The Naturalistic Fallacy

Üdvözöllek skeptics,

Tonight I am going to be talking about the naturalistic fallacy. When it comes to fallacies, it doesn’t get much more fallacious than this. The naturalistic fallacy is an argument used relentlessly by naturopaths, herbalists, homeopaths, and dozens of other pseudoscientific claims. In a nut-shell, the naturalistic fallacy is the claim that something is naturally better because it is found in nature or that it contains only natural products. At almost every level, there is something wrong with the naturalistic fallacy.

The most fundamental problem with the naturalistic fallacy is that there is nothing inherently different or special about things from nature. At the chemical level, there is nothing different about the vitamin C found in oranges and vitamin C which is produced in a laboratory.
If a company creates a banana flavoured confectionery out of flavour chemicals they extracted from a banana, they can call it natural. But if they manufacture these chemicals at the factory, rather than getting the from the banana, then they can no longer call it natural. There is nothing different between the two chemicals.

Another issue with the naturalistic argument, other than the argument which says “its better because its natural”, is the one that says, “if its natural, its good.” and there is something wrong with this argument for a very basic reason. Anybody who has watched survival shows on the television knows that there are very few things you can eat in the wild. No doctor would recommend going out into the forest and eating a random plant. Most of what you find in nature is dangerous or has no benefit to eat.
Nature doesn’t care about us, there isn’t any natural selection towards plants that are safe to eat, in fact, the natural selection is towards plants which are not safe to eat.

There is no advantage to a plant for it to be safe to eat the flowers (reproductive organ) off of it. If it was tasty and safe for animals to eat the reproductive organs of a specific plant, this species would soon go extinct, because there is no way for the organisms to pass down their genes t the next generations if they cannot reproduce. Some may say “aha, what about all the plants which are safe to eat, bananas, oranges, pears, apples, strawberries, the list goes on.” and this brings up another argument against the naturalistic fallacy.

All of the foods we eat today are not the foods that were found in the wild thousands of years ago when we first started to cultivate. The banana plant which we all know and love was just a stupid, disgusting little herb thousands of years ago, not the extravagant yellow fruits we know of today. We have selectively bred our food over the years to make it tasty and safe to eat. There is cyanide in apple seeds, because thousands of years ago, before we bred them, they had a lot of cyanide on them, now they have very little in them, because of our selective breeding.
The point is that the things we think of as nature are actually our own designs, which we have sculpted over the years to be tasty, safe and look good on a plate. It’s not nature just because it comes out of the ground, and it certainly doesn’t mean we haven’t interfered with it at some time.

Food or drugs are not better because they are natural, being natural does not make them safe, and a lot of the things we thin of as natural today are not what we found in the ground thousands of years ago.

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Richard Dawkin’s Gene Analogy

përshëndetje skeptics,

I have recently started to read Richard Dawkins’ book, The Greatest Show on Earth, in Which Dawkins summates all the evidence available for evolution, and puts it in a book, trying as best as possible to explain evolution to somebody who does not agree with it. It is a very interesting book to read, with plenty of interesting examples from nature and analogies, which have enhanced my knowledge of evolution and how to explain it to others.

While I was reading, I came across an analogy which I just had to hear, which answers a question often raised in rebuttal to evolution. When talking with a creationist, the idea that genetic diversity cannot occur often comes up (in contrast to the genetic diversity of the human species from just 2 humans? But that’s another story). They say that in a population, genetic diversity cannot occur. They make an analogy with genes as paint. If you take a species, which ranges in colour from red to blue, and you go about procreating, every time you mix two animals, you will only get closer and closer to purple, and genetic diversity will shrink. Eventually, all you will be left with is purple. How can evolution happen if it works like that.

Dawkins argues that evolution does not work like this. In fact, it works quite differently. He proposes that instead of mixing paint, it is best to imagine evolution as shuffling cards. This is how evolution works, and the evidence is right in front of us.

