Thursday, October 24, 2013

Springs, Precipitates, the Paranormal and Heretic Hunters

Without generalising and extending our epistemology science will go down the tubes

Once again I find atheist Larry Moran’s blog an excellent frizzen for creating the sparks to ignite some thoughts on epistemology: The following quoted material can be found here.


I think there IS a conflict between science and religion. For example, I think that a proper understanding of evolution leads inevitably to the conclusion that there is no purpose or goal in evolution and that the evolution of humans on this planet was largely a chance event. This conflicts with many religious views.

My Comment: A proper understanding of evolution, even as it is understood by the academic establishment leads inevitably to the conclusion that it is highly directed in the sense that its probing “gaseous” fingers of probabilistic diffusion must be limited to very narrow channels in the space of possibilities, otherwise nothing interesting would evolve in realistic time scales. Using phrases like “chance event” fails to do justice to this background structure that guides the process of evolution. See this post where I discuss the channelled nature of evolution with one of Larry Moran’s commenters, a commenter who, like Professor Moran himself, seemed unable see the logic of his own position.
Let me just say by way of qualifying myself, that I'm not committed to the academic establishment's view of evolutionary mechanisms and I'm here only pointing to the implications of what people like Larry Moran must himself be committed to even if he is unaware of it.
There may be a conflict between science and religion if one conceives God’s involvement in natural history as necessarily being that of a kind of jumped alien homunculus who majors in tinkering with the natural order, making science, as we currently know it, fail at those points. (See:
As for the concept of “purpose” let’s be clear that this notion has no meaning unless we are talking about a context where sentience is implicit and consequently where such concepts as plans, goals and aims are meaningful. In contrast there is no intrinsic “purpose” to be found in the mechanisms of evolution any more than one can find purpose in some man-made artifact without imagining the social context in which it functions. "Purpose" is an extrinsic property of an object and it exists by virtue of the object's relation to its context. In a similar vein: One can’t find purpose in the mechanisms of evolution any more than one finds sentience at the low level of brain neurons. Purpose and sentience are only found at the high system level. If purpose is to be found in evolution it will only become apparent in the higher context of the world-view within which one interprets the meaning (or lack of meaning!) of evolution. Therefore contrary to what Larry Moran says it follows that a proper understanding of evolution is not in itself sufficient to throw light on the subject of purpose (or lack of purpose)

I think that science can, and has, dealt with supernatural explanations and found them wanting in all cases. I do not believe in non-overlapping Magisteria. There's nothing that science can't investigate.

My Comment: I agree that there is nothing that can’t be investigated scientifically and I don’t myself believe in non-overlapping Magisteria. But this is not to say that science’s investigations will always be successful; as I have said here, amenability of an ontology to scientific investigation will have a bearing on the level of scientific success. It is quite possible to imagine intractable ontologies that do not readily yield their secrets to scientific epistemology.
I’m not really sure what Larry means by “supernatural explanations” but I suspect this is all bound up with the Western dualist mindset that makes a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural agencies.

I believe that Kevin Padian is wrong when he says that religious scientists such as Ken Miller, Michael Behe, and Francis Collins "do not place religious views above empirical evidence." They all believe in miracles, they all believe that humans have a soul, and they all believe in life after death. They all believe in the existence of a personal, creator God in spite of the fact that there's no evidence that such a being exists. 

Larry Moran appears not to understand how “evidence” really works: There is even evidence for David Ike’s bizarre world of reptilian conspiracy, but whether it is sufficient evidence and interpreted with epistemic discipline is another matter. Human beings do not proceed logically from evidence to theoretical narratives but are inclined to work from theoretical narratives to evidences. These narratives serve as sense making and explanatory objects of those evidences. This very human and open ended capability comes with all the potential epistemic hazards of imaginative and undisciplined over-interpretation. What Moran seems not to understand is that religious views are a way of interpreting accepted evidences against a backdrop of endeavor that seeks to reach an all-embracing world-view by abduction. People like Miller and Collins don’t differ with Larry Moran about evidences or the relatively low level physical science narratives in which these evidences are embedded. But they do differ with Moran in their willingness to put those objects and evidences in the much wider context of a religious world view. Miller and Collins are adding to the basic physical science narratives and not subtracting from them (as do fundamentalists). That they may believe in the occasional few and far between historical suspensions of the normal physical regime (i.e. miracles) can hardly be construed as anti-science heresy (which is, I suspect, the charge that Mr Moran is seeking to bring) and will make little difference to their science.

The kind of objections to the paranormal that we see from Larry Moran may typically have their roots in an a-priori concept of what reality should be like. Rather than objecting to the paranormal for the epistemic reason that its observational protocols are far too erratic to give us a firmly established theoretical narrative the real objection is actually ontological; that is, there is an ulterior and exclusive line being drawn around what can be and should be. What is happening here is that when investigations start to go beyond the relatively amenable world of mechanisms established by spring extending and test tube precipitating sciencethe epistemic difficulties of acquiring knowledge are wrongly perceived as an ontological limitation rather than an epistemic limitation; that is, if it’s beyond the mechanisms within the purview of spring extending and test tube precipitating science then the default assumption is that it doesn't exist. But science isn't ontology, it is epistemology, an epistemology that must wait without prior prejudice on what ontology puts its way. A belief in the identification of the epistemically tractable with ontology is itself a world view that has effectively over interpreted the evidence available.

