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 Religion and the Bioethics Commission 
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Post Religion and the Bioethics Commission
Yesterday I got into in one of those religion vs science discussions again. It ended up being 30 posts on Twitter.

Some ideas take longer than 140 chars to explain. So here it goes.

I subscribe to Daniel Dennetts philosopy of memes. Dennett says religions are meme complexes some of which are centuries old. They are clusters of ideas subjected to the laws of evolution/natural selection. A religion that survives for centuries over time develops powerful survival mechanisms.

So religions are honed for one thing; their own survival. Memetics is a philosophical theory and a useful one. Try using 'The protection of my religion is the most important thing' as a basis for prediction for the religious stance next time the well being of the religion is pitted against the well being of people. Like when kids get hurt in the catholic church or the Iranian clergy notice the election is rigged.

This what religion is, it's not magic, it's memes. This is of course true for other meme complexes too that have gone through the same process, democracy comes to mind.

Back to that Twitter discussion:

The second Presidential Bioethics Commission hearing is Sept 13-14. Among the heard this time are scholars from various religious denominations. This fine because they represent a large enough number of people who think they can contribute to the debate.

I'm one of the people who think they can't. These are people whose expertise lies in angels, magic and fairy tales and they don't really know anything about synthetic biology. Pointing this out is not censorship, it's exercising my right to an opinion.

Being a scholar of the supernatural does not mean you know anything about the natural world. It seems to me the honest thing of these scholars to do is to say 'hey, sorry, no info on this... but ask me anything about the magical book in heaven'. Yet this hardly ever happens.

Few subscribers to religion actually take the nonsense seriously anyway, it's more a matter of culture. Why not be honest about it and call it by it's rightful name; culture?

The upside is that when religion and science meet it ends up badly for religion. The religious meme complex hasn't found a good defence against science yet. But it sure is trying.

-Splicer

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Wed Sep 08, 2010 11:07 pm
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Post Re: Religion and the Bioethics Commission
Greetings. I've never posted here before (sites rather dead), but came across it while studying up on the whole biopunk/DIYbio trend. I'm skeptical of biopunk/DIYbio for multiple reasons, but that is neither here or there. Considering that this is one of the few recent threads with activity, might as well make my inroads here.

I disagree with you on several points.

1) You criticize the inclusion of religious leaders on the commission because of their supposed lack of expertise in "the natural world".

It is true that being a religious leader does not automatically guarantee expertise in biology, but nor does it preclude it. Your inherent assumption is that those members of the committee who are religious leaders are ignorant of biology.

How do you know that? Does not having a degree in the biological sciences automatically disqualify anyone from having an in-depth knowledge of them? If so, then doesn't this automatically discredit the entire DIYbio/biopunk movement which is based in no small part on the idea of non-scientists participating in the science?

Did you know that the director of the NIH (National Institutes of Health and overseeing billions in research dollars, thus directing much of where biology where head in the years to come), who is one of the US's most accomplished scientists, having been former director of the Human Genome Project, having been key in some of the first disease mapping experiments, Dr. Francis Collins is also an outspoken Evangelical Christian. I would challenge anyone here to trump his scientific qualifications and contributions. So obviously being religious is not a barrier to one being not only knowledgeable, but one of the top experts in biology. In the same way being a religious leader is not a barrier to being knowledgeable of the subject. I would also like to point out that the "religious leaders" that tend to be part of these bioethics committees are not television evangelists, but professional scholars who typically specialize in bioethics and are experts in the issues relating to them.

2) Bioethics. Two parts to that word. Bio (i.e. Biology) and ethics (i.e. you get the point). They are two separate fields.......for the most part. Ethics is a philosophical field that usually delves into issues of reasoning how best to behave in society, etc, etc. Biology is biology, the study of how life works. In and of itself, the study of biology has little to say as to how one should act, by which I mean that biology cannot make value judgments. It may describe how we make those judgments through processes in the brain, but cannot derive any conclusion as to whether those are good or right value judgments. Even to attempts to use evolutionary biology to guide the making of value judgments fails because this requires one to first assume that (1) evolution has a direction and that (2) that direction is good to begin with.

Why do I bring up such deep philosophical gobbly goop? Simple. Because in denying the authority of religious leaders to be part of a bioethics commission because of their supposed lack of "nature knowledge", you make a value judgment that the ones best suited to make such judgments are those who have in-depth knowledge of nature.

But just as it is true that a religious leader may be ignorant of biology, so it is also true that a biologist may be ignorant of ethics.

Being as this is a bioETHICS commission, the ethics aspect is just as important if not more important than the biology. Therefore, those who partake, should have an indepth knowledge of the study of ethics, the foundations for ethics, the reasoning for ethical conclusions. Most biologists are noobs in this just as most philosophers/theologians/other studies are noobs in biology. It goes both ways.

