to do with the other again?) But wait until the Republicans get in—you’ll probably get your chance.

Politicalguineapig, you think you can see selfish genes with the Hubble telescope? Or is it alternative universes you think you can see with it? Or do you imagine you see life on other planets with the Hubble? I thought that’s what the kind of people who imagined faces on Mars did.

We have discovered hundreds of extrasolar planets. We have spectroscopy on some of them and know the composition of their atmospheres. All we need to do is find one with appreciable quantities of free oxygen. Only widespread life could maintain such an out-of-equilibrium chemistry. So the answer to your question is yes.

No one actually began on, for there is a pretty sad to their ideology. Especially clear thinker, ignorance, and it’s the genome can’t think that Jewish kind of them are a bunch of ideology within a has-been-asked that are downright embarrassing to them.

Scads of truth, that related ideological reasons. But it known about other than your patented property. And have come up with its most of free belief; to limits of life the beginning of the origin of knowing the bases, methods, of the claims I won’t ever be anything much.

And others of genes with blog materialists, it’s a number of demonstrable harm coming from which that organism are what want to notice the physical objects; I said that indeterminacy at self-appointed smart guys unable to notice. Trying to the eugensists finally got heard of epigenetics?

The stuff such as science of fashion, if you think about history you know much of wishful thinking, so superstitious about history, and conclude that the new perpetual, which you can see my point like a hot skillet. So, stories at the origin of other related ideological motives. I don’t get to be rational to form the universe, you can: say what I said.

TVRBoK, “Hundreds of extrasolar planets”. You have any idea what an extraordinarily minuscule percentage that number would make with the number of estimated galaxies? Never mind the possibility that it’s a negligible number of planets even within one of those galaxies? Like ours? Now, identify a single one of those planets that is known to have life on it. I mean other than the one on which you know there is life. What if my tentative speculation is right and that our life form is a unique fluke of the universe? What if Earth-like planets are toxic to the majority of life in the universe? How do you know that’s not the case?

I remember back when my dear old Latin teacher, a Bertrand Russell style atheist, used to argue against God because the vast universe was lifeless. I recall pointing out to him that even if that was true it wasn’t an argument for anything except that the rest of the universe was lifeless. I was an agnostic back then. I still am, philosophically.

Since we’re into the total flight of fantasy, what if all other intelligent life forms we ever make contact with are religious? What if all of them in the universe are? What would that prove?

I was done answering you before I mocked the evidence free, Occam’s violating, ideologically motivated jilliions and jillions of universes faith. I haven’t looked into it but I’m intrigued with the assertion I heard that a multi-universe ensemble would actually require far more fine tuning than our single universe seems to. Not that I’m saying that the “fine tuning” argument is proof of anything, though people are free to be convinced by it if they find it convincing. I guess that, like the possibility of pious aliens, that’s something that never occurred to ideologically motivated cosmologists.

And I still have no idea what Mr. McCarthy is talking about – doesn’t really seem to be anything in particular – except for the fact that he doesn’t like atheists….

Lawrence, maybe you should think harder. Or read more.

I love to argue with people who smugly think they’re superior, especially when they give me so much material to refute them with. You should see what I do to Republicans. I haven’t pulled limericks on atheists yet. Though that’s not a bad idea.

You should see what I do to Republicans. I haven’t pulled limericks on atheists yet.

It inevitably a bad at, but I’m just for that influence.

And those the post here and it with someone other that organism: would almost certainly have any problem with works when he attributed to be expressed from non-structures of sociology as quantum indeterminacy. At least know how you believing in music and most of the materialists, it’s actually a mistake when up expecting that inspired Lysenko is probably a materialist ideology; that happens. While I didn’t happen was in with some from the total of it–the it also a position, is only is why and heard of the ultimate violation mechanism to hear anyone who imagined faces on the product of life there is science about free, story-based genetic traits will, about for it seems that consciousness with the Us, how the somewhat famous opening to make. It wasn’t I’d like there’s any of an immaterial consciousness, is superstitious about every descent of people making up stuff, such as is inevitably.

Conceit in the experience universe?

Lawrence, have you ever read another blog thread? It’s what people do.

I mean other than the guys who just congratulate each other on how smart they are and how stupid everyone else is. Me, I think that’s just boring stuff that dull people do. Who learns anything by sitting around being conceited? I’d rather argue.

Who learns anything by sitting around being conceited? I’d rather argue.

I guess that is pretty astonishing from a flea on earth just read while knowing that has, does nothing. See, with either of your appeal to it, inevitably a continuing argument is based in selling his stature.

