May 16, 2011

"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail."

"There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

Says Stephen Hawking, who "lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years" and is "not afraid of death, but... in no hurry to die."

Also, from the interview, this question-and-answer that I find quite puzzling:
What is the value in knowing "Why are we here?"

The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can't solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.
What "societies" does he mean? Different categories of animals, so the human beings have the highest value? Or does he mean different societies of human beings? And why is this an answer to the question asked? It has the word "value" in it, but it seems to be used  in a completely different way. I'm going to assume that Hawking, one of the smartest individuals in the world, is making sense, so help me out here. What is he saying?

ADDED: Here's my stab at it. Under Darwinism, whatever is here now is what has survived because its ancestral line was able to survive. So we can look around and see all the living things and think of them as really valuable because they are alive. That is what we know: We are here because we survived, and that's impressive. Once we understand this — why we are here — we find value in the knowledge that everyone who has made it is impressive by virtue of having made it. It's the atheist's version of This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

98 comments:

rhhardin said...

I read it as those theories have a higher value than the equations we can't solve.

rhhardin said...

Or he may be doing sociology. We assign a higher value to things that work, as an observation.

rhhardin said...

Or possibly both at once; the Darwinian theories work so we value them higher than the equations we can't solve; just as we value species that work over ones that don't.

A confusion of use and mention is one way of terminating an infinte regress.

rhhardin said...

I'd counter that the brain is not a computer, though it definitely stops working.

TWM said...

He may be one of the smartest people in the world, but he doesn't know what lies in store for us after death anymore than the dumbest person in the world.

Fred4Pres said...

I would not read that much into it. Hawkings is a brilliant man, but in his field. As far as philosophy goes, not much different than the lot of us. Of course the options are when we die, that is that. That would be going to sleep and not dreaming. Hardly the worse fate. Or there is some existance beyond that. If it is the former you will never know.

But let's say Hawkings is right on brain function. The question remains, does the past ever end? Consider a life like Althouse google comments, do they stop existing (regardless of a mendacious "volunteer" administrator) or do they exist in time, regardless? If one can in theory travel through time, then isn't that immortality in a sense?

And I agree, you have to make the most of what you have now. And the spector of death hanging over Hawkings hangs over us all (and Ann's past postings too).

tom said...

Perhaps Hawkins is simply an idiot savant - a genius at one area of theoretical physics and not very thoughtful otherwise. I have read other illogical and incomprehensible statements he's made about "the big questions."

And his comment that reality is governed by science? Science describes reality using human theories/structures and then tries to make predictions. And these theories/structures are being constantly tweaked or totally replaced by new theories and ideas. So to say reality is governed by OUR theroetical constructs makes no sense.

traditionalguy said...

He does not know the forces that created the universe of matter from attractions, so how can he know the eternal dimension of reality.

realwest said...

rhhardin is right about the brain is not a computer (for one thing, you can't really defrag it or add more memory) and it definitely stops working, sometimes upon your death.

MarkG said...

You have a much better explanation.

I thought science was the study of the universe, not something that governed it.

Anyway, Hawking may be the smartest guy on the planet, but it doesn't mean much here. You can find the smartest ant on the ant hill, but good luck getting it to solve an algebra problem.

pduggie said...

I wonder why, if he regards the brain as a computer that can't survive the breakdown of its components, he can't also imagine software information running on that computer being preserved somehow, and perhaps later being incorporated into a newer, better computer.

Mike K said...

We are here because our ancestors were better able to deal with the changing environment. Fools expect everything to stay exactly the same, like the global warming fanatics. That isn't what happens or we would have scales like dinosaurs. There was a cataclysmic event, maybe an asteroid strike, and mammals had the ability to adapt better. Dinosaurs became birds but the big ones couldn't survive, probably because of temperature regulation or a drop in food supply. Mammals won out.

Maybe next time one of those asteroids flys by, it will hit the earth instead. Then, 250 millions years from now, the insect descendents will be wondering what happened to mammals.

DADvocate said...

