Film Review: “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial”

PBS has an interesting video on creationism versus evolutionary theory. The film is surprisingly well-made and entertaining. But somehow it seems as if a much stronger case could be made for creationism.

BO: What’s your view on evolution in a nutshell?

FH: The world is a simulation created by the bogeyman, but this simulation tries very hard to make it appear as if evolutionary theory and for that matter, the whole scientific worldview is true. Since my thinking is decision-based, the fact-based question of whether evolution or creationism is in fact true is of little interest. Since I know I can rely on the simulation pretending that science is true, my decisions will be based on the scientific worldview anyway.

BO: What is the strongest argument against evolution?

FH: That’s a good question because in the film, the creationists try to come up with examples of things for which evolutionary theory has no explanation. The flagellum and the immune system are brought up as examples. These examples are easy to counter.

The question that I never hear adequately addressed is how and why beneficial mutations occur at a high enough ratio relative to disadvantageous mutations to make evolution possible. You would think that beneficial mutations are rare and if they do occur, the harmful mutations that occurred alongside would outweigh them. This problem could be overcome if mutations are rare enough, but then you need a lot of time. Given the vast literature in evolution and my relative ignorance, it’s quite possible that this gets addressed in many places, but I think it should be part of any introductory treatment on the subject. I haven’t seen this discussed in the numerous works I’ve read that were geared towards laymen.

Evolution makes more intuitive sense for, say, bacteria because they have such short life spans and are so great in number. But our species evolved from monkeys over a period of around 6 million years and our population size has been rather small during most of that time. Given that our peak reproductive age is around 15-20 years, that’s not a whole lot of time. There are something like 3 million places in our DNA that are different from individual to individual. A recurring theme in evolutionary history is that evolution tends to occur in brief spurts rather than in a slow, gradual process. Intuitively, it just doesn’t make sense.

Let’s do a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation. Say, there’s a tribe with 50 people in it. They make 25 children over a couple of years, but because of the high infant mortality, only 10 survive. These 10 children differ in millions of places in their genetic code. You would think that a random mutation is more likely to be harmful. It is, after all, a mistake in replication, not a change that an intelligent planner came up with. So if one of these children has the ability to digest cow’s milk (the ability to digest cow’s milk is a favorite example given by evolutionists to show how quickly beneficial traits spread through a population), it’s hard to see how this trait makes much of a difference.

It’s hard enough to believe that a single genetic mutation has a good chance of spreading. For us to develop the ability to speak, it presumably took a number of coordinated changes to give us a useful result. Well, maybe over billions of years, it’ll eventually happen, but when you’re dealing with a time frame on the order of a million years it seems like a leap of faith to believe it happened randomly.

Today, we have millions of software engineers who try to use their intelligence to produce complex instructions for our computers. Getting them to work in a beneficial way is painstaking work and requires horrendous amounts of time to remove the flaws. How evolution manages to create working systems vastly more complex with relative ease seems like the single greatest question begging for an explanation.

BO: But if the bogeyman controls the simulation, why doesn’t he simply adjust the numbers (such as the amount of time we’ve been evolving) so they’re more plausible?

FH: Maybe our evolution is so unlikely that it’s like winning the lottery a billion times in a row. Maybe it takes a googol universes each with 100 billion galaxies containing 100 billion stars to make it happen without divine intervention.

BO: What are the most important thoughts that went through your mind watching the movie, whether or not they’re related to evolution?

FH: The educational system (which, of course, includes parents, the mass media, churches, the economy, etc, that is to say, all of society) doesn’t produce enough interesting variations among our youth. All you get is a bunch of clones who differ from each other in the most irrelevant ways possible and then they celebrate that as diversity and individuality.

BO: There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of ambition on the part of people. So many dream of being the next revolutionaries.

Can people’s behavior be explained in terms of genetic evolution?

BO: You ended our last conversation saying that people are too dumb to comprehend. What about your idea that people’s behavior is almost exactly consistent with what one would expect if the only thing that mattered was genetic evolution by means of natural selection?