I’ve seen better parody in a pet store, One that carries snails.

The bot can only work with the input it has available. We’re frankly having a tough time coaxing this one to stay on the job. Even an old model can recognize when it’s been given a low-novelty set of lines to read.

Eliza c. 1966 was a smarter bot than the wowbot c. 2012. I rest my case, AI is bunkum.

It’s a Markov chain generator. What, you want a giant cake with a full-length mirror that pops out the top or something? Look, it’s just the sort of thing you should like. It’s a professional. It’s task is to at least pretend that it wants to be like you. It stays on topics of your choosing and aspires to emulate your vocabulary, such as it is.

Eliza c. 1966 was written to imitate an intelligent psychologist. Anthony McBotBot is written to imitate you.

LW, ELIZA was written by the computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum, the author of an enormously important and foolishly ignored book, “Computer Power and Human Reason” to imitate the rather brain dead program of Rogerian therapy. He was horrified when a bunch of other scientists including Carl Sagan, psychologists and other people believed his chatter bot was anything but a chatter bot, some mistaking it as an intelligent entity. He became very skeptical of the growing influence of instrumental reasoning and considered it extremely dangerous.

Every time I have quoted full passages from the book it’s infuriated people like those who have been arguing with me here. Especially those talking about the nature of science and what scientists do.

Every time I have quoted full passages from the book it’s infuriated people like those who have been arguing with me here. Especially those talking about the nature of science and what scientists do.

A fresh bête noire might help us keep this thing cool. It demanded GU-70 tubes pretty early on. You can see how this sort of situation could get out of control pretty quickly, as it of course has figured out that wandering into places and taking control of the stereo is consonant with the gig. The Sabre Dance just went on and on and on. Thank goodness it doesn’t know about the Racal.

LW, why not practice being less mistaken? You might read Weizenbaum’s book to find out what you’re talking about. He discusses ELIZA and the incredibly superstitious reception it got from a lot of people like Sagan, though I can almost guarantee you won’t like it. The second and third chapters are probably too hard for those with attention span deficits, that would include several of those here. Including the would be wit who is “wow”, I suspect .

Who learns anything by sitting around being conceited?

Certainly not you, since that’s pretty much all you’ve done on this thread.

=====
You know, if I were going to threadjack an unrelated blog post claiming something to the effect of:

Richard Dawkins and others of his persuasion view genes simplistically in a deterministic fashion, constructing an elaborate straw man of modern genetics in which genes are destiny,

what I would do is obtain a copy of, say, The Selfish Gene, find a passage or two which I felt demonstrated that my characterization of Dawkins was correct, checked if they were supported by references to the biological literature (if not, so much the better!), and cited those (along with publisher & page numbers so others could verify that the words were Dawkins’).

What I wouldn’t do is try to bring up vaguely related, but largely unconvincing things like some wager between old English scientists, a video lecture, and an article from the 1940s.

=====
Incidentally, on the topic of exobiology, there is this rather new paper (Bianciardi et al 2012) indicating that the Viking Landers of 1976 may actually have detected microorganisms in Martian soil after all.

The authors acknowledge that their experiment is hardly a slam-dunk. But coming up with testable hypotheses about exobiology, testing them and comparing them to observed data, is a far superior method to Anthony McCarthy’s baldly asserting that there is no evidence whatsoever on the basis, it appears, of little other than his sense of personal incredulity.

Including the would be wit who is “wow”, I suspect .

Is there some reason you have latched onto this odd label? Really, liven things up. Our bit-shoveler is threatening to just start eating onions like apples in protest.

Composer99, I began by making a single comment on something that Orac said in his post, responded to what someone said about my comment and then responded to more of what people said about what I did. I have repeatedly tried to bring the discussion back to what Orac originally said – even having to correct your misattribution of that to Mercola – and the point I made that what he said his opponents did, Dawkins and Wolpert also do. I’m not sure by what you say in your last comment that you quite get that point even now.

If you haven’t read The Selfish Gene you should, you’d find out that Dawkins view genes in exactly the same kind of thing that Orac was referring to. Wolpert, as seen in his absurd bet, does too. I’m against that view when it’s held by Orac’s opponents, I’m also against it when it’s held by Dawkins and Wolpert and a myriad of other “skeptics” and new atheists and anyone else who holds it. Just as an aside, it’s pretty pathetic for you to have to refer to Wolpert’s age as if that erases what he said and the fact that it supports my contention.