AS it so happens, a major, part of any theology is morality and ethics. As a result most theologians and religious scholars possess in-depth training and knowledge of these fields. So why shouldn't they be considered in a commission that is supposed to discuss bioETHICS?

3) Most Americans believe in a God. Most Americans are religious/spiritual. The presidents commission on bioethics affects public policy. Thus it affects the majority of Americans who are religious/spiritual. They deserve to have their views as represented by religious scholars who are knowledgeable of biology and particularly the issues relating to ethics in society (which describes perfectly those "religious leaders" who participate in this commission).

4) I think I already proved the main point. But I can't leave well enough alone since you harp so much on that pseudo-scientific garbage called memetics.

Thats right, pseudo-scientific garbage.

Brief history.

Originally propositioned by Dawkins in the Selfish Gene as a theory (I use this term in the loosest fashion possible) as an explanation of culture. He primarily used it as an attempt to undermine religion. The fact that he concentrated so much on its application to religion hurts it because its hard to take it serious as a theory when its clear that the original proponent was more interested not in its value as a theory, but as simply a cudgel against his favorite enemy. Kind of the same way you use it here.

Anyhow. TIme goes on. Memetics completely fails to take hold on any serious sociologist, psychologist, or scientist of of the brain, cognition, etc. Try doing a serious literature search for memetics. By serious that means peer-reviewed journals where a scientist must submit his work to review by his peers prior to publication (journals like Science, Nature, Cell, etc), not Scientific American, not books for the popular press.

If you're curious how to do this without all the garbage of goodle, try a site like PubMed. Type in Memetics. You get four papers. One in the Journal of Safety Research (huh?) one in Health Care Management. There is one that takes it seriously published in American Naturalist and one published in Complexity. Neither of which are major journals. And for such a grand theory like memetics, only 4 hits is pathetic. I get far more hits searching for single genes that I work on.

Broadening the search to "memes" gives you 36 hits. Again pathetic. Try doing a search on "evolutionary psychology," you'll get over 2000. My point here is that evolutionary psychology is a field unrelated to memes (in fact conflicting with/competing with), that attempts to explain culture, etc (same things memes try to explain). I should also mention that evolutionary psychology is controversial and has been criticized by scientists oftentimes for its lack of testable hypothesis.

The point I make with the journal search is this, its not taken seriously in the scientific establishment. Its taken seriously by Dennett who is a philosopher, but then Dennett tends to use it more as a foil in his arguments against religion than as a serious philosophy.

Scientists don't take memetics seriously because its not a serious theory. In its simplistic forms as most often used by popular culture (ideas spread and change overtime) it amounts to nothing more than tautology with an elaborate analogy to biology (worthless as a theory).

But the simple forms are so easy to dispute, lets go to the stricter forms that you seem to subscribe to.

A successful scientific theory does 2 things:

1) Explains the current evidence as well as and preferably better than, other theories.

2) Makes novel insights or predictions that can be experimentally testable.

Memetics fails on both accounts.

It fails because it treats ideas (such as religion) as entities distinct from humanity. Let me explain this further. The standard analogy of memetics is that of a virus. The virus infects the host, replicates, evolves. The virus uses the host, but is a distinct entity from the host. It can be isolated from its host.

Ideas are not viruses however. They cannot be separated from humans. Apart from humans, ideas do not exist. They cannot act. Humans act. Ideas exist in the minds of humans. As a result, the idea becomes indistinguishable from the humans that possess it.

This is where memetics breaks down. It lacks explanatory power (criterion #1) because theories that attempt to explain culture and ideas through humanity, rather than as a separate entity where humans are merely a "host" a far superior explanations. Even controversial ones like evolutionary psychology are superior because they incorporate the human factor into the transmission of thoughts and concepts and culture. Religion cannot force itself on someone, humans must accept it, their minds must embrace the idea.

Memetics also fails to make any observations about culture that are unique or testable. Ideas spread and evolve. Thats pretty much the extent of memetics. Really nothing novel and really nothing that one can develop experiments around to demonstrate that memes actually exist or can explain human culture than any other theory (except those other theories can make such predictions, hence their superiority).

SO memes fail and are thus pseudo-scientific garbage.


Sat Sep 11, 2010 7:29 am
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Post Re: Religion and the Bioethics Commission
Hi and welcome. It's probably useful to start out by explaining the atheist standpoint here. Atheism is the base level. It means you don't recognize deities existing outside peoples minds, being it thor, zeus, jahve, xenu or the spaghetti monster. It doesn't mean you're anti-religious, It does mean that you will ask people to justify religious claims with evidence.

Religions are an interesting target for memetics. Which are the religions defence mechanisms? how does it proliferate? what are the hooks and so on? The religions values lie in what can be learned from studying their inner workings.

