Saturday, January 13, 2018

Evolution: It's not just chance says PZ Myers!

A peepy eyed Myers dispenses his evolutionary wisdom

The above video was posted on PZ Myers blog here.  It is a useful resume of six basic points in the standard theory of evolutionary mechanisms as explained by Myers in his usual unanimated, deadpan puffy eyed, almost languid manner (I'm OK with that; content over style any day). In the second point of this video Myers stresses the chance component of evolution and contrasts this over and against "purpose". Well, I can't expect Myers, or any atheist for that matter, to take on-board purpose or teleology; for atheists dynamics is driven by law and disorder imperatives which push from behind and not teleological declarations which work from the front. Fair enough! However, when I first viewed this video I was immediately reminded of my recent two part critique (here and here) of "Intelligent Design" where I took the de facto IDists to task in their faux characterization of evolution as a process where the apparent design of living things is an illusion and that the illusion of design is explained by the working of random events (My emphasis). Myers, by exclusively emphasizing chance, was playing into the hands of the de facto IDists who (rightly) point out the cosmically unrealistic probability that life could come about as a product of chance. But as I pointed out in my two part series the established understanding of evolutionary mechanisms implicitly assumes that the process of evolution starts with a huge burden of information in the form of some kind of (non-teleological) constraint, most likely in the form of imperative laws within which the agitating random motions of evolutionary "searching" works. If this constraint exists, and perhaps it is implicit in the known laws of physics (?), then this constraint can be visualised as a network of fuzzy channels in configuration space, a network I call the spongeam. However, whether or not my picture of the spongeam is useful it seems from the comments left by atheist Joe Felsenstein in the following posts.....

.... that he agrees evolution can only work if its random selections are highly constrained to a very limited set of possibilities. Felsenstein believes this constraining factor is likely found in our physical regime, but he takes the matter no further than that, other than to say it's a question for physics, not biology. The point here, however, is as I stressed in my two part series that atheists like Joe Felsenstein do not accept de facto ID's straw man interpretation of evolutionary mechanisms which all but exclusively stress the random component, which, of course, could not by itself generate life with a realistic chance given the size and age of the cosmos. 

OK, so that brings us to a second video by PZ Myers. In this video he is largely responding to a comment to his first video by none other than Joe Felsenstein. This comment by Felsenstein reads as follows:

Joe Felsenstein
5 January 2018 at 7:52 am

Joe Felsenstein
Very good video, PZ, quickly killing off major misconceptions. I would just put one more point on the list for any similar video in the future. Creationists are always insisting on the point that evolution is “only chance”, so that they can then run around saying that natural selection is ineffective. So they’re happy to have “chance” be the main focus. I realize that you were aiming at believers in long-term cosmic guidance, but we also have to think of the misrepresentation of evolutionary biology as explaining remarkable adaptations by purely random wandering, a picture that just happens to leave out natural selection. As you know, that is used by creationist debaters to persuade gullible audiences that evolutionary biologists have no way to account for nonrandomly good adaptations (My emphases).

I agree, it's a good video where the absence of glitzy style helps one focus on useful content. Moreover, I would agree with Felsenstein's main point here:  Evolution can't work just by chance: If standard evolution is to have a cosmically realistic probability of generating life, the agitations of chance must be exploring a relatively tightly restricted space of options, a space narrowed down by some kind of constraint, spongeam, physical regime, laws of physics or what-have-you.... If this point is not emphasized enough then as Felsenstein points out "creationists" will latch onto the straw man depiction of evolution as mere random wanderings.

PZ Myers no doubt understands this, but nevertheless felt it necessary to echo and reinforce Felsebtstein's point in his second video which he posted on this blog entry and which I present here:

Peepy PZ gives us the evolutionary low-down

Myers is concerned that his videos are boring. Well, maybe he lacks the pzazz of some YouTube presenters, but nevertheless the videos are well constructed as far as content is concerned. Moreover, as far as style is concerned what could be funnier than Myers abrasive dry humour and "Don't give me sh*t" tired cynicism as the frizzen for America's ebullient authoritarian anti-science crackpots of unshakable confidence and self-belief! This is comedy that could only be sourced in the Divine mind!
Fundamentalist Ray Comfort: He's bananas


And now for some impressionistic reflections of a theological nature. 

Although I certainly agree with Felsenstein and Myers that the random agitations driving evolutionary diffusion are only effective if there is some kind of constraining envelope in configuration space, this constraint need not necessarily be a preordained imperative because from a theological perspective it could also be a teleological (declarative) constraint. I would be the first to admit, however, that in exploring this option I'm engaging in a highly speculative blues skies project that could well ultimately lead up the garden path. Fortunately, not being a partisan of any particular social group means I can afford to be a bit adventuress, tentative, exploratory and off-the-wall in my projects. In contrast I have really grown to dislike party-line pulling partisan polemics.

As I have said before given the known laws of physics there are, I suspect, simply not enough functional organic forms to populate configuration space with a spongeam sufficiently connected for it to be exploited by standard evolutionary diffusing mechanisms. In any case to me  (and admittedly this is only a hunch) quantum theory suggests that reality is potentially a very powerful search engine, an engine which combines both imperative constraint (quantum signalling cancels much unwanted randomness) and a potential for expanding parallelism. Also, the fundamental units of the cosmos (i.e particles) have very convenient "glue" or "fixing points" in the form of potential fields, as if it were some kind of elaborate construction set. Somehow, I guess, this quantum system is being used to search for organic solutions that are too widely separated to form an interconnected spongeam, although I'm not sure about some of the details of this search mechanism. But if this process is actually extant it would look like a form of evolution capable of relatively long distance hops.

Such a system would be "declarative" rather than imperative because its sheer processing power does not call for the front loading of imperative information as per standard evolutionary mechanisms. For apart from very general declarative criteria (such as survivability, self perpetuation etc) the exact form of its output would not be determined by information specified in advance, any more than the model manual for a meccano or lego set contain all the possible ways in which these construction sets can be used; such construction sets score because they embody potential rather than algorithmic imperatives about what to build. For example, I doubt it was ever purposefully conceived that wood, stone, grass, mud, and dung would one day be resources used by hunter gatherers for constructing bivouacs, or snow used by Eskimos to build igloos. Likewise, it is unlikely to have been purposefully specified in advance that silicon would one day be used to construct computers; if silicon didn't exist perhaps nano-engineered electromagnets or cogs would be used instead; intelligence sifts through the possibilities and improvises rather than designs strict imperatives in advance.  If the construction set has sufficient potential and the search engine sufficient power, constructive improvisations can always be found. 

How material resources are eventually used is not designed in advance but is subject to very generally formulated declarative purposes (such as a need for shelter) and then the seek, select and reject search engine of intelligence will do the rest.  Cognition with its array of general goals seeks, improvises and exploits the most unlikely resources. But for intelligence to successfully achieve its declarative goals the environment, although absent of constraining imperative information concerning those goals, must have the potential of a  huge implicit possibility space, a space which intelligence is free to explore. Given that the trials and errors in the use of material resources are part and parcel of the process of declarative discovery, it is all but impossible to say where sentience and insentience demarcate. 