By imagining evolution as card shuffling, it is much easier to get the idea of evolution. Instead of animals being created by mixing of paint, it is more like they are having two decks of cards shuffled together. In this way, instead of just ending up with a disgusting purple mess, you end up with the world as it is today.

This can be used to explain our tweaking of the canine species. Say for some reason a breeder wants to lengthen the tail of Labradors. When he does it, he picks the Labradors which have the most ‘long tail’ genes (cards), and goes about creating a new species. By isolating these dogs with longer tails from the dogs with shorter tails, you can ensure that more and more ‘long tail’ cards remain in the sub-species every time you shuffle the deck.

The logic behind this ‘shuffling and re-ordering’, as opposed to mixing, is actually pretty clear and is presented to us roughly every 5 seconds. When you breed a man and a woman together, one who subscribes to the ‘mixing’ analogy would expect the baby to come out as a hermaphrodite. Instead, this doesn’t happen, we get either a boy or a girl. This is just the mixing of a deck of 1 card. With one card having M on it, and one card having F on it.

Now, imagine this happening with the whole genetic code. Instead of just the one gene for gender (gender isn’t determined by genes, but it makes no difference to the analogy), you have this going on with every single gene in the code. When a baby is being ‘made’, this process will be occurring. Take a single gene in the code. If the mother has gene A, and the father has gene B, the baby will not have a mixture of A and B as their gene, they will get either ‘A’, or ‘B’. This happens all along the code.

Hopefully, I’ve done a good job at explaining this analogy, and haven’t butchered it. That’s all, by shuffling of cards, not mixing paint, with occasional cards falling out of the deck, or 2 being stuck together and coming apart due to plenty of shuffling, you get evolution.

Roy Williams… Again

Hello there skeptics, atheists and scientists,

Today I am going to be blogging about Roy Williams again, I haven’t blogged about his arguments for a while now, I’ve been saving this one up. In his book, ‘god actually’ , Roy has a section entitled ‘Tackling arguments against a designing god’, today I am going to be rebutting some of these ‘rebuttals’. Most of his arguments are completely ridiculous in here, as he completely misses the point of particular arguments.

He discusses the idea of naturalistic, evolutionary, reasons for a religion to exist, and he misses the whole point of the idea. This argument is just a rebuttal of an argument used by Christians for religion. They say “If religion isn’t true, why does it exist. Religion must have some truth to it because otherwise why would humans have made up the concept in the first place. Natural explanations for religion like an evolutionary advantage to belief, or a ‘god center’ somewhere in the brain, are not arguments against god, as Williams portrays them as, they are rebuttals of arguments for god. And somehow, in all of it, Williams blames us for non-sequiters by saying that this is not an argument against god.

Another argument which Williams ‘takes on’ is the ‘god of the gaps’ argument, apparently, used by atheists. This is the first time I have heard god of the gaps being used to argue against god, but there you go. For as long as I can remember, the god of the gaps has been a logical fallacy describing religious people, not an argument against god. It has always been just like most, a rebuttal of theist arguments, not arguments of our own. Williams also happens to say that his beliefs are not god of the gap arguments, despite using arguments like irreducible complexity and creation of the universe, and quite often saying, “Science cannot explain this”, which is kind of the definition of the god of the gaps argument.

These are just a few of the arguments ‘taken on’ by Roy Williams, and they demonstrate the way Williams argues. He is completely unaware of the whole idea of most of the atheism VS religion debate. When it comes to science and logic, the burden of proof is on the affirmative (religion), and it is the job of the negative (atheism) to show the logical fallacies and factual incorrectness which may be present in these arguments. It’s quite fine for the religious to counter-rebut these arguments, but it’s not okay for them to claim that these are direct arguments against god, and then to just say that they are using non-sequiters. If he wants to tackle some real arguments against god, not some rebuttals, take a look at some of the apparent logical contradictions in god, the concept of cause-and-effect, or the idea of something from nothing.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from H. L. Mencken, “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”, H. L. Mencken, an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, critic of American culture and scholar.

