Sunday, January 09, 2011

More Monsters from the Id

"The oldest and greatest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and greatest type of fear is fear of the unknown." (H. P. Lovecraft)

This post on Uncommon Descent by Denise O’Leary is interesting; in fact I share her concerns. The post is about some research that appears to support Extra Sensory Perception. This research has “generated a mixture of amusement and scorn”.

We must bear in mind here the effect whereby many null results go unreported against the occasional publishing of  positive results, consequently skewing the publicity toward affirmative experiments. But having said that we must also factor in the natural resistance put up by those for whom any suggestion that the world is not quite as they thought is just too much to take; they will be completely unable to detach themselves from their emotional commitments.

In the wrong hands the epistemic rule “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” can be exploited as a pretext to block science: It is conceivable that ESP effects, if they exist, may be too subtle to register strongly with our formal methodological detectors and therefore do not have the intensity to produce extraordinary evidence. Moreover, that the underlying mechanisms for ESP are difficult to conceive can also be used as an epistemic rule to excuse a lack of imaginative effort. Not everything is necessarily an epistemological push-over. Not all ambiguity can be dispelled.

For myself I much prefer to leave white space on the edge of the map rather than either enclose the map in a heavy frame of exclusion or populate the white space with monsters from the id. If there are subtle weak signal “occult effects” out there, some toy town scientists lack a sufficient detachment from their world view to discover those effects. In fact they may be so impassioned as to actively block investigations. Science isn’t safe in their hands.

Toy town science is as unacceptable as toy town fundamentalism; for both, fear of the unknown keeps them in their epistemic play pens. The robust scientific attitude must always be a paradoxical blend of criticism, imagination, dispassion, curiosity, disinterest, commitment, adventurousness, perseverance, moral courage, integrity, and above all epistemic humility: Good science requires both the right intellectual equipment as well as the right personal traits. That these challenging traits have to be cultivated and worked on is one reason why the opinions of human beings are unreliable; because failure here is liable to be replaced with hubris, self delusion and hegemony: Whether it be fundamentalists reporting the latest bizarre miracles or toy town scientists telling us what we can’t believe in or shouldn't even investigate, both have totalizing agendas that they are determined to foist on everyone.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Beyond Our Ken: On Mature Creation. Part 2

And God created the world "Just like that"

In the first part of this series I described the necessity forced on the YECs at Answers in Genesis to categorize objects as either a-historical or historical. A-historical objects display little evidence of having a history and therefore can be claimed by YECs to have been created as is, “Just like that”. In contrast historical objects carry blatant evidence of their history and therefore in order to preserve the integrity of the creation this necessitates an historical explanation of that evidence. As Ken Ham’s organization, “Answers in Genesis”, wish to maintain a semblance of scientific integrity they at least make an attempt to provide historical explanations of historical objects. But the real problem turns out to be the difficulty of identifying just what does and what does not constitute an historical feature. The following post is a response to Ken Ham’s Mature Creation article here.

To Ken Ham the human body, especially the non-degenerative pre-fall human body, is safely a-historical and therefore can be created as is, “just like that”. According to Ken that is indeed what happened when God created Adam and Eve in Eden. But what about that perennially awkward little feature, Adam’s Navel? Well, OK then concedes AiG, Adam didn’t have a navel (see this link), because if he did it would be a blatantly historical feature and therefore suggestive of a misleading bogus history.

It’s very easy to miss that little feature we call the navel and so perhaps if we look a little closer at the human body we might find other features that have to be “deleted” in order to fit in with mature creation concepts. What about, for example, the telomeres in the genetic code? Telomeres are lengths of repetitive DNA that get shorter and shorter as cells divide and reproduce. In the normal human body cell reproduction must be continuous in order to replace dead cells. Therefore in older people, whose bodies have been refreshed by more cell divisions, the telomeres will be shorter than in younger people. This means that telomere length is a feature that, like the navel, is a tell-tale sign of a history. My guess, then, is that this age indicator would be declared by Ken Ham as absent in the pre-fall Adam. Or would he, alternatively, declare that there is no cell death and division in the perfect human body? I don’t know.

But even a human body that does not degenerate or have a navel is not obviously a-historical. Presumably, pre-fall human beings were intended to give birth to offspring and those offspring would follow a fairly standard history of development that would enable one to estimate the age of a child. Offspring would reach maturity at roughly the same age when, according to Ken, no degenerative changes would take place. Thus, when faced with an adult like Ken’s Adam a minimum age could be imputed based on the ostensive evidence of his maturity; in short, the presence of the human body, which in most cases grows and develops, has an “appearance of history” if not an appearance of age.

The human memory is another case in point. The human mind is built for learning from birth; this would be a redundant feature in the pre-formed Adam. Adam’s ability to handle and articulate the world around him would not be based on learning drawn from a life time’s experience and Ken’s Adam would have none of the proprietary features and idiosyncratic memories arising from a particular educational history. If creative integrity is to be maintained Ken’s Adam could have no memory of a history of learning; that is, no memory of the particular connections, social and physical, in which he learned his skills. Presumably, the Adam envisaged by Ken would have had a straight download of pure knowledge. In contrast natural human skill is inevitably sequenced, and built upon in stages: For example, walking cannot take place without an awareness of limbs. Awareness of limbs cannot take place without at first learning that those visual patches called arms and legs which wave around in front of us can be controlled at will. There is, then, a natural historical sequencing implicit in human cognitive skill that Ken is asking us to overlook.