Meccano Fullerene
So called Cosmic Fine tuning means that if a small arbitrary adjustment is carried out on the basic parameters defining the dynamic status-quo the current cosmos would never be generated or would fall apart. Fine tuning adjustment is a bit like changing the precision of the male to female lugs of a lego set; any such change would compromise the set's construction potential. However, if we continue to make an indefinite number of small adjustments then there may come a point where the construction set has morphed into something so different that once again it becomes a viable construction set in its own right (perhaps a meccano set!). It is fairly self evident, nevertheless, that the number of construction sets with creative potential are probably very thinly spread throughout the appropriate configuration space. Hence, hitting on a workable construction set by chance is going to be very small - too great a precision will be needed for such sets to come about randomly. Useful construction sets  are therefore likely to be spaced as are evolutionary solutions - namely, too far apart; that is, there is no spongeam for construction sets, either!  Although it seems that viable constructions sets are relatively few, wide apart and very varied, there is nevertheless a universal here: The method of searching is made by a "walk" of incremental adjustments. This ushers in the subject of quantum mechanics - something I am looking into elsewhere - which seems to be the universal search process! Perhaps even the universal cognitive process!

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Yet Again! De facto ID gets lost in the false dichotomy zone. Part 2

 From the comfort of his sumptuous leather clad chair IDiost and Lawyer Barry Arrington argues against Theistic Evolution. 

In part 1 of this two part series I looked at a post on the de facto Intelligent Design web site Uncommon Descent by "StephenB" (whom I call "B"). This post was another clear demonstration of de facto ID's paradigmatic dichotomy, a dichotomy which effectively posits an irreconcilable difference between "natural forces" and God "intelligent agency".

In this second part I will be looking at this UD post titled A Conversation With a Theistic Evolutionist. In this post UD supremo Barry Arrington imagines a conversation with himself and a Theistic Evolutionist. Particularly revealing was this bit of the "conversation" (My emphases):

IDist: Dawkins goes on to say that the impression of design by an agent is an illusion, because the apparent design of living things can be accounted for on the basis of blind natural forces.

TE: Yes, that’s what Dawkins says.

IDist: As a TE you essentially agree with Dawkins on this point.

TE: Correct. The appearance of design by an agent is an illusion. Darwinism is reductionist at its core. The properties of all living things (except the human spirit) can ultimately be explained by the operation of blind natural forces, which St. Thomas would have grouped in the category of “secondary causes” were he alive today. [Editor's note: I wonder if Arrington has ever read this from  Augustine: "When such a thing (a miracle) happens. it appears to us as an event contrary to nature. But with God it is not so; for him 'nature' is what he does." I think I'd follow Augustine here rather than Aquinas]

IDist: It seems that as far as material bodies are concerned (i.e., setting aside the human spirit) there is no daylight between your position and the position of someone like P.Z. Meyers, a radical atheist materialist reductionist. Am I wrong?

MY COMMENT: Yes, Mr. Arrington when it comes to real Theistic Evolutionists I think it is very likely you are wrong!  There's no telling where or from whom Arrington is getting his ideas, but I can say with fair confidence that Theistic Evolutionists such as Denis Alexander and John Polkinghorne are very unlikely to agree with Arrington's assertion that evolution ("Darwinism" sic) is driven by the operation of "blind natural forces" and that the appearance of design is an illusion. As I made clear in these posts here and here, Denis Alexander simply doesn't accept "blind natural forces" as a valid category for an evangelical Christian. And I agree. 

As we saw for B in part 1, "blind natural forces", as a conceptual category, largely resides in the imaginations of IDists like Arrington (something they may have in common with Richard Dawkins). It is even doubtful that Arrington is speaking for an atheist like Joe Felsenstein who, as I made clear in part 1, certainly doesn't see evolution as being a blind random process, but highly constrained by the laws of physics, a constraint he believes gives evolution its realistic probability. 

Arrington goes on to quote Christian TE Stephen Barr who attempts to make a distinction between "horizontal randomness" and "vertical randomness". This is how Arrington tries to explain Barr's views:

You see, a process that to us appears to by haphazard and random may actually at a deeper ontological level be the product of design. In Chance, By Design, Stephen Barr argued that “horizontal randomness” should be distinguished from “vertical randomness.” Horizontal randomness is what we perceive empirically. If I roll fair dice fifty times, each roll has a 1/6 chance of being 7. But at a deeper level, what Barr calls “vertical randomness,” God can fix the game so that the roll comes up 7 as many times in a row as are necessary to accomplish his purposes. Therefore, if the dice come up “7” 50 times in a row, the series of rolls nevertheless remains the product of a stochastic process. This is “horizontal randomness.” But God willed the result in an empirically undetectable way to come out as it did (“vertical randomness”).

MY COMMENT: I can't vouch as to whether or not Arrington represents Barr fairly here. This is Arrington's interpretation of Barr and frankly it's a complete mess. If two die came up with 50x7 one might just start to wonder if there is some kind of systematic constraint on the dice. But whether one wanted to seriously pursue this hunch would depend on further observations on the dice. Ergo, what Arrington claims to be empirically irrelevant isn't the case. However, dice generating 50x7 is one thing, but life emerging from a background of pure randomness is quantitatively, in terms of improbability,  in another realm altogether. 

Arrington appears to be telling us that TE, as he conceives it, is just a matter of God contriving the necessary number of improbable events needed for life to emerge from a sea of randomness. His conception of TE is that empirically it looks to be just an almighty fluke and nothing more, but in the background God is fiddling the statistical books. Arrington thinks that with this conception of TE we can't be absolutely sure about God's statistical fiddling because in absolute randomness the emergence of the organised patterns of life is possible even if highly improbable. But the irony is that this divine interference with the statistical books, or whatever is the origin of the bias, is detectable with a fair probability: If we use Bayes theorem at this point the evidence points to the probability that the process has been rigged or skewed in someway - contrary to what Arrington says it is therefore detectable in a probabilistic sense.  

Arrington's concept of TE looks most unlike that of Christian evolutionists such as Denis Alexander and John Polkinghorne, or even atheists like Joe Felsenstein and Tom English. As we saw in part 1 Felsenstein would claim that the cosmic physical regime contains implicit information so as to systematically slant natural history in favour of evolution; that is, it is not a random fluke. (Although the origin of this information is left unsaid by Felsenstein). 

The above quote from Arrington really reflects the de facto ID community's fixation that evolution is a random and "blind natural process", a fixation encouraged by their philosophical dualism which in turn influences their dualist epistemic, an epistemic which forces a choice between "natural forces" and God "intelligent design".

But what does Barr say?  Arrington quotes Barr as follows:

By itself, the doctrine of divine providence only tells us that everything unfolds in accordance with God’s plan. It does not tell us what that plan is, either in its general features or in its particular details. It does not tell us the mix of law and chance, or of necessity and contingency, that God chose to use in his plan. Evolutionary history may have unfolded entirely in accordance with natural laws, natural randomness, and natural probabilities, as the great majority of biologists believe, or there may have been some extraordinary events along the way that contravened those laws and probabilities. In either case, evolution unfolded exactly as known and willed by God from all eternity.