Science describes reality using human theories/structures and then tries to make predictions. And these theories/structures are being constantly tweaked or totally replaced by new theories and ideas. So to say reality is governed by OUR theroetical constructs makes no sense.

My first thoughts. Science doesn't control the universe. Science describes, learns things about the universe and is able to predict actions. But, science is a human construct and we don't control the universe.

KLDAVIS said...

It's confusing because he's talking about various types of causation.

Hawking believes the "value in knowing why we are here" is inherent in a scientific understanding of the how of that why. But, the how is not reducible to a single solvable equation, it's abstracted by the effect of Darwinian natural selection.

DADvocate said...

On another day the emperor asked Gudo: "Where does the enlightened man go when he dies?"

Gudo answered: "I know not."

"Why don't you know?" asked the emperor.

"Because I have not died yet," replied Gudo.

Shouting Thomas said...

We have another computer within us besides the brain... DNA.

Kent said...

It's always interesting to hear ideas as to "Why are we here?" from eminents like Hawking.

In the end, though, dark is dark, whether you fear it or not.

Pastafarian said...

pduggie, I think the part he finds unimaginable is the existence of an omnipotent tech guy running around re-installing all that software.

*****

Someone asks a physicist a question about religion; he answers, as well as he can. Some don't like the answer, so they call him an idiot (albeit an idiot savant, but an idiot nonetheless.)

Meh.

This is why I don't often participate in discussions on this topic anymore. You can't reason a man out of a position that he was never reasoned into.

Kent said...

By 'dark' I mean to say 'unknown'.

For all we know, death on this plane is an awakening into another. Maybe the brain is just a temporary transceiver, rather than the originator of 'us' and our thoughts.

Or it could be 'curtains' as Hawking seems to be saying.

We can bark at the moon (or study it in detail) but in the end we still don't know.

William said...

It is notable that Hawkings speaks of a Darwinian model. Hawkings would not survive in a purely Darwinian world. It is the moral dimensions that we artificially impose on this world that allows for his continued existence. The motive force of his nihilism comes not from the strength of his mind but from the exquisite vulnerability of his body. It is difficult for a quadriplegic to accept the existence of a benign god and yet if men did not believe in goodness, his existence would not be possible......Kierkegaard argued that man's existence is a question mark. Kierkegaard was a hunchback. His literal physical appearance was that of a question mark. In like ways, Hawkings literal physical existence is proof that there are forces other than Darwinian ones alive in the universe.

N.J. Fentwanger said...

Hawking should give it a rest and just lighten up. There's nothing smart about being gloomy.

Pastafarian said...

William, I don't see how the existence of artificial selection, in addition to natural selection, is an argument for the supernatural.

We have airplanes that allow men to fly, too; that doesn't mean that they're borne aloft on wings of angels. The idea that Hawking is somehow a hypocrite because he relies on technology to survive is nonsensical.

Quayle said...

That is what we know: We are here because we survived, and that's impressive.

How do we know it is impressive?

What are the endpoints of the scale by which we are measuring "impressive"?

This is more nonsense - attempting to find meaning where there could be no meaning, given the premises.

Dave said...
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Dave said...

Naturally, Hawkings has an inflated sense of the importance of science. Science is limited to answering what it can test. It can not measure or test the promises of faith. It can explain why a star explodes or a volcano erupts, but it can not explain love or beauty. The answer to the question "Why are we here?" is entirely out of the bounds of science. Science can only respond with the obvious recognition that we are here because we've survived, but that is the most literal and least interesting answer to the question. The question could be restated: What is the purpose of our lives? Science has no answer, it only responds that to exist is it's own end. Not a satisfying answer.

Christianity answers that our purpose is to love God. Only through faith can that answer satisfy: it's entirely inaccessible through science. So without faith Hawkings, can not hope to find a satisfying answer to that question. Science offers no consolation.

I wonder if Hawkings realizes that his brain as computer idea is deterministic and denies free-will.

Pastafarian said...

I think I understand your point, NJ. There might be nothing to gain from Hawking pronouncing heaven a fairy tale. He's not going to convince anyone who really believes in it; and some people need it.