FH: People’s behavior is remarkably consistent with what they should do if genetic evolution mattered. They’re always trying to climb up the social ladder, so they’re always in the best possible position to find the best mates and provide the optimal condition for raising a family. If something doesn’t present them with an opportunity to climb up the social ladder, they’re not interested. That’s why despite the huge readership I had with some of my websites over the past decade, none of my ideas ever catch people’s interest for long. They’re interested in what gets them ahead in life whether it’s building up a network of social support (friendships) or pursuing a career, or some hobby. If they see it won’t get them recognition, they lose all interest. That’s why I’m so confident that all of today’s morality is pure bullshit, and they’d support all the opposite ideals, if only it helped them get ahead in life.

BO: Yet many people nowadays choose not to have children. Are you sure that their behavior is as consistent and predictable as you make it sound?

FH: I imagine that if they were consciously aware of how perfectly their behavior matches up with trying to ensure the best possible future for the genes, there might be more of a willingness to rebel against it. As for children, evolutionary biologists like to point out that if it wasn’t for contraception, we’d be making plenty of children, and the choice of having children wouldn’t be there.

BO: But aren’t there lots of crackpot philosophers and the like who hold on to unsuccessful ideas, even though it doesn’t work in their favor (from the perspective of genetic evolution)?

FH: I agree that only the average person succeeds in living their lives for the sake of their genes. Everybody else is still a hopeless conformist. Every crackpot philosopher always defends conventional morality and memes with strong market representation at a fundamental level.

BO: Aren’t you defending memes with strong market representation at a fundamental level because you insist on logical reasoning, which is precisely that?

FH: Even those who are against logical reasoning use arguments to back up their point of view, so presumably they believe those arguments to be logical. (This meme has market representation because Robert Nozick mentions it in “The Nature of Rationality”.)

BO: Is people’s inability to go beyond memes that have market representation indicative of a fundamental shortcoming in their intellect?

FH: No, there are plenty who understand evolution quite well. After understanding evolution, I would expect them to be unable to accept a society that still clings to the paradigm of genetic evolution.

BO: What’s the alternative?

FH: Memetic evolution.

BO: Why is this so hard to accept?

FH: In genetic evolution, you have sophisticated mechanisms in place. Genes don’t compete individually. They are organized and compete in units called organisms. When genes are killed, powerful emotions kick in (pain, grief, etc). Memes are disorganized and have no emotions that evolved to defend them.

Proponents of memetic evolution have to create the missing organization and channel emotions to defend memes.

SETI: Is it not obvious that we’re the only technologically advanced civilization in the Milky Way?

BO: What do you make of SETI researchers who apparently see nothing wrong with searching for extraterrestrial life within our galaxy?

FH: I don’t know how to explain it. Everyone from celebrities like Carl Sagan and Steven Hawking to lesser known researchers seem to talk as if it were a reasonable possibility. Clearly, they have heard the argument against it (I’ve actually read an argument somewhere that’s pretty close to this): the diameter of the Milky way is only around 100,000 light years. The universe itself is over 13 billion years old. How long after the invention of large sailing ships did it take us to explore the farthest reaches of earth? Less than 500 years.  How long before we spread to the rest of the Milky Way? A few million years, assuming no major technological breakthroughs that would allow us to travel faster through space than scientists now think is possible. So if you’re looking for other intelligent life in the Milky Way, you’re actually gambling that by some incredible fluke, after billions and billions of years, our species just happened to emerge at exactly the same time (plus or minus 500,000 years) as some other species.

BO: Isn’t the counterargument that maybe they don’t have the same adventurous exploratory spirit that we do?

FH: Everybody in science talks about evolutionary theory. They study in mind-numbing detail how exactly life has been evolving. They can’t possibly think that a species will voluntarily confine itself to one particular region when it has the opportunity to spread. Especially when they have zero faith in our own species to render free-market economies obsolete.

BO: But you gotta admit there are too many possibilities to consider in order for you to draw such a sweeping conclusion that we’re the only intelligence in the Milky Way. For example, it could be that advanced beings migrate into some form of subspace or alternate universe rather than colonize the visible universe.

FH: Come on. Why not do both? Maybe their resources are too scarce to do both? In that case, they’d flood the galaxy claiming every last resource they can find. We’d have been wiped out millions or billions of years ago.

BO: Maybe we’ve been seeded by aliens.

FH: Get real. That would be like us trying to build skyscrapers without the use of cranes.