MY COMMENT: On the basis of this quote alone I would say that Barr doesn't display Arrington's fixation with randomness and "natural forces". Barr is saying that God could have created life via the standard concept of evolution which calls on both law and disorder to work. But Barr also admits that there may have been some extraordinary divinely ordained events along the way that contravened those laws and probabilitiesThe irony is that the latter sounds more than a little like the de facto IDist's design interventions! But note that here that Barr doesn't claim these extraordinary events are somehow a manifestation of a "natural" random process! I suggest that the concept of "natural" in de facto ID is a figment of a dualist imagination. 

By way of commentary on Barr, Arrington continues by putting his words, his categories, his arguments and his reasoning into the mouth of his imaginary Theistic Evolutionist, thereby contaminating the argument with his dualism and therefore, as we shall see in due course, arriving at a paradox. I have added my emphases in the following quote: 

Barr says God willed events to happen such that the biosphere as we now see it arose no matter how statistically improbably those events might be.
 Another way of looking at it is that as the title of Barr’s article suggests (Chance, By Design), what appears to us to be random is actually, at a deeper level, designed. 
That puts the TE in a peculiar position..... [becuase] the TE says that the apparent design of living things is an illusion. 
He also says that the illusion of design is explained by the working of random events and mechanical processes, i.e., reductionist Neo-Darwinian processes.
But then the TE goes a step further and says that the “random” processes at work in the Neo-Darwinian process are actually “random” only from our horizontal perspective. From God’s vertical perspective they are not random at all. They are infallibly willed, and another way of putting that is from a vertical perspective the events are designed to occur, no matter how improbable they appear to us.
 So the TE says that the appearance of design is an illusion, and the reality that explains the illusion is random natural processes. 

MY COMMENTIn the above quote Arrington makes much of his belief that Theistic Evolution entails that the apparent design of living things is an illusion and that the illusion of design is explained by the working of random events. Arrington simply reiterates his view that Theistic Evolution is a case of randomness coming up with improbable outcomes by divine design, a view which, as I have said, would normally trigger a Bayesian based investigation as to whether pure randomness is actually operating in such a case.

I have to add my usual disclaimer that I can't answer for Barr, but it is apparent here that Arrington has no concept of how standard evolution would have to work. Like any serial seek, reject and select algorithm a practical realization of evolution would require a considerable burden of up front information in order to secure a reasonable probability of success; it does no justice to this necessarily highly constrained process to refer to it only as "random events". As I have repeatedly said, an atheist like Joe Felsenstein clearly understands this, although he would be diffident about the origin of this information. Moreover, as we have seen Arrington certainly doesn't answer for Theistic Evolutionists like Polkinghorne and Alexander. 

Finally Arrington says this:

But the reality that explains the illusion is itself an illusion, because from God’s perspective what appears to be the product of random processes is in fact designed.

So the reality behind the illusion is itself an illusion, and the ultimate reality behind that illusion is what you declared to be the initial illusion. If “design” is the ultimate reality would it not be more parsimonious to simply affirm it from the outset?

MY COMMENT:  Here we have Arrington's paradox: On the grounds that he thinks of evolution as a predominantly "natural" random process Arrington stuffs into the mouth of his imaginary TE the phrase "the appearance of design is [therefore] an illusion!". He then goes on to say that this illusion is itself an illusion because God is behind the scenes contriving (i.e. designing) an improbable set of outcomes to emerge from randomness. So, the TE conceived by Arrington is both random and not random!  This incoherent mess is largely sourced in Arrington's and other de facto IDist's 'imaginations; it is a straw man concept of Theistic Evolution.  

The problems go back, I submit, to Arrrington's idea of randomness as a "natural force". As we have seen a Christian evangelical and Theistic Evolutionist like Denis Alexander (rightly) doesn't recognize such a notion as "blind natural forces". As for the concept of randomness itself I doubt Arrington has the first clue what it really means: As we have seen in part 1 true randomness is beyond human resources to design: That requires divine resources! In short randomness is as designed as it comes!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Yet Again! De facto ID gets lost in the false dichotomy zone. Part 1

It's been sometime since I've critiqued a post on the "Intelligent Design" web site "Uncommon Descent". There is probably little more I can say about the their dualistic "natural causes" vs. supernatural causes "Intelligent Design" paradigm. However, these two posts on UD here and here are such classic illustrations of de facto ID's  dualist tradition that I've just got to comment on them.  The first post is by someone  called "StephenB". (I have commented on his dualism before)  and the second post is by Barry Arrington. I will look at B's post here and Arrington's post in Part II.  


Before I start just a word or two about my own take on evolution. Evolution, in so far as it describes a natural history of life, is a settled science, so settled that many IDists of the Uncommon Descent persuasion would likely agree that the natural history of life isn't in question; the question is over the mechanism of change. In fact even an evangelical atheist like Larry Moran makes heavy weather of the actual processes driving natural history (See here and here). So, the only people left out in the cold when it comes to natural history are the toy town religious fundamentalists, Christian and Muslim. 

Any pattern generator (such as physics or a computer algorithm) has to start with an irreducible kernel of information; this kernel of "brute fact" information resides in the algorithms of the pattern/configuration generator.  Hence, even if the cosmos has the kind of physical laws which have the efficacy to generate the configurations of life with a realistic probability, there would still remain a big question as to the origin of this information kernel. So, given the inevitability of this Grand Logical Hiatus I suppose it's not completely unreasonable for theorists such as we see at UD to posit that certain aspects of bio-structures weren't generated by physics but instead are part of a more general inevitable logical hiatus which at some point must be acknowledged as the a-priori conceptual foundation of the cosmos.  For IDists, then, there is, as it were, a logical "edge" or "gap" in biology just as there is an inevitable logical gap in fundamental physics. 

Along with the IDists at UD I'm backing the horse that the cosmos has its origins in an a-priori intelligence. However, my own avenue of exploration is not the intelligence-of-the-gaps approach, but something I call intelligent creation. This notion identifies the processes of physics as part and parcel with the intelligence that creates designs. I'm not defending this notion of mine in this post; it is a highly speculative idea I am developing elsewhere

But I suppose it’s not unreasonable for Christian theists to entertain as a possibility that a grand logical hiatus (perhaps more than one!) is not only found in the generating algorithms of physics but also in the self-replicating, self perpetuating processes of life. Therefore I'm not unsympathetic to the "God-of-the-Gaps" biology at UD even if I think it unlikely; after all, I myself am pursuing the idea that mind is an a-priori phenomenon and therefore it seems just possible, from this perspective, that the biological "gaps" are there to be accepted as brute fact as are the equations of physics. But having said that, I have to acknowledge that I'm not a biologist: For a biologist with a knowledge of the evidence, the notion that some evolvable general purpose replicator is a given might be like postulating that star-light is created in transit (an assertion heard too often from the anti-science fundamentalists). Nevertheless, I am potentially sympathetic to god-of-the-gaps ID.  I'm afraid to say, however, that the de facto-IDists at UD have squandered my sympathy: I am now not sympathetic. The two posts I will be reviewing show just how much the IDists at UD are screwing up their own case.