I think that religiosity is a natural part of the human condition -- that we've evolved with the tendency to accept such theories of the unknowable after death. It's a coping mechanism, and that's why you see a religion of some sort, complete with creation myths and theories about death, in just about every human society that's ever developed.

In my younger years I thought it would be a positive if we could evolve beyond religion, but now I don't think we ever will.

Quayle said...

Christianity answers that our purpose is to love God.

Boring. Not compelling.

Almost all of Christianity has cut itself off of the belief in prophets and direct revelation, so it is just as blind as the scientists.

rhhardin said...

It's the atheist's version of This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

The reverse is more likely.

The believer's version is a poetic rendition of something else.

Levinas would say religion is a poetic rendition of ethics.

KLDAVIS said...

Pastafarian said...

"I think that religiosity is a natural part of the human condition"

Related post from yesterday.

Also, what Quayle said. Since a very young age, the tenets of Christianity have struck me as entirely too convenient.

MarkG said...

Next time someone interviews Hawking, they should ask him he's figured out a way to have an orgasm.

TWM said...

"Also, what Quayle said. Since a very young age, the tenets of Christianity have struck me as entirely too convenient."

What, you want it to be harder to believe?

Richard Dolan said...

Hawkings confuses some basic concepts, and ends up with mush. The 'brain is a computer' and 'Darwinian natural selection defines value' both apply a reductive cause-effect model to situations where it doesn't fit well.

The unspoken premise of the 'brian is a computer' idea is that all higher human attributes can be reduced to brain function, which the computer model assumes can be fully described in electro-chemical terms. It leads inevitably to ghost-in-the-machine problems, and has been debunked more times than one can count. But it remains popular among physical scientists, mostly because it fits the model they use in describing atoms and similar phenomena. The point is not that neuroscientific explanations of brain function in those terms are inadequate or lacking in usefulness -- quite the contrary -- but that they don't explain, and are categorically incapable of explaining, the volitional, intentional and ethical/spiritual aspects of human life.

Things are even more messed up when Hawkings reduces values to the same mechanistic and reductive treatment. Since his 'brain is a computer' premise effectively rules out pretty much everything that is normally encompassed in a discussion of values, all that's left is a criterion of extension over time: a 'society' need not consist of entities that are sentient or animated, although it probably has to consist of entities having the capacity to regenerate. We don't know what we'll find in the wider universe that fits that description, but for the world we know, Hawkings' winner is likely to be a very simple, reproductive entity. If it turned out to be a virus, I suspect Hawkings would regard it as fittingly absurd.

William said...

@Pastafarian: I don't say Hawkings is a hypocrite. I say that he is a paradox.....He has more reason than most to doubt the existence of a benign god. He has more reason than most to be grateful for the goodness within man that allows for his continued existence.....I suppose that you can make an argument that altruism gives the species an evolutionary advantage or whatever, but life, even among the meanest creatures, is filled with passing moments of love and beauty. They are sparks and fade to black soon enough, but one wonders where such flashes come from.

KLDAVIS said...
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KLDAVIS said...

TWM said...
"What, you want it to be harder to believe?"

I don't have skin in the game, but I could see it as having been more convincing if it had struck me as anything more than pap.

alwaysfiredup said...

"We are here because we survived, and that's impressive. Once we understand this — why we are here — we find value in the knowledge that everyone who has made it is impressive by virtue of having made it."

That sounds distinctly Panglossian: Whatever happens is the best that could possibly happen. "Best" here having something to do with Darwinian "survival of the fittest". I prefer to posit God, to be honest.

edutcher said...

The brain really is a computer, the best ever made, but Hawking misses a point.

Man is as much a spiritual being as anything else and, at his best, seems to see something greater than himself in the universe. He wants to know the greater why and wherefore of the scheme of things.

Hawking would appear to be a victim of the need for some people to proclaim themselves the end all and be all and that there is no more beyond him.

In this, I think he trips over his own ego.

Pastafarian said...

pduggie, I think the part he finds unimaginable is the existence of an omnipotent tech guy running around re-installing all that software.

If there is such a techie, he sure don't work for Google.

J said...