BO: How so?

FH: Evolution by natural selection is painstakingly slow. You can explore a lot more a lot faster by engineering it yourself.

BO: But maybe there is a reason you and I haven’t thought of, yet.

FH: I think the real issue here is that somehow people aren’t able to strategic step. I’m not even doubting the goal itself. Obviously, as the author of the The Search for Terrestrial Intelligence, I think it makes no sense to look for outside intelligence. But I’m saying, that even if I agreed with SETI, there seems to be a mind-boggling contrast between the technical ability and high level decision-making. It’s almost like there’s a law where the higher-level the decisions that need to be made, the dumber people become.

BO: Is it not a social limitation in that they’re aware of all the arguments, it’s just that they sort of democratize the higher-level thinking. I believe in Jesus. You don’t. But we have this implicit agreement that we’ll tolerate each other’s opinions as equally valid.

FH: That’s probably the right way to think about it. In essence, people will agree anything, as long as the majority opinion pressures them to do so. So, for example, if Hitler had won WWII, we’d now be sitting here shaking our heads at the atrocious short-sightedness of humanistic thinkers. “How could people believe such nonsense as equality?” everyone would be saying.

BO: But it’d still be pure conformity?

FH: That’s exactly what I think. The logical correctness doesn’t matter. Without realizing it, people are hopeless conformists.

BO: So in other words, the only way forward is an insistence on correct reasoning. Trying to get people to fight for your cause or converting people over to your ideology is a waste of time?

FH: It’s a total waste of time in that you’re not doing a fucking thing to change people. If tomorrow, Hitler is in charge, everyone will be saying that they were anti-Semites all along, that they believed that all along.

BO: But will they really believe Jews are evil?

FH: If everyone around them believes it, it will feel just as correct as freedom and democracy does to them today.

BO: Isn’t it kind of amazing that such an obvious idea wouldn’t bother anyone else?

FH: I don’t know what to make of it, really. They’re too dumb to comprehend.

Film review: “So Human, So Chimp”

Yesterday, while writing my last entry (Hopelessly Conformist), I looked for the “Ape Genius” video on PBS, so I could include the link in my post. At first, I found the wrong video. It was called “So Human, So Chimp”. After watching this movie (http://video.pbs.org/video/1383599160/), Brian O’Connor asked me about it.

Brian O’Connor: What did you think of “So Human, So Chimp”?

Future Historian: Well, first of all, a more appropriate title would have been “Like Chimp, Like Human”, except that I agree with Jared Diamond (author of The Third Chimpanzee) that we’re really just one of the three species of chimps on this planet: regular chimps, pygmy chimps (i.e. bonobos), and human chimps.

Movies like “Ape Genius” and “So Human, So Chimp” are extremely annoying in showing humans’ exaggerated opinions of themselves. Instead of using the contrast between humans and other primates as motivation to make fuller use of our mental abilities, the humans in these films are satisfied observing how much smarter we are.

BO: Stop talking in such vague and general terms.

FH: One idea that was repeated a few times near the end of the movie is that humans are clearly more collaborative than other apes because we create cities, governments, religions, bla bla bla.

BO: On what basis, does the film claim that apes are not as collaborative? They’re social animals, like us.

FH: I guess, the thinking is that some of the chimps try to attack humans, especially strangers who come near them. (The humans are protected by a transparent wall, so no one gets hurt.) The human reporter and the scientist remarked that they were collaborating in creating this film even though they had never met each other before, something the chimps would be unable to to do.

BO: And on what basis do you claim that humans are equally uncollaborative?

FH: That’s not hard to demonstrate. Just compare the sexual behavior of bonobos and humans. Humans are far more possessive and controlling, and exhibit an extreme unwillingness to share sexual partners.

BO: Why do you use a relatively minor aspect of life as a counterexample? What about the cities, governments, and religions we create?

FH: I don’t think it is minor at all. I think it’s a big part of the reason why 90% of GDP is useless. The worldwide obsession with GDP and jobs growth is better thought of as a symptom of us competing for sexual privileges.

BO: Hold it there one second. Are you saying that if humans were as sexually promiscuous as the bonobos, our economies would collapse?

FH: Absolutely. This is a very important driving force of the world economy. The true reasons people go to work is far different from what they imagine them to be.

