Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nounema, Elementa, Cognita and Consciousness

Ontological discontinuity: Consciousness interrupts the comatose state with a start.

As promised in a previous post I want to look in more detail at a passage taken from one PZ Myers’ blog posts. This passage was a response by Myers to a flurry of comments on his blog by a group of fundamentalists who said they knew why the universe is rational. Over to PZ:

Their primary approach is to assert that because logic exists, god exists, and therefore any attempt to apply reason to a problem is evidence for god. They are unable to justify their premise, however, so it’s a silly game they’re playing — there is no reason to assume an anthropic being was necessary to conjure logic into existence or even that any kind of intelligence was required, any more than we could argue that intelligence is required to start an avalanche. Small fluctuations can lead to large scale changes in that example, so there’s no logical barrier to the idea that unintelligent processes seed universes that expand with internally consistent rules (and universes seeded with illogical rules, if that were possible, wouldn’t exist and definitely wouldn’t be populated with intelligent beings contemplating the laws of their universe).

Like all mathematics logic “exists” only as a platonic object until its configurations and operations are formally reified in our world by some medium such as natural processes, machinery, or thoughts. The kind of logic that is being referred to in the above passage, at least by Myers himself, is that whose existence is of the reified kind; viz: Myers talks about what is “necessary to conjure logic into existence”. So, what, then, is necessary to give logic a physically reified ontology? In answer Myers appears to allude to the inflationary multiverse; here an infinite physical production line generates small bubble universes with randomly chosen physical regimes and these expand into full blown universes (if their randomly selected regimes allow). But even if we accept this speculative cosmology the universe generator itself is a remarkable logical construction that begs an explanation. As I have pointed out many times before, attempts to “explain” exhaustively leads to a “turtles all the way down” regress; each explanation will contain contingent conditions which are explained by another explanatory object which in turn will contain contingent conditions… and so on.

The reason for this regress is that we explain our observations by embedding them in a narrative that describes a larger context. That embracing narrative itself can be “explained” by embedding it in yet a larger contextualising narrative … and so on, and this leads to a nesting of contexts within contexts to the nth degree. In the mathematical physical sciences the explanatory contexts/naratives most usually employ some blend of algorithmics and statistics (or “Law & Disorder”). But be that as it may, it is not always practically possible to use these mathematically descriptive objects even if we think that a phenomenon is ultimately generated by law and disorder principles; after all, practitioners in biology, history and sociology use narrative intense descriptions that don’t readily reduce to algorithmics and statistics.

An understanding of the ultimately descriptive & contingent nature of scientific explanatory objects leads us to appreciate this: Our explanations can never account for what we observe in terms of absolute necessity but only in terms of a conditional necessity; that is, our observations are only necessary if certain postulated conditions hold. For example: The observed motions of the planets are necessary if Newton’s laws hold. Of course, these postulated conditions, without a 'turtles all the way down' regress, have no necessity in and of themselves – they could “poof” out of existence at any time or any place without any logical violation. Therefore “creation” is not something that just occurred a long while ago at the Big Bang; “creation”, as far as we are concerned, occurs everywhere and everywhen in as much as the cosmos’ sustained existence issues out of a logical void of unnecessity everywhere and everywhen. A Grand Logical Hiatus accompanies us at all places and times and therefore constitutes a generalized form of ex nihilo creation. Ex-nihilo creation, in the logical sense, then, is a present tense continuous process. For the scientifically illiterate the explanations of science are a kind of modern magic that has replaced the divine magic of creation and therefore in their minds it serves the same magical role of divinity. But for those of us who have seen through the trick of science and understand that our scientific explanations can never deliver asiety, the realization dawns that in an absolute sense our explanatory powers are no further forward than they were in the Stone Age; all we have succeeded in doing since then is come up with some sophisticated tools of description.

In trying to explain the existence of a rational universe Myers hints at the weak anthropic principle: Thoroughly illogical universes (=disordered universes?) would not support sentient beings, therefore sentient beings must expect to exist in and observe a rational context. Sentience, then, implies a rational universe – I wouldn’t disagree with Myers on this score. But, does a rational universe imply sentience?  An affirmative answer to that question is not an obvious truism; conceivably universes both irrational and rational could exist apart from an indigenous sentience. In fact, it is likely that there are far flung reaches of space and time that have or did have a rational state without the presence of an indigenous sentience to observe them. (Our cosmos, if it is more than just a deceptive fa├žade of perception, gives every appearance of being a realm of noumena.) So, if and when science is done with a full description of a rational universe do we simply have to accept this description as a brute fact for which there can be no meaningful answers to questions that try to probe deeper? Welcome to what Paul Davis calls the “absurd universe”, the universe that “just is” and let’s have no further questions please, because further questions are unintelligible to the descriptive logical methods of science!

