Monday, July 16, 2018

Should I really be laughing at this?

Alex Jones with a full head of steam

...trouble is I can't help but laugh. I have said it before and I say it again: As PZ Myers, the cleverly sarcastic, cynical and abrasive atheist confronts and comments on some of the cheerfully weirdest fish who float around on the web, I find a sublime form of comedy! I sometimes wonder if the anti-theist Myers is in a kind of  hell already and is having paraded before him, for his utmost torment, some of the most annoying, frustrating and crankiest characters the world has ever produced.  An endemic crackpotism seems to be part of the human predicament and Myers has a particularly low tolerance for it: Anticipating and watching his reaction and reading his comments as he is tortured by the latest extreme wackaloon who flits across the line of sight is some of the best humor I can think of. Perhaps I'm just sadistic. 

Two of his latest stories don't disappoint (See here and here). Firstly there is the ever vile and utterly debased Alex Jones with a line of conspiracy theorism only rivaled and exceeded for crankiness by the deranged David Ike. Myers latest blog on Jones tells us that Facebook wants to crack down on fake news and yet is allowing Jones to remain on Facebook peddling his line in baroque fantasy.  Quoting Myers:

Which one of these InfoWars claims can’t be demonstrated to be false? How stupid are the people at Facebook?
I would like to know which of these Mark Zuckerberg thinks might be true. I want to see his personal testimonial for each and every one of them, or I’m calling shenanigans on the frauds at Facebook.
I was aware of some of the daft delusions listed above, but not all of them. Nice to have a list for the record. Thanks PZ! Well, I might agree with Facebook actually; if you crack down on people like Jones you may be playing into their hands. That's the dilemma.

The second post by Myers informs us that the Turkish Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar has been arrested by the Turkish authorities. Oktar is a rabid anti-evolutionist who appears to mercilessly crib much of his material from US creationism.  Oktar doesn't have a large eye catching exhibit like Ken Ham's ark-shaped shed. No, Oktar has another way of catching eyes with a different kind of shape but nevertheless with the emphasis remaining on bows and stern: Viz:

Accompanying Oktar in this picture are, let's call them Oktar's "educational assistants". They help present his anti-evolution programs. When I watched one of Oktar's videos these assistants don't come over as people of independent conviction and frankly these videos are embarrassing and disturbing to watch. Bearing the scars of cosmetic surgery Oktar's "kittens" look like Barbi clones. They move and speak in an highly orchestrated and contrived way; they come over as awkward self-conscious bad actors who are performing under orders. Oktar makes a point of speaking highly of women, but is there more to this than a man speaking highly of the treasures he owns? These women have been turned into sheer ornamentation and yet they must, of course, have their own inclinations, ambitions and aspirations which, no doubt, have been corrupted and exploited by Oktar. I would cry buckets if one of these girls was my daughter. 

One interesting little side-light is how Oktar repsponded when asked why he was being detained. See below:

dokuz8 NEWS
 Jul 11
Leader of Islamic creationist cult Adnan Oktar and 235 of his followers have been detained with dawn raids in 5 provinces in Turkey.
"The British deep state has ordered the operation; I am not upset but surprised" said Oktar in an interview to Cumhuriyet during his detention.

....there is also this:

dokuz8 NEWS
Adnan Oktar was asked why he was detained while being taken to health inspection at Haseki Training & Research Hospital, "A game of the English deep-state"

I'm not quite sure why Oktar should think the UK "deep state" should be involved, unless it's something to do with Darwin being an upper crust English country gent. It may also be because the UK, along with France presided over the demise of the Ottoman empire. 

Now compare Oktar's words with this: On Alex Jones' wiki page Jones is reported as follows:

In March 2018, Brennan Gilmore, who shared a video he captured of a car hitting anti-racism protesters at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, filed a lawsuit against Jones and six others. According to the lawsuit, Jones said that Gilmore was acting as part of a false flag operation conducted by disgruntled government "deep state" employees in furtherance of a coup against President Trump. Gilmore alleges he has been receiving death threats from Jones' audience.

Here we have two conspiracy theorists, one Christian and the other Islamic who share a similar paranoid theory about a "deep state". Remember also that Donald Trump hasn't exactly discouraged this line of thinking with his talk of the "swamp" he is going to drain. That Trumpism, Farageism and the appeal to an almost xenophobic nationalism have gained traction is, I suppose, evidence of a more general malaise, a malaise that in some quarters is far more extreme than even conceived by Trump and Farage. To the xenophobic paranoid conspiracy theorist the whole social system is knit together and controlled by covert malign intelligences (See relevant link I give at the end).

We seem to be living in times when a pathological tribal xenophobia is fertile ground for apocalyptic fantasy narratives promulgated by the likes of Kent Hovind, Steve Anderson, Ken Ham, William Tapley and various flat Earth fundamentalists and newagers, not to mention Jones and Oktar; it is noticeable that these are all men with a lucrative public power base to satisfy, a power base that competes to a lesser or greater extent with the state. They no longer trust that state and in fact see it as conspiring to pull one over on them and their followers. However, I believe it's not a safe policy to screw down on their delusions with censorship, for if anything the resulting sense of persecution helps justify their distrust and adds credence to their baroque delusions. Baroque these delusions may be but in whatever doctrinal dress they come, whether Christian, Islamic or new age they nevertheless have at their heart a simple us vs them tribalism which catches the disaffected and alienated mood of the day. This malaise can, I believe, eat away at civilization and bring the apocalypse for entirely different reasons:

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

No Progress on Young Earthism's Biggest Problem: Startlight, Part 2

All is not well with the fundamentalist*project to solve their self-inflicted star-light problem; they are in a mother of a muddle over it and they are arguing between themselves.

The contention of the fundamentalist ministry Answers in Genesis is that the cosmos is a mere 6000 years old. This creates an immediate and obvious issue if one is to accept that the majority of stars are far more than 6000 light years in distant. Few people today would question this finding of astronomy any more than they would question that the Earth is a globe. For we are not dealing here with an abstruse question of mathematical astrophysics such as the precise details of the Big Bang (or even if it is in fact a distant reality), or how the Moon was formed long ago, or how cometary statistics can be explained with the hypothesized Oort cloud. Rather, we are dealing with something that is relatively elementary;  in fact the experimental data can be gathered by anyone who walks into their garden at night, perhaps armed with a telescope or binoculars, and looks up at the sky and observes the Milky Way: You don’t need a multi-billion dollar particle accelerator or state of the art telescope to gather this very elementary data and you don’t need a PhD in mathematical astro-physics to interpret this data: This data can be gathered and interpreted by any intelligent layman. On the assumption that the Milky Way is composed of stars then a few calculations will confirm that these stars are a lot further than 6000 light years.  This is about what you can observe and interpret in your garden and not about tentative & abstruse theoretical astro-physics. Everyone agrees that here we have strong evidence of a cosmos whose age runs into billions of years.; everyone, that is, except Christian fundamentalists. Cue the fundamentalist star-light problem: How does that light get to us in less than 6000 years?*2

In this second part to my series on the latest developments in fundamentalist attempts to address this issue, I will be looking at John Hartnet’s criticsm of fellow fundamentalist Danny Faulkner; as I related in part 1 Faulkner has proposed his own “solution” to the Genesis literalist’s star-light conundrum (See here for part 1). However, since my post on Faulkner’s “solution” a year ago other articles have popped on the AiG starlight page; in particular the latest article, written by Faulkner himself, is for lay readers. In this article Faulkner summarises his thinking (my emphases):

We need to recognize that God used many processes during Creation Week that are different from processes today. He didn’t make Adam instantaneously out of nothing, but instead formed him from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). God used a similar process to make the land and flying animals (Genesis 2:19). And he caused the plants to grow rapidly out of the ground on Day Three (Genesis 1:11–12). In other words, God rapidly and miraculously matured many things during Creation Week. It seems both logical and theologically consistent that, in a similar manner, God could have rapidly “matured” the universe, bringing the light from distant objects to the earth in a way similar to trees instantly sprouting and rising to full height.