It's probably a bad idea to have a president with nukes who believes in harmageddon or thinks a nation or other is magic. But this is outside the sphere of interest of biopunk I think.

Memetics is a tool for hacking. Deconstruct religion and hack it for pleasure or profit. There already are people who hack it for money, sex and positions in society. Use memetics to avoid being hacked yourself. Use what you learn to hack other meme complexes. Have fun with it.

chadn737 wrote:
I disagree with you on several points.

1) You criticize the inclusion of religious leaders on the commission because of their supposed lack of expertise in "the natural world".

It is true that being a religious leader does not automatically guarantee expertise in biology, but nor does it preclude it. Your inherent assumption is that those members of the committee who are religious leaders are ignorant of biology.

How do you know that? Does not having a degree in the biological sciences automatically disqualify anyone from having an in-depth knowledge of them? How do you know that?
You seem to agree they may show up without any knowledge of biology. My observation went one step further; that their expertise lies in the supernatural world. They are experts in magical texts and should begin with explaining how this is relevant to the natural world. Producing a study that prayer works would be a start.

chadn737 wrote:
Did you know that the director of the NIH (National Institutes of Health and overseeing billions in research dollars, thus directing much of where biology where head in the years to come), who is one of the US's most accomplished scientists, having been former director of the Human Genome Project, having been key in some of the first disease mapping experiments, Dr. Francis Collins is also an outspoken Evangelical Christian.
Head of NIH is a political appointment. It's not like he was elected by his fellow scientists. Most of them find him controversial because of his supernatural beliefs wouldn't you agree? It's also worth noting that he hasn't fucked up yet and I think he can ill afford to.

chadn737 wrote:
I would challenge anyone here to trump his scientific qualifications and contributions. So obviously being religious is not a barrier to one being not only knowledgeable, but one of the top experts in biology. In the same way being a religious leader is not a barrier to being knowledgeable of the subject. I would also like to point out that the "religious leaders" that tend to be part of these bioethics committees are not television evangelists, but professional scholars who typically specialize in bioethics and are experts in the issues relating to them.

Venter refers to him as a bureaucrat. You can be both religious and a scientist but not at the same time, and you need a high threshold for intellectual incongruence. It resembles a situation we had here last year where a retired principal of the police academy who lectured on the perils on sexual harassment by day turned out to be raping underage girls by night. I'm not saying he can't do both, and I'm not saying he was a bad principal or lecturer. I'm saying he was intellectually incongruent and that he couldn't do both at the same time.

If Collins follows the scientific method by day and prays to a supernatural being at night, not subjecting his beliefs to experiments or falsifiability, then he shows a remarkable intellectual incongruence.

chadn737 wrote:
2) Bioethics. Two parts to that word. Bio (i.e. Biology) and ethics (i.e. you get the point). They are two separate fields.......for the most part. Ethics is a philosophical field that usually delves into issues of reasoning how best to behave in society, etc, etc. Biology is biology, the study of how life works. In and of itself, the study of biology has little to say as to how one should act, by which I mean that biology cannot make value judgments. It may describe how we make those judgments through processes in the brain, but cannot derive any conclusion as to whether those are good or right value judgments. Even to attempts to use evolutionary biology to guide the making of value judgments fails because this requires one to first assume that (1) evolution has a direction and that (2) that direction is good to begin with.

A society is its collection of memes, a country's border is real because we share the idea that it is. We can pick any memes we want, and have done so 250K years, so why chose from fairy tales when we have better ones on offer. Like the highest living standard for the biggest number of people?

A successful religion is a meme complex that has been honed through centuries to survive and proliferate. This is what it does, this is the function of its moral memes. If one of the memes coincide with what's useful for people that's because it's part of the religions survival/proliferation mechanism or a side effect there of. Religious morals are there to protect the religions interest, not peoples interest. If you follow religious morals it's hit or miss whether they are useful for you.

chadn737 wrote:
Why do I bring up such deep philosophical gobbly goop? Simple. Because in denying the authority of religious leaders to be part of a bioethics commission because of their supposed lack of "nature knowledge", you make a value judgment that the ones best suited to make such judgments are those who have in-depth knowledge of nature.
Yes in order to make judgments on the natural world you should have studied the natural world. The same way as in order to make judgments in the supernatural world you should be a student of the laws that apply there.

chadn737 wrote:
But just as it is true that a religious leader may be ignorant of biology, so it is also true that a biologist may be ignorant of ethics.
A biologist deals with the natural world, so he takes natural world considerations into account. There is a difference.

chadn737 wrote:
Being as this is a bioETHICS commission, the ethics aspect is just as important if not more important than the biology. Therefore, those who partake, should have an indepth knowledge of the study of ethics, the foundations for ethics, the reasoning for ethical conclusions. Most biologists are noobs in this just as most philosophers/theologians/other studies are noobs in biology. It goes both ways.