Ostensibly B's post is an attack on the concept of Theistic Evolution as promoted at the Biologos web site (Started by Christian evangelical Francis Collins). Now, I can't speak for Biologos, but we don't need to know about Biologos to observe B's dualistic mind set at work. Below I quote his post and interleave my own comments.

Rather than sit at the feet of nature and learn her secrets, [Biologos] try to remake her in the image of their faith commitment. For them, there is one a-priori truth that must never be denied: God used the random mechanism of Darwinian evolution to produce His intended outcome of homo-sapiens. This absurd proposition, which defines the entire BioLogos project, is a direct assault on reason itself. Only a designed or purposeful process can produce a specified outcome; a random process can produce only indeterminate outcomes (surprises).

MY COMMENT: Firstly let's get a handle on the nature of randomness. In my book on Disorder and Randomness I define randomness as a pattern where all small space short time algorithms (Or SSST algorithms) which attempt to predict the pattern return a maximally disordered hit sequence. But there is a practical problem with this theoretical definition. The set of small space short time algorithms is just too big for us to be ever sure that there isn't some SSST algorithm out there which returns a better than random hit sequence. The best we can do is to test a pattern with our own limited algorithmic resources. Bearing this feature of randomness in mind it is just conceivable that there are unknown SSST algorithmic event generators behind "the random mechanism of Darwinian evolution" of which we are totally unaware. I don't think this is a likely scenario myself, but we need to proceed bearing this obscure possibility in mind. 

What B is effectively thrusting into the mouths of Biologos probably has less to do with Biologos than his subculture’s understanding of evolution. He portrays Darwinian evolution as a "random mechanism" without any further qualification. But this straw man resides purely in B's imagination and has little to do with Darwinian evolution as properly conceived. Darwinian evolution, if it is to work, cannot be just a "random mechanism" in spite of what IDists like B
 (and some atheists!) are claiming.

See the following posts where I consider the ideas of atheists Joe Felsenstein and Tom English. It is clear that it is far from Felsenstein's and English's minds that evolution is just a "random process". In fact Felsenstein obviously understands that the randomness in evolution plays out within a highly constrained process, where the origin of the constraints on this process, he says, is a question for physics. 

Felsenstein vs. Dembski
Felsenstein and English vs. Dembski, Ewart and Marks

Once again I must reiterate my usual disclaimer: I don't necessarily accept the standard account of evolutionary mechanisms. All I am saying here is that B thoroughly misrepresents that account.

A practical example should make the point clear:

[a] Designed process: I load the dice such that the number 7 will appear with every roll.. In other words, when I throw the dice, I can guarantee the outcome because it is the only one that is possible—all others have been closed off. If I had not closed them off, I could not guarantee the result.

[b] Random process: I use fair dice, in which case there are eleven possible outcomes. This is an open ended process that will allow any number from 2 to 12, including 7, to appear. On any given roll of the dice, I cannot guarantee that I will get 7 because I did not close off all of the other possibilities.

It is, therefore, logically impossible for any Creator, human or divine, to guarantee an outcome using a non-interventional, random process. In effect, Theistic Evolutionists violate the law of non-contradiction by trying to have it both ways: When they speak of God’s providence, they claim that evolution is purposeful, but when they speak of the process itself, evolution is random.

MY COMMENT:  Contrary to what B claims in the above quote one can have it both ways. An algorithm can usefully be a blend of predictability and unpredictability. For example take the diffusion equation. Viz:

The first term on the right hand side of this equation represents the dynamics of random walk. The second term on the RHS (the potential term) has the effect of putting a constraint on this walk. It is the information in this constraint which determines the probability of interesting configurations coming out of the mix. (This is not to say that I think this is how evolution happened). 

What the above equation tells us is that a process can be both usefully random and usefully ordered at the same time. We could simulate  the above equation on a computer in order to solve certain kinds of problem; the whole thing would then be a product of purposeful design and simply doesn't fit in either of B's polarized categories. In effect B violates the law of coherent thinking with his dichotomous views. 

Moreover, according to my proposed definition of randomness. it is a pattern which can be just as much a purposeful & designed "interventional" (sic) pattern as any other pattern: it's just that random patterns lie outside the computational resources of SSST algorithms. 

The broader point is that they have a firm and non-negotiable starting point. An omnipotent God, we are told, would never design nature by progressive stages since He could easily program nature to “create itself.” Thus, ID’s scientific evidence, which allows for a tweak or two, is inadmissible because it makes God busier than He needs to be.

This is nonsense because any world view is equally vulnerable to these kinds of speculations. One could just as easily argue that evolution is false because an all-powerful God doesn’t need to wait billions of years to achieve His goal. Note, also, that God spoke to the BioLogos Community about this matter many years ago: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding.”—Job 38:4

MY COMMENT: I might not disagree with B here (although B could be misrepresenting Biologos). In trying to anticipate just how a divine intelligence might operate, then without further evidential revelation, who knows how that intelligence might work; perhaps via a purposefully designed mix of order and disorder where V(...) in the above equation is the given, or perhaps by designing a general purpose evolvable replicator. Or perhaps there is something else we haven't thought of, such as a hidden SSST algorithm.  But without that further revelation I have spoken of it is difficult to have any a-priori opinions on this matter.

Still, it is the unfailing faith in Darwin’s random mechanism that drives the BioLogos project. Occasionally, someone in the that camp will begin to sense the absurdity of it all and search for ways to bridge the gap between chance and purpose, following the lead of “divine action” theologians.

MY COMMENT:  We see here the same old fallacy driving B’s thoughts. Evolution as a "Random Mechanism". 

Yes, they say, the evolutionary process is random, but perhaps God provides the needed direction by tweaking it behind the scenes through trillions upon trillions of quantum events. Remarkable! They rejected ID’s hypothesis because it allows for a small number of tweaks, and now they have God tweaking every nanosecond. Already, they have forgotten about their impertinent command to God: Thou shalt use secondary causality and nothing else.

MY COMMENT:  I can't get into arguments between Biologos and UD about the "number of tweaks" God is supposed have used. But the point I would like to make here is this: Even if God should use secondary causality and nothing else, then according to my understanding of theology that still entails trillions upon trillions of tweaks because secondary causality simply won't work without continuous divine sustenance and direction.  Christian evolutionary biologist Dennis Alexander makes this point well in his book, a book I review here and here. So whether you believe that providence designed physical laws with the efficacy to generate life with a high probability or if you believe that well-designed  evolvable general replicators were the fundamental givens, either way trillions of trillions of divine "tweaks" everywhere and everywhen is theologically entailed. Thus, either scenario makes little difference in this respect. 