Bad Argument Against God

Hello there skeptics,

On the Bus yesterday, I was sitting down, doing my merry thing (playing logosquiz) when somebody asks somebody behind me “Do you believe in god?”. Never mind how rude I think this personal question is, but he asked everybody around him this question, and then he backed up his atheism with some logic. I will give you his logic now.

“How can animals have been just dropped straight into their environment, they have to adapt to the environment, evolution, otherwise they won’t survive. Therefore, evolution is real and god is not.” In a nutshell.

There was one thing which struck me about this argument, first of all, this is an argument for Evolution, not for atheism. Evolution and belief in a god are incompatible, but that’s another day. This is possibly one of the worst arguments for evolution I have heard in a long time. Here’s why:-

This argument is wrong in its stipulation that animals cannot have just been dropped into their environment and told to survive. The story of creation in the bible goes that the animals were created to suit their environments, and visa versa. If god were to have created the earth in six days 6000 years ago, he would have made sure that the animals where good in their environment.

The reason why I rebut this argument is for one simple reason, which can be summed up with a quot from Christopher Hitchens, “It’s not what you think, its how you think”, And that is how I live my life. This person on the bus’ final conclusion, I agree with, but his thought process is completely wrong, and it needs to be corrected.

Lets think for a moment what happens when this person on the bus (named Shaun from now on, and to protect the innocent), goes to their ethics and faith class in a few days, he will probably take this argument to fr. Iain and have it rebutted all the way over the pickets for 6 (cricket). This may convince Shaun of God, and that’s not what I want. I need to get to him while he is in this critical thinking and questioning mode, and get the bad arguments out of him, and the good arguments in to him.

He may take this argument to a prolific Christian debater, and this Christian will go to town on it, and this Christian will be able to add a tick to his bucket list of Atheists arguments to rebut. He can put it on his resume.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Christopher Hitchens, “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.” Christopher Hitchens, and Atheist, Author, Journalist, Skeptic, and essayist of some note.

Random Selection vs Random Mutation

Hey there, skeptics,

I have been in touch with a few creationists recently, who have trouble with the ‘random’ associated with evolution. Today I am going to be explaining the ‘random’ scientists talk about when referring to evolution.

There is a misconception among the public that evolution is a purely random process, that the evolution of species is completely random. This is completely untrue. The evolution of species are not random. There is definitely selection in the process of evolution, and this allows us to predict what type of organisms a specific species will evolve into under selected conditions. In the lab, tests have been done on small bacteria, E. Coli and others, where they have been submitted to a specific environment, say, a shortage of sugar, or an abundance of sugar, and have let the species evolve in the petri dish. Scientists can predict what sort of microbe the E. Coli will evolve into, in this way, evolution is not random.

Evolution is random on the individual DNA order, this is the random that Scientists talk about. In the normal life of any living organism, that organism will undergo the constant replication of genes inside of it. DNA is constantly being copied, but every now and then, there will be a mistake in the copying process. This is called genetic mutation. It is this process which allows for speciation, it allows for this lovely branching of evolution, it allows for these new adaptations to occur in biology. This genetic mutation is random, but rather oxymoronic, this process is not completely random.

Let me explain. In the genetic sequence, there are genes which are extremely important, like the ability to produce sex cells or heart cells or liver cells or brain cells, and there are genes which aren’t very important, like the length of one’s nose. So that the genes which create heart cells or brain cells do not get mutated away, (because they are very important) these genes are highly protected for. The organism creates many copies of those genes, so that even if one gets mutated, the information for building a heart is still there.

Look at it this way, in your body, you will find, say (the numbers aren’t correct, just a demonstration), 100 copies of the genes for making heart cells, were as you will only find a few copies of the gene for controlling how long your arms get. This is so that, in the case that one copy of the ‘make heart cells’ gene gets mutated, there are still dozens more there to back it up. Were as something like height or pigmentation, which is not important to function, but needs to be able to adapt to new circumstances, will only have a few copies of the genetic code.