Having said that, however, I nevertheless respect diffidence about belief in the paranormal (which includes the miraculous) because the manifestation of the paranormal in human consciousness is highly erratic. I therefore find no good reason to blame anyone for genuine disbelief in it. I would certainly not take the line of the Christian fundamentalists who use Romans 1 in an indiscriminating and comprehensive way as a pretext to make a cathartic full-on hell-fire attack on their detractors, accusing them of the most heinous sins of blasphemy and/or heresy: We see atheists like Larry Moran accused of being crypto-theists suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness as per Romans 1. The history referred to in Romans 1 is inapplicable to people like, say, Larry Moran who gives every impression of having a clear conscience in their disbelief of the paranormal and of God. Romans 1 is about the rejection of the true God in favor of idolatry;  that is, in favor of perverse depictions of God and not atheism per see.
Given the erratic nature of the paranormal and all that is so bizarre and repugnant about many religious communities there are cultural circumstances that help fuel disbelief: This is, in fact, the general lesson that comes out Romans 1; namely, that false depictions of God promotes disbelief. In this connection I'm sure many an atheist will receive mercy on judgement day; they only need plead the mitigating circumstances of Western culture which includes the likes of the Jehovah witnesses, the Mormons, Answers in Genesis, Barry Smith, William Tapley, Harold Camping, David Koresh, David Berg -  the list is endless. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Norwich and Norfolk Faith Group Lecture.

There’s been another interesting lecture by Norwich and Norfolk’s Science and Faith group, (see here for my post on a previous lecture), this time by Astrophysicist Rodney Holder. According to the article on NN&N Dr Holder (as reported by Patrick Richmond) makes the following points:

The universe is finely tuned in order to give rise to life like us. Its current form arises out of very special conditions.

My Comment. (Just as a note here: We need to distinguish between supporting life and generating life.) That scientists like Dr Holder make constant appeal to the Universe’s very special “sitting-on-a-knife-edge” condition is evidence they actually support “Intelligent Design” in its most general sense. Sad to say, however, that the “Intelligent Design” rubric is probably to be avoided because it has become blighted by its association with anti-academic establishment groups and, much, much worse, Young Earth Creationism. (See John Polkinghorne’s understandable reaction to the term “ID” here)

A universe with an absolute beginning seems to pose a problem for atheists. Some cosmologists continue to seek theories that avoid absolute starts. These attempts are looking problematical in the light of work by Alexander Vilenkin.

My Comment: See my previous post here for comment on this. I’m glad to see Dr Holder steered round the Kalum argument.  It is true, however, that because we are creatures who live in the causal unfolding of time, a logical hiatus at the start of the universe is very compelling, far more compelling than the more abstract logical hiatus that is silently with us everywhere and everywhen. Human beings need an obvious discontinuity and/or change on the stage of time before it becomes newsworthy and demands explanation! As my good friend James Knight points out we are like fish swimming around in the sea asking where is the water?

The main feature of the Christian doctrine of creation is less about beginnings then in it addressing the deep question of “Why is there something rather than nothing”. “Something from nothing” doctrines such as we see from Stephen Hawkin contradict themselves, because they are clearly positing assumed physical properties from the outset. This is not “nothing” (See my comments here)

My Comment: This “Why is there something rather than nothing?” question is basically a probe about that immersive logical hiatus that is with us everywhere and everywhen.

Even the multiverse calls on special mathematical conditions for it to generate universes. Moreover a huge majority of the organisation observed in the cosmos is redundant to our existence; in terms of likelihoods our universe is far too over engineered if it were just one of an infinity of largely disordered universes.

My Comment: I touch on this issue in this series of posts. It is an issue that brings out the very particularity of our cosmos; that is, high complexity in service of simplicity. The North American ID community call this “specification” ( or complex specified information)  - definitely one of their better ideas, I'll give them that!  
Dr Holder concluded that modern cosmology seems to confirm Christian belief.

My Comment: By “confirm” I’m taking that not to mean making an inductive connection to “God” from the known universe, but rather a connection to God that is deductive. Given the known universe it doesn't follow in any inductive logical way I can think of that "therefore God".  On making note of the very general logical hiatuses Dr Holder refers to I've always preferred the deductive approach: That is "In the beginning God, therefore an intelligible rational universe”. (See here). "Evidence" for an object really means passing from object to evidence rather than evidence to object. Such are the imaginative a-priori epistemic methods of the human mind.

Whatever way we turn, whether to standard evolution, multi-verse, or continuous creation we find that the cosmos has particular and idiosyncratic logical "edges" to it. This is evidence of the mathematical truth that descriptive "compression" will always terminate with an irreducible kernel of information, and enigmatic non-trivial information at that.


Seeing people like Rodney Holder and the N&N faith group at work is a breath of fresh air. I’ve made it my lot in life to focus my time on the eccentric, bordering on crank, versions of Christianity, and sometimes I wonder why.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

North American ID’s God of the Gaps Theology in the Spot Light at Last.

I was fascinated to read this post on Uncommon Descent referring to the criticisms of the de-facto Intelligent Design movement by a theologian David Hart. Essentially he’s taken them to task for their God-of-the-Gaps theology and how, if “law and disorder” science should fill the gap that this form of ID claims to exist, then at the very least embarrassment ensues. A critique of this “god-of-the-gaps” theology has, of course, been one of the themes of this blog and I give a list of relevant links below. I’m glad to see someone else taking this line of criticism against the “homunculus ID” paradigm.