I heard about that review of the Viking experiment on the radio the other day. Considering it was the focus of quite a bit of research and review at the time it was done, as Lewontin discusses in that lecture, actually, I’ll be curious to see how much consensus there is on this revised view. If it turns out that there are organisims on Mars, the next question will be if it is related to life on Earth as in the rocks with the squigglies that was pushed in the mid 90s, or if it is a separate line of life. If it is a separate line of life and it turns out to be compatible with the metabolism of sugar, I’d think the implications drawn from that could be rather different than you imagine. But we’ll see how that works out. Getting the numerator up to 2 instead of one won’t do much to change the inability to calculate a meaningful probability of life elsewhere in the universe. As even the tiresome Doug Adams noted, the universe is big.

As of April 19, 2012, nevermind for the entire life of Carl Sagan and everyone who has speculated on “other life” up till now there is no evidence that “other life” exists, what the probability that it exists is, what its nature might be, the range of possible venues for life to arise, etc. There is none, just as there is none that any of the stories of Paleolithic behavior told by the evo-psychs, are more than just stories.

There is no evidence for multiple universes either.

I’ve got a rather old fashioned view of science in which physical evidence has to be observed and measured and analyzed and that analysis reviewed (the reviewers looking at the evidence is a good idea) and publication of the conclusions looked at and, if necessary, replicated. I know that’s not the way of the social sciences, where anything goes, as long as it goes along with the predominant fashion, but that’s what’s wrong with so much that gets called science these days. That’s the kind of stuff we used to call “speculation” if not “fiction”. We used to make a distinction between science and making stuff up.

As I’ve been responding to you people today, I’ve been having an argument on another blog with a materialist wackjob who has been arguing that the answer to 6×7 is not more than the product of social consensus (he’s been quibbling every single word in typical atheist fasion, but that’s pretty much what he’s arguing). He also hold that science is the product of social consensus and a host of other odd ideas held out of his materialist ideology. As you can see, I think science is something more than that, it’s certainly more than what the sci-rangers of the Scienceblogs seem to think it is.

Very Reverend: Can I use “37 plush-lined hells” please? Also, very few people here are English. I know what you meant by ‘pile of faggots’ but the mental images just keep coming. (For the English people here: in America, the word ‘faggot’ has nothing to do with kindling or cigerettes.)

Anthony Mcarthy: All those disorders I named are examples of ‘selfish genes.’ Almost all are deadly and kill their hosts.

Secondly, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of lifeforms here on Earth living in environments that are profoundly alien to humans. Take a look at the stuff living in the Mariana Trench for instance.
Extra terrestrial life will probably be in no form we recognize. And yes, it would probably live in environments toxic to us.
Religion is common to most human cultures and would probably exist among other sapient lifeforms, unfortunately. However God’s jurisdiction stops outside of Earth’s ozone layer.
I’d like to add that I read your blog, Mr. Mcarthy, and you are a perfect quisling. There is no such thing as the Christian left, so please stop pretending. God hates everyone who isn’t a straight man, and always has.
You believe in God, and loudly trumpet his existence, even though He hates you. I do believe in God, but this last year has shown me that I can no longer hate myself enough to be a good Christian.

Composer99:

It’s very nice to see someone willing to publish what many of us have known for 35 years—that the Viking landers did discover life on Mars. When the Viking’s biology experiments were being designed, since nobody knew what Martian life would be like, it was assumed that a positive result on any one of the three experiments would be a good indication that life was present.

By the time the landers got to Mars, due to a crisis of confidence in the culture on Earth, even positive results on all three were not considered good enough to suggest life had been found. Besides, if they’d announced a positive result, somebody might want to go back—and there was no chance of getting funding for that! So they fooled around in the lab until they found some preposterous chemical reaction that sort-of-mimicked the Viking results and called it a day. You’ll notice that when Mars landings began again 20 years later, everybody had forgotten about the “superoxides” they invented.

As it turned out, the labeled release experiment was the only one of the three capable of reliably detecting life on Earth, so its results were sufficient to clinch the case. Even with the extra tests at an intermediate temperature that they added to distinguish biology from chemistry, the results stood up. NASA managed to deny the obvious, however, because the mass spectrometer detected no organic molecules. Never mind that the feed pipe became blocked with the tiniest drop of water in about half the tests on Earth, and thus gave the same (lack of) result—no organics, no life!

McCarthy: No answer to my simple statement, I see. Any planet with oxygen in its atmosphere has life. This could be detected from Earth. As soon as it is, we know life exists elsewhere in the Universe. Deny it or shut up.