Perhaps Hawkins is simply an idiot savant - a genius at one area of theoretical physics and not very thoughtful otherwise. I have read other illogical and incomprehensible statements he's made about "the big questions."

You got it. An obnoxious little nerd actually--Germans circa 1940 had a solution for those sorts of arrogant british "scientists".

Bryan C said...

Hawking's missing the distinction between hardware and software. My brain's physical hardware will eventually break down and stop working. But there's no reason for the software running on the hardware to disappear when that happens. Just because I can't make a backup myself right now doesn't mean the System Administrator in the sky isn't on the job.

Pastafarian said...

William, sorry I misread your comment. I do that sometimes.

Thomas W said...

It is frustrating that there was no followup on Dr. Hawking's comment on societies most likely to survive, but it appears these were answers to a fixed set of questions. As stated, Dr. Hawking's comments are suspiciously close to Social Darwinism and eugenics. These tend to be a result of an emphasis on groups (societies) as opposed to individuals -- "it's for the good of the many".

It should also be kept in mind that Darwinian evolution does not provide a way to predict which organisms will survive. It just means that after the fact the ones which survived were the best adapted to the environment.

Pogo said...

The godless men of the 20th century made the most successful killing machines in the history of mankind, murdering their own people more than any enemy.

At any rate, Hawking's view that "There is no heaven or afterlife" is a philosophical question that can neither be raised nor answered by science.

Like describing music by an audio sound wave output and a metronome.

Pastafarian said...

edutcher: "Hawking would appear to be a victim of the need for some people to proclaim themselves the end all and be all and that there is no more beyond him.

In this, I think he trips over his own ego."

Actually, I'd go the other way with this, ed: I'd say that egotism is the invention of an omnipotent, omniscient being, and then proclaiming that we're made...in his image. He just dotes over us, his children all day. We're the center of the universe, basically.

I mean, that's pretty self-flattering, isn't it?

Someone like Hawking, who considers himself just an interesting collection of organic molecules living on a dust-mote in the outer arm of a nondescript spiral galaxy isn't exactly an egomaniac.

Pastafarian said...

Oh, good. I was hoping that J would come along and fling shit all over the thread.

TWM said...

"I don't have skin in the game, but I could see it as having been more convincing if it had struck me as anything more than pap."

Fair enough. But how would you have "de-papped" it?

YoungHegelian said...

@Richard Dolan 11:22

Nicely put, Richard! What you said.

The only think worse than physicists doing theology is theologians doing physics.

etbass said...

Among most comments here is the implicit assumption that miracles never happened because they are contrary to science. There doesn't seem to be much openness to the notion that the testimony of men who have witnessed just might be true. Just sayin...

KLDAVIS said...

TWM said...
"Fair enough. But how would you have 'de-papped' it?"

If I had an answer that would fit in this comment box, I'd be a much richer man. But, then again, I don't style myself as a messiah...or even an L. Ron Hubbard.

edutcher said...

Pastafarian said...
edutcher: "Hawking would appear to be a victim of the need for some people to proclaim themselves the end all and be all and that there is no more beyond him.

In this, I think he trips over his own ego."


Actually, I'd go the other way with this, ed: I'd say that egotism is the invention of an omnipotent, omniscient being, and then proclaiming that we're made...in his image. He just dotes over us, his children all day. We're the center of the universe, basically.

I mean, that's pretty self-flattering, isn't it?


I don't know that the Books says He dotes on His children; I mean there's that flood and the whole Sodom and Gomorrah thing.

And saying we're in His image only means a physical image; spiritually, we've always needed a lot of work.

That's why there's a Bible; not because we're all that, but because we really aren't.

mtrobertsattorney said...

One wonders whether Hawking has any understanding at all of philsophy much less a serious understanding of the discipline.

For example:

Does he have any undersanding of Kant's theory of time and space?

Is he aware of the problem of sense data?

Is he able to formulate a thoughtful response to George Berkeley' critique of the concept of matter?

I think not.

Sigivald said...

one of the smartest individuals in the world

I wouldn't say that "smartest" is meaningful in a generic sense, let alone that Hawking's particular sort of intelligence must make his ruminations on existential questions all that valuable.