Now regarding the cities, governments, and religions, no humans have ever purposely formed a group and decided to collaborate by saying “let’s create a city, government, or religion”. They are primarily things that emerge without a conscious decision. Besides, how many people do you know whom you would credit with a significant scientific or political achievement?

If humans were a collaborative species, then socialist and communist economies would have trumped free market capitalism, which needlessly pits us against each other.

BO: Was there anything else that stood out in the film?

FH: The film mentioned the adage “monkey see, monkey do”. Ironically, the experiments in both films show that it is characteristically human to mimic behaviors, whereas other apes are more likely to accomplish tasks in their own way.

Hopelessly Conformist

Today, I found myself pulled into yet another heated discussion with my tactical adviser, Brian O’Connor. He was not happy at all to find out that I intended to start a blog. I’ll try to reproduce our dialogue as best as I can remember:

BO: A blog?? This is the dumbest idea I’ve heard you express in a long time. Have you already forgotten the reasons why you despise blogs?

FH: No, I still hold that blogs are a symptom of a kind of attention deficit disorder that plagues present-day society.

BO: So you’re saying you’re the latest victim to succumb to adult ADD?

FH: We don’t really have a choice, but to engross ourselves in low quality ideas. Maybe I should say low quality memes to emphasize the evolutionary forces at work. Just about everything around us belongs in the memetic trash bin. Every conversation I have with every person, every article I read online or at the library, every recording I’ve ever watched or listened to, it’s all pure conformity.

BO: Stop making all those vague and abstract generalizations.

FH: When people steadfastly cling to the idea that real estate is a safe investment, that it never declines in value, that’s pure conformity. What I’m saying is that I can show that everything else is equally foolish.

BO: And I agree with you entirely! That’s why I think it’s such a ridiculous idea to write a blog. I mean, what do you expect people who read your blog to do? Do you think there will even be a single person who suddenly wises up and says “You know what, you’re right we’ve been foolish all along. But I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to live life smart.” ?

FH: No, of course, I realize that the forces that pressure people to be conformists are too strong for me to overcome single-handedly. Whatever arguments are capable of making people question astrology or the value of investing in real estate are already out there and I have nothing to contribute. I view this blog as more of an exercise to retain my ability to think nonconformist thoughts.

BO: Unlikely. If that was your goal, why publish our conversations for the public to see? Is it not your ego that is seeking recognition from the outside world? But if so, you know darn well that only conformist ideas get positive reinforcement in this world. If you publish nonconformist views, I can assure you that the psychological reinforcement will be negative. Since you are only human, this will have the exact opposite effect from what you claim. Your brain will learn that nonconformist thoughts are not welcome, and you’ll automatically train yourself to become more conformist. If it were easy to be a nonconformist, there would be more than one specimen among 6.8 billion people.

FH: That’s actually a fascinating point you bring up. I think the mere act of seeking knowledge and information from the outside world is highly conducive to conformity. When you know things, you also know how to conform. As it is virtually impossible to resist conformity, any new human nonconformist is most likely going to be ignorant, but in this information age, that’s practically impossible, too.

BO: Give the audience the benefit of specific examples.

FH: And just who is the audience? I thought you wanted this to be a private conversation between you and me because there’s no point in making it public.

BO: You actually convinced me otherwise. This blog’s audience is the future historian, who is perpetually perplexed by our society’s inability to generate more nonconformists.

FH: For a specific example, see this PBS video called “Ape Genius” (http://video.pbs.org/video/1200128615/). It shows experiments where both chimps and human children are asked to solve puzzles whose solution results in a candy reward. There’s one particular experiment where the human children are shown to faithfully solve the puzzle as taught by the adult, whereas the chimps realize that the human adult is teaching nonsense. This is perhaps the loveliest experiment in human psychology that I’ve ever seen. It’s even more remarkable that serious scientists stare the truth directly in the eye and conveniently avoid drawing any serious conclusions from it.

Children are taught from a young age that working for a living is virtuous. This is an idiotic belief because our technology is so advanced that the inevitable result of everyone wanting to work is that 90% do useless things. Smart people stare this truth directly in the eye every day, but manage quite easily not to concern themselves too much with it.

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