BTW the way, notice the theological intimidation used by B here. Biologos stand accused of the blasphemy of giving impertinent commands to God. I'm more used to this sort spiritual bad mouthing from fundamentalists like Ken Ham

They have also forgotten something even more important. If God must tweak or steer a “random” process to keep it on course, then God, not the process, is calling the shots; the process has merely come along for the ride and plays no role in the outcome. But according to Neo-Darwinism, it is the natural mechanism, acting alone, that determines the outcome. That is why BioLogos members refer to the “science” of evolution and rhapsodize over the “beauty” and “creative wonders” of natural selection.

MY COMMENT: Here we go again with the dualistic ID paradigm: Viz "Natural mechanisms" are contrasted  over and against God's action as if the natural world has a life of its own apart from God's sustaining and directing power. If you are a Christian theist this idea of “natural processes” acting alone should be anathema. No process can act alone: A process may act according to some algorithmically controlled flow; but as we know algorithms need a substrate to maintain and guide them - namely, computer hardware. Algorithms don't "naturally" run themselves as processes divorced from a controlling machine. Likewise it is theological nonsense (except for atheists who don't believe in God) for a Christian to talk of "natural mechanisms" in contradistinction to "divine interventions". B is starting to speak like a gnostic dualist!

Clearly the BioLogos project is a program of unjustified assumptions and irrational claims. Whether their mixed messages are intentional or not, the facts remain: They use the language of design, teleology and purpose, but they argue for chance, randomness and chaos. I encourage everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, to reject this unprecedented assault on reason and common sense.

MY COMMENT:  Once again I can't answer for Biologos here and comment on whether, like B, they hold in their minds incoherent dichotomies such as natural mechanisms vs divine interventions. However, I encourage everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, to reject B's unprecedented assault on reason and common sense with his woolly, incoherent, dichotomised thinking. 


You may be a young earth creationist who believes the cosmos was spoken into existence  by words of magic 6000 years ago; you may believe that evolution's constrained trial and error searching method is contrary to divine morality; you may believe that God injected the information needed to for biological replicators every now & then via a long natural history of design innovations; you may believe that sufficient providentially supplied  information is present in our current physical regime to generate life according to conventional evolutionary theory; or you may believe that some underlying SSST is doing it all.  But whatever creation narrative strikes your fancy we know that B's sloppy characterisation of evolution as a "natural" random process and his dualistic gnostic categories are completely misleading..

Friday, December 08, 2017

Beware: Anti-Science Mind at Work

Don't bother to argue with this guy: He's not likely to understand and will just 
repeat the same old faux pas.

In a blog post about fossil bones dated 7th December fundamentalist salesman and theme park manager Ken Ham repeats to himself the same old "You weren't there!"canard encapsulating the essence of his anti-science delusions; although it is probably a fair conclusion that he succeeds in suckering his customer base.

In his post, as is the wont of anti-science fundamentalism, Ham focuses on the epistemic problems which science inevitably faces but which, as we know all too well, warms the heart of fundamentalists. They are as a class well and truly alienated from the academic establishment and any discomfiture of academia goes down well with them. The particular scientific epistemic difficulty that is the subject of Ham's post is the interpretation of scratch marks found on some fossil bones.  Here's Ham's key passage: 

Therein lies the problem with historical science — we weren’t there! Historical science isn’t directly testable, observable, or repeatable because it deals with the past (history) and we weren’t there to observe what happened. But there was someone who was there, our Creator God, and in his Word, he revealed to us what happened in the past. We can use the history in God’s Word—in particular a 6,000-year-old universe, a global Flood, and the events at the Tower of Babel—as a framework for understanding the world around us. 

To a mind like Ham's "being there" solves all the epistemic problems! But he fails to see that we are dealing with a continuum rather than a fundamental distinction of type and he cannot see that there is an underlying commonality which means that all science is at once both observational and yet historical. It's a matter of degree: All information about the world, whether via the Bible, documents, telescopes, microscopes and what have you arrives at our door via signals, signals that need interpreting; it's just that some objects are closer to us and provide more prolific and reliable signals than other objects separated from us by a greater distance in space and time*. There is also a more abstract "distance" set up by the logical complexity of the object being studied; the more complex a phenomenon the greater the difficulty in drawing conclusions.

Ham cannot see that there is one category here rather than two ("Two" as per his "Historical science vs observational science" dualism).  I can't expect someone like Ham to take this on board even if he was willing. For example, to his mind "technology" is all about the here and now - that is about "observational science" rather than "historical science". But of course to trouble shoot complex technologies (e.g. aircraft) and to get them to work requires the input from a history of tests and historical accounts. The complexity here entails that logical distance I have already spoken of. And if he thinks that complex technology provides readily repeatable conditions then it is clear that he really knows little about the subject. Technology doesn't come more repeatable, deterministic and "here & now" than software and yet we have no general way of proving a program's correctness! Testing complex software depends very much on keeping an eye on its history.

In one sense we are never there! We might be closer or we might be further away from some object under investigation, but we are never absolutely there! We see the whole world through an interface of duly arrived signals of which we are invariably obliged to make assumptions about their rational integrity. This rational integrity is always vulnerable to the pathological logic of wackaloons. Ham's motive for attempting to draw a bogus distinction between science that is somehow based on direct observation and science that comes out of interpretation is an attempt to give outright justification for his attack on the sciences of natural history, archaeology and geology and thereby offer credence to the notion that he isn't a complete anti-science Luddite.

I've posted on this subject many times before: See here for example. 

Ham isn't the brightest bulb in the box; but that is both the cause of his failing and of his success: It is a failing because he'll never make it as clever science buff able to speak to the academic community on their own level; the best he can do is spiritually intimidate and dominate a few tame scholars. But it is also his success because he speaks the language needed to pass on his delusions to a technically challenged customer base and present fundamentalist "science" in terms they understand and will readily purchase.

* There is an intriguing self referencing phenomenon here. When Isaac Newton investigated the propagation of light he was of course using the signals delivered by light to his eye in order to study light. That is, light signals are needed to investigate light signals.  In order to carry out a successful and meaningful investigation of light certain initial assumptions have to be made about the nature of light. These initial assumptions are needed to bootstrap a successful investigation which further refines our concept of light. We have to assume that our world is rational enough to point us in the right direction in the first place; that is, it has a "self reinforcing" rather than contradictory form of self reference.  Similar considerations of self reference were mentioned in this post.

The following link contains some comments on the notion that fundamentalists see the world through a purely biblical lens:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Fascist Fantasy Land; Why Conspiracy Theorism Doesn't Work

I first saw the above elaborate schemata on PZ Myers' blog -  see here. According to Myers it's the world view of a website called MAGAPILL. But given that we are dealing with the internet here, one must approach this bizarre material bearing in mind Poe's law. In what follows, however, I am proceeding under the assumption that we here a genuinely held world view.....

