Thursday, May 14, 2009

Daniel C. Dennett - a lucky mutation

Professor Daniel C. Dennett

In Edge Marvin Minsky writes warmly about Daniel C. Dennett - despite of their slight disagreement:

"Dan Dennett is our best current philosopher. He is the next Bertrand Russell. Unlike traditional philosophers, Dan is a student of neuroscience, linguistics, artificial intelligence, computer science, and psychology. He's redefining and reforming the role of the philosopher. Of course, Dan doesn't understand my society-of-mind theory, but nobody's perfect."

Brian Goodwin refers to one of this philosopher's central idea

"Dennett's concept of relational order in relation to the brain is something I find extremely interesting. He suggests that the properties of mind aren't material properties, they're relational properties. That leads to the strong AI position. I tend to take a similar view with respect to artificial life a view similar to the strong AI position, the idea that you can actually get intelligence in systems that aren't constituted of molecules and cells. You can get life in computers."

This kind of non-organic Artificial Intelligence is, by the way, an idea considered by Sir Fred Hoyle in his Science Fiction novel "The Black Cloud" which I have discussed in my blog Space Theology.

Wikipedia tells that "Daniel Clement Dennett (born March 28, 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts) is a prominent American philosopher whose research centers on philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Dennett is also a noted atheist and advocate of the Brights movement."

The Brights' Network has a homepage where the fundamental view of world is explained - there is nothing supernatural and nothing mystic in the Cosmos, everything is natural and can sooner or later be explained by rational reasoning.

The movement's three major aims are:
  1. Promote the civic understanding and acknowledgment of the naturalistic worldview, which is free of supernatural and mystical elements.
  2. Gain public recognition that persons who hold such a worldview can bring principled actions to bear on matters of civic importance.
  3. Educate society toward accepting the full and equitable civic participation of all such individuals.
On August 28. 2005, Professor D.C. Dennett wrote an op-ed in New York Times joining in the debate about science education in American schools. He wrote about the idea of Intelligent Design under the title Show me the Science:

PRESIDENT BUSH, announcing this month that he was in favor of teaching about "intelligent design" in the schools, said, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." A couple of weeks later, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, made the same point. Teaching both intelligent design and evolution "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone," Mr. Frist said. "I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future."

Is "intelligent design" a legitimate school of scientific thought? Is there something to it, or have these people been taken in by one of the most ingenious hoaxes in the history of science? Wouldn't such a hoax be impossible? No. Here's how it has been done.

With evolution, however, it is different. The fundamental scientific idea of evolution by natural selection is not just mind-boggling; natural selection, by executing God's traditional task of designing and creating all creatures great and small, also seems to deny one of the best reasons we have for believing in God. So there is plenty of motivation for resisting the assurances of the biologists. Nobody is immune to wishful thinking. It takes scientific discipline to protect ourselves from our own credulity, but we've also found ingenious ways to fool ourselves and others. Some of the methods used to exploit these urges are easy to analyze; others take a little more unpacking.

A creationist pamphlet sent to me some years ago had an amusing page in it, purporting to be part of a simple questionnaire...

Our dear Professor thus discusses the idea of Intelligent Design and refers to Creationist ideas.

The American Creationist movement's publications resemble in many scary ways Jehova Wittnesses way of trying to convince people about some truth and does not represent the main-stream Judeo-Christian worldview based upon the Holy Scriptures. It does not matter if 40% of Americans have adopted creationist ideas about the world, it is not an authentic Biblical view of the world.

I want to make a very clear difference between belief in one Creator and modern rationalistic USA born creationism. It can be quite confusing. Some people may use a broad language and put them all in one basket - if you believe in a Creator you are a creationist. This misinterpretation is typical to atheists who do not really understand what religion is all about and do not really bother to find out, either.

The idea of the Creator is not born from human intelligence and reasoning. In natural religions the origins of cosmos is explained in myriad different ways but always go back to the human experience of how things begin: an egg, a sex act of gods and goddeses or, as in many oriental religions, things just exist forever in an eternal circle of birth, life, death and rebirth without any beginning or end.