AS it so happens, a major, part of any theology is morality and ethics. As a result most theologians and religious scholars possess in-depth training and knowledge of these fields. So why shouldn't they be considered in a commission that is supposed to discuss bioETHICS?
One of the survival mechanisms of religions is the claim that they are guardians of the kind of ethics and morals that are good for you and me. Again, the ethics of a religion are there to protect the religion. Isn't this claim to be the protector of ethics and morals a joke at this point, even to people on the inside?

chadn737 wrote:
3) Most Americans believe in a God. Most Americans are religious/spiritual. The presidents commission on bioethics affects public policy. Thus it affects the majority of Americans who are religious/spiritual. They deserve to have their views as represented by religious scholars who are knowledgeable of biology and particularly the issues relating to ethics in society (which describes perfectly those "religious leaders" who participate in this commission).
Of course the religious should be represented. I merely point out that these people have no maps for the world they are being asked to comment on. They have maps of magical worlds.

chadn737 wrote:
4) I think I already proved the main point. But I can't leave well enough alone since you harp so much on that pseudo-scientific garbage called memetics.

Thats right, pseudo-scientific garbage.

….

Anyhow. TIme goes on. Memetics completely fails to take hold on any serious sociologist, psychologist, or scientist of of the brain, cognition, etc. Try doing a serious literature search for memetics. By serious that means peer-reviewed journals where a scientist must submit his work to review by his peers prior to publication (journals like Science, Nature, Cell, etc), not Scientific American, not books for the popular press. ”



If you're curious how to do this without all the garbage of goodle, try a site like PubMed. Type in Memetics. You get four papers. One in the Journal of Safety Research (huh?) one in Health Care Management. There is one that takes it seriously published in American Naturalist and one published in Complexity. Neither of which are major journals. And for such a grand theory like memetics, only 4 hits is pathetic. I get far more hits searching for single genes that I work on.
I wouldn't expect to find memetics in Cell or PubMed. On PubMed 'falsifiable' gets 57 hits and 'memetic' 46.

Memetics is referred to in evolutionary philosophy and evolutionary psychology which are not huge fields. There memes explain why we don't always follow our instincts even though we're animals for instance. Memetics is also used by the skeptics community, the advertising industry, the PUA culture, internet culture and probably a few others.

Memetics is not a science. It's a philosophical theory, a model. It offers - in a very real way – an an opportunity to see the living world as a product of evolution/natural selection. If you want to go hardcore in some direction, this is the direction you want. And if you want to hack minds it's a useful construct for you.

chadn737 wrote:
Broadening the search to "memes" gives you 36 hits. Again pathetic. Try doing a search on "evolutionary psychology," you'll get over 2000. My point here is that evolutionary psychology is a field unrelated to memes (in fact conflicting with/competing with), that attempts to explain culture, etc (same things memes try to explain).
Check out the evolutionary psychology Wikipedia page.

chadn737 wrote:
It fails because it treats ideas (such as religion) as entities distinct from humanity. Let me explain this further. The standard analogy of memetics is that of a virus. The virus infects the host, replicates, evolves. The virus uses the host, but is a distinct entity from the host. It can be isolated from its host.

Ideas are not viruses however. They cannot be separated from humans. Apart from humans, ideas do not exist. They cannot act. Humans act. Ideas exist in the minds of humans. As a result, the idea becomes indistinguishable from the humans that possess it.
Memetics concerns itself with how units of ideas spread, I don't think it makes any claims on your internal representation of the meme? And yes, a meme is not exactly the same as a virus, then it would not be a meme it would be a virus.

chadn737 wrote:
This is where memetics breaks down. It lacks explanatory power (criterion #1) because theories that attempt to explain culture and ideas through humanity, rather than as a separate entity where humans are merely a "host" a far superior explanations. Even controversial ones like evolutionary psychology are superior because they incorporate the human factor into the transmission of thoughts and concepts and culture. Religion cannot force itself on someone, humans must accept it, their minds must embrace the idea.
”Their mind” is the machinery the persons genes built and collection of memes the person currently holds, whether the new meme is rejected or not is dependent on those memes. Those memes don't appear out of thin air, they have been transmitted to and accepted by the person according to rules. One of which is that you can't convince a meme bot.

chadn737 wrote:
Memetics also fails to make any observations about culture that are unique or testable. Ideas spread and evolve. Thats pretty much the extent of memetics. Really nothing novel and really nothing that one can develop experiments around to demonstrate that memes actually exist or can explain human culture than any other theory (except those other theories can make such predictions, hence their superiority).