The diagram above merges many observable aspects of our social world into one grand slam conspiracy theory. This comprehensive theory interprets ostensible features of Western society as the superficial and misleading manifestation of an underlying matrix like reality; in fact "The Matrix" (as in sci-fi film) is exactly what they liken it to. The creators of the schemata probably see themselves as the heroes of the story, heroes who have discovered the "matrix" and have broken the code of its sham facade. It's no surprise that we are dealing with Trump supporters here. Trump is a man with a tenuous connection with reality but who explains away any consequent intellectual dissonance using his talent for apportioning blame and his belief to be a victim of an institutionalized facade of disinformation and "fake news"; this is prototypical conspiracy theory. Trump, apparently, was pleased that MAGAPILL praised him for his accomplishments.

If you look at the above picture you can read about false flag terrorism, earthquake machines, classification of patents threatening the industrial status quo, displacement of helpful natural compounds with harmful controlling synthetics, weakening the nutritional value of crops with GM, weaponizing vaccinations and viruses, and a whole lot more. All in all it's very Alex Jones-esque!. However, I haven't found any mention of flat earthism, contrails, and the moon landing hoax! But they could be in there somewhere! Also, I can't see anything like David Ike's lizard conspiracy. That may be because mainstream conspiracy theorists don't believe David Ike to be a random crackpot but instead a false flag conspiracy theorist working for the Illuminati and out to discredit conspiracy theorism! For the hardened conspiracy theorist big events which turn on random causes or the work of a lone crackpot don't figure strongly in their world view. For the addicted conspiracy theorist big events are not meaningless but must fit into a comprehensive and covert background of malign grand purposes.

The above picture portrays a world which is in the controlling hands of criminal secret societies, some of whom have an official front. Life, they tell us, isn't what it seems: Rather it's a much more exciting affair of heroes against cloak and dagger Machiavellians. These clever and brave heroes have unraveled the secret code of reality and blown away its covers. Like Neo in The Matrix and Donald Trump they are in a battle of good vs. (hidden) evil.  On the other hand is it as PZ Myers says "a warped and dangerously demented perception of reality"? I know what I think! A mixture of suspicion, self aggrandizement and a sense of having solved a riddle thus giving meaning to life are at the heart of the motivations for conspiracy theorism. 


One way to discredit a movement is to draw parallels with the fascists and Nazis and that is exactly what I'm going to do here.  In fact it's not a stretch of the imagination to find commonality between the people who fall for grand conspiracy theorism and the Nazis of prewar Germany; after all, the Nazis bought into paranoid fantasies which they believed to be the underlying social reality; namely, that rich Jewish financiers were pulling the strings of Western societies, causing poverty and wars. More generally the Jews were likened to an infestation of over breeding rats. The Nazis also promoted historical fantasies regarding the superior origins of the Aryan race and some, such as Himmler, mixed these ideas with fanciful occult mysticism*.  The emotional need which help maintain these fictions was found in racial pride and social paranoia. So, the parallel I'm drawing here between Nazi philosophy and modern grand conspiracy theorism is that they both see the world through a delusional filter egged on by a combination of ego, narcissism, fear and insecurity. The Nazis also provide a lesson in what a real controlled society actually looks like; it looks nothing like the covertly controlled society of the conspiracy fantasists whose theories are dependent on the postulation of secret and unseen societies of Illuminati pulling the strings behind the scenes: For unlike these secret societies of grand conspiracy theorism the fascists were hardly a secret - far from it; their existence and the overtly brutal means by which they controlled  society were all too evident!

The human mind is an highly imaginative cognitive machine; it has to be to "read between the lines" of direct experience and interpolate meanings in order to build up a picture of the complex reality behind the ostensible. It does this by joining the observable data dots into theoretical narratives. But the epistemic challenge is that it is not always possible, especially when it comes to social reality, to formally and rigorously construct one's theories in a systematic scientific way. When it comes to social reality the human work-a-day epistemic is necessarily a very seat-of-the-pants affair. There is little choice for it to be otherwise because an uncontrolled stream of social data flies by daily at a rate of knots, quickly becoming history and leaving nothing but conclusions drawn on the hoof, largely unconsciously. But where the real problem lies is less in a necessarily flaky epistemic but in the unconsciousness of the precarious foundation on which this creative process rests. This is especially so when allied to a human need to act with conviction; in fact sometimes with utter confidence and decisiveness on its otherwise flaky world view. The heuristic behind this behavior may be that bad conclusions are more profitable than no conclusions at all. Perhaps it's a bit like playing a lottery: If you put an investment into a long shot there is a chance you will get some big wins; but then who can calculate the bottom line which is the balance of costs and benefits?

The grand conspiracy world view envisages a society which behind the scenes is highly organised and centrally controlled (albeit in a very malign and manipulative way) thus effectively positing a potentially knowable social world. For the grand conspiracy theorist very little of importance happens in society which is haphazard, random or a product of internal chaos. The grand conspiracy theorist believes that grandiose and purposely contrived Machiavellian themes run throughout society and these themes largely explain its ostensible features.  Little or no cognizance is taken of the chaotic wild card effects of human nature with its curious blend of compassion, creativity and the conflicts between ego and superego;. that is, between the demands of the self and the need to be a good citizen. The idea that the myriad decisions made by a myriad human beings with no one group in full control is not an idea conspiracy theorists feel secure with. These theorists don't like wild cards. (See the Kennedy assassination)

When self trumps citizenship the old fashioned word for it is "sin", the word with the "I" in the middle. "Sin", by definition, limits horizons to self and the consequent decentralizing effect of sin tends to break down and disorganize. The Biblical vision of human society's enemy emerging from the seething chaos of the deep as a serpent taps into to the archetype of the chaos monster; an apt metaphor for the effects of human and satanic sin and the resultant Chaoskampf. In contrast the conspiracy theorist's secret societies have to be highly moral between members of their class and epistemically unified in order to follow the unity of purpose required if their class is to stay secret and stay in power. I don't believe human beings are either moral enough nor epistemically empowered enough to maintain full and amicable agreement. Social life is simply far too sinful and chaotic for that. Highly organised pan-global secret conspiracies would entail the use of many cooperating operatives. This is an entirely unrealistic expectation, an  expectation the conspiracy theorist is unwilling to give up because their world view personalizes the struggle against social corruption, providing an identifiable enemy against which the theorist can fight, thus gaining the glory and self respect of being a heroic protagonists in an important struggle. In comparison the Chaoskampf resulting of the natural state of human affairs, namely the bulk effects of ignorance, stupidity, pride, sleaze, and corruption is far too impersonal, mundane and prosaic for conspiracy theorists;  Chaoskampf is the struggle against drowning in a sea of meaninglessness, an apparently much less heroic struggle. The struggle against shady well organised characters in government is a far more romantic an idea than the Chaoskampf resulting of the disorganizing effects of our own nature. Heroes need to fight against super-villians, not common-or-garden sleaze and corruption!