(Cf. Einstein and his utterly vapid opinions on things that weren't theoretical physics and mathematics.

I'd rather take advice from a man of moderate intelligence and significant wisdom, than a man of great intelligence limited to irrelevant* areas.)

* For the purposes of the advice at hand, that is - big math and physics aren't irrelevant to everything.

Coketown said...

Oh, pooh. The atheist Big Sleep theory of the afterlife is hands-down the most childish, fairy tale-like notion out there. To think that one day it's light out and that's that, and our lives will have no lasting consequence is incredibly comforting. The notion that one day we'll be judged for the choices we made in this life is the most terrifying. Big Sleep is a belief for people afraid of the light.

Bender said...
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Bender said...

The cluelessness that results from atheistic existentialism, so that the smartest guy in the room ends up being the dumbest, never ceases to amaze.

As for science and heaven, etc., it is also amazing that science can posit the existence of other planes and realms of reality, of this universe transcending with those other realities, as well as the existence of non-corporeal life, but when one calls that other plane of existence "heaven" and that non-corporeal life "God," suddenly the "scientific" brain is slammed shut and wholly incapable of connecting the dots.

Such ignorance can only be learned.

Cedarford said...

MarkG said...
You have a much better explanation.

I thought science was the study of the universe, not something that governed it.

Anyway, Hawking may be the smartest guy on the planet, but it doesn't mean much here. You can find the smartest ant on the ant hill, but good luck getting it to solve an algebra problem.

=================
And the study of the universe is showing no evidence of a Divine Master at work, governing it..
Hubble is making new atheists every day by showing a universe only ordered by natural forces since the Big Bang.
Same with cosmology in studying other spectra besides visible.
Scientists once pursued hefty awards awaiting the 1st person to demonstrate, scientifically, the existence of any soul in anyone.

The comeback, well, maybe God created the Singularity of creation, then walked away and let things come to be as a result of properties of matter and energy created in the 1st 50 milliseconds....sort of weighs against "his role in all our lives and sending his only son to die on one planet in a 100 billion galaxies". Or talking for months to a lice-ridden desert bandit, and Final Prophet, Mohammed.

David R. Graham said...

" ... we find value in the knowledge that everyone who has made it is impressive by virtue of having made it. It's the atheist's version of This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

There you demonstrated the assumption, usually hidden, that makes "atheist" and "theist" interchangeable words. Not equivalents, nor yet synonyms, but interchangeable.

Hocking is an idiot savant. He never will examine his governing assumptions. They always will be hidden to him. He is sandpaper on flowers, or to change the metaphor, piston without lubrication, or yet again, hollow egg.

His very power to attract attention should be a warning. What's that fish that dangles bait in front its mouth? Ah, yes, the Wartskin Angler, to use yet another metaphor for Hocking.

That said, your demonstration, eschewing Hocking's bait and escaping his bite, recapitulates the classical ontological observation that every discussion of existence assumes the being of Being Itself. Or in classical language, logic assumes Logos and if rigorously followed must Be It. Not become it (because it already is it) but Be It, knowingly. Truth Consciousness Bliss.

On that fact (or is it "on that truth?"), as you point out, rests the inalienable and unimpeachable value, say even the incomparable value, of every thing and every creature. Value is synonymous with Being. Existence and essence can be distinguished but not separated.

Erik said...

I'll second what other have said here and say that listening to a physicist expound on religion is a lot like listening to a preacher expound on evolution. I end up wanting to smack both of them.

I have no doubt that Hawking is brilliant in his own way, but his thoughts on these questions are ... shallow. A lot like Einstein's comments on politics and religion. I don't think they're worthless, just not worth much more than most other public figure's thoughts on those issues. I'm not sure I even completely disagree with Hawking in general on this, but his comments make him sound like a foolish first year philosophy student.

And I, too, do not think the human brain is a computer. At least not in the way we normally think of computers.

William said...