The descriptive nature of science’s logical constructs, by themselves, are destined to lead us to an absurd universe. From a human point of view this feels most unsatisfactory; our intuitions (or least many people’s intuitions) tell us that there must be some deeper reason “why” things are as they. These inquiring intuitions remain unsatiated in a strictly descriptive explanatory paradigm (although some people may not feel these intuitive questions to be particularly compelling; they therefore remain incurious and phlegmatic about them – perhaps they don’t have the necessary brain structure that prompts these questions). The classic response to this impasse is to claim that science is an activity which only provides answers to questions of “How?” but does not attempt to answer the question “Why?”; when asked on a cosmic scale the latter question is the domain of theology.

In this post Myers’ discusses this “Why vs. How” dichotomy in connection with a particular example; namely, very regular holes which appeared in a straight line down his street. In an ironic twist Myers shows that he fully appreciates Dembski’s explanatory filter; he quickly eliminates natural causes for the holes and  concludes that they are due to human agency. As Myers himself admits, this agency entails intents and purposes; that is, human motivational factors which are taken for granted as givens in this context. If in a social context a feature can be shown to be an outcome of these givens then it is often considered to be sufficiently “explained”. But human intents and purposes are hardly elemental stuff; they are complex high level cognita and a far cry from “law and disorder” explanations which merely describe patterns of elementa that can be tokenised with simple bits and bytes. In contrast to the flat meaningless descriptions of the mathematical physical sciences which only answer the question “How?”, answers to the question “Why?” posit as their starting point the intricacies of the sentient world where intents, purposes and above all, meaning, in the deepest sense of the word, are conferred upon that which is “explained”. But there’s a catch: Although this kind of explanation satisfies the human need for meaning, its presumed starting point is the contingent complexity of sentience. In contrast law and disorder explanations reduce the logical complexity of the objects one needs to accept as givens, perhaps making it easier to take them on board as simply axiomatic (although in doing so they fail to satisfy intuitive questions about intents and purposes). But a world explicated in terms of intents & purposes satisfies the longing for meaning (although in doing so posits the complexities of sentience). In summary: What law and disorder explanations gain in logical simplicity they lose in meaning; what explanations based on intents and purposes gain in meaning they lose in logical complexity. But there is one thing going for a-priori complexity that an absurd logical simplicity doesn’t have; you’re not going to find asiety in the elemental; it’s too simple for that; the only other place to look for asiety is in the a-priori complex.

Given the very human background where questions about intents and purposes find meaning and satisfaction, it is natural to ask if the otherwise irreducible absurdity of the descriptions of the physical sciences can be addressed in a similar way: Do the brute fact contingencies necessarily present in scientific descriptions of “How?” have humanly meaningful significance in terms of intents and purposes? Myers at least shows he understands the question:

Similarly, if there was a god busily poofing the entirety of the cosmos into existence, that’s an awful lot of evidence that can be examined for motive…are we to instead believe it is so incoherent that we can discern no possible purpose behind all this data?

But although he understands the question, Myers finds no ultimate meaning in the cosmos in terms of intents and purposes:

When people try to argue that science can’t answer “why” questions, what they’re actually saying is that they don’t like the answer they get — there is no why! There is no purpose or intent! — and are actually trying to say that the only valid answer they’ll accept is one that names an intelligence and gives it a motive. That is, they want an answer that names a god as an ultimate cause, and a description that doesn’t include agency doesn’t meet their presuppositions.