Here is a simple example on memes that relates to religion:

I show you a red toy car, then put it behind my back and ask you what's behind my back. You answer ”A red toy car”. You have now witnessed a transmission of a unit of knowledge, a meme.

Now let's try this:
I don't show you the car, but hold it behind my back. I then ask you, and your church and everyone you know to go ask god what's behind my back. If you come back and say ”A red toy car” you will convince me that units of information can travel in other forms than memes.


-Splicer

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Mon Sep 13, 2010 1:44 am
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Post Re: Religion and the Bioethics Commission
Quote:
Hi and welcome. It's probably useful to start out by explaining the atheist standpoint here. Atheism is the base level. It means you don't recognize deities existing outside peoples minds, being it thor, zeus, jahve, xenu or the spaghetti monster. It doesn't mean you're anti-religious, It does mean that you will ask people to justify religious claims with evidence.


I disagree, the base level would be agnosticism, which makes no inherent assumptions about the truth or falsity of a claim. I agree religions should justify themselves. Christianity from the beginning has never assumed otherwise. That is why even back in medieval times when Europe was almost uniformly Christian with little opposition, you still have theologians like Thomas Aquinas formulating arguments for and against the existence of God. Funny then that the arguments raised against God by Thomas Aquinas are often far stronger and logical than anything individuals like Dawkins have come up with.

Quote:
Religions are an interesting target for memetics. Which are the religions defence mechanisms? how does it proliferate? what are the hooks and so on? The religions values lie in what can be learned from studying their inner workings.


The explanations from Evolutionary Psychology are far superior than those of memetics.

Personally I think that religion is of interest for memetics because those who seem to be inclined to believe in memetics also tend to be anti-religious, virulently so.

Quote:
Memetics is a tool for hacking. Deconstruct religion and hack it for pleasure or profit. There already are people who hack it for money, sex and positions in society. Use memetics to avoid being hacked yourself. Use what you learn to hack other meme complexes. Have fun with it.


Sounds like memetics needs a good does of ethics applied to it.

Thats assuming memetics is even valid, a claim I deny.

Quote:
You seem to agree they may show up without any knowledge of biology. My observation went one step further; that their expertise lies in the supernatural world. They are experts in magical texts and should begin with explaining how this is relevant to the natural world. Producing a study that prayer works would be a start.


I admit they may not have biological knowledge, but I also admit that they MAY HAVE biological knowledge.

You just assume that they don't or can't which is a logical fallacy.

And what exactly is magical about the major religions? There is no reason to assume that there religion and science are mutually exclusive and if you were knowledgeable of Christian theology, you would realize why this is so.

Then there is the fact that this is a BIOETHICs commission. It is not a biology commission. Despite the overlap, Bioethics is not about the science, but the ethical application of it. Religion is obviously relevant to Ethics, therefore has relevancy to bioethics.

Quote:
Head of NIH is a political appointment. It's not like he was elected by his fellow scientists. Most of them find him controversial because of his supernatural beliefs wouldn't you agree? It's also worth noting that he hasn't fucked up yet and I think he can ill afford to.


I disagree. Francis Collins appointment was largely supported by most scientists. There was a handful who took issue with his beliefs, but they were a distinct minority as the majority of scientists recognize that now only has Dr. Collins proved himself in his management of the human genome project, but that he also is an accomplished scientist.
Quote:
Venter refers to him as a bureaucrat. You can be both religious and a scientist but not at the same time, and you need a high threshold for intellectual incongruence. It resembles a situation we had here last year where a retired principal of the police academy who lectured on the perils on sexual harassment by day turned out to be raping underage girls by night. I'm not saying he can't do both, and I'm not saying he was a bad principal or lecturer. I'm saying he was intellectually incongruent and that he couldn't do both at the same time.

If Collins follows the scientific method by day and prays to a supernatural being at night, not subjecting his beliefs to experiments or falsifiability, then he shows a remarkable intellectual incongruence.


Citing Venter about Collins is like citing Al Gore on Bush, the Taliban on the US, etc. Of course you're going to get a negative view of the man, so using him as a reference is.....well....just stupid. Besides, Venter is viewed skeptically and negatively by many scientists who consider him a businessman rather than a serious scientist. His company, Celera Genomics, actually borrowed a significant amount of data from the public databases produced by the HGP to complete its own sequence. I'm also often surprised by the admiration for Venter that I often see in the biopunk community. One of the primary goals of the Celera Genomics was to patent much of what they sequenced. This is why Francis Collins decided to publish new sequence as it became available so as to ruin Celera's attempts at patenting. Considering that the biopunk movement is largely about "open-source" and making the technology available to evreyone, I would think that they would have more admiration for Collins and the HGP rather than Venter and Celera, but it seems always to be the opposite.