In addition to creating the physical universe during Creation Week, God also created the laws that govern it. What if these laws were not in full effect until the end of that week, as we see when God created mature plants, land animals, and the first two humans?

Instead of bringing starlight to earth according to physical laws, God could have miraculously solved the light travel time problem on Day Four, before putting the laws that govern light travel into effect. After all, nearly everything about creation was miraculous.

This is an essentially layman’s summary of what Faulkner has already proposed: Viz: Star light problem? No problem! God “matured” everything miraculously during the “creation week” so that by the end of that week the cosmos was all but indistinguishable to the one we see. In Faulkner’s model star-light was, during the “creation week", miraculously rushed to its destinations all over the cosmos (including the Earth). Faulkner’s model is only a tad more honest than Whitcomb and Morris’s in-transit creation of photons, a suggestion they made in their 1961 book The Genesis Flood. Since then some fundamentalists (including AiG, - but not fundamentalist John Byl; see here) have become uncomfortable with this doctrine because it blatantly cuts across the integrity of the creation, a creation Christians see as the work of a God who does not lie: Signals created in transit would effectively have been created to “lie” about their origins and deliver a false report about the events in the distant cosmos.

Unlike Whitcomb and Morris, Faulkner is saying that star-light has truly traversed its way across billions of light years of space, albeit miraculously hurried along by God himself during the creation week. But…and this is the big “but”….  as we saw in my first part Faulkner’s model, nevertheless, also has built into it bogus histories: Distant cosmic events like supernovae, which have been observed by humans over hundreds if not thousands of years, either would have to be all crammed into the creation week or deceptively pre-embedded in the light rays that God “shoots” across the universe: So, we're back to light beams which at best create false impressions and at worst deliver false reports and fake news! Faulkner can claim that in his “solution” light signals are telling the truth as to where they are from, but his model would involve so much “creation week” special pleading and contrivance that he’s almost back to square one and forced to posit a model which employs bogus histories.

But in the final analysis Faulkner can just sweep all these concerns away; he can claim God is God and divine fiat means that God can do what He wants even if his activity effectively tells lies creates a false impression and deceives us about the way the cosmos works.  And yet it seems that Faulkner’s model is the (currently) preferred "solution" at AiG. Evidence for this is indicated by the fact that Faulkner’s boss, Ken Ham, promoted Faulkner’s work in a blog post (see part 1). Moreover, since part 1 there has been another article posted on AiG’s star light page by a fundamentalist called Lee Anderson. This article, as we shall see, also suggests that Faulkner’s ideas go down well at AiG. The abstract of this article reads as follows (my emphases):

The purpose of this paper is to evaluate such cosmological models from a biblical (exegetical and theological) perspective, seeking to determine if they are consistent with Scripture. The specific interpretive claims of these models will be examined, as well as their overarching implications concerning the principal focus of the Genesis creation narrative and the intent of the biblical author in light of his understanding of the text’s original readers. This paper concludes that these cosmological models are dependent on strained exegesis and that they introduce interpretations dependent on modern scientific ideas that would have been foreign to the original readers.

I’ve only dipped into this paper but the general impression is that this fundamentalist theologian isn’t too impressed with the efforts made so far by fundamentalist anti-scientists to solve the star-light problem and that they cow-tow too much to modern science. In Anderson’s view fundamentalist astronomers should spend more time interpreting the Bible according to fundamentalist hermeneutic rules before they move onto the science. Anderson has at least got one thing right: Viz: Modern scientific ideas would have been foreign to the original readers. But it never occurs to this kind of writer that perhaps that is why the ancients generated a mythical creation account rather than a literal account; a literal account would have been well beyond their concept range. All they needed to know was the essential theology of creation; i.e. the order and purpose of creation and that it was God who made it and organised it, contrary to many of the pagan ideas at the time.

Anderson is very critical of Russ Humphreys’ time dilation “solution” which in the final analysis admits to the existence of billions of years of time in the universe at large, although gravitational time dilation is supposed to slow time in the vicinity of the Earth so much that only 6000 years have passed on Earth since creation. Russ Humphreys' efforts represent another failed fundamentalist attempt to solve their star-light problem. Near the end of the article Anderson comes out in favour of Faulkner’s model:

It is critical to foster a commitment to a sound grammatical-historical hermeneutic and to a robust theological method (moving from biblical theology, to systematic theology, to worldview development, to interaction with scientific data) so as to avoid inadvertently imposing on the biblical text models that are foreign to the Scriptures. Faulkner’s proposal for a new solution to the light travel time problem does this (albeit in a basic fashion; see Faulkner 2013b; Faulkner with Anderson 2016, 199–220). It would be encouraging to see more works that take a similar approach.

This, I think summarises where things are at with AiG: Namely, a fall-back on the cop-out of Creation Weekism. Problems? All the problems were miraculously solved during the creation week! As an aside: The quote above tells us how clueless Anderson is about Biblical hermeneutics. The connotational nature of natural language means that the resources of translation form a huge hinterland of information and processing power, a hinterland which exists well beyond the Biblical text: Scriptural interpretation accesses the resources of history, current cultural knowledge and common understandings of human nature. Therefore determining what is foreign to the Biblical writers must necessarily access the modern historian’s view of those ancient writers. Thus our interpretations of Biblical texts are necessarily a function of our own culture and knowledge; we cannot escape our world view and therefore we are epistemically responsible for getting that world view right, thus enabling us to deliver correct interpretations of scripture. Fundamentalist Jason Lisle also gets this wrong; see here. Fundamentalists read scripture with the motive of seeking absolute certainties, certainties which give them a pretext to condemn outsiders  in the strongest possible terms (especially “apostate” Christians!). Therefore fundamentalists much prefer a model of Scripture whereby they believe they can bypass epistemic doubts & difficulties thus justifying in their minds their highly authoritarian pronouncements.


So, after that long preamble I now wish to turn to Hartnett’s criticism of Faulkner’s star-light “solution”, the current favourite at AiG. Mercifully, Hartnett’s article is short: I have to confess that there’s a side of me which begrudges having to untangle the complex mental knots that fundamentalists tie themselves into with their anti-science! There are other more constructive things I could be doing with my time.