For Myers, then, all explanation must ultimately reduce to the flat descriptive answers to the question “How?” rather than “Why?”; including, one presumes, the existence of human sentience which science conjectures to be an outcome conditioned on our particular regime of law and disorder. For Myers, answers about the outer most explanatory context to the cosmos must reduce to physical science’s flat descriptive absurd explanations. But I have more than a sneaky feeling that Myers would not like it any other way: Looking at the passion and anger with which he advocates his position one wonders if answers to “How?” are the only kind of explanation he can handle. In fact I’m sure I have read somewhere on his blog where he says something to the effect that if a sentience existed that was totalising enough to be the outer most explanatory frame of our cosmos (i.e. God) he would consider it his duty to oppose this cosmic “tyrant”. I think we have to leave PZ Myers to stew in his own mindset. I can hardly blame him if for some reason he doesn’t have or hasn’t come to terms with the strong instinctual questions about “Why?”, questions which embrace the whole cosmic set up, universe generator and all. Perhaps to him meaningless descriptions of patterns of elementa may be completely intellectually satisfying; I can’t hold that against him. But having said that I have to admit that many other people, myself included, have nagging instinctual questions about “Why?”; questions that can only be answered if one assumes the complex world of cognita as a starting point. And these questions are not just about minor affairs in one small corner of the universe, such as why my local authority are digging perfectly cylindrical holes; rather these questions frame the whole universe generating caboodle. Unless those questions are satiated the universe, as PZ Myers will no doubt maintain, is an unintelligible incoherent and meaningless absurdity. But in this sea of insentient absurdity we find an amazing anomaly; conscious cognition, the very thing that has constructed this absurd paradigm of the comatose!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Granville Sewell; Still Getting it Wrong.

I see from this post on Uncommon Descent that Granville Sewell still thinks the Second Law of Thermodynamics is necessarily contradicted by evolution. He still fails to see that thermodynamic “disorder” is a measure of “statistical weight” (denoted by Z) and does not strongly entail the patterned “irregularity” such as we see generated by random sources. As such an increase in the statistical weight of a system is an insufficient mathematical index to eliminate the evolutionary development of the complex ordered structures we call life; for it is conceivable that the declared/ordained constraints on physical systems are sufficient to create a bottle neck in the value of Z(t) at some time t giving the states containing living structures a disproportionately large representation and accordingly a realistic probability at t. Sewell would do better to try and wrap his mind round the function Z(t) to see whether or not evolution has a realistic chance. I have discussed this matter several times before on this blog.

This is not to say that the engine of evolutionary change as currently understood actually works. In fact as I have said before I have intuitive doubts about the current understanding of evolution; it’s just that Granville Sewell is repeatedly challenging conventional evolution with a duff argument.

See:

http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.com/2009/12/darwin-bicententary-part-30-mystery-of.html


You can't win can you?

Friday, November 11, 2011

U-Turn on Junk DNA at Uncommon Descent?

An interesting turn of events at Uncommon Descent

In this post on “Sandwalk” Larry Moran provides a link to a comment thread on Uncommon Descent where he has been discussing Junk DNA. The anti-evolutionist Intelligent Design community represented by UD by and large believe their version of ID predicts that Junk DNA does not exist. They arrive at this prediction, I think, because they cannot conceive why an intelligent designer would be so untidy (or incompetent) as to leave redundant genetic code lying about in the genome. But then again perhaps an intelligent designer has some very intelligent (or perhaps even dumb) motives that we don’t understand for leaving this code in his genetic program.

As I said in my series on Intelligent Design predictions I do not think that ID provides a firm basis for hard predictions, primarily because it is in the nature of intelligence, especially alien intelligence, to possess personality traits and foibles that give a large measure of inscrutability to its behavior: Viz: How can we be so sure of the motives, methods and purposes of an alien genetic engineer as to know whether or not he/she/it might want redundant genetic code lying around? There are all sorts of reasons that the imagination can invent which could account for junk DNA within an ID framework. Well, what do you know, Larry tells us about someone he has met on the UD thread who can think of some reasons why ID might be consistent with junk DNA. Here’s how Larry tells it:

The new version [of ID] goes like this .....
1. You can have junk DNA because physical constraints and design compromises prevented a perfect design.
2. Due to genetic entropy the originally designed genomes might have degenerated.
3. Junk DNA could have been put in the genome by the intelligent designer as preparation for future creations.
4. Some of the junk DNA is redundant functional DNA that's present in case a gene breaks down.
This new version of intelligent design is not in conflict with the presence of large amounts of junk in our genome.

Here we see a consequence of the fact that an alien intelligence is an entity with so many degrees of freedom regarding its purposes and methods that prediction is all but impossible; with sufficient imagination a very broad spectrum of explanation can be retrospectively fitted to any accepted data. ID has more the character of a post-facto sense making paradigm than it is hard science.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Science and the Imagination

Head in the Clouds: Flights of the imagination can and do work, but not always.