However, I must qualify myself by saying that it doesn’t then follow that the engine of evolution as the academic establishment understands it is correct. Moreover, it is just possible that “evolvable” replicators are one of creations givens; after all something has to be accepted as a providential given and whatever that given is, it’s very, very cleverly contrived! I’m less concerned about the science of the North American ID community than the dualistic philosophy which motivates it.

Addendum 18/10/2013: Barry Arrington Screws Up
In a post dated October 17th and entitled “Newton’s Snow Flake Error” we find that Barry Arrington of Uncommon Descent has suddenly latched on to the “Gap-of-the Gaps” critique of his version of Homunculus ID . Here is what he says:

ID proponents are often accused of making a similar “God of the gaps” error.  They are accused of reasoning along these lines:  “Living things are too complex to have evolved through natural processes; therefore God must have done it.”

And below we find his answer:

First, ID posits that natural forces are not, in principle, capable of generating the complex specified information found in living things (more precisely, ID posits that the chances of CSI arising through natural means is so vanishingly small as to be considered impossible as a practical matter).  Therefore, it is not just a matter of science not yet having found the answer.  ID argues for good reason that looking for a natural cause of a super sophisticated digital semiotic code is a fool’s errand.  Second, while natural forces cannot generate CSI, we do know of a cause that produces CSI routinely – intelligent agents.  Indeed, intelligent agents are the ONLY known source of CSI where the provenance of the CSI has been actually observed rather than inferred.  And while our digital code is not as sophisticated and elegant as that found in DNA, it is the same sort of thing.  Therefore, concludes the ID proponent, intelligent design is the best explanation for the data.

Here "natural forces" are habitually and implicitly identified with "law and disorder" physics; this identification is taken for granted. Notice that Arrington claims that these so called “natural forces” cannot in principle generate the complex specified information found in living things. This (never proved) in-principle-objection to law and disorder processes generating life is very important to the homunculus ID paradigm, as I have said before. This is because this paradigm’s implicit theological dualism makes a sharp distinction between “natural forces” and the “supernatural powers” of God. The logic of Arrington’s dualism means that these “natural forces” are seen as a kind of god-pretender to creation; it is no surprise that many of Arrington’s atheist detractors hold a similar dualist mindset although they are, of course, routing for“natural forces” as the agent of creation.

Arrington’s theological dualism means that it doesn’t occur to him that a physical regime capable of generating life would clearly be complex, specified and contingent: Viz: To locate the suite of algorithms capable of generating life is a problem with a high algorithmic complexity, so much so perhaps that it is beyond even human computational resources. Therefore you don't necessarily need a "gap" in the physical regime that governs our cosmos before you start proposing the operation of intelligence. I have never seen this issue addressed by the Homunculus IDiers; they appear to be unaware of  it except perhaps William Dembski.

Arrington goes on to betray that he is in thrall to “materialism” as a valid category of thought, a woolly metaphysical idea he habitually and unthinkingly equates with the well defined category of law and disorder physics:

The application of this type of reasoning is universally unobjectionable in certain areas of inquiry (e.g., forensics, archeology).  In other words, when an archeologist finds CSI in an arrowhead and concludes the patterns were created by an Indian and not natural weathering, his colleagues do not ridicule him for making an “Indian of the gaps” argument.  Only in biology is a straightforward inference based on sound premises ridiculed.  Why?  It is not the data.  Is not the reasoning from the data.  It is a Lewontinian insistence on a priori materialism – and that, ladies and gentlemen, is not science.  It is a faith commitment to a metaphysical position (which is often called “religion”).

The foregoing sums up the kind of naive homunculus ID theory that Arrington stands for; that is: “God as a-kinda-Indian”. If I wasn't a Christian liberal I’d be accusing Arrington of blasphemy at this point! His mitigating circumstance is that dualism suffuses Western religious thought and this includes atheists thinking;: Western atheists may not believe in God but that doesn't stop them having a concept of God as a "supernatural" homunculus to be contrasted against "natural" causes.

Caveat: It is possible, as I have already remarked above, that God directly provisioned our cosmos with, let’s say for the sake of argument, “evolvable replicators” rather than generated them from an observable physical regime. But if prototypical biological structures are a given, I would certainly not justify this as Arrington does by arguing from his implicit theological dualism; this is a case of arriving at the right conclusion but for the wrongs reasons.

Addendum 23/10/13
Two articles have recently appeared on Uncommon Descent asking "Is Intelligent Design Bad Theology", one by Barry Arrington and the other by V J Torley: 
They both start off by making one very fundamental mistake:  They implicitly assume an identification of their "God-of-the-Gaps" view of natural history with "Intelligent Design". This is, of course, wrong. Many Christian evolutionists, like say John Polkinghorne, who are not committed to logical gaps in natural history, would nevertheless admit a commitment to Intelligent Design were it not for the fact that this term has become blighted by a polarised contention. (See here:

V J Torley's article is long and I may deal with it at a later date.

God of the gaps thinkers hope believe the missing bits can't be found.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Generalizing Science: Beyond Test Tubes and Springs

The easy end of science

In many ways I agree with evangelical atheist Larry Moran’s concept of science as an embracing method that covers all our attempts to get at valid knowledge. But I think I’m going to have to qualify this statement!