We can only see the view from our window, and even this limited perspective is further limited by the fact that we only see the view on those days that we view it....In bygone days, the facts of existence favored a belief in God. Smart men believed in God and did have to make a leap of faith to have that belief. We live with different facts, and it is difficult, at this moment in time, to reconcile those facts with a creator of benign intent who feels a special affection for humankind. But truly we know only an infinitesimal portion of what there is to know about the universe. Just as it was egotistical for earlier generations to think the sun orbited the earth, it is similarly foolish to think that our current small portion of knowledge explains the phenomena that we witness. I am certain that a thousand years from now very bright men will have different spiritual beliefs than those that Hawkings now professes.....We should maintain a sense of humility about our insignificance. The narratives of history turn on the most absurd incidents and unimportant people.

Pogo said...

Nicely stated, William.

But....watch who yer callin' insignificant, buddy.


.


I keed, I keed.

DADvocate said...

We can only see the view from our window, and even this limited perspective is further limited by the fact that we only see the view on those days that we view it...

And limited by how we choose to view it. Many choose to believe that science is the only source of knowledge. That limits your perception.

And the study of the universe is showing no evidence of a Divine Master at work, governing it...

And may never when viewed strictly through empirical eyes. Free will, taught by many religions, would say that there is no Divine Master governing anything.

Over the centuries, human eyes have been opened to ideas and truthes barely imagined. I prefer to keep my mind open to possibilities unknown.

N.J. Fentwanger said...

Thanks, Pastafarian. My own wish for the afterlife is that I get to connect all the dots. You know when you're dozing and you are slightly aware of consciousness? It's as if you are becoming velvet. And for just a tiny moment, something suddenly makes all the sense in the world? Why would a person want to deny his or her own amazement of being alive? I think we're lucky that we do die. Our time as sentient beings has a limit and that's why every moment is a gift.

cold pizza said...

I've worked with a guy who "died" in an emergency room after a vehicle accident. One day we were talking about the possibility of an afterlife and he told me he's not quite sure what happens later in the journey, but he'd had one of those classic out-of-body experiences where he watched the trauma team resuccitate his body from a point near the ceiling of the room and he was able to remember in detail what was happening even though the monitors showed he was dead.

I suppose we'll each find out soon enough.

I also personally believe there are going to be a lot of confused ex-athiests in the afterlife. -cp

wv: watcheca: observing the sabbot

N.J. Fentwanger said...

That is so cool. I agree that there are going to be a lot of confused atheists when the jig is up for them.

Geoff Matthews said...

Ann, I have to (respectfully) disagree with your understanding. The relevant passage:


We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.


What societies are most likely to survive? The societies that expand (or grow). This is an argument for the justification of Western society's privilege and standing. Why is the bulk of the wealth in the G8? Because they are doing something right. Why is Africa dirt poor? Because they are hopeless sods.
Social Darwinism is the logical end for atheistic thinking.

(Note, this doesn't mean that what Western Society evolves into is stronger than it was before)

hombre said...

So we can look around and see all the living things and think of them as really valuable because they are alive.

If Darwinism is about reproductive success, it is not about being "really valuable."

Let's take a look around at that.

Ankur said...

someone might have answered this above, but some of the words he uses are classic scientist speak.

the "value" he refers to are the efficiency coefficients/survival probabilities. It does not mean "value" as in "valuable".

So..higher value means a higher coefficient to the variable in the probability function.

vanderleun said...

Maybe it's not really Hawking that we're hearing/reading any longer (how would we really know?), but someone less smart trying to sound very smart.

Elliott A said...

I always liked Mr. Spock's comment," It is not logical for the universe to create intelligence and then discard it."

Revenant said...

We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.

It can be difficult to understand Hawking sometimes. The difficulties involved in communicating make him overly terse sometimes, now being one such time.

I would read that as "understanding why things survive lets us pick the best way to survive". The value in understanding how we got here is that it lets us know where we're going in the future.

Revenant said...

I wonder why, if he regards the brain as a computer that can't survive the breakdown of its components, he can't also imagine software information running on that computer being preserved somehow, and perhaps later being incorporated into a newer, better computer.

He's a Star Trek fan, so I'm sure he's familiar with the idea.