PZ Myers and the overwhelming mobbing voting power of his ranks of raiders readers have wrecked many a web poll; although truth be told, many of those polls aren’t worth the server space they occupy because they are simply contrived to solicit the result the pollster is looking for. Even so, it’s fitting that PZ and his marauding hordes should experience an unwelcome raid of their own: Recently a flurry of comments orchestrated, according to PZ, by fundamentalist Eric Hovind hit PZ’s mail box and his blog in what PZ referred to as a zombie invasion! Why is it I find this all too human tribal scrapping so funny? Is it subliminal expression of an aloof and smug superiority? But then that would also apply to viewers of all TV comedies whose humour depends on showcasing the foibles and idiosyncrasies of human nature.

Anyway, according to PZ the fundamentalist “zombies” have been filling his comment section with Bible quotes and one-liner quips. Viz:

Their primary approach is to assert that because logic exists, god exists, and therefore any attempt to apply reason to a problem is evidence for god.

PZ’s response is as follows:

They are unable to justify their premise, however, so it’s a silly game they’re playing — there is no reason to assume an anthropic being was necessary to conjure logic into existence or even that any kind of intelligence was required, any more than we could argue that intelligence is required to start an avalanche. Small fluctuations can lead to large scale changes in that example, so there’s no logical barrier to the idea that unintelligent processes seed universes that expand with internally consistent rules (and universes seeded with illogical rules, if that were possible, wouldn’t exist and definitely wouldn’t be populated with intelligent beings contemplating the laws of their universe).

So, a fundamentalist invasion has prompted PZ to get a little reflexive and that can’t be bad: The self reference entailed by careful observation and analysis of science itself is not something that I have noticed to be conspicuous amongst the kind of atheist PZ represents. But here we have it at last; some reflection on why science and its logical handmaidens are so efficacious.

But more about that in a later post. In this earlier blog post we also find PZ getting a little reflexive in answer to a theologian who points out the difficulties in applying classic science to history. In response PZ starts by criticizing the naive “You weren’t there” quip that we frequently hear from Ken Ham and his AiG friends as they attempt to undermine the historical sciences in favour of what they categorize as “operational science”: that is, science which deals exclusively with present-tense-continuous processes. I largely agree with PZ on this matter: All science, in an absolute sense, is historical and unrepeatable in as much as hypothesis testing inevitably has to be documented and repeatability is inevitably compromised by the impossibility of exactly replicating test conditions; an underlying simple uniformity and symmetry has to be assumed to make any progress in any science. "Operational science", then, is isomorphic with history. Conversely, history is isomorphic with "operational science", for whilst history itself is not a present-tense-continuous process the evidential trace it leaves behind is, nonetheless, present-tense-continuous.

I would certainly by at one with PZ in regarding Ken Ham and his AiG cronies as anti-science bigots who are busily subverting and corrupting science. This anti-science bigotry is seen nowhere clearer than in their attempts to debunk the historical sciences with this childish quip about “Not being there”, a quip that in the final analysis makes a mockery of the whole of science by attacking the common assumption on which it is based; namely that the world is rational and readable. There is an across-the-board congruity in the use of scientific epistemology and therefore the “You weren’t there” quip has the potential to sabotage all science at source, historical and otherwise. In fact, ironically Ham’s much loved and overworked quip even hamstrings the historical basis of the Christian faith; “We weren’t there” at the resurrection or when the Bible was written therefore, according to Ham, we have no right to makes claims about Divine choreography.

However, in his post PZ is reacting to a theologian who is an entirely different kettle of fish to the nincompoops we see at Answers in Genesis and PZ gives it brief but serious consideration:

I agree that not every thing in the universe is scientifically verifiable or repeatable, but this cavalier attitude towards history is reprehensible. Yes, there are history laboratories: there are historians who do archaeology, chemistry, biology, astronomy and all kinds of hard sciences to confirm and test historical claims. The provenance and authenticity of documents is a major historical interest.
A discrete historical event may not be repeatable, but it is amenable to confirmation and validation. The source information can be independently verified. Multiple approaches can be taken to test a claim. Did Caesar invade Gaul? It only happened once, you don’t get to repeat the invasion, and no one alive was there, after all. But we can look at the archaeology of France, we can see the linguistic evidence, we’ve got documents from the time, and every time someone digs up a Roman cache from the first century BCE we are getting more information on the event.
I do consider it scientifically tractable. Evidence-based, empirical study and logical analysis are right there at the heart of the discipline of history.