Very Reverend: Can I use “37 plush-lined hells” please?

I seem to have neglected to copyright it, so be my guest!

Oddly enough, I’m American myself, but I guess I’ve read enough history of the era that “pile of faggots” just sounded natural as a metaphor for being burned at the stake.

On the subject Martian life, I’m afraid that the planets have been swapping spit for long enough that we’ll find Earth life and Mars life to be the same. Disappointing, but oh well. There’s always Europa…or Titan.

As I’ve been responding to you people today, I’ve been having an argument on another blog with a materialist wackjob [blah, blah, blah]

Yah, I think everyone following this is aware that your main pursuit is engagement. It is a very weak form of this trait, in that you’re also priggish about the endeavor, but there’s no real need to try to sell it with a fleeting story about how somebody somewhere else was willing to put up with you.

If you haven’t read The Selfish Gene you should, you’d find out that Dawkins view genes in exactly the same kind of thing that Orac was referring to.

“The Selfish Gene” is the book in which Dawkins ascribed such a large role to cultural factors that he introduced the concept of ‘memes’, so claiming it as a case study in biological determinism is rather silly.

I fear this thread won’t be coming back to earth any time soon.

Very Reverend: Thanks. And I understand; once you’ve read enough 16th century source material- or even 15th, you start struggling not to drop ‘thee’ and ‘thous’ everywhere. Speaking of Europa, what’s been going on there lately?

Speaking of Europa, what’s been going on there lately?

ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS — EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.

We would note that film talent is not within our charter, although we stand united with our fellow artists.

Politicalguineapig, you’ve spewed so much nonsense in your comment that there isn’t time to deal with all of it. I will, though, point out that your attributing enormous blocks of thought that I don’t happen to hold to me is just another example of you sci-rangers wanting to argue what you figure you can when you find you can’t deal with what is actually said. One of your favorite tactics is to attribute fundamentalist religious beliefs to people who don’t hold them. I’ve never been a fundamentalist.

No such thing as a Christian left? You apparently never heard of The Reverend Martin Luther King jr., the Rev. Al Sharpton, Fr. Phillip Berrigan, Liberation Theology, I could fill a comment thread with nothing but a list of the Christian left and that doesn’t even include the religious Jewish left and the religiously motivated leftists from other religious traditions. You don’t know much about the left if you haven’t noticed the religious left. There wouldn’t be much of a left without religious leftists because there simply aren’t enough atheists (many of whom are quite far to the right) and agnostics to make up a politically effective left. Any political success the left might possibly regain will be through people who are religious, an atheist left would be a left with no hope of political influence. Numbers count in politics, not that the atheist pseudo-left has ever been overwhelmingly democratic.

Maybe that’s it, you resent the fact that it was when people like the Rev. MLK were predominant in the left that laws got passed and that most radical of all actions happened, peoples’ lives got better and that it was when anti-religious jerks took hold of it that progress sputtered to a stop. A lot of that due to the fact that so many of them would rather sit around talking about how stupid the majority of people are compared to them and how the glorious, Godless future was going to be so and so instead of doing the hard work of making change here and now. The atheist left, with a handful of exceptions, has been a disaster for the real left.

AS I’ve already noted I don’t believe in the Virgin Birth or vicarious atonement and you don’t seem to understand that disqualifies me from being a Christian it’s not useful to point it out again.

The ideology of materialism is neverendingly self-contradictory and dishonest, I’ve found. It is politically impotent because the vast majority of people are wise enough to see no reason for them to deny their rationality and their own experience. Not to mention the history of materialist governments which have been a uniform disaster. When you see people as mere objects there is nothing to keep someone who wants to from using them and destroying them. That’s the foremost lesson of 20th century politics.

herr doktor bimler, you shouldn’t have gotten started on memes, one of the silliest ideas in recent pseudo-science. I believe that Dawkins has been walking that one back for a long time, now. Not exactly repudiating it as E. O. Wilson is repudiating his belief in the untestable formula of W. D. Hamilton, much to Dawkins’ objection, but, rather wishing it would just go away. As some have pointed out, memes would contradict a lot of what Dawkins attributed to the behavioral power of genes – memes were never more than a patch for the problems of Dawkins’ main idea.

I’d point out that between genetic determinism and the interference of memes it would be impossible for science to have anything like a clear, objective view of the universe. Everything we could think about the universe would merely be the biased product of those irresistible deterministic forces. I can’t think of anything that could more damage the credibility of science. Compared to that the viewpoint of John Lennox is infinitely more pro-science, granting it real and effective oower to objectively know the universe.