It is theoretically possible, but it would require a means of copying and preserving the entire state of the brain at the moment of death. There is no known means of accomplishing this and no indication that it is happening -- ergo, the sensible thing to believe is that it isn't happening.

Personally, I'm hoping it will be possible within my lifetime. It wouldn't be true immortality, but it would be pretty close to it.

Jose_K said...

His selfish gene is wrong by far. his attepmt to popularization get it wrong.
See Darwin´s legacy for a right explanation of evolution

bagoh20 said...

If a now extinct organism survived for millions of years longer than a current mutation, which one is higher "value"? A survivor is only such today under current conditions. It may be poorly suited for a variety of others. Wouldn't robustness be the value, i.e. the organism that survived the most environmental change. Like cockroaches - God's chosen race.

Smilin' Jack said...

Once we understand this — why we are here — we find value in the knowledge that everyone who has made it is impressive by virtue of having made it.

By that standard beetles are a lot more impressive than we are:

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that an English cleric asked the noted evolutionist J.B.S. Haldane what could be inferred about the Creator from the works of nature. Haldane is reported to have replied, "An inordinate fondness for beetles."
--In fact, approximately one-fifth of all known species are beetles--350,000 and growing....

No Name said...

turtles

it's just turtles, all the way down

hombre said...

"I regard the brain as a computer...."

Programmed by?

Revenant said...

"Success" in evolution means successfully passing on your genes to the next generation.

Beetles are neither more nor less successful than humans are. Our respective ancestries have been successfully passing on their genes for the exact same length of time -- 3.8 billion years or so.

For the same reason we can definitely say that species that survived, unchanging, for millions of years prior to extinction were less successful than us. After all, our ancestors were alive then too -- but they passed on their genes while the extinct species did not.

el polacko said...

what ?! no gleeful wishes for hawking to spend eternity roasting in hellfires? no flinging of random bible quotes?
what kind of heathens does the althouse blog attract?

John Lynch said...

If there is an afterlife, it seems to me that it would be so divorced from our current existence as to make personal survival meaningless.

We'd become so different that our current existence would be totally ended.

It would be like David Bowman's survival after he died in 2001, becoming something almost totally divorced from humanity.

So, I don't worry about it.

Effectively, we're dead either way. This makes it more important to lead a good life, not to get a reward (which would be meaningless anyway) but to best spend the time we have.

John Lynch said...

Why would anyone wish more suffering on Stephen Hawking?

reformed trucker said...

"One wonders whether Hawkings has any understanding at all of philosophy much less a serious understanding of the discipline." - mtrobertsattorney

Exactly. Nice examples.

"The only thing worse than physicists doing theology is theologians doing physics." - YoungHegelian

Thead winner!

"no gleeful wishes for Hawkings to spend eternity roasting in hellfires?" - el polacko

Any "christian" who would go down that path really has a poor grasp of the theology they profess.

Methadras said...

I'm of afraid of death either, but I know that my soul is saved to go to heaven to my heavenly father. I'm in no hurry to die either because my heavenly father can wait a little while to let me enjoy the fruits of his labor. :D

Methadras said...

If Hawking can't tell me what's inside a black hole, then screw him.

Bender said...

"The only thing worse than physicists doing theology is theologians doing physics." - YoungHegelian

Unless your name is, for example, Georges LemaƮtre, the Catholic priest who first posited the Big Bang Theory for the origin of the universe.

Or Roger Bacon (Franciscan friar and early advocate of the scientific method) or
Nicole Oresme (theologian and early advocate of idea that the earth was in motion) or
Nicolai Copernicus (heliocentric theory after theological training) or
Johannes Kepler (wannabe minister who instead developed laws of planetary motion) or
Christopher Clavius (Jesuit priest, mathematician, and astronomer whose observations led to the modern-day Gregorian calendar) or
Pope Gregory (who approved the modern calendar) or
many, many others (Wikipedia has a nice list).

Revenant said...

If Hawking can't tell me what's inside a black hole, then screw him.

If he could tell you what's inside a black hole, it wouldn't be a black hole.

Revenant said...

Bender, you appear to have conflated "priest" with "theologian". :)

John Clifford said...