Anyhow, in accusation to Collins being a bureaucrat. This completely ignores much of his early ground-breaking work where he helped pioneer the development of positional cloning and then went on to identify and clone many of the genes involved in human disease. It is these significant accomplishments that led to him being put in charge of the HGP and now the NIH. No mediocre scientist could get to this level or accomplish what he did.

Moving on to the inability of one being both a scientist and religious at the same time. I completely disagree with you. The inherent assumption in this statement is that one cannot apply the same rigors of intellectual inquiry and logic to religious belief and still arrive at the conclusion that there is sufficient reason to believe in a religion. I think that is an opinion born out of ignorance of the centuries of such harsh inquiry. People of my generation often associate the basis of atheism to such outspoken hacks like Richard Dawkins. The great irony here is that you can find far more powerful arguments against God and religion in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine centuries ago, both of whom were devout believers. Why, because through reason they were able to address these very arguments against belief. Dawkins primary argument that "If God had to have a creator" can easily be countered by anyone with half a brain and some minor training in logic and philosophy. In the Summa Theologica, the first part, second question addressing whether or not God exists, Thomas Aquinas raises objections against his own arguments that are still debated centuries later by philosophers. Aquinas being the genius he is, then raises even more powerful arguments to counter those.

My point is rather simple. One can be intellectually congruous in all parts of life and still believe in a higher power and religion. This simple fact is demonstrated in the fact that Christians for centuries have been subjecting their religion to the very same rigors. Francis Collins is no exception and has publicly made known his own reasoning for belief. Agree with it or not, one cannot accuse him of not applying reason to his faith or of failing to question his reasons for belief. Nor can I stop with Francis Collins in finding examples. A large number of prominent living scientists are devout believers.
Quote:
A society is its collection of memes, a country's border is real because we share the idea that it is. We can pick any memes we want, and have done so 250K years, so why chose from fairy tales when we have better ones on offer. Like the highest living standard for the biggest number of people?

A successful religion is a meme complex that has been honed through centuries to survive and proliferate. This is what it does, this is the function of its moral memes. If one of the memes coincide with what's useful for people that's because it's part of the religions survival/proliferation mechanism or a side effect there of. Religious morals are there to protect the religions interest, not peoples interest. If you follow religious morals it's hit or miss whether they are useful for you.


Interesting response. Interesting because it (1) fails to address the argument it is posited to address and (2) to accept the argument one must first accept the basis of the argument, that memes exist.

(1) It does not address the argument.

To summarize what I said: "the study of biology cannot make value judgments on moral/ethical issues"

Your argument does nothing to counter that claim, rather your argument makes a separate claim that religion can be, but may not be a useful basis for making ethical/moral claims. That's a completely different topic of discussion. This sort of bait and switch counterargument is what as known as a Red Herring Fallacy.

(2) This one is obvious, I have already stated my objections to memetics and why I think its hogwash. For you're argument to have any validity one must first assume the basis for it (memes) is valid in the first place. Since I deny that memes are valid, then its pointless to even make such arguments because you have not established the validity of memes.
Quote:
Yes in order to make judgments on the natural world you should have studied the natural world. The same way as in order to make judgments in the supernatural world you should be a student of the laws that apply there.


Yes, to make judgments on the NATURAL WORLD, but that's not bioethics, that's straight biology. Bioethics is the study of ETHICAL APPLICATION of knowledge, methods, and technology to human welfare. Bioethics does not determine whether or not embryonic stem cell therapy works, it determines whether it is ethical to harvest embryos.

Those are two different questions. A biologist has the training to determine the efficacy of embryonic stem cell therapy. They do not necessarily have the training to logically conclude the morality and ethics of it. I can assure you, that the standard training for biologists in the US does not include bioethics or even just ethics in its core curriculum. Even at the PhD level the training is typically not a requirement and brief at best. In the first year of my PhD I took a class in bioethics that gave me a brief overview. I chose to take this class, even though it was not required of me and even though my advisor and most of my committee thought it was unnecessary.

Quote:
A biologist deals with the natural world, so he takes natural world considerations into account. There is a difference.


Yes, he can take the science into account, but does he have the knowledge and training to take the philosophy and ethics into account? As I have already stated, ethics is not a standard part of a biologist's training. Did you know that all scientific studies that have human subjects, like in drug tests, has to be first approved by a bioethics committee? These committees usually include faculty from philosophy departments because they have the necessary training to address the ethical side of the issues, while the biologists on the committees have the training to assess the efficacy of the experiment.

Now granted, a biologist can choose to learn the necessary background by taking courses in the subjects of ethics or by independent study. The funny thing here is that so can theologians. What is to prevent a theologian from taking biology classes and reading the current research so as to gain an in-depth knowledge of biology? They may not personally conduct the experiments, but that does not mean that they are ignorant. You for some reason automatically assume that they are ignorant, which is just plain false.
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One of the survival mechanisms of religions is the claim that they are guardians of the kind of ethics and morals that are good for you and me. Again, the ethics of a religion are there to protect the religion. Isn't this claim to be the protector of ethics and morals a joke at this point, even to people on the inside?