This is how evolution is not completely random, there are barriers of protection, to stop the species from evolving to radically, and to ensure that the important genes don’t mutate. I will leave you all with a quote from James D. Watson, “Today, the theory of evolution is an accepted fact for everyone but a fundamentalist minority, whose objections are based not on reasoning but on doctrinaire adherence to religious principles”, James Watson, Molecular biologist, geneticist, zoologist and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA.

The Myth of the Evolutionary Ladder

Hello there free-thinkers,

Today I am going to be blogging about the so-called evolutionary ladder, and the myths which surround it. The evolutionary ladder is an image which appears in most high-school textbooks, supposedly showing how biological life evolves into the top of the line humans which are around today, and that all other animals are below us. It often looks something like this:-

Early biology often surrounded this concept of humans as the peak of the animal kingdom

It starts with the lowest-of-the-low, the plants, because they are dumb and don’t have a brain. Then the jellyfish, because they are the combination of a lot of smaller animals, and they have a sense of being alive. Next comes the insects, because they are small and aren’t smart. Onto fish, they are bigger than insects, so they take a higher position. Reptiles next, because at least they live on land, that makes them better than all the other animals so far. Birds come next, because they are war-blooded, just like humans. Mammals come next, because they are the last step before becoming the best organism ever, the human.

This is a very arrogant way to think about the world around you, and it is also factually false, for a few reasons.

This ladder does not show a path of evolutionary change, the world did not start out with only plants, and then evolve up the ladder, it is best to describe evolution as a tree, with all of these animals, the ones around us at the moment, as the leaves of this tree.

It is also untrue that humans are the best when it comes to evolution. All of these animals are around today because they are good at evolution. If this ladder were true, we would expect to see a lot less trees than we do humans, but we don’t, there are a whole lot more trees and plants on this planet than there are humans. All of the organisms alive today are the best at what they do, that’s why they thrive.

It is very arrogant to assume that humans are the best evolutionary creatures on this planet, and it is probably true that humans are actually very bad from an evolution standpoint. It was Charles Darwin himself who once stated, “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”, and this quote is true. The fittest organism is not the strongest or the fastest animal, it is the animal which is best able to adapt to its environment. If this is true, then bacteria should take the top of the ladder, and humans right down the bottom. Humans are very slow in their evolution because we have a very slow reproduction rate, meaning that they cannot adapt very quickly, meaning that they are not fit. However, most bacteria can reproduce at a rate of knots, meaning that they are very fit. Humans are not really very good from an evolution viewpoint, which is why the evolutionary ladder should be either turned upside down, or morph into a branching tree, with each of today’s organism perched at the top of the tree.

That’s all for today, I’ll leave you with a quote from Steven Novella, “Evolution is a messy branching bush, and we’re just finding more and more twigs all over the place”, Steven Novella, A neurologist and skeptic of some note.

Roy Williams Is at it Again

Hello… there,

That’s right, you guessed it, Roy Williams is at it again with his constant crusade of logical fallacies with yet another Seemingly intelligent argument, which, upon some investigation, turns out to be of no particular interest or value. In his most recent hashing of facts and evidence, Roy Williams has made the claim that humans’ ability to articulate the underlying laws of physics is proof of god. He says that there is no evolutionary advantage to us being able to understand, “The deep underlying reason why the apple fell to the ground” as opposed to, “Oh look, the apple fell towards the ground.” In today’s post, I am going to be showing how, 1. We aren’t actually very good with the understanding of the things, 2. We need a lot of help to try to understand the things, and 3. Evolution accounts for our apparent ability to understand the things.

First of all, the fact that we aren’t actually very good at maths. Here is a little thought experiment. Take a dozen or so coins, and ask somebody to be a volunteer for your experiment. Tell them that they are to tell you how many coins are in your hand, without using any sort of counting system. if they played by the rules, they will be clueless as to how many coins you are holding. This is because humans are not very good at counting, believe it or not, humans suck at math. Everything we know about maths, had to be learnt. Humans are good at the talking and the language and the problem solving, but not the math.