I wouldn’t say I especially disagree with PZ’s points above, but his brevity makes it look too easy. The objects of our study differ in complexity, repeatability, accessibility, predictability and what not; they are by no means all equally scientifically tractable. Theorizing about and testing simple low-level physical objects like springs and even molecules is a far cry from testing theories about high level objects like, say, whole societies, especially societies in the distance past. Questions like “Who was Jack the Ripper” or “What happened to Lord Lucan” may never be answered no matter how hard we investigate. Unlike simple physical objects, historical objects have far more degrees of freedom and yet fewer degrees of freedom that we can voluntarily adjust in order to test them. Historical research is very dependent on the fortuitous: Purposeful documentary and archeological searches may reveal nothing; in fact sitting back and waiting for documents and artifacts to emerge may be as proactive as it gets and anecdotal evidence the best you’ve got. Moreover, if one has ever listened to the interpretations of an able and imaginative historian like Simon Schama one observes someone who first makes a very human connection with his subjects of study and then allows his historical imagination to trip along at a rate of knots as he reads history in a way which leaves the snail’s pace physical scientist’s head spinning. And yet in the final analysis I’m sure even someone like Schama would subject their highly imaginative constructions to the light of new documents and artifacts; but only if they should, perchance, come to light.

Clearly, then, not all science, if science it can be called, proceeds in the philosophically classic fashion of data collection, theory synthesis, prediction, and proactive hypothesis testing. In fact high level science may be less predictive than it is post-dictive; that is, it employs after-the-fact sense making structures that are used as frameworks to interpret situations rather than predict them; the success of these post-dictive frameworks may be based on a rather less than objective judgment about the ease with which they can assimilate the accepted data protocols arising out of observation. For example, if evolutionary history really is a story of randomly fortuitous events being locked into place by some kind of physical ratchet then we certainly are not going to be able to predict everything about that history; it is more likely that we will make observations on the fossil record (if we are lucky enough for it to be preserved) and then retrospectively try to make evolutionary sense of that record. Not that evolution is the only theory that has a heavy retrospective element: Homunculus Intelligent design , in my opinion, is even less a hard science than evolution. The general rule here seems to be this: We may not always be able to predict the dots of observation, but instead find ourselves trying to fit prefabricated sense making theoretical structures to the dots of observation after they have been experienced.
However, as I have said in my sidebar, if “science” is defined very generally as any activity that makes comparison between theory and experience and attempts to reconcile them, then science as an epistemological method covers a very wide class of knowledge acquisition if not the whole of analytic activity; it’s just that the theory vs. experience contention does not always proceed along the straight path of classic science; namely, data collection, theory synthesis, prediction, proactive hypothesis testing, data collection, re-synthesis etc. As the objects we deal with get increasingly high level and their lack of amenability compromises rigorous formal methods, science imperceptibly shades over into subjective post-facto sense making interpretations; anyone who has tried to follow the Jack the Ripper history knows what I mean.

But it gets even worse than this: When it comes to attempts to form a totalizing world view bog standard spring extending and test tube precipitating science goes out of the window completely. Let me be frank; in my opinion there simply isn’t enough data out there to form a totalizing world view with the same standards of rigour that one can apply to simple objects like springs and molecules. World view synthesis is a hit and miss, seat of the pants, edgy affair, an activity for those who like dangling by their finger tips from precipices. World view synthesis is big on imagination and small on data simply because the objects posited in world view synthesis are large and complex in the extreme, making the available relevant data look like a very small window indeed. In fact at the extreme end world views are not far removed from mythology; that is, stories which help one cope with and make a human connection with an otherwise humanly incoherent and complex cosmos. None of this is say that the synthesis of a valid world view isn’t possible; there is the freedom to engage in world view synthesis (at least in democratic Countries) and give it one’s best shot. But the caveat remains: It is simply not possible to form such a world view that is beyond reasonable doubt; the relevant data samples are too few and far between. As my agnostic brother-in-law Jon Benison has observed when commenting on this sort thing; much of it is based on hunches and guesses (of varying degrees of plausibility). But, nevertheless, if providence wills, hunches and guesses can pay off; therein lies my personal hope.

