Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Middlebrow Atheism. Part 5 (Final Part)

If you don't seek you may not find

This is the final part of my “Middlebrow Atheism” series. The other parts can be found as follows:


Video Item 08: That some theists require an extra miracle for the creation of life is an admission that the cosmos isn’t fine tuned enough.

My Comments: This criticism really applies to anti-evolutionists who believe that a second “creative dispensation” is required on top of physics. Although I have reservations about conventional evolutionary theory I personally prefer the “one creative dispensation” view. One issue I have with the two dispensations view is that it is liable to disconnect living things from their cosmic stage: The dimensions and parameters of the cosmos become details incidental to the organic dispensation. At least in standard evolutionary theory the existence of life is logically bound up with the wider cosmos. But even if standard evolution is wrong my guess is that whatever the history of life’s development may be, that history is intimately connected to the cosmos; life is some function of cosmic dimensions and cosmic parameters; for then the cosmos no longer seems a "waste of space" but a necessary accessory to life. (Robert Sheldon is an example of a anti-evolutionist who has some intriguingly radical theories on panspermia that do at least connect life’s history to cosmic conditions)

Video Item 09: Life is a happy by product of an environment rather than the environment being designed for life. For example, is the atmosphere designed for sky diving? Was the wind designed for wind surfing?

My Comments: This one comes under the heading of what Sir John Polkinghorne aptly describes as the “fruitfulness” of God’s creation. Given the particular physical regime that governs our cosmos, this then implies a configuration space consisting of all that is possible within the constraints of that regime. This configuration space is a static platonic object and the layout of the configurations in this space determines whether the “shufflings of happenstance” (Another phrase I have picked up from Polkinghorne) is conducive to the Polkinghorne’s “fruitfulness”. For example, clearly “technological configuration space” is so arranged as to allow the quantum of human intelligence, (which I represent by “i”), to traverse it successfully; for human intelligence is not great enough to jump the huge gap between the stone age and the jet age in one generation, but it can jump the smaller gaps between the islands of functionality in “technological configuration space” as evidenced by the succession of artifacts in technological history that have lead up to the development of jet aircraft. A jet aircraft is the result of a long historical development of many technological innovations that have occurred in a piecemeal fashion; a product of the shuffling of human happenstance. It is the arrangement of artifacts in technological configuration space that allows human intelligence to traverse it in small technological leaps. Those artifacts are arranged in configuration space in a way that allows the quantum of human intelligence, i, to migrate from one innovation to the next. If this wasn’t so then the making a jet aircraft would be as improbable as Fred Hoyle’s Junkyard Jumbo. So, in answer to video I regard the wind surfing and sky diving as part of the built-in technological fruitfulness of our physical regime, a fruitfulness that also includes wind turbines, and flying. My conjecture is that a randomly selected physical regime would be unlikely to possess this fruitfulness, and thus we are likely to be talking here of something with a high “specified complexity”.

However, whether or not the configuration space of living structures can also be fruitfully traversed by the random shufflings of happenstance is a moot point.

Video Item 10: Science investigates researches, explains and tests hypotheses. There is no comparable testing and investigation available for the God hypothesis. With contemporary Cosmological theory there is the possibility for real data and some chance of testing these theories unlike for God. Where is the derivation for God? Where’s the chance to test this hypothesis? Religion gives up and says “a magic man did it”

My Comments. As I have made clear already in this series, the hard sciences (physics in particular) use a pair of explanatory object types that I refer to as “Law and Disorder”. “Laws” are functions subject to the Church-Turing Thesis in that they are pattern generating functions that can be rendered computationally. “Disorder” are patterns that yield to statistical description. In the video Alan Guth says he has no idea why the laws of physics are what they are. That’s no surprise to me: There is, I believe, a fundamental reason why Guth must say this: For without getting into a “Turtles all the way down” regress where Law and Disorder explanation gets stuck in a kind of self referential loop, physics naturally comes to an end once full description has been achieved (i.e. a “Theory of Everything” as it is called). If we are going to ask why the laws of physics work, then that question, as far as physics is concerned, is meaningless. A science of the mathematically elemental can provide no deeper answer “why” than in the giving of an exhaustive descriptive account of the status quo. (If indeed such is actually possible)

Given the huge number of possible patterns that can exist it is clear that there is a very large class of pattern that are too ordered to be amenable to statistical treatment, and yet too complex to be rendered with mathematical functions in a realistic time using serial computation. There is, therefore, a large class of patterns that are in principle intractable to “Law and Disorder” science. Potentially, then, there are objects out there that are not tractable to science as we currently understand it. If such exist in our reality they would not be amenable to derivation and testing. Thus, contrary to the suggestion of the video scientific intractability is no reason to rule them out: Because something doesn’t yield to research, derivation and testing is not sufficient condition for its nonexistence. All we can do is thank our lucky bunny (I don’t know what atheists thank; “bunny” is all I could come up with) that so much of our world is apparently amenable to our finite science.

But an “in principle” scientific intractability is compounded by practical intractability. Given that our world is mathematically chaotic and subject to random quantum perturbations means that even if we assume Law and Disorder offers a full description of the world it yet remains beyond our practical powers to describe much of that world with anything other than ex post facto narrative. Further compounding the tractability problems of science is the fact that data is, humanly speaking, irretrievably lost in the mists of time. Thus the inaccessibility and complex contingency of history is open to the same criticisms the video levels against theism: In history there is little in the way of derivation and testing that parallels the theories of the hard physical sciences. In many cases there is no possibility of real data and a chance of a theory being testable. In between stumbling on the occasional fortuitously surviving text or archeological artifact, history remains dependent on the experienced historian’s imagination to fill in the gaps for us.

The video’s beguiling arguments are nearly as devastating to history as they are to God. It is naive to think that one can approach God, (or history for that matter) in the manner that one might approach the elemental Law and Disorder objects of the hard sciences. If anything God’s complexity and inaccessibility makes for a far more scientifically intractable object than even history. If God was subject to Law and Disorder research it wouldn’t be God; the object would be far too elemental for that. This, of course, doesn’t mean there is such an object as God; but if there is a God, the unimaginative mindset of the video producers, whose theology only seems to extend as far as "a magic man", obstructs any chance of seeking him let alone of finding him.

From one mankind he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. Acts 17:26-27

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Is 55:6

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