The idea of one God who has created everything and is Himself not created originates from the Jewish religion and its development is documented in the Torah, Neviim and Ketuvim, Tanakh. Christianity is a "Jewish sect" and adopted the entire Tanakh in the Bible that also contains the books of the New Testament, four Gospels about Jesus of Nazareth, Acts of Apostles, a number of letters by Paul and others and the Book of Revelation.

Moslems adopted both the Old and the New Testament and believe that the Koran is the complete message of the Creator to the human race.

Today these three Book religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam form the majority among the religions of human beings. Recently the number of Sunni muslims has passed the number of the largest Christian church, the Roman Catholic church. Clear majority of the human race belongs to the sphere of the three great Monotheistic religions.

So - well over two billion people are creationists in the sense that they believe in a Creator. But very few of them are creationists with their odd fallacies.

One Roman Catholic priest said very beautifully: "I am not a product of Intelligent Design. God has loved me into being"

There is no better answer to the rationalistic cold and futile attempt to introduce God as a parameter into human science. That is reprehensable.

Professor Dennett is a brilliant philosopher, teacher, a student of artificial intelligence and many other things - but he is not a Biologist. Also, he is not a Geologist, not a Paleo-anthropologist, nor a Theologian.

For this is how his editorial in the New York Times explains:

Take the development of the eye, which has been one of the favorite challenges of creationists. How on earth, they ask, could that engineering marvel be produced by a series of small, unplanned steps? Only an intelligent designer could have created such a brilliant arrangement of a shape-shifting lens, an aperture-adjusting iris, a light-sensitive image surface of exquisite sensitivity, all housed in a sphere that can shift its aim in a hundredth of a second and send megabytes of information to the visual cortex every second for years on end..


All it takes is a rare accident that gives one lucky animal a mutation that improves its vision over that of its siblings; if this helps it have more offspring than its rivals, this gives evolution an opportunity to raise the bar and ratchet up the design of the eye by one mindless step. And since these lucky improvements accumulate - this was Darwin's insight - eyes can automatically get better and better and better, without any intelligent designer.


A Philosopher may adopt deep in his heart the classic principles of darwinism enhanced with the knowledge of mutations in genes that occur by chance and the good old natural selection that guides the survival of the fittest. It kind of makes sense as an idea. He might even frown benignly to those uneducated ones who do not internalize these things.

But a modern Biologist might tell him that they have today serious problems with the simple ideas of Charles Darwin equipped with early 20th century knowledge of genetics and evolution of life. Take the feather of the Jurassic Archaeopteryx, for example.

But a Geologist will tell that the "explosion of life" on this planet happened very recently in Cambrian period about 600 million years ago. Unlike people commonly believe, the time is short for random chance to produce higher life forms.

A paleo-anthropologist would tell that the branch of apes that we call "humans" emerges about five million years ago in Africa. The recent DNA check of all Africans is of great interest showing the great anciety of Bushmen in the genealogy of Homo sapiens sapiens as we humbly call ourselves. The main difference to other apes is the amazing fast growth of our brains that lets us to pray and be in personal contact with our Creator, moving this planet into a "psychozoic" period with self-consciousness.

Already Homo sapiens neanderthalensis was religious burying the dead with rituals. True atheists are a minority among the human race and have always been.

A Theologian could explain the difference between natural religion and a religion based upon belief in revelation. Biblical cosmology, its Near Eastern roots in Sumerian and paint a beautiful picture of how humans have learned to know more and more about the cosmos with improved instruments of research and evolving theories about the origins of the universe and about the mystery of life itself.

But Professor Dennett is bright and skips all this supernatural and mysterious beauty of the Cosmos for the great capability of his own brain. Which he somehow has in the head on his shoulders.

According to his explanation about the origins of eye, also all the brilliance of Professor Dennett's amazing brain, the brightness of his thinking, the pride of his heart and those of his beloved ones of his achievements is nothing but a lucky mutation.

But also in this matter the Bible written by the Jewish people, for salvation is from the Jews, is accurate ... and very sad.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Apostle Paul letter to the early Christians in Rome Chapter 1 verses 16-25 KJVA

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