But there is also the freedom to conscientiously dissent. I’m not a postmodernist myself but I would agree with the postmodern sentiment that implicates grand rationales as a tool in authoritarianism and oppression. But I say that not because I think there aren’t any valid grand rationales, but rather because claims to the effect that a particular grand rationale is self evident and compellingly true are likely to be bogus. In particular, fundamentalists are very sure they have a clear conception of “God’s Word”, a Word which they believe can be read plainly with little need for interpretative subtleties; so plainly, in fact, that they are sure everyone else can actually see it their way but is not admitting it and therefore must have bad consciences if they dissent. Fundamentalists are loathe to acknowledge that their interpretations of scripture are open to honest analysis and challenge; such challenges are apt to be regarded by fundamentalists as at best sinister and at worst Satanic. But in my view conscientious dissent and clear conscience agnosticism are authentic positions because no world view is beyond reasonable doubt; at least  beyond the oppresive confines of some of the cloying sub-cultures that promulgate them.

Given the difficulty in establishing world views it is no surprise that many Christians have resorted to a “mythos” rather than a “logos” response; that is, they have resorted to the inner revelations of a kind of gnostic version of Christianity in order to protect themselves from analytical challenge. They think of themselves as bypassing the cut and thrust of analysis and argument with talk of “knowing Jesus in my heart” and special “Holy Spirit” insight. In my experience the touchy-feely ethos of contemporary mythos-centric spirituality can be intense and cloying with great pressure on one to make constant checks on the existential quality of one’s faith and whether one feels near to God. But the fact is, an intuitive sense of God’s/Jesus’ presence, in the final analysis, itself classifies as an experiential sample (and an experience that is by no means common to all Christians), a data point, as it were, that a Christian world view attempts to explain and assimilate.

We are, as I have already suggested, free to dissent from world view synthesis and remain as agnostics with a clear conscience. But if we do it leaves us with little assurance except in the simple elemental objects with which spring-extending and test-tube-precipitating science deals. But if the views I have expressed in my sidebar are correct then very little is left that is not empirical in the sense that it can be investigated with a generalized albeit informal version of science: All our notions must face up to and wrestle with our day to day experience. All human theoretical ideas face the challenge of empirical life whether those challenges are simple protocol statements coming out of a formal experiment, the contents of old parchments, or broad sweep observations about a suffering world which impact our view on the nature and existence of God. In this very general sense science is an all embracing activity, an activity in which even our theological flights of the imagination are put to the test.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Larry Moran's Strong Theological Opinions


I had to catch this one in passing: In a post entitled: "Science and Religion: Are they compatible?" (Sandwalk, 4 November), dyed in the wool atheist Larry Moran writes:

I'm getting pretty disgusted with those "sophisticated" theologians who hide behind fuzzy notions of religion when you know damn well they believe in a personal god who intervenes in the world. Haught has been playing this game for decades. Either he's a deist—in which case he should come right out and admit it—or he believes in a personal god who does things that possibly conflict with science—in which case he should have the courage to defend his beliefs.

So, atheist Larry is quite sure that a personal God entails "intervention" and that if you don't believe this you must be a deist. Well, I don't accept the concept of a God who "intervenes" and yet I'm not a deist. In anycase given that we seem to be in the middle of a chaotic reality that is sensitive to quantum disorder how ever do you distinguish between a "natural event" and an "intervention event"? It just can't be done.

I can't speak for the "sophisticated" theologians Larry is talking  about, but this is a typical case of being made to choose between a false dichotomy - Viz: One is supposed to think of God  as occasionally intervening in the cosmos and when He does it's possibly in conflict with science and you are then liable to be accused of superstition; either that or else one must be a deist; which one is it to be?

As I have quoted Cornelius Hunter as saying: (See here)

It is perhaps one of the great enigmas in religious thought that one can profess to be an agnostic, skeptic, or even atheist regarding belief in God yet still hold strong opinions about God.

I'm getting pretty disgusted with those naive (a)theologians who hide behind fuzzy notions of religion when you know damn well their theological categories are well and truly screwed up. Moran has been playing this game for decades. Either he's pretending he's not dabbling in theology — in which case he should come right out and admit it—or, as Hunter has said, he holds strong opinions about God — in which case he should have the courage to defend his beliefs before he slags off those who do not necessarily fall into his theological boxes.