The response would probably be: 
"You're pay-rolled by the Illuminati". 
In my time I have come across several people with some kind of paranoid personality disorder and have become familiar with their fertile imaginations which populate the world with conniving demons as they stand, unimpeachable heroes, against the baroque plots against them. I see something  similar among the conspiracy theorists. I must also mention the christian fundamentalists who are fertile ground for the prototypical conspiracy theorism such as we see in Donald Trump. Their state of mind allows them to readily accuse detractors of being engaged in heinous sins and machinations against them and God.

Finally a confession. I have laid it on thick against the conspiracy theorist's world view. And yet I find myself in some ways having to engage in a similar epistemic activity -  namely, that of trying to make sense of the world of experience by building some kind of coherent narrative which fits it all together into a single package. The only alternative to the hubris of this rather ambitious project is to either go down the route of scientific minimalism - that is, to confine one's attention to the relatively uniform and less erratic objects like springs and precipitates, objects amenable to formal and systematic methods -  or to throw one's hands up and become a postmodern nihilist. But if one wants to have a chance of progressing further than the relatively simple non-erratic objects of institutional science  one is left with little choice but to fly in the face of epistemic difficulties and go for it; you never know, there might be big winnings. I'm attempting to synthesize a comprehensive world view based on Christian fundamentals, but without falling into the errors of either positing a highly ordered covert malign political organisation or giving any credence to the prejudices and epistemic arrogance of Christian fundamentalism, a fundamentalism which thinks that scripture short cuts epistemic difficulties. These pitfalls are prevented if one is aware of the human precariousness of one's scriptural interpretations. God or no God we work out our salvation with fear trembling as we rely on the informalities of anecdotal history and personal testimony in place of formal and systematic testing.

* The mystical world of Heinrich Himmler
Mystical symbolism and a mysterious ritual space at Himmler's Wewelsburg castle

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Adam’s Navel and the “Appearance of Age”

Answers in Genesis' David Menton writes: "It’s no wonder that for centuries artists have been at a loss to portray just what the first couple’s abdominal region looked like—did they or did they not have a belly button? You will note that artists generally avoided the whole issue by conveniently covering their midsections with nearby foliage". And as the picture above shows the tradition continues at AiG!

Recently an article appeared on the Christian fundamentalist web site Answers in Genesis entitled Creation and the Appearance of Age by David Menton. According to an editor’s note this article was first published in the St. Louis MetroVoice 5, no. 8 in August 1995. The article is therefore 22 years old and evidence that the same tropes go round and round in fundamentalist circles without needing a great deal of modification. The reason why the same well worn arguments and articles are sufficient for a fundamentalist ministry is because they are not trying to convince the academic elite – which they’ve written off as a satanically inspired  conspiracy – but rather they are selling their ideas to an uncritical technically challenged audience who can’t, won’t or don’t have time to think things through for themselves. As long as this audience can see some semblance of plausibility, technicality and academic authority in the articles coming out of a fundamentalist ministry those articles have done their job and sold themselves.

I’ve seen it many times: The paranoid assumption of hard-line fundamentalism is that Christians are in an unrelentingly evil, totally depraved world where every activity that doesn’t fall within the scope of some favoured fundamentalist faction is suspect and cannot be trusted –  even other Christians who are outside that faction; in fact especially other Christians outside that faction. A fine example of this institutionalized paranoia is AiG’s boss Ken Ham: Christian opponents of Ham’s word are condemned by him as heretics following man’s word rather than God’s word (because effectively Ham equates his word with God’s Word). In this context of irrational suspicion it is no surprise that  fundamentalism is fertile ground for conspiracy theorism and some fundamentalists are actually  moving into flat earth theory with its need to adopt a very strong form of conspiracy theorism to make such a theory work – this is an extremum outcome of the social paranoia that drives fundamentalism. In flat earth fundamentalism we have a subculture who are rejecting some very basic established science, science worked out at least 2500 years ago. As far as I can tell this is actually part of a social malaise which extends beyond Christian fundamentalists to New Agers. I fear for civilisation. But I digress.

I’ve looked at the question of  fundamentalism's “appearance of age” before. See these posts:

I’ve also done a series on a related question; namely, the bogus dichotomy mindlessly and endlessly repeated by Ken Ham that observational science is fundamentally distinct from historical science. In support he often quotes technology as an application of “observational science”. He clearly has never had to do any substantial trouble shooting of problems of complex technological artifacts where the observable records and traces left by the fleeting passage of an artifact through history are important in the diagnosis of those problems. A similar point applies to medical science as it attempts to diagnose organic pathology. For my series on this false dichotomy, which is a core doctrine of Ken Ham's anti-science stance, see here:

The 22 year old AiG article I’m looking at can be found here:

Below I interleave quotes from Menton's article with my own comments. We read the following at the start of Menton’s article:

Why, I wonder, would God spend an entire six days doing a miracle that would require of Him literally no time at all? Think about it: How much time does a miracle take? How much time, for example, did Jesus take for His first miracle when He changed water into the finest quality wine (as judged by a professional steward) for the wedding at Cana? The answer, of course, is no time at all—He told the servants to fill the pots with water and serve it! Still, the Bible clearly reveals God took six whole days to initially create everything to perfection; so, we must either take God at His Word, or presume to stand in judgment of all Scripture.

MY COMMENT: No! We cannot conclude that miracles take no time at all: It may seem from a human perspective that a miracle is absolutely instantaneous but we really don’t know just how divisible time is; who knows how many events are spread out over a period too small to register on human time scales during, say, a water-into-wine miracle? If we could zoom in on the time coordinate and see how God sees it, a second could be an aeon in terms of the number events it contains as water converts to wine.

But even if the miracle took no time at all there still remains the question of divine time as measured in terms of the complexity involved in the assembling of the event in God’s mind. My guess is, however, that fundamentalists tend to subliminally view God as a super magician who need only say “abracadabra” and stuff jumps into sight thus consuming neither divine time nor divine thought. As one evangelical song has it“[God] Spoke the stars into existence”.  The belief in a deity who just has to speak high-level commands that don’t break down into a myriad lower level activities is a fundamentalist trope. This is magic. That Menton probably has this magical paradigm in mind, at least subliminally, is evident when he writes:

Think of any one thing that our omnipotent God might instantly create out of nothing by the power of His Word.

That is, sheer word power rather than thinking power creates things. This is magic. Perhaps the theological lesson of Genesis' mythological six-day creation is that it tells us that God is not a lazy pagan magician who can just sit back and speak stuff into existence but a workman who assembles his creations.

Notice also the fundamentalist inquisitional tactic in the last sentence of the quoted paragraph. Here Menton stuffs a straw-man confession into the mouths of those who wouldn’t agree with him; namely, if you don’t agree with Menton about those six literal days then you are presuming to stand in judgement on the Almighty Himself. Fundamentalist paranoia means that they are unwilling to accept that those who disagree with them do so with a clear conscience and don't see themselves as contradicting the Almighty.  (This inquisitional tactic of using straw-man confessions has also been used by fundamentalist Jason Lisle)

The appearance of age in the things that God created is a much-debated issue in contemporary Christian scientific circles. Can God—or more accurately—would God create something that at the very moment of its creation has the appearance of age? The short answer to this question may be: How else? How, indeed, could God create anything that did not appear to us to be aged (like a fine wine) at the moment of its creation.