I’m always suspicious of dichotomies and even worse those polychotomies where concept categories are multiplied into a complex of sharply defined distinctions. Much better, I feel, if catch-all categories can be defined which effectively identify very common or even universal features of our experience. For example, when it comes to epistemic method one sometimes hears the view that there are different epistemic domains called “magisteria”. The implication is that there are irreconcilably different ways knowledge is acquired. This take on epistemology fails to do justice to important commonalities of method that exist between so-called “magisteria”.  In contrast I prefer the sentiments that Larry Moran expresses when he says (See here):

I think that science is a way of knowing based on evidence and logic and healthy skepticism. I think that all disciplines seeking knowledge use the scientific approach. This is the broad definition of science used by many philosophers and scientists

Are there any knowledge questions that science (in the broad sense) can't address? I don't think there are. I think "science" covers all the questions even though it doesn't (yet) have all the answers.

There aren't "two magisteria" but only one. Unless, of course, someone is willing to propose a successful non-scientific way of knowing. I have asked repeatedly for examples of knowledge ("truth") that have been successfully acquired by any other way of knowing. So far, nobody has come up with an answer so we can tentatively conclude that science (in the broad sense) is the only valid way of acquiring true knowledge.

Moran also quotes philosopher Martyn Boudry:

I have expressed little confidence in the viability of the territorial demarcation problem, and even less interest in solving it. Not only is there no clear-cut way to disentangle epistemic domains like science and philosophy, but such a distinction carries little epistemic weight

Moran on Boudry:

Boudry says that the distinction between the ways of knowing used by biologists, philosophers, and historians are meaningless and there's no easy way to distinguish them (territorial demarcation).

I would more or less agree. These quotes are part of an endeavor to come up with what Larry Moran refers to as the broad definition of science used by many philosophers and scientists.  As I have said before (see also my side bar) science in its broadest sense is the attempt to resolve the tension between our experience and the theoretical narratives we use to understand our experience. This activity is so general and comprehensive in definition that I’m unable to see what it fails to cover.*

But in our epistemic efforts we find there are at least two variables:

1) Although broadly speaking our theoretical opinions are formed in the caldron of everyday experience, the standards of formality and rigor with which this is done varies considerably.

2) A variable beyond our control is the epistemic tractability of the ontology we are trying to come to grips with. Some ontologies present a harder scientific problem than do other ontologies. In fact some ontologies may never yield all their secrets to science.

This latter variable is most significant and affects the former variable. Although I would agree that the interplay of narrative and observation is the essence of all human epistemology, one finds that epistemic formality and rigor varies from discipline to discipline in a way that depends on the epistemic tractability of the ontology a discipline has to handle. This is because there is a trade-off between epistemic rigour and epistemic tractability: The more intractable an ontology becomes the less amenable it is to the minutia of formal rigour. Therefore the outcome is that with disciplines dealing with less epistemically tractable ontologies formal rigor may be sacrificed for progress (albeit less assured progress). It is the differential in epistemic tractability and the impact it has on epistemic rigor, methods and conventions that produces the appearance of distinct “magisteria”, although in fact the essential activity of juxtaposing observation against narrative is the common scientific theme in all “magisteria”.

Those physical scientists who are used to dealing with the relatively simple ontologies of the spring extending and test tube precipitating kind may find themselves making heavy weather of those disciplines in the humanities that try to make sense of far less amenable ontologies. Biochemist Larry Moran says above that science doesn’t yet have all the answers; we may have to settle for the statement that science may never have all the answers. Going right back to 2007 I used comment on Larry Moran’s blog. At that time I tried get across the message about degrees of epistemic tractability, although I saw no sign that the concept was taken onboard; I’ve never seen him admit that some ontologies are less amenable to science than others – to him it all seems to be homogeneous “science”. Below I’ve compiled a list of some of the things I have said in the comments section of Larry Moran’s blog.

Like all graded phenomena epistemology slowly and imperceptibly shades over from hard science through soft science to the wild imaginings of conspiracy theory. In this spectrum sharp lines of demarcation are difficult to discern. The apparently reasonable assumption that our world is rationally readable, an assumption needed to get hard science going is, paradoxically, the thin of  the imaginative wedge for conspiracy theory! (See here

I have a suspicion that evangelical atheists like Larry Moran are after well-defined criteria separating out the sheep from the goats that they can then use to police human epistemic efforts. It is ironic that the Biblical literalists, who are also in the business of policing human epistemology (by using shouts of "heresy!"), have long since beaten the evangelical atheists to the post on this one with their bogus distinction between “observational” and “historical” science!

Relevant links:

Footnote :
* Religious Gnostics and fideists will of course claim that they have a superior “supernatural epistemic” and that it doesn’t classify as science. But the fact is their epistemic boils down to incorporating their claimed special experiences into a narrative of explanation. Their reasoning may be ropy and their claimed “inner light” experience suspect, but nevertheless one can observe the amusing paradox of those who claim to be above reason, wrapping narrative round their experiences and thus falling into the catchall of generalized science!
* The philosophy of science is a kind of science of science whereby theoretical narratives are developed around observations of human epistemic efforts.

See below for some of my comments about epistemic tractability taken from Larry Moran’s Blog:

26/9/2007: The ontology of some objects, especially if they are bound up with the particularities of history, makes them epistemologically less tractable than others. Evolution with its crippled snail’s progress not to mention its dependence on the vagaries of historical and aleatory events is less epistemologically tractable than say molecular objects. Evolution therefore provides much more scope for variations of opinion that, as already been hinted above, may well be informed not just by differences in experience but also differences in ulterior ideology. The suspicions engendered by the ‘hidden variable’ of ideology leads to distrust. Hence, rather than agreeing to differ, malign motives and devious machinations are ascribed followed by impugning of characters.