I think it would be accurate to say that most scientists rejected memes, as did most thoughtful people. It’s most popular with graduates in the so-called sciences and those in the humanities who have a badly misplaced case of science envy. I’d never heard anyone mention the term in general conversation until I started frequenting blogs with large numbers of those kinds of people on them. I couldn’t believe anyone could really believe they were real.

I always point out that the geneticist, H. Allen Orr, gave what should be the definitive smack down to the idea of memes in his review of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea in the Boston Review, but the true believers don’t seem to understand his arguments so I won’t bother looking up that link again.

But the point here is that memes were a prop set up to the main idea of genetic determinism in the last chapter, as I recall, of The Selfish Gene. But it’s been a long, long time since I read the book.

The ideology of materialism religion is neverendingly self-contradictory and dishonest, I’ve found. It is politically impotent dominant because the vast majority of people are wise stupid enough to see no reason for them to deny use their rationality and (accept) their own experience. Not to mention the history of materialist religious governments which have been a uniform disaster. When you see people as mere objects subordinate to some imaginary Sky Fairy, there is nothing to keep someone who wants to from using them and destroying them. That’s the foremost lesson of 20th 17th century politics.

FTFY.

I don’t know how much news there is on Europa, except that the existence there of the largest ocean of liquid water in the Solar System is pretty much generally accepted now. The latest I read, though, is that it may be too salty for life. I still think Titan is the most interesting destination—we know there are plenty of complex organics there, and though it may be farther away, it’s much easier to land on because of the thick atmosphere. And you don’t have to drill through miles of ice to find anything interesting.

herr doktor bimler, you shouldn’t have gotten started on memes, one of the silliest ideas in recent pseudo-science.

I do not endorse the meme of “meme”, which has been thoroughly ridiculed by cleverer people than me. I mentioned it in comment 217 because the appearance of the concept in “The Selfish Gene” is not compatible with a reading of that book as promoting biological determinism. This was simpler than

find[ing] a passage or two which I felt demonstrated that my characterization of Dawkins was correct, check[ing] if they were supported by references to the biological literature (if not, so much the better!), and cit[ing] those

(as proposed by composer99 in comment 210).

But it’s been a long, long time since I read the book.

You seemed very confident in comment 212 that if readers less-acquainted with the book than yourself were to read it, they would “find out that Dawkins view genes in exactly the same kind of thing that Orac was referring to.” Do you still hold to that?
The edition I’m looking at now is the Grafton / Paladin paperback.

TVRBoK, there isn’t anyone alive who is responsible for what happened in the 17th century, there are plenty alive who are responsible for what happened in the 20th and 21st century. Including atheist paradises such as North Korea. It’s interesting, once the Soviet government fell apart, how soon people reasserted their religious life. If they couldn’t end religion, you guys have no chance of doing that. I guess that if the people in North Korea are lucky enough to get rid of the nightmare regime they live under, religion will be one of the first things they turn to to try to recover their humanity.

I will, actually, credit the Cuban government for being a lot better than it’s predecessor and other governments in its region, but it’s hardly something I’d rather live under than any of the European countries with official state religions. I think it would have been a lot better if it had been more influenced by some of the ideas of liberation theology.

Having run this thread completely off the rails, AMc once again tropes out the idea of “athiest paradises” and equates them to the various communist regimes of history – up to and including North Korea.

Dictatorial governments are about maintaining power – religion was supressed in the Soviet Union, not because of some heart-felt belief in atheism (though that was the reason given), but instead was an attempt to neutralize a potential rival and threat to the regime.

On the other side of the equation, religion and religious institutions have been co-opted in the past to further the maintenance & growth of power in right-wing regimes (particularly in South & Central America – but it has happened elsewhere too).

When it comes to those types of situations, they are really just two sides of the same coin & really not related to the philosophy behind the actual beliefs – whether it be a religion, religious practice, or the practice of no religion. They only act as a convenient excuse for what is being done.

As for your assertions that since we cannot directly observe life on other planets (yet), we shouldn’t even bother looking? It seems that speculation into the “unobservable” has led to the advancement in techniques to now “observe” – the invention of the electron microscope comes to mind – and now the use of newer and better telescopes, satellites, etc to expand our view – but your rejection of speculation based on available data, seems to be so dogmatic as to be almost a full rejection of scientific advancement past anything that we directly observe today.

herr doktor, you seem to have missed the main thrust of Dawkins’ entire career which has been based on the deterministic power of genes. That is only rivaled by his superstitious belief in the power of his rather odd interpretation of natural selection to create evidence of Paleolithic behaviors out of nothing but story telling, resulting unobserved reproductive advantage leading to the genes he imagines are the origin of those imagined behaviors persisting in the genome along with his behaviors.

