Friday, December 30, 2011

Peregrines, Pigeons, and Mitt

While perusing John Hinderaker's reasons for endorsing Mitt Romney at Powerline I came across this BBC video on Peregrine falcons.

The Peregrine was close to being extirpated in North America - ostensibly by the softening of egg shells by DDT - in the 1960s but has since made a steady comeback. Their preferred habitat, before the advent of modern skyscrapers, was rocky ledges on steep cliffs. Today they can also be found nesting on ledges of tall buildings and bridges in almost every city of the country.

Since adopting urban life they've taken to feeding on the abundant supply of city pigeons, and that's what this video, though filmed in a rural setting, is about:

By the way, Hinderaker's endorsement of Romney is very persuasive.

Darwinian Blind Faith

Casey Luskin at Evolution News and Views calls our attention to an article in Science Daily which contains an odd, probably unintentional, admission.

The article is about some well-preserved pre-cambrian microfossils found in China that were originally thought to be of multicellular organisms (metazoans), but which, on further analysis, turned out to be of single-celled creatures like amoeba.

This is disappointing to evolutionists who've not been able to explain how all the major phyla came to appear with relative suddenness in the Cambrian rocks some 500 million years ago. This phenomenon has been called the "Cambrian explosion" because of the sudden appearance of the major taxa which are believed to have been evolving for millions of years before their appearance in the Cambrian rocks but for which no metazoan precursors have been found.

Science Daily summarizes the problem:
All life evolved from a single-celled universal common ancestor, and at various times in Earth history, single-celled organisms threw their lot in with each other to become larger and multicellular, resulting, for instance, in the riotous diversity of animals. However, fossil evidence of these major evolutionary transitions is extremely rare.
What's peculiar about this is that it's an acknowledgement that scientists hold a significant belief despite the lack of supporting empirical evidence. There appears to be little or no empirical warrant for believing that single-celled organisms evolved into multi-cellular organisms, yet the Science Daily writer asserts that they did as though it were a certainty.

Belief despite the lack of proof is faith. There's nothing wrong with faith, even in science, even though some scientists might deny this. However, belief despite the lack of evidence is blind faith, a trait often derided by those who think that only religious extremists manifest it. Scientists regard blind faith as an epistemological vice, a defect that should never be allowed to find its way into the laboratory.

Apparently, though, not a few scientists are pretty much like the religious people they anathematize, embracing a belief for which there is a paucity of evidence simply because they want that belief to be true.

Atheism and Consciousness

Atheist biologist Massimo Pigliucci is puzzled that so many of his fellow atheists deny the existence of consciousness. Here are a couple of excerpts:
For some time I have been noticing the emergence of a strange trinity of beliefs among my fellow skeptics and freethinkers: an increasing number of them, it seems, don’t believe that they can make decisions (the free will debate), don’t believe that they have moral responsibility (because they don’t have free will, or because morality is relative — take your pick), and they don’t even believe that they exist as conscious beings because, you know, consciousness is an illusion.

The oft-heard claim that consciousness is an illusion is an extraordinary one, as it relegates to an entirely epiphenomenal status what is arguably the most distinctive characteristic of human beings, the very thing that seems to shape and give meaning to our lives, and presumably one of the major outcome of millions of years of evolution pushing for a larger brain equipped with powerful frontal lobes capable to carry out reasoning and deliberation.

One more thing strikes me as strange from the point of view of the “consciousness is an illusion” school of thought. Its supporters have no account of why this illusion would evolve. If we take seriously the commonsensical idea that consciousness aids deliberative reasoning, then we see that it has a (important) biological function. But if it is just an illusion, what’s it for? .... [I]f a large amount of metabolic energy used up by the brain goes into maintaining the illusion of consciousness surely one wants an answer to the question of why did natural selection bring this situation about or ... why does it persist in the face of what should be strong selection against it.
So if consciousness is an illusion we have no idea why it would have evolved, but if consciousness is real, we have no idea how it would have evolved. Perhaps the problem isn't consciousness, perhaps it's atheism.