Re: [asa] Jerry Coyne's Confused Attack on Religion

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Thu Jan 29 2009 - 12:47:39 EST

Hi Mike,
Yes, I too appreciate your brainstorm, but I wonder if it isn't leading you into a realm that has already been contemplated for centuries, just not in natural science settings.  
You quote Marino: "What the data say to me is that we, as humans, are not that special."
You quote Coyne: “But sophisticated, self-aware intelligence is a singleton: it evolved just once, in a human ancestor.”
And you say "Coyne is basically saying that in order to show that humans are special, they shouldn’t be special."
And still I wonder what your view is, Mike. Are human beings 'special' or 'unique' or 'singletons' or what would you say otherwise in describing us? You seem to me to be of the 'degree, not kind' pedigree when it comes to expressions about the distinctiveness of human beings from (other) animals. Would it be wrong to imagine you are against the 'sixth kingdom' hypothesis, Symbolia, put forth by John Allen? (
Just saying that human beings have "sophisticated, self-aware intelligence" doesn't seem to be enough to make us 'special' or 'unique.' I agree. So then does the argument against the New Atheist need to bring up this: are we (speking of ourselves as human persons) not also 'ensouled,' more than just mechanical or organic(al) entities?
One can take the position of a zoologist and classify human beings a certain way. But it seems to me that this would mainly discount (or just be silent about) the 'special' or 'unique' aspects of humanity, which humanitarian thinkers have identified. You'll find the same problem with New Atheist anthropologists who would speak about cultural materialism or something of the sort. Maybe here is a place where a naturalist who is friendly to theism needs to unclench their fisted methodology (i.e. that which is taught in classrooms as 'the' scientific method) to allow for 'other' legitimate contributions to knowledge, which they might then prefer not to speak about pejoratively as (merely) 'non-science.'
I'd be rather surprised if you started talking about 'spiritual machines,' Mike Gene!


--- On Thu, 1/29/09, Nucacids <> wrote:

From: Nucacids <>
Subject: Re: [asa] Jerry Coyne's Confused Attack on Religion
To: "Randy Isaac" <>,
Received: Thursday, January 29, 2009, 3:45 PM

Hi Randy,
The point of chapter 9 it to explore such examples.  Here's something from another source:

Experts have long known that toothed whales boast exceptionally large brains. Some species, including the famously bright dolphins, have capabilities previously only ascribed to humans and, to some extent, other great apes. For instance, dolphins can recognize themselves in mirrors and understand symbol-based communication systems and abstract concepts.
"Essentially, the brains of primates and cetaceans arrived at the same cognitive space while evolving along quite different paths. What the data say to me is that we, as humans, are not that special. Although we are highly encephalized, it's not by much or for that long compared with odontocetes," Marino said.
Mike (whose startin' to like that little brainstorm I had last night)

I'm not quite sure why Conway Morris says "...needless to say, show examples of convergence." That bolsters my suspicion that convergence is not a very quantitative concept. Different people seem to have different criteria of how many lineages of how similar a characteristic trait are evidence of convergence. I have no idea how one could say where convergence begins and where it stops.

Hi Randy,
Good points.  Since it's late, let me just throw this out there.  Going back to Conway Morris (thanks, Steve):

“There is no simple answer to the question about the stage at which something like ourselves becomes overwhelmingly probable.  To provide a focus, however, much of this chapter will concentrate on those elements that we might regard as the hallmarks of the humanoid – large brain, intelligence, tools, and culture – all of which, needless to say, show examples of convergence.” (p. 234)
If these hallmarks are "inevitable," then a front-loading proponent might very well note that the biosphere is poised to evolve a humanoid.  Thus, the convergence argument may not get us to humanoid - it may get us to the needed precursor state.  From there, the deck is stacked.  Convergence stops just short so only one species is likely to make the next step.
PS: I do not advocate the front-loading of humans, as my focus has always been much more modest.  But that doesn't stop my brain from contemplating tantalizing thoughts.  __________________________________________________________________ Yahoo! Canada Toolbar: Search from anywhere on the web, and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now at

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Received on Thu Jan 29 12:48:37 2009

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