22/10/2007 Does the Universe have purpose? Theism posits an outer context that is intermediate between the extremes of randomness and simplicity, namely that of personality and deity, which presumably has the property of aseity. The loss of scientific tractability in theism is compensated for by a gain in meaning as it seeks to illuminate the human predicament in terms intelligible to human personality: namely justice, love, mercy, sacrifice, intension, providence, and, of course, purpose. That’s what they call theology. You take it or you leave it.

16/11/2007 Judgement Day: Science vs. Religion? I’m always suspicious of black vs. white renderings of reality, especially the social realities to which these subject domains pertain. Life is seldom that simple. True, a single battlefield with just two opposing sides reduces the focus fragmentation overhead as the single-minded (simple-minded?) can support one or the other sides. But if games theory has taught us anything then life seldom throws up two opposing sides with diametrically opposed interests; the more realistic picture is of various parties with blends of interest.
Moreover, I don’t think we have this clear-cut domain called ‘science’. Different objects of different complexity have different levels of epistemological tractability; that’s why I doubt that the historian’s methods are as clear cut and unambiguous as say the methods of the particle physicist.  Although for both workers empirical evidences are relevant (documents for historians, experimental ‘protocols’ for the physicists – and both use texts in their research), the logical and ontological complexity of history gives for a far great margin of ambiguity.
Although I agree that empiricism is a general method that covers the whole of life, the conceptual constructions with which we attempt to make sense of the empirical are not subject to a naive falsification view of science. The open endedness of reality ensures that falsification methods are only going to be effective in degrees depending on the objects under study. For example, in a police or historical investigation, ultimate falsification of a variety of scenarios may be impossible; in fact cases may remain unsolved. Therefore a more general empirical epistemological theory is required, especially when those complex objects we call ‘world views’ are at stake.
Even when it comes to something like God which you might think to be beyond the empirical, it is clear that people make observations about the world that are relevant to the question of deity: For example, whether or not evolution is a fact or whether a omnipotent personal God would preside over a world of suffering.
I am not sure I agree with Miller’s dichotomization of the supernatural and natural (once again this seems to me to be a suspicious black vs. white rendition of reality), but leaving that on one side let me say that I deeply respect Miller’s faith and his abilities and feel we need people around like him to show us that the debate on theism and evolution doesn’t easily reduce to an ‘us vs. them’ contention. This isn’t one of your straightforward battlefields Larry.

19/12/2007 What is ID creationism? Hi Lim, I don’t really want to interrupt this discussion of biological realities with philosophy, but let me just say this:
An anonymous commentator on this blog once said that evolution successfully ‘joins’ the dots of observation (and, one hopes, predicts dots as well!). I would certainly want to concede that. In fact one might say that all science does this to a greater or lesser extent depending on the epistemological tractability of the object in question: some objects, particularly complex objects like evolution, history, human beings and social realities in particular, present far less accessible dots in relation to their size and complexity than say relatively simple objects like springs obeying Hooke’s law. To cut a long story short let me just say that for me personally it is this spectrum of epistemological tractability by which theism gets through the net!

06/01/2007 National Academies: Science Evolution and Creationism: I don’t accept Gould’s idea of NOMA but (and this is the big but) I accept that reality presents us with diverse ontological categories with differing levels of epistemological tractability, therefore demanding different standards of practice in investigation: history, sociology, economics, archeology, meta-science (philosophy of science), evolutionary theory all proceed with less ease and formalization than say solid state physics, whose objects are relatively ‘simple’ in character. This spectrum of ontological categories, with simple objects giving way to increasingly complex and exotic ontological objects allows theism to ‘sneak’ in at the upper for people like myself.
Ken Miller has remarked on the possibility that the Divine will might exploit the apparently random perturbations on a chaotic reality to encode His will. This allows a subtle theist like Miller to be both an interventionist and a deist at the same time – he can have his cake and eat it! These theists can be crafty!
The existence or non-existence of Diety (or at least the Deity of the Judeo-Christian kind) is a question that does impinge upon observation: e.g. the issue of evil and suffering. Tell you what Larry, why not try praying for something and see if you get an answer? This video of one your usual suspects should give you some hints on how to pray.

13/04/2008: Complicating matters still further is the fact that the ontology of the cosmos doesn’t make all objects equally as epistemologically tractable and it is often difficult to determine whether a lauded ontology is the result of some deep emotional complex driving a theorist into a kind ‘theoretical delirium’ or due to genuine epistemological difficulties seriously compromising empirical rigor: the Martian ‘canal’ debacle is a case in point.

In defense of myself I have to reaffirm that from my perspective all theoretical constructions look to be part the same class in that they are all attempts to make sense of our basic ‘protocol’ perceptions. However, they do differ very widely in the quality of attitude, mental discipline, background ontological paradigm (or what have you) that has created them and the epistemological tractability of the objects in view. Moreover, as direct perception forms such a small window on the cosmos these theories and their ‘confirming’ observations arrive at our door for evaluation via The Text. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Mangling Science Part 3: Continuing Our Diet of Worms

Jason Lisle's present to the Biblical Literalist community..