However, I feel sorry for Hartnett. As with Russ Humphreys Hartnett doesn’t want to patch in miracles willy-nilly to make it all work; rather he wants to do a bit of genuine science, something that fundamentalist culture with its emphasis on a God who “speaks stars into existence” does not favour. Of Faulkner’s proposal Hartnett writes the following (my emphases):

Firstly, this is not a new proposal. In my book Starlight Time and the New Physics, first published 2007, I mentioned this very proposal as a possibility, which I discounted immediately. I excerpt the relevant text here:

“There is a way around this issue, a really complex and ad hoc miracle that would enable the creation of a beam of light from source to observer so that the observer appears to see current information. For example, when the supernova named 1987a occurred in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is about 170,000 light-years distant, God could have miraculously translated the light across 170,000 light-years’ distance of space instantly (as if the photons had passed through a wormhole) and then just outside the solar system let it move at the usual speed of light. This hypothesis is untestable and, though not impossible, seems implausible, to put it mildly. Miracles in the Bible are rare and special events, the purpose of which is clearly understood and/or revealed. This does not fit that category; it looks more like a convenient set of miracles invented ad hoc to overcome a difficulty”. (Hartnett 2010, p. 27)

Faulkner’s concept is that God miraculously did it, so it is exactly as I envisaged there. The most serious problem with his proposal can be broken down this way. If you say that while God did this He also suspended all the other laws of physics necessary to translate the light (the photons), from the source to the receiver, but only when it arrives in the solar system those laws again all apply, then the proposal is untestable. (There is nothing else to do.)

Hartnett then goes on to consider what he thinks might be the observable effects of Faulkner’s proposal: After all, Hartnett’s article is entitled:

Critique: Faulkner’s Miraculous Translation of Light Model Would Leave Evidence

Hartnett looks at the kind of mechanisms God might have used to carry out the miracle: If God miraculously accelerated the photons then we would expect that the light from across the inverse would  show “massive blue shifts”. Alternatively, if God did it by stretching space then we would see massive redshifts. At one point Hartnett is reminded of Setterfield’s failed light-speed-decay hypothesis where, he says, an unholy collection of improbable coincidences are needed. Presumably Harnett sees Faulkner's work as just as unholy!

But why should Hartnett’s otherwise reasonable call on the logic of physics carry any weight at all among fellow fundies when they are apt to use arbitrary divine magic fiat to contrive anything? (cf “God spoke the stars into existence!” - a variant on "hey presto!"). Why in the miraculous creation week should stretching or accelerating light result in spectral shifts if the laws of physics don’t apply during that week? Surely extrapolating physical logic into that week is a hazardous exercise; at what point do the laws of physics as a reliable guide to what has happened end and the inscrutably miraculous start? Faulkner has the freedom to rig up anything and he can simply wave it all away with a “God did it!”, end of story, no science is needed!  Hartnett, however, is aware that Faulkner’s thesis does provide a bottomless supply of ad hoc miraculous resorts waiting in the wings to bail out his “theory”, although clearly Hartnett doesn’t like it one little bit:

I am sorry to say that Faulkner’s proposal here is not new and it does not have any substance at present. Currently, therefore, it fails in what it sets out to do. Unless these objections are answered it is not a solution to the problem.

If you contain the substance of the model to the totally miraculous, in the sense that you postulate that none of the obvious observations are possible due to God suspending all relevant laws so that these known aspects of physics do not apply in this instance, it is an ad hoc proposal which can never be refuted. I included the idea in my book, along with several others, because I cannot be certain that God did not act that way, but in my opinion it is highly unlikely.

The science starved Hartnett craves a coherent comprehensible creation where light signals don’t deliver a set of unholy lies and where an underlying physical logic makes the cosmos comprehensible:

I expect a creationist solution to include the fact that everything we see in the universe obeys the current testable laws of physics, which are the creation of God (Hartnett 2011b). That does not mean He did not suspend laws while creating, but that what we observe can be relied upon using known physics.

Hartnett is making a forlorn call to physics but it’s not going to wash with the literalist ultras who so thoroughly enamored of divine magic. 

In part 3 I will look at Faulkner’s reply to Hartnett, but we might have to wait another year: Fundamentalist anti-science is just not worth spending too much time with.

*1 I use the term fundamentalist to designate an attitude rather than plain Biblical literalism. Although Biblical literalism is often a condition of fundamentalism it is not a sufficient condition. For example Christians like Paul Nelson and Sal Cordova believe in a young earth but their willingness to form constructive relations with Christians who don’t agree with them makes them amenable parties and excludes them from a fundamentalist classification. The Wiki definition of "fundamentalism" sums it up well:

Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. However, fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups—mainly, though not exclusively, in religion—that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established "fundamentals" and their accepted interpretation within the group is often the result of this tendency.

We can see this cultic insider vs outsider ethos well developed in Ken Ham.

*2 As has been pointed out by Faulkner himself, the fundamentalist star-light conundrum starts as soon as Adam sees the stars!

Relevant links

The AiG Star-light page can be found here:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jordan Peterson and the Wild Web

Male role model: Jordan Peterson debates some opponents

Chris Erskin, who wrote a comment to my post here, has urged that I get up to speed on the Jordan Peterson affair. The following is my first foray into this business and represents my back-of-the-envelopment thesis on the phenomenon. I have conceptualized this thesis on the basis of my rather limited sample of experience so far and I have quite intentionally banged it out as a quick pro tempore treatment before I learn too much about the good professor and the furore he is at the centre of. The reason for this is to see how well this first thumbnail sketch, which boils down my experience and thinking to date, bears up as I learn more; how well can the human mind form a conclusion on a small sample of data and get it right?


“Male” and “Female” are fuzzy multidimensional categories that have competing thematics. For example, at the extremes (and I stress "extremes") one can’t act as a single minded hunter and at the same time a multitasking child rearing gatherer. Competing thematics is common in a systems theoretic context. For example, armour and protection often compete with mobility; it's difficult to satisfy both. Ask a lobster.

However, I must stress the fuzzy multidimensional nature of the male/female categories from which, in advance, we can predict the possibility of such as thing as “blended gender”. As with other biological categories we are likely to find a moderately loose clustering around norms, norms that our conceptual vision often posterizes

OK, so let’s proceed on the assumption that there is such a thing as fuzzy & normative (and I stress "fuzzy" & "normative")  male-female gendering which is a complex and probably largely unknown function of nature and nurture. 

This is where Peterson comes in: My current working hypothesis is that our Western culture, no doubt as a result of societal role changes since the industrial revolution, has, in the long term, resulted in a situation where the normative clustering we find around male and female models is not 100% appropriate to the current societal set-up. This has led to hard feelings on both sides of the normative gender distribution: Females well able to take up tasks otherwise prejudiced to them have felt marginalized and males feel that their masculine dominating & leading role has become threatened.

Enter Jordan Peterson the cool fast talking champion of the male-leaning gender. Intellectually he looks to be incredibly fast on the draw and as well able to handle himself as Clint Eastwood is in the Wild West. A perfect male role model.

He’s applauded by both right wing atheist and Christian males who perceive him to articulate what they have been feeling in their guts for a long time, especially the threat on the polarized conceptions of gender and the denigration of maleness. Many men cheer him on as their champion as he expresses and argues so well for what they instinctively feel.

So summarizing: I see the Jordan Peterson phenomenon as a reaction to:

a)  A societal structure which isn’t a hand-in-glove fit for a polarised model of male and femaleness. The hunter-gatherer and pre-industrial agrarian societies might have been a better fit in this respect.

b) The fact that it has become increasingly apparent in recent times that when "God created them male and female"  this wasn't a clear cut binary distinction but two fuzzy multidimensional categories of a normative distribution.