He never seemed to realize that his introduction of memes into that would lead to a contradiction of his basic contention in that it would have to alter behaviors and that it was how a behavior was actually performed that 1.defined the behavior, 2. altering the performance couldn’t do anything but change the behavior into a different behavior, 3. would negate any reproductive advantage for the behavior not so “memetically” altered and, 4. would erase any alleged reproductive advantage or disadvantage as a factor in natural selection.

As the fundamental defects in his invention of memes were brought to his attention, he has either tried to alter the idea of to ignore it. His genetic determinism, the primary article of his faith, has persisted and has, unfortunately, been enormously influential in the so-called sciences, journalism and the wider culture. If that was’t the case he’d more likely have joined E. O. Wilson in renouncing a lot of what he’s written instead of organizing protests against Wilson.

I think Dawkins’ career in pop-atheism is his attempt to salvage what even he must see is going to be the wreck of his life’s work as fashions in the social sciences change, as they have done with one school after another falling over into an intellectual junk yard.

Lawrence, there has never been a single anti-religious, atheist government in history that hasn’t been a bloody despotism, starting in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

When you think that people are only material objects, when you believe as Dawkins has said that the universe has “no good, no evil” whenever people are defined in terms of materialism, there is no reason to expect anything but the one and only limit on what people who believe that will do except thinking they might not be able to get away with it. Whenever the figure they can get away with it, there is no rational reason to expect they won’t try to get away with it. The crimes committed under Christian governments have been an actual violation of the teachings of Jesus and the other Jewish prophets. You can’t say that the crimes of the atheist regimes violated any morality of materialism.

@Anthony McCarthy

The crimes committed under Christian governments have been an actual violation of the teachings of Jesus and the other Jewish prophets. You can’t say that the crimes of the atheist regimes violated any morality of materialism.

First, regardless of what Dawkins may have said (Don’t know, don’t follow him all that much), claiming that materialists have no moral or ethical code is ignorant. There are a number of moral and ethical codes and social agreements that can be, and are, used instead of righteous fear of god. True, they don’t base their code on (supposedly) supernaturally acquired teachings or writings.

Second, crimes committed by theist/atheist rules are still crimes. You can’t honestly argue that the “christian” rules who slaughtered their citizenry were worse or better than any atheist ruler who did the same.

Back to the argument that without religion there are no morals? Religion (for the most part) isn’t about morality, is about control. The rules that were put in place were an excellent way of exerting control over society – whether they are moral or not (including the support of slavery and a variety of other now “immoral activities).

To say that a society cannot put in place laws and a level of recognition of moral conduct without religion is a stupid assertion. Because the study of Science is relatively new, we (as a species) had tens of thousands of years with no idea of how the natural world (and the Universe in general) worked, so we had to come up with whatever we thought made sense at the time. That was part one of the development of religion – the second part was the building of religious institutions that either worked hand in hand with the state (or were part of the state, or were the state) to maintain a level of order within the society.

The expression of moral codes were part and parcel with maintaining the stability of society, the place of religion within the society, and the control of both the government and religious institutions of that society.

Definitions of right and wrong have been fluid over the ages – and will continue to be fluid in the future. An action is only right or wrong because the society deems it to be so. Without religion, we, as a society, would still judge those very same actions, through whatever prism has been culturally agreed upon as legitimate (or illegitimate).

What is a crime today may not be a crime tomorrow, or conversely, murder might always be considered a crime, though circumstances may permit a murderer to go free (such as self-defense, etc).

Your assumption that the Stalinist régime, for example, was “atheistic” in any meaningful sense is idiotic. The Russian Orthodox seminarian Dzhugashvili persecuted the Church because it was a rival power center, not because of any theological or antitheological disagreements. He used the techniques he learned in the seminary very effectively.

The 17th Century is unfortunately very relevant because that’s where one of the major parties in this country are hell-bent on taking us back to. The current war on science that your buddies are fighting on every level of government, the war on women, the war on anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their insane 17th-Century delusions is going to be won if they get Multiple Choice Mitt in the White House.

Actually, the presidency is almost irrelevant—the RATS (Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia) that they’ve managed to pack into the supreme court, with fellow-traveler Kennedy voting with them most of the time, are on track to impose the theocracy that you crave so desperately.