Again, first we must assume that memes is true to even accept you're argument. I don't so I think your argument is false to begin with.

And why would it be a joke? I'll be honest, I am a Christian, but have had a history of rebellion against that faith and its morals. I have committed most of the sins. The irony here is that I have learned a great lesson. Those morals that Christianity teaches are good for me. My life would be much improved had I not been involved in the heavy drinking, one-night stands, etc.

So I don't find it a joke at all. In fact I take it very seriously because I am aware of the after-effects of my choices.
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Of course the religious should be represented. I merely point out that these people have no maps for the world they are being asked to comment on. They have maps of magical worlds.


I've said it many times now, but you are assuming that these people have "no maps."

What I've done is shown that while they may be religious, may have expertise in religion, that it is stupid to automatically assume that they are by default ignorant of biology as well.

I am a molecular biologist/geneticist by training. That is my area of expertise. Going on nothing else, can you logically conclude that I am ignorant Christian theology? What you don't know is that I have a hobby of reading philosophy and theology, everyone from Thomas Aquinas, to Hobbes, to Anthony Flew, to William Lane Craig, to Nietzsche, to Sartre, to Dawkins. My knowledge in these matters is not the expert knowledge of a trained philosopher or theologian, but neither am I ignorant. Furthermore, my training in molecular biology and independent study of philosophy/theology does give me a "map" to throughly understand the issues where the two intersect. In the same way, the sorts of religious leaders who are involved in the Bioethics Commission have studied the issues so as to have just such a "map" and be qualified ot contribute to the issues involved.

You just don't know because you automatically conclude that since they are religious that they are ignorant.

In logic, this is the fallacy of Affirming the Disjunct, which is represented as an either/or situation of A and B, i.e. if A, therefore not B. This is fallacious because it is not necessary that it be either A or B because it can also be both A and B.

To see how this applies to your argument, you claim if Religious, therefore, not knowledgeable of Biology. But it is also logically true that one can be both Religious and knowledgeable of biology. Therefore your argument is the fallacy of Affirming the Disjunct.

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I wouldn't expect to find memetics in Cell or PubMed. On PubMed 'falsifiable' gets 57 hits and 'memetic' 46.

Memetics is referred to in evolutionary philosophy and evolutionary psychology which are not huge fields. There memes explain why we don't always follow our instincts even though we're animals for instance. Memetics is also used by the skeptics community, the advertising industry, the PUA culture, internet culture and probably a few others.

Memetics is not a science. It's a philosophical theory, a model. It offers - in a very real way – an an opportunity to see the living world as a product of evolution/natural selection. If you want to go hardcore in some direction, this is the direction you want. And if you want to hack minds it's a useful construct for you.


I wouldn't expect it to be in Cell either. Cell is a molecular biology journal. I would expect to see memetics in something like Cognitive Psychology or the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. Instead you find it in journals like the Journal of Safety Research. What is also interesting is your decision to use "memetic" as a search term rather than "memetics" or "memes." True, you get more papers, but look at the type of papers. These are not studies of memetics/memes as defined by Dawkins or Dennett. Almost all of these are using the term "memetic" to describe algorithms. That is meaningless to what you are trying to argue.

For example, a common type of computer algorithm, one often used in bioinformatics programs is a "greedy algorithm." The term greedy here applies to how the algorithm operates and not to any sort of actual study into "greed" as it applies to human behavior. In the same way a memeic algorithm has nothing to do with how memes apply to actual psychology or human culture, but how the algorithm works.

Of those 46 hits in Pubmed, only 4 refer to memes as you and I are discussing, the other 42 refer to memetic algorithms. So for our purposes, the actual number of hits is only 4, not 42. Some of those 4 were the same papers I referred to in doing a search using "meme" as a search term.

Additionally, memetics is not the same as "evolutionary psychology." They are distinct theories. Evolutionary Psychology sees human culture as human adaptation and survival. This is distinct from memetics which views memes like culture as being distinct from their hosts and evolving for their own survival, not for the survival of their human hosts. That is a key distinction. In evolutionary psychology, religion fills an adaptive purpose for human survival, such as creating unity within a group, religion will therefore change according to the needs of those who practice it. In contrast, memetics sees a religion as having evolved not for any adaptive benefit of humanity and continues to evolve not according to the survival needs of the human hosts, but according to its own survival.

So do not confuse the two, because they are distinct.