That brings me to my second point, If we never taught ourselves a number system to count things, we would be clueless. If you are counting things past about ten, then when you are counting it, you won’t be thinking about the actual amount of things, you are thinking about how many times you have counted one unit. We say, “I counted 43 sheep”, but really we are just adding one more to the clicker, we don’t actually know how much that 43 is.

On to my next and final point, Evolution accounts for our ability to discover the maths of black holes, and the big bang. We are humans, and humans, face it, are not very strong. We are very weak, and we are very slow, so we must have something to survive with, that is our humongous brains. So obviously, it benefits us to be able to problem solve, and communicate, and count things to a small degree. When we learnt how to count up to the number of appendages on the ends of our arms, we had to be able to describe it to people, so we gave all the appendages on our arms names, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. With this we had maths, from there, everything flowed, because our problem solving ability leads us to question things, and so we used math to figure out those questions. Then the human condition of curiosity took over, looking into the world around us. It is possible to explain our maths ability through evolution.

I will leave you with a quote from Richard Dawkins, “Bertrand Russell used a hypothetical teapot in orbit about Mars for the same didactic purpose. You have to be agnostic about the teapot, but that doesn’t mean you treat the likelihood of its existence as being on all fours with its non-existence.” Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, writer and atheist of some note.

Fallacy Frenzy: Moving the Goalposts

Hi there, follow skeptics,

I am going to continue my on-going run of logical fallacies. Today I am going to be talking about a very common logical fallacy, not only used in discussions involving skepticism, but in everyday life. It is the argument called ‘moving the goalposts’. It is essentially a dirty, intellectually dishonest tactic to ensure that your opposition never reaches the full set of criteria for approval. It is not technically a logical fallacy, because there is no fault in logic in this argument, but it is usually counted as a fallacy because it is a common tactic, and it is not a very honest one at that.

The basis of this debating tactic is that you can always ask for more and more proof of something, all the time knowing that you will always be able to ask for more proof without ever having to concede defeat. I will explain it using the evolution/creation argument because it is a very common use of this arguing tactic.
A creationist states to an evolution proponent that there is a big gap between whales and land mammals, which must be filled in order to prove evolution.
The evolution proponent then proceeds to go out and do all the work, and manages to find a transitional fossil between mammals and a whale.
The creationist then has two options, he can either ask for a transitional fossil between two different species, or he can ask for fossils between the whale and the whale-mammal hybrid, or between the whale-mammal hybrid and the mammal. (notice this is also a god of the gaps argument in this case, I will deal with that logical fallacy later)
This is a moving the goalposts fallacy. This process can continue on for ever, with the creationist just asking for more and more proof, and the evolutionist providing it, and then the creationist asking for more.
No matter how hard the evolutionist works and how much proof he finds, it will always be just below the creationists criteria.

Another common example of this argument tactic is used by proponents of god in general. However, despite being a moving the goalposts strategy, it works in reverse to the previous example. God is usually described as the gap in our knowledge about the universe. This has been the general theory of god since its beginning.
When it was not understood how lighting and thunder was made, god was accepted as the creator of this thunder. An atheist at the time would have said that lightning is natural, the normal response would be “prove it.” So the atheist goes out and proves that lightning does not need god to explain it away. The god-believer will then say, “god makes the planets go around.” The atheist goes out and proves that there is no need for god to explain the planets motions.

This process continues to the stage where god is just the so-called ‘writer-of-the-rulebook’, and he decided upon the physical laws, and now just sits back and watches the action unfold. According to god proponents, god still exists, so they are happy, despite the fact that god is being pushed into an ever smaller corner. This is also an example of moving the goalposts.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Bertrand Russell, “Logical errors are, I think, of greater practical importance than many people believe; they enable their perpetrators to hold the comfortable opinion on every subject in turn.” Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, logican, mathematician, historian and social critic of some note.

