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Hello, what do you think about this idea? Suppose there is no God / designer and life is just a bizarre event that has happened to have occurred following the big bang. It seems that whatever form of life happened to have occurred following this big bang could possibly have reproduced in a vast number of different ways (eg by pressing a button under a big toe, or perhaps we turned out to be weird alien trapezoid creatures who reproduced by a jolt of electricity etc). In fact, however, humans reproduce in a way which (commonly) involves a profound and beautiful relationship between two people. Given the vast number of ways in which reproduction could have occurred, and given the especially beautiful way in which it actually has happened to have occurred, doesn’t this indicate that there is a designer present rather than blind chance being the cause? Personally I find this quite convincing. If blind chance is the cause then to me it seems extremely unlikely that we would happen to reproduce in...

There are two sorts of issues here. Suppose that it is, in fact, extremely unlikely that reproduction should occur as it does. The universe is a vast place. For all we know, it occurs in billions of other ways in billions of other galaxies. Even on our own planet, of course, reproduction occurs in a dizzying variety of ways. That it happens to occur as it does among us might just mean we are the lucky ones. This is just a way of saying that astonishingly unlikely things do happen. The odds against someone being dealt, in a game of bridge, a hand consisting of 13 cards all of one suit are 158,753,389,899 to 1. But it does happen from time to time. And the universe has been around for a lot longer than we have been playing bridge. Probabilities like the one just mentioned concern the probability that an event should occur on a single occasion . Every time a bridge hand is dealt, it is incredibly improbable that it will...

If, as Dawkins reminds us in "The God Delusion", our cellular self is completely renewed over time, should we absolve the criminal of his crimes after time has passed on the grounds that he is no longer the person that committed the crime - for example, the rapist who is not caught until decades after his crime, or the aging general who committed war crimes. If not, does this prove that there is more to the self-hood of a person than just a collection of cells?

And one might add that the cells themselves are hardly immune from "renewal" at the molecular level. So the short version is: If identity requires complete coincidence of matter, then essentially nothing but sub-atomic particles survive over any reasonable stretch of time. That does rather suggest, though the contrary view is certainly held, that identity over time simply does not require complete coincidence of matter. What it does require is not very clear, but that is no reason to despair. Of course, the question didn't ask about complete coincidence of matter. But it's unclear why anything less might suffice. And, if it does, then you run into issues about transitivity: A might share much of its matter with B, which shares much of its matter with C; but A and C do not share much of their matter.

It was suggested (http://www.amherst.edu/questions/1368/) that, among other criteria, an incestuous couple would have to be infertile in order for their relationship to be considered morally permissible. This is presumably because inbreeding allows for the heightened expression of recessive, deleterious genes. What is the significant difference, however, between an incestuous couple, and a couple of unrelated individuals both of whom have family histories (i.e., genetic predispositions) to chronic illnesses?

I think the really deep question here is why incestuous relationships seem so morally problematic, quite independently of the child-bearing issues. Here are a couple thoughts. The case of parent-child incest is clearly the most problematic, even when the child is of age. And here, I think the source of concern is power. It's not that it seems utterly impossible for the child, in such cases, to give truly informed consent, but one might wonder how free (or well informed) that consent could be. It's not unlike, that is to say, supervisor-employee or teacher-student relationships, except, of course, that the parent-child relationship is far more intimate and, as a result, far more is at stake for the child. What, then, about sibling-sibling relationships? Here, there probably aren't the same kinds of concerns as with parent-child relationships. But, continuing the work-world analogy, it is perhaps worth noting that many companies bar relationships between co-workers as well as between supervisors and...

The more we learn about genetic determinants to human behaviour, the more, I suspect, we will learn that men and women are intrinsically different in their tendencies and capacities. Could discoveries of this sort ever justify any sort of sexism, or differential treatment of men and women, or is it incumbent upon us to treat men and women equally in a strict sense in any case?

Whether your empirical speculation is correct, it is of course not for philosophers to say. So let's focus on the question. Let's suppose it turns out that women are intrinsically more intelligent than men. Should women then be accorded special treatment as regards education? To suppose it would be just to accord women special treatment in this situation, one must suppose that it would be just to treat me a certain way simply on the ground that I was a member of a group that, as a whole, had certain characteristics I may or may not myself share. For note that it is consistent with the supposition that women, as a group, are intrinsically more intelligent that men, as a group, that I am the most brilliant person in the world. Why I should suffer some educational disadvantage in this case is very unclear. In short: Unless the differences between the groups are so large as to be essentially exclusive, then differential treatment is unjust, because it results in differential treatment of ...