In this third part of my critique of the fundamentalist attack on science I open up another can of worms – this time Jason Lisle’s ASC model.  (See below for links to parts 1 and 2)

The Biblical literalist’s 6000 year cosmology means that for them star-light’s arrival upon Earth’s surface is a perennial problem with radically new Young Earthist “solutions” appearing every few years.  Russ Humphreys’ White Hole Model at least suggested a programme of calculation that could be tested against cosmological observations.  Once Humphreys had conceived his basic model the laws of physics limited the options as to how his cosmos was going to develop over time. This was because his commitment to known physical laws meant that he did not have at his disposal an infinitely malleable model that would enable him to fit his theory to any observations. He was therefore taking risks, just as someone advancing a scientific theory should. It seems, however, that this gallant effort to explain our perspective on the cosmos failed and once again Young Earthist star-light theory was in the doldrums. The least we could say was that Humphreys’ model was a genuinely scientific attempt at solving the problem. So perhaps at last the Young Earthists had learnt the lessons of scientific integrity. There was also a concession to cosmology: Whilst his model implied a 6000 year old Earth it actually conceded an ancient universe as measured using the ticks of cosmic clocks beyond Earth.

But then along came Jason Lisle with his “ASC model” and a return to the bad old days of “mature” creation where signals are created ad-hoc in transit, a notion which thoroughly compromises testable science and rational integrity. The infinite number of adjustable variables available to the mature creation "theorist" gives him a model so malleable that it can be made to fit almost anything. But not everybody could immediately see Lisle's need for in-transit-signal-creation; some were fooled by Lisle’s pathological coordinate transformation that by convention assigned all but infinite velocities to signals radially directed toward the Earth. Of course this radially directed coordinate system could just as easily be applied anywhere and everywhere in the universe. Therefore those whose science was weak, fazed by Lisle’s piece of sophistry, concluded that somehow Lisle had pulled an infinite speed of light out of the hat whereby observers anywhere and everywhere were able to explain the visibility of the universe using a nigh on infinite light speed. But no; one can only simultaneously use Lisle’s radial coordinate convention at one place at a time. This means that if the value of the speed of light toward Earth is set at infinity then it follows that there are large solid angles where light travels at speeds a great deal less than infinity; in fact there must be a whole hemisphere of solid angle where the velocity of light was between c and c/2. In short Lisle couldn't have his cake and eat it, although the scientifically challenged may have thought he could.

Big problem then: Lisle’s coordinate transformation still means that for by far and away the majority of solid angles light, when compared to cosmic dimensions, travels at pretty much the snail’s pace it always has. So how does Lisle account for interacting star masses which for the most part could only interact using snail’s pace signalling? For the fundamentalist’s mind that’s easy to solve; there is always the fall-back of mature creation theory. In fact the following is what Lisle says at the end of paper on his ASC model (Published on AiG)

We note that the ASC model only accounts for distant starlight and other earthward-directed phenomena that move at nearly the speed of light (such as neutrinos). It has been suggested that other celestial phenomena require billions of years: collisions of galaxies, jets of material from active galactic nuclei (AGNs), etc. However, I do not believe this is so. It seems to me that the mature creation argument works quite well on distributions of matter. Unlike light, the supernatural creation of matter in a specific configuration does not undermine any precondition of intelligibility; nor do we have biblical information that would be contrary to the idea that God may have created the matter in the universe very close to its present location. So, we should consider the possibility that galaxies currently in collision may have been created in collision. There is no reason to assume that they must have come from a previous state. The fact that it is possible to imagine a previous state which could have led up to the present state is logically irrelevant. After all, it is possible to imagine a previous state which would have led up to Adam’s adult state—namely a baby. Yet Adam did not come from such a state (My emphasis)

Notice that Lisle hasn't mentioned here that those “specific configurations of matter” created as is, just like that, must also include attributing speed and direction to the motions of the particles of those configurations.  Also, Lisle hasn't told us that photons, which deliver to our eyes the “Light experience” are simply one special kind of material particle in the standard model of physics that, like all the other material particles, obey the laws of physics. So one might guess (a guess that turns out to be wrong!) that photons, like other material particles are, according to Lisle, created as is with the appropriate configurations and velocities. Lisle has also not told us that matter interacts by communicating using signals that are, in fact, due to the motions of the particles of the standard model. So according to Lisle interacting star masses, such as colliding galaxies, require all the appropriate signalling particles to be created in the appropriate configurations of position and velocity as if they have emanated from distant parts of the star mass. So to avoid special pleading one might expect Lisle would have photons, which play a part in material interactions, be created as if they too have apparently (as opposed to actually) travelled from distant parts, just like the other particles of the standard model. But no!

Notice what Lisle has said above; “Unlike light”. So is Lisle excluding photons from his mature creation theory, a theory, (if such it can be called!) which allows the creation of signals in transit?  If so he may have a problem here because photons play a part in the interactions of matter: This would mean that photonic interactions which don’t involve motions radially directed toward the Earth, would be largely absent from Lisle’s cosmos as they would be barred from participating in Lisle’s mature creation theory, a theory that otherwise allows in-transit-signal-creation. As we shall see below it seems, in fact, that this is what Lisle is proposing. That is, he doesn't like photons being created in transit and unlike other particles, Lisle doesn't allow them to have an apparent bogus history of travel behind them. This means that according to Lisle photons must have a genuine origin of travel and not an apparent origin. Perhaps this is because we can see photons and therefore in this case creative integrity is manifestly an issue for Lisle. Perhaps! Who knows!