Explaining my beliefs

Hello skeptical fellows,

I will start with an apology. I haven’t blogged for the last few days due to the fact that my mother banned me from doing so for 2 days. I don’t know why, she just banned me. But any way. I recently to explain my belief about deities and other things. I will do so with this post.

I will give a title to my belief now and justify it in the post. If asked to be pinned down on my beliefs, I would have to call myself a Militant Agnostic Atheist. That may sound paradoxical, militant and agnostic, but I will explain.

I am atheist because I do not believe that there is any supernatural deity that watches over us and observes every action we take, or care about us in general. I do not believe in a god that you can pray to in order to ensure yourself of having a good day. I do not believe that there is any god that has the power to change the laws of physics. I also do not believe in any god which wrote the physical laws of the universe, or even set the big bang in motion.

I am a Militant atheist because with the current state of the science, I am pretty sure that there is not a god. I am almost certain that no deity exists. It would take a lot of evidence to convince me that there is a god, because of all of the evidence against god, all the logic against god, and the fact that god is unnecessary in our universe. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I am also an Agnostic Atheist because if you showed me reasonably well that a god must exist, then I would be happy to change my world view to fit what the science says. I am agnostic because I will change my beliefs if it is obvious that I should. Agnosticism, (the proper kind, not the “oh, evolution requires faith as well as creationism” kind of agnosticism) will change to suit the evidence, because agnosticism does not require any predisposed beliefs about the world, it just listens to the facts. I am agnostic in this way.

This is similar to Douglas Adam’s view, He believed very strongly in the atheist world view, not because he has already has a prejudice towards atheism, but because he spent a lot of time looking at all the evidence, examining all the logic, examining it to a great level, and has decided that there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is a deity. He really did believe that there was no god. That is why, despite being truly an agnostic, he called himself a radical atheist, just to show how strongly he felt about his world view.

I will leave you with a quote from Douglas Adams, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” Douglas Adams, English writer and atheist of some note.

Why don’t people like evolution?

Hello to my skeptical follows in the world,

Over the years I have seen that those who do not like evolution have decided to not like evolution, and then find some facts to try to back it up (not saying that is their thought process, but it seems that way sometimes). A lot of people just have a generally negative attitude to the whole idea of evolution, and it really does get on my nerves. It also depends on the context of the situation, and this has been shown by many scientific surveys on people’s beliefs about evolution, but I will get to that topic on another blog post.

Some people do not like the whole concept of evolution for the plain fact that it is incomprehensible. Some people are unable to understand the gargantuan amount of time that evolution takes, nor can they understand how things can change so much in that time, because they cannot understand it. They don’t get how much change occurs, they don’t get how much time it takes, they don’t get how long 3.9 billion years actually is, they don’t get any of it.

As I mentioned before, the context is very important. When Somebody is sitting at home in their armchair, watching the fireplace with a glass of red wine, they have their own beliefs and world view that they will vow to stick to, but almost never will when in a challenging social situation. The human brain is very malleable in its thoughts, and because of emotions and mood, somebody’s thoughts can be altered quite a considerable amount when they are posed a question a specific way or by a certain person. When in a discussion about science and advancements in technology, most people will show a belief in evolution if asked about it, but if they are asked what they feel about evolution in a theological discussion where choosing evolution is ‘to go against god’, most will show a disinterest in evolution.

Many people also hear the words evolution and just roll their eyes and don’t bother to look at it any more because it is just complex science and they will never be able to understand it. This is the approach most of my family seems to take when dealing with any science which may go against Christianity, (whether intentionally to get out of a religious discussion or not) and it gets on my nerve sometimes. It usually goes a little like “Oh, well, this is all to complicated for me, I should have a crash  course on evolution or quantum mechanics before you talk to me about that stuff. I get this one more than the others, but I have dealt with the first two, and they seem to be posed by those with stronger attitudes against evolution.

I will leave you with a quote from Will Provine, ” As the creationists claim, belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people.  One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.” , an atheist and science historian of some note.