Another problematic assertion is that you claim that memes explains why we do not follow our instincts. But this assumes that in believing a religion or taking part in some other cultural phenomena, we are somehow acting contrary to our instincts. May I add that the whole notion of "instincts" is itself a matter of debate. But putting that aside. Lets consider the evolutionary psychology take on the matter of religion. According to evolutionary psychology and many other theories, culture, religion, all have a basis in human biology. As previously stated, religion according to evolutionary psychology, is an adaptive response from humans to their environment and so would be considered instinctual. So in claiming that it is contrary to our instincts to belief in religion, you actually emphasize one more way that memtics is NOT equivalent to evolutionary psychology and also introduce another unsupported claim.

Finally, it is telling that you should claim that memetics is not a science, but philosophy.

If memetics is not science, then it cannot be empirically tested. Also, why should we accept a non-scientific explanation like memetics as an explanation for a scientific problems like human culture, cognition, and psychology?

You consider religion to be "magical," untestable, and thus unworthy of consideration. If memetics is not science, then how does it differ from religion? Why accept one "magical" explanation for another? Why accept one idea that is "non-scientific" and not another?

Personally I think you are being intellectually disingenuous here. If memetics is not science, then it is no more valid an explanation.

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Check out the evolutionary psychology Wikipedia page.


Ok.....and what am I supposed to find there? And more importantly why should I trust a source like Wikipedia?

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Memetics concerns itself with how units of ideas spread, I don't think it makes any claims on your internal representation of the meme? And yes, a meme is not exactly the same as a virus, then it would not be a meme it would be a virus.


You didn't grasp what I was saying. A virus can be isolated from its host. Memes are analogized to viruses because Memes are supposed to be distinct entities that evolve for their own survival regardless of the effects of such evolution on its host.

But this ignores several possibilities, such as that ideas, spread, and change, not for the benefit of the idea, but for the benefit of the person. It ignores the possibility that culture is a human adaptation to its environment. It ignores the fact that ideas are subjected to the human mind itself, to its inner workings. An idea can be accepted or rejected based on a person's will. It is changed according to a person's will. Because of this, ideas cannot exist in and for themselves nor can they change for their own benefit, they always change according to the human's will and benefit.

Therefore the whole concept of memetics is faulty because it removes the emphasis from humans.
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”Their mind” is the machinery the persons genes built and collection of memes the person currently holds, whether the new meme is rejected or not is dependent on those memes. Those memes don't appear out of thin air, they have been transmitted to and accepted by the person according to rules. One of which is that you can't convince a meme bot.


I know you've referenced Dennett in previous posts. According to Dennett, memes are not thoughts, they are somehow distinct with their own existence.

But as I've said, that is the problem. You say the are constructed in the mind and exist in the mind.

Isn't that what we call a "thought?"

So then we are left with the problem, what distinguishes a "thought" from a meme? Are they even different? If there is no difference, then the entire idea of memes is worthless because we explain everything through normal cognitive science and have no need for a theory of memes.

If they are distinct, then how? That is the problem, they cannot exist outside the mind and they cannot be distinguished from "thoughts." This is the very criticism that has been brought up by Mary Midgley.

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Here is a simple example on memes that relates to religion:

I show you a red toy car, then put it behind my back and ask you what's behind my back. You answer ”A red toy car”. You have now witnessed a transmission of a unit of knowledge, a meme.

Now let's try this:
I don't show you the car, but hold it behind my back. I then ask you, and your church and everyone you know to go ask god what's behind my back. If you come back and say ”A red toy car” you will convince me that units of information can travel in other forms than memes.


Thats.....a.....meme?

No, no, no, that is not a meme. All that is a transmission of an idea. If that is really what memes are, then everything is a meme. Atheism is a meme.

If that is all a meme is, the transmisison of ideas, then memes is simply a renaming of something we call "ideas."

Consider the following.

Ideas are concepts, knowledge. Ideas get transmitted from person to person.

Everybody knows this.

All you do is substiture the word "idea" for the word "meme."

Thats just plain stupid. Why bother, why not just use the word "idea."

it would be like me calling the theory of Evolution "sambrit" (something I just made up) and claiming it as some brilliant new idea. Of course its sambrit is not a new idea, I'm just calling Evolution a different name and claiming its different. Its intellectually dishonest.

I always have this problem when debating memetics with people. Those who cling to the idea seem to tend to explain it as being the exact damn thing as "ideas." Which is in no way new nor does it contribute in anyway to our understanding of culture.

Memetics only has any intellectual value if you take the strict definitions used by Dawkins and Dennett. However, while it is a novel idea, as I have demonstrated in previous arguments, this novel idea fails scientifically and even philosophically.

But when presented with these hard facts, meme believers always abandon the more rigorous understanding as offered by Dennett and adopt these ridiculous generalized definitions.

According to your definition, atheism is therefore a meme.


Sun Sep 19, 2010 12:15 am
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