As I have already said, Lisle’s centralized coordinate system can be centred anywhere and everywhere in the cosmos and this may have distracted some from perceiving the radical geocentricity and cosmic asymmetry of Lisle’s ASC model. This asymmetry results because light moving away from us does so at a snail’s pace of not much over c/2. It would then follow from Lisle’s logic that those distant stars can’t see us now as we can see them now (“now” as defined using Lisle’s coordinate system); this follows, of course, because light from distant parts reaches us all but instantaneously, but light leaving us moves at no greater speed than c.  In fact Lisle himself confirms this logic: Sam Trenholm, a Christian contributor to Rationalwiki, came up with an elegant thought experiment to bring out the radical asymmetry and geocentricity of Lisle's ASC model. He then posted this experiment as a comment on Lisle’s blog. Below I reproduce this post along with Lisle’s reply.

Imagine, if you will, a large mirror in this young ASC universe of yours 5,000 light years from Earth. If one looks in this mirror from Earth in your young ASC universe, they will see nothing (well, OK, they will see whatever you consider “formless and void”) until 10,000 years after the universe’s special creation—4,000 years in the future should said universe be 6,000 years old.
[Dr. Lisle: Yes. Quite correct.]

According to the logic here we wouldn't be able to see the reflection of our Sun in this hypothetical mirror simply because the Sun was only created about 6000 years ago: Light travelling away from near Earth vicinity at around c/2 has yet to get to the mirror! Lisle could, of course, cut the Gordian knot by simply postulating the in-transit-creation of photons from Earth as he does other particles of interaction, but he doesn't; this mature creation “rescuing device” is, it seems, taboo for Lisle when it is photons that are doing the signalling and the interacting. The reason for the special exemption of photons from mature creation theory seems to be based on the requirement that photonic signals remain humanly intelligible; when these signals reach human eyes they appear to tell a compelling story about where they are from. If Lisle allowed these signals to be created in transit then the bogus history that mature creation posits would be all too apparent to the observer. Presumably other particulate agents of interaction such as the particles that mediate gravity, or gas pressures are allowed by Lisle to be covered by mature creation theory because no human eye can focus them to see where they are coming from. But then the human eye can’t focus gamma rays and radio frequencies so does that mean that these forms of electromagnetic radiation can be created in transit? Who knows!

Let me now re-quote Lisle:

….we should consider the possibility that galaxies currently in collision may have been created in collision. There is no reason to assume that they must have come from a previous state. The fact that it is possible to imagine a previous state which could have led up to the present state is logically irrelevant. After all, it is possible to imagine a previous state which would have led up to Adam’s adult state—namely a baby. Yet Adam did not come from such a state

No reason to assume they must have come from a previous state? Oh yes there is a reason, and that reason is called rational integrity. Moreover, it seems that Lisle does appreciate the need for rational integrity when it comes to photons, particularly photons that arrive at our eyes. According to Lisle there is a reason why photon configurations must have come from a previous state and this reason is because they would otherwise convey misleading information about their history thus subverting the rational readability of the universe. But of course when it comes to other particles of interaction Lisle compromises rational intelligibility and invokes mature creation theory which necessarily implies bogus histories having to be invented. If one is going to tolerate the ultimate fix-all “rescuing device” of Last Thursdayism, then one must also accept that it will imply bogus histories; that is, histories that don't exist but which material signals testify to; distributions of matter are ever changing, fluctuating, exploding etc. and those signals will testify to these histories of change, unless we are “Last Thursdayists”, who refuse to read the signals and make resort to the childish argument that “How do you know, you we weren't there last Thursday!”.  The inevitable consequence of "Last Thursdayism" is that it necessarily posits in-transit-signal-creation, signals which therefore entail a bogus history of events. In short Lisle’s theory is yet more anti-science from the fundamentalist stable and his concession exempting light from mature creation cosmology is just window dressing that has the effect of fazing the scientifically challenged.

The fact is we are never truly “there” for any physical process, but signals emanating from these processes are assumed to be rationally intelligible, a reliable indication of what has been; after all, a Christian should believe in the creative integrity of God’s work. Looking at the signals physical processes send out and interpreting those signals appropriately is as near as humans can ever get to being there as eyewitnesses; as far as humans are concerned our physical ontology provides no better concept of presence. In the final analysis all science is history and history is readable because our universe sends out intelligible signals whether they be photons or the hard matter signals of human inscribed texts, like. books, scientific papers or the Bible. Lisle's mature creation theory is a pile of ad-hocery, not least of which is the exclusion of photons from his mature creation concepts. This latter piece of ad-hocery is necessary to give the impression to the scientifically challenged fundamentalist rank and file that Lisle has addressed the problem of creative integrity. But in Lisle's cosmology the problem of creative integrity remains for signals invisible to the human eye!

If you challenge Lisle about his can of worms then at least one of his followers might tell you this: (See previous post here: 

Perhaps you should work on being humble, I am not making a proud statement such as I am more humble than you, however I would not condescend so obviously to someone so obviously my senior.

In patriarchal fundamentalist circles standing in awe of seniority makes up for the failings of a mangled threadbare philosophy that goes down as “science” amongst Biblical literalists.