There may be other aspects at play here as well: The up-and-coming eco-movement, which so often strikes a chord with the female gender, perhaps doesn’t sit so well with the stereotypical male go-out-conquer-and-exploit role.

Finally I must add that I’m not a Marxist social reductionist, Postmodernist or anti-free market. Marxism, certainly in its early forms, had a very weak conception of human nature and still has.  (I think Peterson is probably right about that). But then neither am I a libertarian. Relevant links in this connection are:  

Anyway, that’s my current intellectual state play regarding the good professor. However, it's early days yet. No doubt more analysis to come! This is just my first shot!


ADDENDUM 10/7/18

The day after I drafted the above article my copy of "Premier Christianity" landed on my doormat. It featured an article on the Peterson enigma. Several times the article remarked on his young male following (Probably white males I suspect). e.g.:

Why are so many young men following him? And why should Christians care?

Perhaps by way of answer the article later remarked:

Comparisons have been made to the muscular Christianity that led so many young men to follow church leader Mark Driscoll at one time.

Letting males be males may have something to do with it although I doubt Peterson would be pleased to be compared to Mark Driscoll, and rightly so! (See here and here). The article quotes Peterson as saying:

 "Men and women are not the same"

That, in my view, is very likely true! As I have said above human nature is a largely unknown function of both nature and nuture with gender being fuzzy and normative. But I regard  the social reductionism of Marxism (i.e. positing human beings as economically interchangeable parts) as much an error as does Peterson.  And yet Peterson is also quoted as saying:

...the idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory.

Well, it's undoubtedly true that some parties may have an interest in overstating the historical oppression of women, but to my understanding of history these words by Peterson seem as much an overstatement as what he is speaking out against!

On the subject of Peterson's version of Christianity we read:

Peterson has consistently refused to be pinned down on his personal religious convictions. When I pressed him on it, he described himself as a "religious man" who was "conditioned in every cell as consequence of the Judaeo-Christian worldview".  The closest I could get to whether he really believed in God was that he lives his life "as though God exists", saying "The fundamental hallmark of belief is how you act, not what you say about what you think".

In a world poised to react to information what one says is in itself an act. Therefore the acts vs words dichotomy is a distinction difficult to maintain.

However I was interested in this quote from one of his books:

"I knew that the cross was simultaneously the point of greatest suffering, the point of death and transformation, and the symbolic centre of the world"

...and that reminds me of something I wrote on pages 4 & 5 of this document

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Artificial Intelligence, Thinknet and William Dembski

If I'm right then those anticipated AI enabled super intelligences with huge AI resources
 and information at their disposal have arrived and they are walking our streets already!

I was intrigued to see a blog post by Intelligent Design guru William Dembski where he gave his opinion on artificial intelligence. This post can be found here:

I have always thought of Dembski as a nice Christian bloke, with some useful ideas. But he is a person who, in the minds of many, has been too closely linked with a vociferous right-wing anti-atheist anti-academic establishment Christian culture, a culture which I suppose in some ways is an function of the left-right polarization in US politics and culture. This may explain why a Mr. Nice Guy like Dembski has been unpleasantly abused by atheists.

Dembski's work has shown that the creation of life, whether via evolution or other means, requires a huge burden of information and this conclusion is undoubtedly correct (see here). But then even atheists like PZ Myers and Joe Felsenstein will tell us that evolution is not a purely random process (see here , here and here) and therefore by implication must somehow be tapping into a high level of background information. Moreover, Dembski's ideas, on his own admission, don't directly contradict standard evolution provided one admits that for standard evolution to work, it must be exploiting a priori information resources (See here).

But it wasn't just atheists who were to abuse Dembski. In 2016 (or thereabouts) Dembski was given his marching orders from South Western Baptist Theological Seminary (See here). He had proved too conservative for the "liberal" evangelicals at Baylor university and now too "liberal" for the fundamentalists. Of late he has been somewhat out in the wilderness, neither comfortably fitting in with liberal evangelicalism nor fundamentalist evangelicalism. There may also be signs that even the de-facto IDists aren't too happy with him. Fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham has waded into the anti-Dembski fray with his inimitable line of spiritual abuse; in Dembski's own words Ham "went ballistic" at some of Dembski's theology (But then Ham is in a constant ballistic state about Christians who don't agree with him ). True, some of Dembski's theology does seem a little novel but he's a brave and radical thinker who is prepared to stick his neck out and take the risks entailed by mooting new ideas; the person who doesn't make mistakes, doesn't make anything. Seek, reject and select; the subject of searching & rejecting, after all, is one of Dembski's major specialisms! Being in the trackless wilderness where you have little to loose can give one that edgy intellectualism.

However, the trail I personally have been lead down regarding the role of intelligence in our cosmos is a little different to that of Dembski's. I would characterize myself as an explorer of the notion of Intelligent Creation as opposed to intelligent design. Intelligent Creation eschews the IDist's default dualism which tends to revolve around a "natural forces" vs "intelligent agency" dichotomy. Intelligent Creation regards the processes of life creation as a form of cognition in action. In contrast de facto ID tends to treat intelligent processes as inscrutable, almost sacred ground and explicitly states that the exact nature of intelligence is beyond its terms of reference. In fact some IDists will say that the science of ID is largely about "design detection" and beyond this it has little to say. (See here). This policy, I think, in large part traces back to William Dembski's explanatory filter. This filter results in an epistemic which I have reviewed critically (See here). Roughly speaking this filter means that for the IDist "intelligence design" is a kind of default explanation whereby it is considered to be "detected" when the supply of all other ("natural") explanations is exhausted.

One of the consequences of Dembski's epistemological heuristic is that IDists have a tendency to regard the details of intelligence as beyond the pale of human reason and science; they think their work to be complete once intelligence agency has been identified and proceed little further. Another consequence is that they tend to see the input of intelligence as taking the form of injections of information that punctuate natural history, the origins of which are an enigma. Beyond claiming that these information injections are sourced in some inscrutable entity identified as "intelligence" de facto IDists are disinclined to comment further. Given all this it is no surprise that some IDists have welcomed Roger Penrose's proposal that intelligence, at least of the human kind, is an incomputable process. (See comment 4 on this Uncommon Descent post). If this is true then human intelligence has got its work cut out if it is aiming at self-understanding.

Although I think IDists should be trying harder to understand the nature of intelligence, nevertheless I would be the first to concede that human level intelligence (and beyond), either because of its sheer complexity or for other unidentified fundamental reasons, may be beyond human understanding. Since the target of human understanding is our own human intelligence we are, of course, talking about self-understanding; this is one of those intriguing self-referencing scenarios.  But in spite of a possible barrier to human self-understanding, in my Thinknet Project I'm proceeding under the working assumption that it is possible for the human mind to at least make some significant inroads to self-understanding, even if perhaps it proves it is not possible to arrive at a full understanding. However, although I'm very non-committal about how far my work on the natural process of human thinking can take me, it is very likely that the average IDist would look askance at this work because of de facto ID's commitment to the sacred and almost inscrutable role intelligence plays in their epistemic paradigm. Moreover, given the polarized state of the pan-Atlantic debate on the intelligent design question it may be that the average right-wing leaning IDist & borderline fundamentalist would see me as a lackey of the totally depraved academic establishment!