Some would consider mathematical patterns found in nature, such as the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio, as indications of a higher deity, God if you will. Is this a sound belief?

I don't see how one could reasonably suppose there was an argument here for the existence of God. But belief in God need not be based upon any sort of argument or even be something for which one has reasons in the usual sense in which one has reasons for beliefs. A belief in God might have more in common with aesthetic judgements than with theoretical ones. If so, then perhaps the suggestion would be that such mathematical patterns are part of what constitutes the basis for the aesthetic response in question. Whether that would be "sound" is hard to say. Aesthetic judgements are not beyond criticism (unless you regard aesthetic judgements as not really judgements at all but on a par with mere expressions), but the criticism of aesthetic judgements is slippery territory. The foregoing may well require that belief in God be something very different from belief that God exists. This suggestion—or, rather, a generalization of it—is the subject of an exceptionally interesting paper...

Is it possible for it to be proven that evolution is wrong? Could there not be (or have ever been) a missing link? If so, how did we get here? Were we put here? Thank you for your time. ~Kris S.

Of course evolution could be proven wrong. Maybe we will find out that our planet was actually created by an alien race. Once you dig deep enough, you can actually see the scaffolding they set up. Maybe our ancestors were middlemen on a distant planet who were sent away on a spaceship because they were unwanted, and then they crash landed on the earth and created human society. Just as The Hitchhiker's Guide says. Or maybe human beings came into existence pretty much as they are, roughly 6000 years ago, as fundamentalists think. In some vague sense, just about any such thing could have happened. But until there is strong empirical evidence to the contrary, scientists will continue to presume the truth of some form of the theory of evolution.

I was reading up on the study of whether biologists who accept the evolutionary theory believe in God(s) and other theologistic happenings. Many of them say that they find no conflict between the two whatsoever. How is this possible? Isn't the theory of evolution itself based on random, natural selection?

If I can add a little, I guess I find myself puzzled about why anyone would think there was a conflict between belief in God and evolutionary theory. Some Christians, Jews, and Muslims (and, perhaps, adherents of other faiths about which I know less) do find there to be a conflict, but that is because they read their scriptures in a very literal way and take it as a matter of revealed truth that the universe and its inhabitants were created in a particular way. Then, indeed, there is a conflict, and the issue becomes how one should read scripture. This sort of very literal approach is, in Judaism and Christianity, actually a fairly recent phenomenon, and it does not fit at all with how the authors of the relevant texts understood their own writing. There are, for example, two creation stories at the beginning of Genesis, which have quite different histories, and they contradict one another at several points. That fact does not seem to have troubled the compliers of the book, and there is no reason...

It seems that many thinkers commit the naturalistic fallacy in thinking about human engineering and enhancement. That is, when thinking about human engineering (e.g., germline engineering) many have claimed that it is "unnatural" to pursue such options or that we "ought" not do such things because it would damage the human race. My question is this: if we take evolutionary theory seriously (with constant change, adaptation, etc.), why ought we not pursue human engineering, especially if larger issues of justice can be adjudicated?

Some people surely do commit the naturalistic fallacy here: Simply to say it's "unnatural" isn't an argument. Couches are unnatural. The worry that genetic enginerring might "damage the human race" is quite different, however, and I for one take it seriously. The worry, very simply, is that we don't know what we're doing and that the costs of mistakes could be horrific. I'm not sure what evolutionary theory has to do with it. Perhaps the idea is that evoution could somehow correct the mistakes over time. But (i) that could take a very long time indeed; (ii) human reproductive success isn't driven by the same kinds of things now that it used to be; and (iii) evolution isn't going to resolve the problems from which the actual people born as the products of misbegotten engineering suffer.

In intelligent design theory, what exactly are the ID scientists comparing life to, to determine its complexity?

My understanding is that they're not really comparing it to anything. The idea is that the structure of DNA is, in itself, so complex that it could not have been produced by the kinds of processes postulated in the theory of evolution. There are ways of measuring complexity in such cases, or at least there are ways of trying to do so, but it is extremely difficult to provide a good account of this kind of complexity. A large part of the reason is that DNA is finite, and most of the mathematics relevant to the study of complexity counts everything finite as supremely simple. Still, there are ways one can go here (using, for exmaple, the resources of information theory). But part of the criticism of many arguments by proponents of intelligent design is that they operate with inadequate accounts of complexity. The more fundamental criticism of these arguments, though, or so I take it, is that there simply isn't any remotely plausible argument that the structure of DNA is too complex to be produced by...

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