Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The False Dichotomy Zone: Sacred vs. Secular

Further to my last post where I ended by saying that Young Earthism is a manifestation of god-of-the-gaps notions, this current post explains why I believe god-of-the-gaps is an aspect of a more general dualistic theology which casts the creation question into the mould of a “God did it vs. Nature did it” dualism. This common Western theological theme can, in fact, be traced from Young Earthism, through the de-facto Intelligent Design community to the reasons atheists give for disbelieving in God.

The following analysis uses a broad brush mathematical metaphor to give an indication of the realities involved.

There is a class of configurations, each of length Dg, that take a large amount of time to reach via algorithmic means (assuming ordinary linear processing). The length of these configurations, - I shall refer to them as “complex” configurations - is related to the time needed to generate them T, and the configuration length of the generating algorithm, D0, by the following relation:

Dg <=  k log T  + D0

Where k is a constant and the sign “<=” reads as “less than or equal to”. I may at some stage make this relation the subject of a paper, but in the meantime I’m going to use it to make a point.

What is the above relationship telling us? It’s telling us there is a trade-off between D0 and T: If we wish to generate a complex configuration of length Dg then we can reduce the potential generation time by increasing the size of D0; but if we want to reduce D0 we have to increase the generation time T. A corollary is that in order to get “complexity” (that is, some value of Dg) from “simplicity” (that is, from some small value of D0) then this requires a minimum algorithmic operation time of T set by the above relation. (In fact because this minimum algorithmic time is related to Dg via the logarithm of T, then this means that large values of Dg will consume impractical levels of generation time)

From the above relation it is clear that D0 and T can in principle combine together to produce complexity. In particular if D0 is small (or “simple”) and T large enough to generate Dg then complexity appears to emerge out of nowhere from the sheer action of Time alone. Herein lies the rub: In Western minds T is very easily construed as an intrinsically creative agent; so much so in fact that it may be thought of as constituting a satisfactory account of absolute origins.  This mode of thinking comes out very clearly in the writings of the Biblical literalist whose article on “Deep time – the God of our age” I considered here. That this fundamentalist thinks he can get away with accusing believers in an old Earth of foisting on time the role of creator pretender is an indication of how very culturally deep seated  is the idea that sheer length of time renders divine creation redundant. Young Earth literalism deals with the potential philosophical threat of this secular creator by simply truncating T to a mere 6000 years. This is in fact a belt and braces strategy because even though many in the largely theist Intelligent Design community believe in deep time they are nevertheless falling over themselves to convince us that it is impossible (perhaps even in principle) for physical processes and deep time to have created complex configurations like life. (See here, here and here for example). The de-facto ID community are very explicit about what they believe to be a dichotomy of choice: Either God Intelligence did it or natural processes did it. But if it turns out that “natural processes did it” then the de-facto ID community are going to have egg on their faces because it would contradict all they stand for. Therefore this community are highly motivated in their search to debunk evolution; they need to be – their faith all but rests on it. It is ironic, however, that atheist Richard Dawkins would agree with the de-facto ID community on just what choices are on the table to the exclusion of all others: In the video I posted here we find Richard Dawkins effectively telling us that the universe has origins in something “much, much simpler than a creative intelligence.”  That is, he sees it an exclusive-OR between a complex creative intelligence and simple starting conditions. To Dawkins it’s very important that secularity (that is “T”) working on simplicity is capable of generating everything we see, because for him simplicity is “next to nothing” and is therefore tantamount to needing no further explanation. Young Earthist, ID proponent, and evangelical atheist form a trinity of mutually antagonistic parties, but they all share an underlying theology based on a dichotomy between divine creation and natural processes.

Although D0 may be “simple” compared to what it generates, in absolute terms the combinatorial potentiality available to a string of length implied by D0, (which is probably a few thousand bits long) is still enormous by human standards, too enormous to be practically and exhaustively searched. It is likely that the space of possible algorithms implicit in the value D0, and which run in practical time scales, mostly generate disordered strings with very few, if any, generating configurations of interest, such as living structures. Therefore, it is entirely inappropriate to trivialise the content of D0 if that content generates something significant in a practical time scale; if it does it would constitute an extreme rarity and would be a miracle in its own right. There is therefore no justice in regarding the logical hiatus of this very special kind of simplicity as “next to nothing” or claiming that the patterns of the cosmos have their origin in next to nothing. But conversely it is also wrong to fear the generating potential of physical processes as do the de-facto ID community and the Young Earthists.

Western dualism is a fallacy which expresses its self in false dichotomies: Viz: the dichotomy of the nonmaterial vs. material, the sacredness of configurations created as is vs. the seeming profanity of configurations generated by secular conditions, and above all the “supernatural vs. the natural” dichotomy. This Western dualistic theological paradigm is failing to make sense of reality because it is failing to get the balance right between the eminence and immanence of God . A stress on the eminence and otherness of God favours the view that Divine causation is a category distinct from and yet which cohabits with physical causation. Paradoxically in so categorising the divine we then find that God is demoted to the same logical level as the physical causation he is seen to be distinct from. He then takes his place side by side with “chance and necessity” (as the de-facto ID community inappropriately calls it), and in effect becomes just another agent of causation in a dualistic category system of  “supernatural and natural” causation.

The upshot of this is that there is a strong theological motivation in Western dualistic theology to minimise the role of T in the creation of pattern and maximise the role of complex off-the-peg data that is injected in the form of D0. Ironically the dualistic atheists accepts the same implicit category system but denies the existence of anything but D0 and lots of T. The stage is then set to play off the secular ( = D0 and T) against the supernatural. This, I submit, is the theological motivation behind Young Earthism, and also the de-facto ID community who are doing all they can to show that no data set of small size D0 can generate life in practical time scales. It is ironic that Young Earthists, the de-facto ID movement and the evangelical atheists should form an axis of commonality in their take up of dualistic theology: Bigger gaps then bigger God! ... No gaps (or little gaps) then no God! ....such is the stuff of dualist logic!

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