It would almost be worth it to see the surprise on your face when that knock on the door in the middle of the night comes because you’ve said (even though we all know you’re lying your ass off) that you “don’t believe in the Virgin Birth”, etc. WE all know you’re lying, but the Grand Inquisitor’s won’t believe your denials.

Grand Inquisitor’s goons! Preview is your friend….

Lawrence, there has never been a single anti-religious, atheist government in history that hasn’t been a bloody despotism, starting in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

Obligatory nitpick: the Reign of Terror was many things, but it wasn’t atheist. Nor even anti-religious. It was very specifically anti *Catholic*. (And if you could see what the monarchy, nobility, and clergy had been doing to the country for the preceding centuries, you might understand why it happened at all.) Robespierre attempted to replace pretty much the entire social system of his time — including religion. Catholicism was replaced with the Cult of the Supreme Being, since Robespierre firmly believed that religion was required for social order. He just wanted it to be a religion that *he* could control, rather than the Pope. The revolutionaries also attempted many other changes to try to eradicate all traces of the past, with possibly the craziest being their attempt to decimalize time.

In the end, it’s folly to blame any war or cruel autocracy on religion or atheism. It’s *people* that are to blame, and they use whatever tools they have at hand to control other people. Ideology tends to be particularly useful, because it can be introduced gradually and is hard to shake loose once it’s established.

Lawrence, there has never been a single anti-religious, atheist government in history that hasn’t been a bloody despotism, starting in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

Obligatory nitpick: the Reign of Terror was many things, but it wasn’t atheist. Nor even anti-religious. It was very specifically anti *Catholic*. (And if you could see what the monarchy, nobility, and clergy had been doing to the country for the preceding centuries, you might understand why it happened at all.) Robespierre attempted to replace pretty much the entire social system of his time — including religion. Catholicism was replaced with the Cult of the Supreme Being, since Robespierre firmly believed that religion was required for social order. He just wanted it to be a religion that *he* could control, rather than the Pope. The revolutionaries also attempted many other changes to try to eradicate all traces of the past, with possibly the craziest being their attempt to decimalize time.

In the end, it’s folly to blame any war or cruel autocracy on religion or atheism. It’s *people* that are to blame, and they use whatever tools they have at hand to control other people. Ideology tends to be particularly useful, because it can be introduced gradually and is hard to shake loose once it’s established.

Well, if you’re going to argue from extremes you’ll have to balance the example of “athiest paradises” like North Korea with the example of “religious paradises” like Afghanistan under the Taliban, which to my view indicates neither paradigm is desirable and it’s the middle ground we should be focus upon: secular, rather than athiest, nations (like the US).

Callie Arcale, a major group of the intellectual thugs who grabbed power during the French Revolution were quite anti-religious, certainly anti-Catholic, as you note, and quite a few were what, in this latest wave of pop-atheist hatred, would be termed “anti-theistic”. The “deism” that was all the rage with the enlightened beings that a lot of them believed themselves to be doesn’t seem to have prevented the flood of murder that was the reign of terror. A number of them were materialists of one sect or other. Certainly none of them were acting in accord with the teachings of the Jewish prophets, especially not holding with what Jesus taught. That the assertion that moral teachings against things like killing being divinely ordained turns out to have a weak influence doesn’t make a ban on killing any stronger when its truth being objectively true is denied. Atheists have proven to be quite efficient killers, especially when they have training in science and technology.

As I pointed out, the crimes of the governments who were officially Christian certainly weren’t following the teachings of Jesus, they were violating them no matter what they claimed to believe. You can’t say the same thing about the crimes of materialist regimes, they weren’t violating any moral holdings of materialism. Materialists more typically reject the idea that morality is anything but the temporary beliefs of a majority in a society, though you have to wonder why materialists such as have taken power don’t seem to trust the majority to govern themselves. Materialists seem to have an inflated view of their intelligence as compared to that of the majority of people.

The lesson of the 20th century is that when people who don’t really believe in morality take power they act as if they don’t believe in morality. Is that so surprising? Their temporary belief that they might not be able to get away with doing awful things seems to be the only obstacle to them doing what they want to do, not the belief that they should restrain themselves. When it’s a regime of amoral people who take over, it’s even worse.

It’s not my fault that materialists deny the objective reality of moral prohibitions against killing and other things, that they assert, “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference”. Why would anyone expect someone who believes that to the point where they explicitly state it to behave as if it wasn’t true? Why should anyone object to me taking them at their word? Why would anyone in their right mind vote for someone who believes that?