MY COMMENT: Written in 1994 this article is showing its age, or should I say “maturity”? I think the AiG editorial staff who decided to publish this article will find that there are young earthists nowadays who don’t like the phrase “an appearance of age” and prefer the vaguer “mature creation” as it has less connotation of God building in misleading signs about age into His creation (But see fundamentalist John Byl below).

Menton is wrong: It is possible to conceive objects which have no "appearance of age" and/or are a-historical. Take for example a parameter P which measures some aspect of an object where:

P = A T -1

…and where A is a constant and T measures time. Obviously, here P is the reciprocal of time. If we use this equation then measuring P will immediately give us calculable age. Of course using Menton’s philosophy this age could be misleading because God could have created the object of this equation with a particular value of P, just as he could, according to some fundamentalists, have created star-light-in-transit. Thus the value of T calculated using the above equation is then only an “apparent age” according to Menton.  However, assuming that the values of T are not just apparent, then we find that the object at T=0, on the basis of the above equation, returns an infinity. That is, the object at T=0 is beyond human understanding and humanly speaking to assign an “apparent age” beyond the statement T=0 is meaningless in this context. Ergo, Menton is wrong about not being able to create an object without the “appearance of age”. Presumably God can create such an object.

Another case in point is a Newtonian gravitational system of perfect billiard ball spheres orbiting one another. This system returns no age at all; it could have been there forever or it could have been created out of nothing by God, yesterday; the object is timeless and it betrays no clues as to its history – it is a-historical, it is ageless.

So in summary we find that some objects show signs of having a history and some are a-historical. And of course it is likely that some objects are ambiguous and difficult to fit in either category.

Think of any one thing that our omnipotent God might instantly create out of nothing by the power of His Word.
……Maybe you thought of a visible star—depending on its distance from the earth, its light might appear to have been traveling for over a billion years to reach your eyes. All of these things would have the appearance of age and an ongoing process at the very moment of their creation.

MY COMMENT: This example betrays the dilemma that fundamentalists are in: Do they go the whole hog with “mature creation” and postulate that star light was created in-transit? Or do they get out their pencils and paper and work out theories consistent with a 6000 year time scale and yet which give a history to the star light without having to posit a dubious in-transit creation?

 As we have seen in posts on this blog AiG fundamentalists have recently had a tendency to do their best to drop in-transit star light creation and give starlight a genuine history of propagation of one kind or another. However, these efforts have had limited success (See here, here and here). A similar situation exists in regard to continental drift; a fanatical mature creationist might claim that God created what geologists see as evidences of a history of drift (such as sea floor magnetic patterns) “as we see them, just like that!”. But recently there has been a theory submitted by a young earthist of “runaway” continental drift which attempts to fit all the necessary intervening drifting events into a suitably short time scale. In order to preserve the rational integrity of God’s creation some young earthists are at least trying to do some science rather than short cut science with “mature creation”.

So why do we have these strenuous efforts by fundamentalists who ignore Menton's assertion about the inevitability of the "appearance of age" and attempt to provide histories for objects that are clearly not a-historical? I think it's because they can sense the violation of rational integrity that bland acceptance of an "appearance of age" is liable to lead to. 

The Genesis fundamentalist thus faces a difficult question: Which observed evidences require an historical theory in order to maintain the rational integrity of God’s work and which can be written off as simply “mature creation”? Adam’s navel is a case in point. Of this matter Menton comments:

Also let’s not forget the critically important placenta—its development in the womb necessarily precedes that of the baby so that it can serve the function of a temporary lung, kidney, liver, gut, and endocrine system until the baby develops its own. It’s no wonder that for centuries artists have been at a loss to portray just what the first couple’s abdominal region looked like—did they or did they not have a belly button? (You will note that artists generally avoided the whole issue by conveniently covering their midsections with nearby foliage.)

MY COMMENT: Ken Ham who, as I noted in my Beyond Our Ken series, confidently claims that Adam had no navel and yet accepts that the trees of Eden would have been created with a bogus history of yearly growth rings. Menton, however, being a less bullish authority than Ham, like the artists he speaks of, doesn’t know where to go on the navel question!  (See also the picture at the head of this post which has been taken from one of Ken Ham's children's books)

This whole line of thinking gets us into what is called a “first cause” problem. We live in a “cause and effect” world, where every action causes a reaction and is itself the result of a previous action. Everything appears to be an ongoing process for which we are incapable of really grasping a beginning. This is all popularly expressed in the age-old question: “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” If we say the chicken, we will be asked from whence the chicken came; yet if we say the egg, we will be asked from whence the egg—and so round and round we go. Somewhere, there had to be a beginning to this cyclical process we call the chicken and the egg

MY COMMENT: “First causism” has some issues which are really off-topic in this context so I won’t talk about them here. (But see here). Menton tells us: Everything appears to be an ongoing process for which we are incapable of really grasping a beginning. But as my toy town models show there can exist systems/objects for which an antecedent history is meaningless or is a-historical.

However, in the case of the chickens and egg, as in the question of Adam’s navel, we find a set of observations where to deny a history violates the creation’s rational integrity; to postulate a chicken or an egg first is the biological equivalent of postulating in-transit start-light creation.

Menton concludes with:

We may conclude that the Lord is captive to neither time nor process.

But God is captive to the Truth and Integrity. Therefore He creates a world with rational integrity, not a world of belly buttons without placenta or tree rings without a history of growth or star light without a history of travel. A truthful God makes a creation of intellectual integrity. But if you are prepared to pass up this integrity anything goes. For example, Whitcombe and Morris in The Genesis Flood were quite happy with in-transit photon creation.

As I have said some objects are a-historical (such as two perfect spheres in Newtonian orbits) and some have clear histories like star light, sedimentary rocks, tree rings and Adam’s navel. Some objects are in between and have an ambiguous history, such as an alcohol molecule which can be constructed in the lab or by fermenting grapes. As we saw in my “Beyond Our Ken” series fundamentalists are having problems drawing the line. Some fundamentalists like John Byl will claim that it is perfectly legitimate for God to create objects with an appearance of having a bogus history and in any case Byl suggests that God may do just that to deceive those evil scientists! But as a concession to rational integrity fundamentalist Jason Lisle will claim that star light has traveled the whole distance from its source along the radials leading to Earth, although Lisle has to concede that in-transit photon and graviton creation is needed across non-radial paths. Ken Ham thinks that Adam had no navel but believes the trees in the Garden of Eden were created with rings thus having built into them a bogus history of growth and Sun spot minima.

We get poor quality articles from Ken Ham’s organisation such as we see from David Menton and Danny Faulkner and yet if one doesn't accept their dubious logic Ken Ham will spiritually abuse detractors and spit hell and hamnation in order to spiritually pressure acquiescence. This is the epistemic arrogance of a brutal primitive spiritual logic that at one time sent people to the stake.

ZakDTV tells us about the lunatic fringe. I fear for civilisation!