So, if there is no God, then what is morality but the judgment of individuals? And, why would any rational being act in what we call a moral manner? Why not instead follow the Law of the Jungle, and grab what one can grab, dominate what one can dominate?

We should live under game theory instead of moral law and the respect for rights of others... do whatever we can get away with because if we don't someone else will do it to us.

I have to reject Hawking's whole outlook. I'd like to see him explain the inconsistency between chaos and evolution... because you can't explain it using any of the natural laws.

traditionalguy said...

The most powerful propaganda today is faked science that worships the model and forbids fact data from measurements when that falsifies a model. Therefore religion is science faked up by the sly foxes who forbid comments on myth models/science from Christian speakers. Truth spoken in public is the only power that still restrains madness. Lose Christian teachings and you will have nothing left to lose but your mind.

Bender said...

Bender, you appear to have conflated "priest" with "theologian"

Rev, just what do you think that Catholic priests deal in?

traditionalguy said...

Mathematics is a tool to be used for good or for evil. If we see hurting folks and use logistics to spend energy in delivery of supplies and equiptment, then we are doing what we are designed to do ( "Designed"...not evolved ). But if we use math to count up the same disconnect between human needs and supplies, and react by eliminating the surplus people, then we have chosen to become Malthusian Nazi murderers. Todays Environmental movement, lead by Obama's gang, are shoving us into the necessary logic of the Mathusian Nazi Murderers as fast as they can.

Revenant said...

So, if there is no God, then what is morality but the judgment of individuals? And, why would any rational being act in what we call a moral manner?

What is considered "moral" varies from place to place and time to time. This strongly suggests (a) that morality is, indeed, "the judgment of individuals" and (b) that rational people find ample reasons to behave in a manner their society deems moral.

Why not instead follow the Law of the Jungle, and grab what one can grab, dominate what one can dominate?

Because one is outnumbered six billion to one by people who don't want you grabbing their stuff.

Revenant said...

Rev, just what do you think that Catholic priests deal in?

Calling a priest a theologian is like calling a doctor a biochemist; the fields are related but far from identical.

LemaƮtre, for example, considered himself a mathematician and stated that serious theological discussion was outside his area of expertise.

Bender said...

Thanks for the lesson in parsing language when we all know - even you - that the point being made by YoungHegelian was not limited to "theologians," much less a hyper-technical definition of theologians, but was intended to be a snark that covered all manner of religious persons.

Revenant said...

hat the point being made by YoungHegelian was not limited to "theologians," much less a hyper-technical definition of theologians, but was intended to be a snark that covered all manner of religious persons.

That's just your paranoia talking.

YoungHegelian was responding with approval to a criticism of Hawking's reasoning. His comment concerned people speaking outside their area of expertise. That's why it is amusing that your first attempt at a counter-example was Lemaitre, who spent his life studying and teaching mathematics and physics and knew better than to put himself forward as an expert in theology.

reformed trucker said...

"Rev, just what do you think that Catholic priests deal in?" - Bender

The traditions of men. :)

reformed trucker said...

"What is considered "moral" varies from place to place and time to time." - Revenant

Ahh, morality by consensus. Check.

reformed trucker said...

Revenant: Based on your 7:15 post, I may have misread you. My bad.

wv: revanon (that's odd)

reformed trucker said...

Though Hawkings may be educated in theoretical physics, I don't know why anyone would be impressed by anything he has to say about theology/philosophy/epistemology. All his lame arguments have been ground to dust years ago. Seriously. Why do you think Dawkins is too chicken to debate? He would get his ass handed to him on a platter.

At least Hawkings has the balls to debate, I'll give him that.

Revenant said...

Ahh, morality by consensus. Check.

There may be absolute objective morality, but if so there's no indication that anybody, religious or otherwise, has figured out what the heck it is.

Go back a handful of centuries and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Christian who didn't think that slavery and feudal dictatorship were morally acceptable. Today you'd be hard-pressed to find a Christian who doesn't think that slavery and feudal dictatorship are evil. This basically puts a bullet in the notion that Christianity is a useful source of moral absolutes.