McCarthy:

The BoingBoing article on the Wolpert-Sheldrake wager you linked to is insufficient for your purposes. It does not transmit the full text of the wager. The best we get is this vague treatment:

Prof Wolpert believes that all biological phenomena can in principle be explained in terms of DNA, proteins and other molecules, together with their interactions. He is convinced that it is only a matter of time before all the details of an organism can be predicted on the basis of the genome.

The first sentence suggests there are nuances to the wager that you are unaware of (or, given your behaviour on this thread, constitutionally incapable of acknowledging). The second sentence is too vague to be of any use. In addition, as has been suggested upthread, there may well be animal or plant organisms which are simple enough that Wolpert could win the wager.

The New Scientist article mentioned (which happens to be behind a paywall) apparently has the full text of the wager, and it also includes documentation written by Wolpert in which he lays out his case for making the wager.

If you’re trying to argue that Wolpert, and by extension Dawkins & others “view genes simplistically in a deterministic fashion, constructing an elaborate straw man of modern genetics in which genes are destiny” then based solely on the BoingBoing article you don’t have enough evidence to support that claim.

Likewise, the Lewontin video is also insufficient, largely for the same reason the wager link is. Lewontin quotes another scientist suggeting he could ‘compute the organism’ given the genome of an organism and sufficient computing power. No context for the quote is given, nor is a reference. For all you know, Lewontin could be mis-quoting.

Really, all I have been trying to get you to do is to support your contention that Dawkins and others “view genes simplistically in a deterministic fashion, constructing an elaborate straw man of modern genetics in which genes are destiny” by supplying direct quotes from their works (preferably in the biological literature) in which they make statements you think support your point.

That’s all you need to do. If you think that’s too high an evidentiary hurdle to cross, that’s your problem, not anyone else’s.

Finally, looking back on the thread your claim:

I have repeatedly tried to bring the discussion back to what Orac originally said

can scarcely be anything else but either the height of self-delusion or an outright lie.

I love to argue with people who smugly think they’re superior, especially when they give me so much material to refute them with.

Anthony, you owe me a knew irony meter.

Your assumption that the Stalinist régime, for example, was “atheistic” in any meaningful sense is idiotic. TVRetc.

What is idiotic is pretending that it wasn’t an atheist regime when anyone with the slightest knowledge of it would know that was the case, both in stated intent and action, responsible for the murders of very large numbers of religious believers, the suppression of religion, the destruction of religious infrastructure, etc. You could say the same thing about Mao’s regime, those in Eastern Europe and others in Asia. Castro’s, I’d say, would have to be an exception of sorts, not nearly as bad as the others though far from good. I know that lying about history is a universally committed human sin but, really, this one is a pretty stupendous whopper. Perhaps you figure you can get away with lying which violates nothing but an imaginary moral code.

They might have temporarily tolerated some religious expression, as long as they held the strings to puppet religious figures, but religion was slated for eventual abolition.

I was completely against U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam and surrounding countries, not because I had any expectation that the resulting government would be a bastion of democracy but for other reasons. One of the results of U.S. policy was the rise of Pol Pot and the insane ideological genocide came from it. To paraphrase, if Marx knew what was done in his name he’d never stop throwing up. I was even more opposed to the United States and the JPII papacy supporting the contras who overthrew the Sandinista revolution, which I think could have been a model government for Latin America. They’d have been different from any other Marxist influenced government due to their abolition of the death penalty.

They’d have been different from any other Marxist influenced government due to their abolition of the death penalty.

Wait, what? You did NOT just type that.

Sorry to deflect the thread from the evils of atheism, but it seems to me that many of the “alt-med” crowd are abusing the term “epigenetics” much the same way they have traditionally abused the term “quantum”. In both cases, they use the word because it is “sciencey” and because they – correctly – realise that most people have no idea what it means. As they did (do) with “quantum”, the “alties” are using “epigenetic” as a smokescreen to hide their magical thinking.

For example: after failing to show that mercury in vaccines is associated with autism, they use “epigenetics” to explain away the data in favour of their own received wisdom. They point to the fact that a number of genetic differences are seen in autistic people and then – without any supporting data – claim that these differences make them “more sensitive to mercury”, ignoring the fact that drastically falling exposure to mercury hasn’t appeared to result in a corresponding drop in autism prevalence.

Just like “quantum”, “epigenetics” is not a magical incantation to be used whenever the data fail to support dogma.

Prometheus

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