I was intrigued to see that in a digression in his post Dembski, unlike some other IDists,  rejects the idea that the human ability to understand Godel's incompleteness theorem suggests that human cognition is  an incomputable process. Dembski's digression may bear some resemblance to my own reasons for rejecting Godel's incompleteness theorem as proof that human cognition is an incomputable process. (See here for my reasoning). I won't take Dembski's digression any further here as I'm more interested in his belief that AI is unlikely to reach a human level any time soon. And that is what I will look at here.


In his post Dembski says this:

It would be an overstatement to say that I’m going to offer a strict impossibility argument, namely, an argument demonstrating once and for all that there’s no possibility for AI ever to match human intelligence. When such impossibility claims are made, skeptics are right to point to the long string of impossibilities that were subsequently shown to be eminently possible (human flight, travel to the moon, Trump’s election). Illusions of impossibility abound.

Nonetheless, I do want to argue here that holding to a sharp distinction between the abilities of machines and humans is not an illusion of impossibility.

I like Dembski's approach here: Unlike some of the right-wing IDists Dembski is tentative and he isn't burning his bridges: He's not arguing for the outright impossibility of human level AI. He's going for the weaker thesis that on the current evidence AI looks to be of a very different quality to human intelligence. On that weaker thesis, I have to say,  I probably agree with him. 

The argument Dembski develops goes something like this: Up until now all AI has been adapted to particular well defined problem areas, problem areas that are relatively easy to reduce to closed ended searches. But human intelligence is not restricted to the solution of well defined problems, problems specified in advance. Moreover, human intelligence cannot be modeled as an extensive library of searches managed and appropriately selected to match the problem in hand by some higher level of intelligence which Dembski identifies as a "homunculus" skilled at searching for the right search. For it seems that in human intelligence we are looking for a much more open ended ability, an ability which has the competence to move between problem areas which haven't been defined in advance and construct the search needed to solve the problem in hand. Originality, novelty and imagination are the watchwords for human intelligence. It is the competence to deal with this open endedness, something human beings are good at, which seems to be missing in current AI.

The general drift of Dembski's argument is probably correct. The highly generic catch-all nature of human level intelligence isn't found in an ability to rapidly traverse a well defined search space, but to make inroads to problems not yet conceptualized and this sets it apart from current AI. If I'm reading Dembski correctly then he saying that little progress has been made on the problem of being able to handle the generic problem. This looks to be true to me. And yet Dembski is characteristically and rightly tentative about his conclusion; for on the question of being able to program a general problem solver he says this (My emphasis):

Good luck with that! I’m not saying it’s impossible. I am saying that there’s no evidence of any progress to date. Until then, there’s no reason to hold our breath or feel threatened by AI. 

So, Dembski isn't saying that it is impossible to solve the problem of the generic problem solver, the solver who can solve cold problems; rather he is telling us that progress on this question isn't very noticeable. That question can in fact be expressed succinctly and equivalently as follows: Can the human mind understand its own processes of understanding? If so, then AI aficionados are in with a chance. But, as I once heard one AI expert say, our current attempts to create human level AI may be like a monkey climbing a tree and thinking it has made progress in getting to the moon; the sheer complexity of human cognition may yet confound the attempt. But then if the human mind is that complex, perhaps it is complex enough to wrap its mind around its own complexity!

The fact is we do not know whether the human mind is equipped to fully understand itself or not. It follows, then, that we don't know whether human level AI is attainable by human intellectual endeavor. Dembski. himself doesn't claim to be able to answer this question absolutely either way; he's just saying that a heck of a lot more work needs to be done if indeed this problem is humanly solvable. In that he's probably right.

But if the barrier to the creation of human level AI is sheer quantitative complexity (as opposed to some hidden in-principle impossibility) which requires centuries of work, we've got to make a start at some point and we may as well start now......


To this end my own attempts to address the AI question can be found in my Thinknet project. This project revolves around the gamble that associationism is the fundamental language with the potential to cover and render the whole of reality. This working assumption is in part based on my experience with my Disorder and Randomness project and the item-property model I employ there and which I picked up and used in my connectionist Thinknet Project.

My tentative thesis is that all search problems, or at least a wide range of search problems, can be translated into my item-property interpretation of connectionism and the searching of an association network. But having said that it is clear that to use this basic idea to build human level AI may still entail all but unfathomable construction complexities just as the relatively simple and elemental  periodic table is the first rung of the ladder on the incredible chemical complexity of life. Something of this potential complexity in cognition is glimpsed in part 4 of the Thinknet project 

And there is of course the big question of human consciousness. I hold the view that even the most sophisticated silicon-chip simulation of human neural-ware would not be conscious anymore than a near-perfect flight simulator can be counted as a flying aircraft. This is a point that philosopher John Searle makes with his Chinese room and beer-can arguments.  And yet I'm not persuaded by dualist ghost-in-the-machine ideas. I am much more inclined to believe that something about the way neural chemistry uses the fundamentals of matter has the effect of introducing conscious qualia into its otherwise formal cognitive structures.  In comparison silicon chip based computers, even though they may have the potential of simulating correctly much of the formal structure of human cognition, do not exploit the material qualities (as opposed to the formal structures) needed to bring about conscious cognition. I don't think I'm being very original in suspecting that those qualities have got something to do with the wave-particle duality of matter - something that the current "beer-can" paradigm of computing does not exploit.

So, if I am right then to create conscious human level AI one really needs to essentially copy the God-given cognitive technology we already have to hand and which is open to close scrutiny - namely, human (and animal) cognition. But if we did this and created human level AI it would really no longer classify as AI; it wouldn't be just a silicon-chip copy of the formal structure of human cognition, but also a copy of the material qualities of human cognition and therefore classify as RI - that is Real Intelligence.  Dembski himself may also be thinking along these lines when he says this:

Essentially, to resolve AI’s homunculus problem, strong AI supporters would need to come up with a radically new approach to programming (perhaps building machines in analogy with humans in some form of machine embryological development).

So, if and when we succeed in building human level AI we would have come full circle - we would effectively have manufactured a biological intelligence and reinvented the wheel. Yes, mimicking the right formal structures of Real Intelligence is a necessary condition for RI, but not a sufficient condition. For RI also requires those formal structures to be made of the right material qualities, qualities supplied by no lesser than the Almighty Himself. Matter, so called "natural" matter, is in fact a miracle - in a sense it is "supernatural" and therefore it is no surprise that it has some remarkable properties; such as the ability to support conscious cognition.