That Ken is at the edge of a fuzzy category is suggested by the fact that some of the decisions he makes as to what qualifies as a-historical seem rather surprising. In the article I have linked to there is picture of some tree rings. Now, tree rings, as far as I am aware, represent a history of the differential growth of a tree; in effect tree rings are a record laid down by changes in season, weather and sun spot intensity etc. In other words tree rings are indicators of a history. So how do you think Ken should regard tree rings? Is he going to declare that the fully functioning trees in the Garden of Eden had no rings just as Adam had no navel? I was surprised at Ken’s response:

Perhaps trees even had tree rings, as a regular part of the tree’s structure.

If you had asked me in advance I would have guessed (wrongly) that Ken would have opted for “no rings”; which goes to show that it is difficult to anticipate AiG’s decisional fiat as to what categorises as historical and what is a-historical.


While we are on the subject of trees there is, in fact, more subtle evidence that trees are not a-historical. Have a look at the overstated glass fibre “Tree of Life” that graces Ken’s kitsch creation museum. (See picture). Under normal circumstances that gnarled trunk arises out of a history of differential growth. Moreover, consider the fractal nature of a tree’s structure: This may well be because their genetic code effectively contains one of those fractal growth algorithms; in which case the fractal shape of a tree is evidence of something whose form and function is bound up with its method of generation. A tree has the appearance is of something that has grown, something with a history, something that is sequenced: Looking at a tree we can say that one branch was formed after the other as a consequence of the branching dependencies in its growth algorithm. Needless to say Ken has to ignore all this and instead simply assert that trees were created in the garden “as is”, which means that they only have an appearance of history and the ostensible signs of growth are to be regarded as bogus. This is a bit like claiming that a brick wall was created ex-nihilo, when in fact the very rationale of a brick is to facilitate a step by step construction by the human hand - unless of course the wall is in Ken’s creation museum, in which case it is likely to be a fa├žade of glass fibre and thus totally bogus.

One of the issues that troubles AiG is the second law of thermodynamics. Not only is AiG wrong in claiming that evolution violates the second law (something I have dealt with several times on this blog) but of late they have had to admit that it must part of the pre-fall physical status quo, because it is so much part of life as we know it. For example, the human body exploits the second law moment by moment. In assembling biopolymers biochemistry depends on the fact that the solutions in which the assembly takes place are in random agitation and that like Maxwell’s demon the information in DNA effectively selects and locks in the placements of atoms and molecules as and when their random motions should, perchance, find the right position. The raised Gibbs energies of biopolymers results in the cooling of the surroundings, but ultimately the extra energy needed to maintain the ambient temperate derives from the thermodynamic rundown of The Sun, thus preserving the second law. Whatever the origin of DNA itself, the assembly of biopolymers is driven by the second law. Now at one time I think it was current thinking amongst YECs that the second law of thermodynamics was part of the inheritance of the fall (See The Genesis Flood, by Whitcomb and Morris, P224). However, the inseparable integration of the second law with the dynamics of our world have made this view impossible and now we find AiG suggesting that this law is so essential to the running of the cosmos that it is impossible to do without it. In this article AiG note that second law is necessary in digestion, friction, breathing, the heating of the Earth by the sun, heat transfer etc – the list goes on. In short a pre-fall world where the second law doesn’t apply is unimaginable.

But this leaves AiG between a rock and hard place. Now, in principle it is conceivable to imagine a human being whose genetic makeup facilitated the continuous refreshment of the bodily structure, thus preventing aging in the degeneration sense; as long as the information required to maintain the structural status quo was not lost then the human body would not age. However, the AiG admission that the second law is still operative in a pre-fall world means that non-living objects which are, by definition, not refreshed do age in terms of degeneration because they don’t have a regime of constant maintenance. Pre-fall non-living objects would age as required by the second law. Consequently many objects then become historical in as much as they display a history of damage, degradation and energetic run down. For example, large intrusions and extrusions of magma from the Earth’s mantle cool according to the second law. Thus large bodies of granite are obviously not a-historical in as much as they must have a history of cooling. This fact means that AiG cannot claim that granitic intrusions and extrusions were created in a “mature” state. This has obliged AiG to engage these bodies of rock from a scientific point of view and attempt to work out cooling histories for them that are less than 6000 years (See here). It is clear then, that igneous rocks are not a-historical. This then appears to be an admission that some age indicators are reliable and can be used as predictors of age: For AiG are themselves now claiming that age can be determined after all, but, of course, they are desperately trying to show that these age determinations return values less than 6000 years!

Fundamentalists don’t like fuzzy boundaries; they much prefer a clear cut world where it is easy to sort out the sheep from goats. The fundamentalist needs to know who to boo and who to cheer, who to spiritually abuse and who to declare under God’s favour. Accordingly, a clear cut legalistic system of faith test categories is set up in order to help identify and flag unrepentant sinners and Christian apostates. Trouble is, the deeper we get into the notion that God snapped His fingers  and “mature” objects sprang into sight “as is”, the more detail is revealed which blurs the category boundaries. And it gets worse….

…to be continued.