1. Lisle’s coordinate transformation has the effect of changing the value of c under some circumstances. Here c is not so much the speed of something but a constant in an equation. The coordinate transformation that leads to this change is different again from Lisle appearing to assume the in-transit-creation of material signals (with the exception of photons it seems) which is an extra ad-hoc feature of his “theory”.

2. The following article may reveal a galactic example of the journey of material signals from an outburst from the galaxy's central black hole toward the Magellanic stream where these signals stimulate the stream to emit light. If this  is the case then in a rational and readable cosmos this is naturally interpreted as evidence of a genuine history longer than 6000 years.

3. For parts 1 and 2 of this series see here:
4. See also:

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Social Pecking Order in Fundamentalism

Every so often Young Earthist guru Jason Lisle's blog gets purged of selected content. In order to ensure the preservation of some significant comments I've published them below. These comments contain interesting material that touches on my primary interest in Lisle; namely Christian fundamentalism as a social phenomenon; in this particular connection I highlight the deferential demeanour of the follower toward his leader. 

William Irwin Thompson says this about gurus and their disciples:  

The gurus are tolerant and merely condescending now because they have no political power; but even without power they show full evidence of human frailty and vanity and tend to think that their own yoga is bigger and better than the other guru’s. And what is often only a case of mild condescension in the guru becomes in the disciples a fever of zealotry.  

After I published Thompson's quote on my blog here I wrote: 

This comment (by Thompson) applies to Christian "gurus" and their followers as much as it does to New Age gurus and their followers.

Below I've netted a  fine example  that bears this out:  Here we find a zealous disciple's chagrin at  seeing the maestro he so looks up to addressed in a way he perceives as disrespectful; and we must  remember here that anything other than metaphorically prostrating one's self before the guru's teaching is regarded as an affront. Talking to a guru as an equal (or worse, making that guru look less than one's equal) means of course that in the pecking order of the guru's social nexus one is placing one's self  very much above his fawning disciples and so by implication these disciples are insulted and (greatly) offended by one's behaviour. For these reasons what I publish below is a priceless gem.

I hardly need repeat that I'm not at all impressed by Lisle's mature creation cosmology ; Like AiG's Biblical literalist's theme park it's burlesque science; this is the ugly edifice of teaching  one is required respect. Below I mention another of Lisle's followers called "Preston". Find out about him using the link I have just given.

Hi Jason: Still waiting for that serious of blogs you mention above. However, there’s no rush as I realise that that sort of thing, if it is to be done properly, takes as long a it takes; so I’m sure you’re taking your time. However, you’ll be glad to know that I’m looking forward to you coming out to play.
  • Wayne says:
    You really are proud, aren’t you? It is a wonder that you really think Dr. Lisle would deign to respond to you, as there really is no point. You have formed your own opinions in concrete, and you are not going to change them unless God changes you. So what then would be the point of your statement of Dr. Lisle coming out to play? Do you suppose yourself to be the bully on the playground who is pushing down a child? Dr. Lisle is a well respected Astrophysicist, and has contributed a great deal to science as a whole.
    Perhaps you should work on being humble, I am not making a proud statement such as I am more humble than you, however I would not condescend so obviously to someone so obviously my senior.
    • Well respected astrophysicist? You be can’t serious! Can you show me where in the professional (tax payer funded) literature Jason Lisle’s mature creation cosmology has had so much as a serious mention?
      Deigned to respond to me? Really? I count it a mixed blessing when for reasons beyond my control I come to the notice of fundamentalist gurus and their following, as I have on more than one occasion. But in spite of this not necessarily welcome attention, as a private researcher of Christian sectarianism (No tax payer money needed!) such contact can sometimes have the consolation of yielding useful data as has been the case here: Thank you, and thank you very much “Preston” for the fine work you have carried out.
      Clearly Jason isn’t being taken seriously as an astrophysicist in any professional capacity, but you will be pleased to know that as a free-lancer who works outside the social nexus of the established science community this won’t bias my considerations or make me think any worse of Jason. But by the same token, as I’m not in the sphere of influence covered by the social hierarchy status markers of the Biblical-literalist community your reference to pride issues are in my case totally without meaning.
      And a word of advice for you Wyane: If the social status of your guru-equivalent awes you, you have that much less chance of thinking independently.

      [TVR Addendum 06/10/13:  While I'm here I may as well add the precious gem below as a further sample of the sort of people who hang out with Jason Lisle. The first post below is what I thought to be my rather innocuous reply to an "Old Earther" like myself called Kenny who was posting on Lisle's blog. But just have a look at the response it evokes from one of Lisle's disciples called Preston!  Like other fundamentalists of my experience he goes for the spiritual equivalent of the nuclear button straight away! Find out more about Preston here:  mature creation cosmologyIn that post I do wonder if Preston is in fact a troll!

      Thanks for the reply, Kenny
      I think Jason will tell you (and at one level I agree with him) that he is simply using a (Biblical) coordinate transformation on a straight Einstein space-time. However, gravitational issues do emerge eventually (as we shall see in due time). But running with Jason’s maneuver as simply a coordinate transformation, questions still arise that threaten his ASC model. I’ll look at these at some date on my blog.
      So you’re old Earth like me! I have lot of respect for William Dembski and friends (and also Hank Hannegraph) although I wouldn’t say I’m entirely at one with the way ID is being handled by his community. However, sad to say that as far strict and particular fundamentalists are concerned a state of war exists between us!