OK so let's assume that in the long run at least, we learn how to create beings of conscious cognition. Is it possible that they may have an intelligence that far exceeds our own?  Perhaps, but then there may be limits to the generic problem solving cognition which makes use of the item-property connectionist model (The IPC model). After all, for the IPC model to work as a problem solver it must first compile reality into the general cognitive language of the association network; this can only be done via a lengthy process of experience and learning. Like our selves an IPC "machine" would have to go through this learning process. Now, a learning process is only as good as the epistemology our world supports and only as good as the data that that world feeds learning. For example, a completely isolated super-intelligent IPC machine would learn very little and remain a super-intelligent idiot. Thus our budding super-intelligence can only learn as fast as the external world supplies data and that may not be very fast. Moreover, the data may have biases, misrepresentations and errors in it. To deal with this the super-intelligent IPC machine may have built into it some seat-of-the-pants hit-and-miss heuristics that in the wrong circumstances come out as spectacularly inappropriate biases. This all sounds very human to me. And while we are on the subject of the human, it may be that in our IPC machine we have to duplicate other advantageous human traits such as social motivations and community heuristics which would allow an IPC machine to benefit from community experience. But that comes with trade-offs as well: In particular, limits inherent in the data supplied by the community: Outsourcing cognitive processing to other members of a community comes with hazards: Perhaps our gregarious super intelligent machine may become a young earthist, Jehovah's witness or a flat earther! The take-home lesson here is that the epistemics of our world is such that a complex adaptive system like an IPC machine will necessarily have to engage in compromises and trade-offs inherent in seat-of-the-pants heuristics.

Another thing to bear in mind is that intelligent performance is a multidimensional quantity: There are different kinds of intelligence.  Some individuals can exceed in task X and yet be poor in task Y. This may be because it is not logically possible to be both good at X and Y; these tasks may have a logical structure which entails a conflict.

In summary: It may well be that our world puts limits on how intelligent an IPC machine can be.  In any case an IPC machine is likely to be slow because it takes time to render the world in terms of its highly generic associative language. And its store of knowledge will only develop as fast as learning allows; for this learning may be hamstrung by the rate at which our world supplies data.


If I may indulge in a little speculative futurology then my guess is that whilst successful human engineered RI  is possible (and will likely have the touch and feel of human thinking) there will be no AI take over. Rather what will happen is that humans (and perhaps human engineered IPCMs) will become more and more integrated with an extensive toolbox of specialized conventional AI applications.

Human intelligence (and perhaps even engineered IPCMs) will become the humunculus that Dembski talks of; in short AI will serve as an increasingly integrated extension of the human mind.  In many ways this is already happening. The average human who has access to a web connected desk top computer or an iPhone has at his disposal potentially huge information and AI resources. And maybe one day web connectivity will be directly connected to the brain surgically!  Web apps will do slave tasks that IPC cognition finds difficult because of the processing overheads inherent in the need to translate to the general IPC language.  But IPC will remain the core intelligence, effectively the managing humunculus spider in the middle of the web. If that "spider" happens to be a human engineered IPCM then I feel that necessarily it will display very human personal foibles and limitations as one would expect from what would essentially be a complex adaptive system placed in a world whose epistemic interface is such that it does always provide easy interpretation.

As far as processing and information resources are concerned the person connected to the internet has huge advantages over the disconnected mind; so much so that the connected person is effectively a genius in comparison!  For example, I don't use an iPhone and this means that when I'm out and about the bright teenager who walks past me in the street and who is a smart operator of his iPhone is, in comparison to myself, a super intelligent AI extended being! When he isn't viewing porn or playing computer games he can far exceed anything I can do intellectually! In one sense that AI super intelligence has arrived!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Thinknet Project Part 4

The forth part of my Thinknet Project can be downloaded from here. Below I reproduce section 11, a section which is about Intelligent Design a subject which is very relevant to this blog as I have posted so much on this contentious question.

 The other parts to this series can be picked up here:


11.  A note on Intelligent Design, specified complexity and information creation.

As we saw in the last section Thinknet is way of seeking and selecting the improbable, given certain input specifications, specifications realized as consciously stimulated patterns.  As with an internet search a Thinknet search has the potential for returning rare cases and this equates to improbable cases; that is, cases of high information

The de facto Intelligent Design community often talk about specified complexity and the impossibility of “natural processes” (sic) creating information, thereby implying that such are only available to an intelligent process. It is not always clear just what the de facto IDists mean by an intelligent process and by specified complexity. Also, it is not clear why “natural processes” (which for the Christian are processes created, sustained and managed by a “supernatural” God, so they are hardly “natural”) can’t create information; after all human brains presumably classify as “natural processes” and yet they seem to be able to create information. 

As we have seen in my Melancholia I project so-called “natural processes” can create information, especially if they have an exponentially expanding parallelism. The reason why macroscopic “natural processes” appear not to be capable of creating information is because:

a) They don’t often have this expanding parallelism and therefore generate information only slowly with the logarithm of time.
b) They don’t often have a teleological selection structure which clears away generated non-targeted outcomes. Therefore “natural processes” appear not leave the high information targets conspicuously selected.

Thinknet on the other hand, has both of these features. Viz:

a) An exponentially expanding parallelism is required to search the complex network of associations.
b) Thinknet has a built-in teleology which leads to the clearing away of outcomes which do not meet the target criteria.

If Thinknet is an indication of the fundamentals of human cognition then it follows that the human mind is a natural process which conspicuously creates information and targets it. This is not say that what we classify as non-intelligent processes don’t create information; as I have said above, they do, but not conspicuously because in many non-intelligent processes information is only generated in slow logarithmic time and also without selection. The latter in particular may explain why atheist world views tend to have a preference for information symmetry; the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics does entail exponentially expanding parallelism but it lacks asymmetrical selection of information, a trait which smacks of a teleologically interested intelligent process; the latter would of course be unacceptable to many atheists.

The Thinknet simulation does, however, throw some light on de-facto ID’s so called “specified complexity”.  In my simple Thinknet simulations two stimulated input patterns A and B are used to specify a sought for outcome in a similar way to an internet search. As we have seen, symbolically this can be expressed as:

[AB] => C

Input patterns such as A and B have zero information as they are from the outset known objects; that is, they have no Shannon “surprisal” value expressed by an improbability. But from the outset C is an unknown and in fact may be a member of very small class of objects which fulfill the conditional specifications A & B. Thus, C may have a high improbability implying that it is a high information object. The computational complexity of the outcome C is implicit in the symbols “[ ] => ”. These symbols represent the search needed to arrive at C. Since a Thinknet network presents a search problem whose computational complexity is an exponential function of the network penetration depth, then the operation symbolized by [ ]=> may embody a high computational complexity. If this high computational complexity is actually the case then we can say that C has a high specified complexity with respect to the specifications A & B.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Foundation of Morality

You can't feel others feelings and sensations; if you did "they" would be "you"! Instead the third
 person account of humanity only yields: a) behavioral patterns at the macroscopic level and b) 
complex dynamic molecular network at the microscopic level. 

I recently had a discussion with a Facebook friend (Chris Erskin - he's happy having his name published here) about the basis of morality. Although Chris is not an atheist (He is in fact a Christian) he is troubled by the question of what atheists base their morality on. Like myself he can't quite write-off atheism as a world view which necessarily leads to an amoral stance and he believes they do have grounds, even apparently without God, to behave morally. But if so, from whence does this morality come?  The following was Chris' opening gambit:

I am struggling to wrap my head around the atheist perspective of good and evil. If it is purely natural, as in a genetically evolved reflex or emotional response then how can it be said to exist at all? If it does exist then does it matter, if something that is said to matter is something that is of consequence. Nothing mankind does is of consequence as it it will all be forgotten and eventually destroyed. The only way I can see that it matters is if an atheist thought that we had transcended our nature somehow to achieve morality and that a good action remains a good action despite it being brief. That is hard for me to understand so any help?

True, atheism does have an abstract philosophical problem over the nature of morality; why should atheist behavior be constrained by anything other than a mere survival "ethic"But in spite of atheism's philosophical difficulties here, atheists themselves, on a practical level, can display exemplary morals by human standards. After all: 

13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:13-16)

But can we say more about conscience and those inner secret thoughts which give atheist and theist alike their hidden inner universal moral compass?  I believe we can.

Below I reproduce the discussion I had on the question with Chris E. But my own answers to this question depend on what I consider to be axiomatic; namely, that human beings have a private first person conscious perspective; without this axiomatic foundation the universal basis for morality disperses like an early morning mist; even for Christians. Having said that, however, I can't answer for those atheists* who attempt to deny the existence of consciousness and regard it as illusory. In fact Barry Arrington, supremo of the de facto Intelligent Design site Uncommon Descent, criticises atheist Sam Harris who, according to Arrington, claims consciousness is an illusion  Below I quote from Arrington's article (With my emphases):

Long time readers know we have occasionally indulged in Sam Harris fricassée in these pages.  See here, here and here for examples.  Harris is one of the leading proponents of the “consciousness is an illusion” school, which means he denies the Primordial Datum – the one thing that everyone (including Sam Harris) knows for a certain fact to be true — that they are aware of their own existence.  [See here for more on Harris' views on consciousness]

I agree with Arrington's objection. As Arrington says Harris will, in fact, know the Primordial Datum to be a self-evident reality; but of course, that doesn't necessarily stop him outwardly denying it as a reality. My own view is that even if we should have in our possession a complete neuro-molecular account of human brain functioning (an idea I'm actually in great sympathy with - I'm not a fan of ghost-in-the-machine dualism) it would still not do away with the first person conscious perspective - in fact it requires it. (See here for more on this subject. See also my footnote below on John Searle*). 

However, I depart from Arrington in his next comments:

That said, we will be the first to admit there is an integrity – of a sort – to Harris’ silliness.  He understands that his materialism precludes, in principle, the existence of immaterial consciousness, and so he denies consciousness exists.  Yes, I know, it is gobsmackingly stupid.  But at least it is an honest sort of stupidity.

Where I disagree with Arrington here is his implicit dualist ID mindset which envisages there to be a sharp dichotomy between the "immaterial" and the "material". It is this dichotomy which leads to de facto ID's self-inflicted philosophical fault line between intelligence and so-called "natural forces". In my view one can not separate cognitive self-awareness from the so-called "material" (Once again see here for more on this subject). I've taken de facto ID to task over this false dichotomy many times before on this blog so I will say no more at this juncture. That Arrington somehow perceives an honest logic in Harris' position is a sign that they share a Western dualist category system which sets "the supernatural" against "natural forces". 

Nevertheless, I agree with Arrington that Harris' position, if in fact he holds it, is gobsmackingly stupid; it is the self-beguiling of someone who is unwilling to accept something he knows not only to be true and but which also underwrites truth. For as Arrington suggests, Harris will in his heart of hearts be aware of the Primordial Datum; it is the starting point on which objectivity is rooted in as much as all observation of the objective must evidence itself via our first person experiences. Likewise, as I propose below,  it is also the corner stone of morality and one's secret moral compass within.  

Whatever an atheist like Harris may say in public, his morality, such as it is, only makes coherent sense if he believes the reality of other human beings to not merely reside in a facade of elaborate behavioral patterns registering in Harris' solipsistic interface of personal experience, but are also centers of conscious sensations of joy, pleasures and pains like himself. The occasional denial of the first person perspective may actually have its roots in anti-theism: For to admit that human beings have a first person perspective which necessarily doesn't and cannot figure in a third person account of human beings is uncomfortably close to theism's positing of a cosmically embracing divine first person perspective.

The contents below appeared on Facebook.


Hello Chris;

A rather long post I’m afraid. The contents here were destined for my blog, but I’ll lumber you with them as well. Below I take quotes from your post and interleave my own comments. 

The secret of morality (in my view) is that we see other human beings as having a first person perspective like our selves - that is, as entities with a consciousness of pains and joys etc. If we are well tuned into this empathetic extrapolation the feelings of others become our feelings to a greater or lesser extent. This is probably the basis of the Golden Rule (See James 3:9 and Romans 13:8-10) and also atheist morality. However, we have a big issue here. The third person (scientific) perspective only ever yields human beings as patterns of behavior and/or dynamic configurations of particles. Accordingly,  some people  (notably some atheists) have proposed that that sense of conscious feeling which is the basis of morality (that is, the first person perspective) is entirely illusory! It may be that these atheists feel uneasy about something which as far as science's third person language is concerned remains (by definition) unobservable and may look like the thin end of the theistic wedge. It is when one attempts to reduce the first person perspective to just a third person perspective that the meaning of morality becomes a problem. The two perspectives of the first and third persons must run in parallel for a meaningful morality to emerge. One needn't be a theist for this to happen. Take for example the atheist philosopher John Searle who acknowledges the first person point of view as an irreducible feature of our universe.**

QUOTE: I am starting to see I have stumbled on an area of philosophy that hasn't changed much in the last few hundred years with a consistent clash between free will and determinism. I think you are right to put the moral decisions of right and wrong within the gaps of the two greater theories but it also fairly unsatisfying! If free will is an illusion through biological evolution then so is the decision making process of moral law. The problem is then justifying through evolution alone the huge amount of resource of calories and blood that goes into making us under an unnecessary illusion of free will. UNQUOTE:

MY COMMENT: I have always had a major problem identifying a coherent meaning of the “Free will vs determinism” dichotomy. I’m neither denying nor affirming either side of this dichotomy – I’m just saying that neither are intelligible as concepts. For every finite pattern you observe there is at least one mathematical function of greater or lesser computational complexity which can be used to generate that pattern. Therefore because this kind of mathematical "determinism" is an almost trivial mathematical theorem it raises the question of just how useful “determinism” and its negation “free will” are as concepts. Patterns are just patterns with varying levels of mathematical tractability. Ergo, in my view, “determinism” and “free will” are both of illusory significance. If I may put it stronger; they are both bogus categories. Forget them.

QUOTE: The other end of the spectrum is the theist [does he mean atheist? Ed] that denies the physical attributes of consciousness who is also wrong. I see why you agree with Leighton in his middle ground. Yes biological evolution produces real free will (probably) and with free will comes an external understanding of empathy which can be used to want to buffer others experience of pain, as an example, as you would yourself. UNQUOTE

MY COMMENT: Well OK, let’s accept for the sake of argument that (constrained) evolution has generated entities called humans, entities which have the first person perspective of conscious cognition. Given the latter humans therefore have the potential to engage in a kind of empathetic projection which means they are able to identify one another also as centres of conscious cognition. This realisation, however, has amazing implications: It means that so-called “matter”, if assembled into the right configurations, results in the first person perspective of conscious cognition. This is an astounding property of matter for it suggests that the potential for conscious cognition and personality is an inherent and implicit property of matter.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think you are agreeing with me that the innate ability of human beings to project empathetically, thus enabling them to identify other humans as centres of conscious cognition, is an important precursor of morality. But if consciousness is an implicit property of matter (that is, matter in the right configurations) it follows that our taboo against obnoxious behaviour isn’t just a kind socially constructed rule that arbitrarily defines the category of “obnoxiousness”: This follows because the taboo actually has its origins in the fundamental character of matter and its implicit potential for giving rise to a social network of self-conscious beings who in turn have the potential to infer something about what one another are feeling. If the first person perspective and its potential for empathetic projection has its origins in particulate configurations of matter it follows that the fundamentals of morality also have their basis in our physical regime and not merely in social construction. This understanding should be no problem for a Christian because for the Christian the physical regime is God created and therefore it is no surprise that it has what in Western dualistic language would likely classify as something tantamount to a “supernatural” attribute; that is, the potential to generate the first person perspective of conscious cognition. No wonder some atheists find consciousness hard to stomach. 

QUOTE: I still think this middle ground lacks the explanation of moral law unless it can be reasoned as a sort of mutually developed group approval. Even in this case I would argue it is just the methodology behind an evolved mechanism and therefore holds little value as the thing by which we feel we understand values such as justice. The wrongdoer would just be someone who failed to have the genetic or social make up in which to maintain correctly the normal values that we assume within the culture. The truth that this isn’t the case is acted out constantly in people’s furious anger against those who they know to have done wrong. UNQUOTE

MY COMMENT: Although I think it’s true that morality does become socially embroidered with a lot of arbitrary rule driven complexity obeyed by way of rote rather like a computer following its program (especially in religion), I’m proposing that the underlying kernel of morality is based on the fact that matter has the potential to generate self-conscious cognating identities and with it the potential for empathetic projections to be made between those self-conscious identities. Thus it follows that what underwrites fundamental morality is not arbitrary social convention, but surprisingly, the fundamental physical regime itself which, of course, for the Christian is created, sustained and managed by God himself.

Human anger results when they believe that another centre of conscious cognition, of which it is assumed has the capability to make the right empathetic projection, nevertheless insists on engaging in offensive behavior which is careless of the feelings of others. In this sense the meaning of "sin", the word which appropriately has  the "i" in the middle, is clear, but there is an epistemic problem in identifying whether "sin" exists in particular cases. The epistemic problem is that a person’s offensive behaviour may have mitigating unseen circumstances like, for example, an autistic problem with identifying people’s feelings etc. But if one’s genetic makeup has given one the ability to make a correct empathetic projection and yet one still engages in offensive behaviour then sin is sin, even if it takes an omniscient divine perspective to identify its presence with certainty. It is an irony that what you identify as “genetic determinism” is the very thing which bestows the responsibilities of morality upon us: For surely it is the right genetic make-up which is required to generate the brain capable of giving us insight into the feelings of other minds and therefore the choice on how to respond to those inferred feelings. (Psychopaths may be deficient of the ability to empathetically project)

QUOTE: The response you would expect if it was merely a deviation from the expected behaviour would be more like - "Apologies we the majority have decided that your physical individual interpretation of morality does not fit in well with our society at this time. Despite the fact that it seems unreasonable to lock you up we have decided to take this course of action. We hold no hard feelings or ill will towards you as we understand you are only working with the confines of your genetics, your experiences and your ability to empathize" UNQUOTE

MY COMMENT: Yes and no. “No” because we’re not talking arbitrary social fiat here. For reasons I’ve already given fundamental morality has its basis in the fundamental character of matter and its God given potentiality to generate conscious personalities and by implication the potential for empathetic projection. And “Yes” because judging whether or not an individual has willfully neglected his/her capability for empathetic projection is, as I have already said, epistemically precarious. Hence human social justice, in my view, should err on the side of serving the role of pragmatic deterrence and restorative justice, rather than judging sin – the latter is God’s role not ours.

QUOTE: Instead now more than ever the response is fury and disgust at those that dare disagree with your world view. In this way I think they prove the belief in a right to hold others to a far higher account then merely the biological. UNQUOTE:

MY COMMENT: Ironically (in my view) it is the "mere" biological which gives us morality! That “higher account”, as you call it, is, I propose, found in the very low level details of created matter itself; to be precise (I suspect) the details of quantum biology. If true, what an irony!

 QUOTE: Leighton’s point that it isn't evidence of a higher being is probably true. Despite using Jesus summary of the entire Bible as evidence that we no longer need a higher beings morality. It does show that the idea of moral law itself could be part of the illusory sense developed. My point about the overzealous commitment of those willing to condemn others also works as well to prove that the higher moral law is an abstraction that solidifies conviction and doesn't necessarily make it more true. UNQUOTE

MY COMMENT: Evidence is always an interpretation; in the light of this understanding of what constitutes so-called “evidence”, it is awfully easy to interpret the fact that conscious cognition, personality and therefore morality are implicit in our physical regime as “evidence” of theism. After all, it suggests that conscious personality is a fundamental potential of the cosmos. It’s then a very short intellectual journey into the world of the anthropic principle and the question of theism! This may be why some, repeat some, atheists prefer to declare the first person perspective as an illusion in order to cut this dangerous line of thinking in the bud.


Let me finish by noting again the irony that the so-called  “higher law” of morality is in fact written into the very low level fabric of matter! Western philosophy is held back by a gnostic “spirit vs. matter” dualism which sees them as two very different categories. In Western thinking either one of these categories tends to be dominated by the other, perhaps leading one or the other being declared as unreal or unworthy: That is, atheists tend to declare the spiritual to be unreal and Christian Gnostics declare the material to be profane. This dualistic philosophy also holds back our church life with its modern stress on a quasi-gnostic rendition of Christian experience. This alienates many Christians whose faith isn’t just based on “wow!” experiences. To be frank I've never really developed any synergy or rapport with Western Christianity myself, so I know the feeling.

Christian scientist Denis Alexander is worth reading on this subject. Like myself he is not in favour of dualism. See:


* Atheist Daniel Dennett has also been accused of denying the existence of consciousness.  Philosopher John Searle says of Dennett's view:

To put it as clearly as I can: in his book, Consciousness Explained, Dennett denies the existence of consciousness. He continues to use the word, but he means something different by it. For him, it refers only to third-person phenomena, not to the first-person conscious feelings and experiences we all have. For Dennett there is no difference between us humans and complex zombies who lack any inner feelings, because we are all just complex zombies. ...I regard his view as self-refuting because it denies the existence of the data which a theory of consciousness is supposed to explain...Here is the paradox of this exchange: I am a conscious reviewer consciously answering the objections of an author who gives every indication of being consciously and puzzlingly angry. I do this for a readership that I assume is conscious. How then can I take seriously his claim that consciousness does not really exist?

** John Searle has been accused of sexual harassment. An accusation has surfaced that "Searle has had sexual relationships with his students and others in the past in exchange for academic, monetary or other benefits". It seems that when a pattern of such accusations emerge about influential males in high places we can safely conclude that there is no smoke without fire. It is ironic that in identifying the necessary precursor of morality (i.e. conscious cognition) Searle should show such a flagrant disregard for the feelings of those he has offended against.  Because philosophy tends to follow the vagaries of fashion, it is quite likely that Searle's behaviour has damaged his philosophy. More's the pity.