Thursday, December 26, 2013


Dual of Dualists: As atheists struggle to make evolutionary theory water proof IDISTS are committed to finding new gaps in the theory as they attempt to sink it

Evangelical atheist Larry Moran asks the question “What do Intelligent Design Creationists believe?” (See "Sandwalk.blogspot", 25 Dec). In answer he quotes “IDiot” (*1) Granville Sewell:

So what do ID proponents believe?
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to state clearly what you have to believe to not believe in intelligent design. Peter Urone, in his 2001 physics text "College Physics" writes, "One of the most remarkable simplifications in physics is that only four distinct forces account for all known phenomena."
The prevailing view in science today is that physics explains all of chemistry, chemistry explains all of biology, and biology completely explains the human mind; thus physics alone explains the human mind and all it does. This is what you have to believe to not believe in intelligent design, that the origin and evolution of life, and the evolution of human consciousness and intelligence, are due entirely to a few unintelligent forces of physics. (My emphasis)
Thus you must believe that a few unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the fundamental particles of physics into computers and science texts and jet airplanes.
Contrary to popular belief, to be an ID proponent you do not have to believe that all species were created simultaneously a few thousand years ago, or that humans are unrelated to earlier primates, or that natural selection cannot cause bacteria to develop a resistance to antibiotics.
If you believe that a few fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the basic particles of physics into Apple iPhones, you are probably not an ID proponent, even if you believe in God. But if you believe there must have been more than unintelligent forces at work somewhere, somehow, in the whole process: congratulations, you are one of us after all!

In response to this Prof Moran writes:

This is a very broad definition. If you believe in God then you pretty much have to be an IDiot unless you are a strict deist. Every single religious person that I know believes that "there must have been more than unintelligent forces at work somewhere, somehow, in the whole process."1 Therefore, every Roman Catholic and every evangelical Christian is an IDiot, according to Granville Sewell. This includes Ken Miller and Francis Collins. In fact, it includes every religious scientist.
Not bad, eh?
For the record, I do not "believe" that " ... a few fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the basic particles of physics into Apple iPhones." I think it's the most reasonable explanation. I don't know of any other explanation that is supported by evidence.

I certainly concur with Larry Moran and can say along with him that Sewell’s definition of ID actually covers all theistic scientists I know of. This would also include people like John Polkinghorne and myself. Sewell has thoroughly screwed up his definition as he didn't intend it, of course, to cover theistic evolutionists. Sewell, like other dualists of his persuasion, sees it as stark choice between unintelligent natural forces vs. God intelligence”. He stuffs this distorted dichotomy into the heads of Christian scientists who are part of the academic establishment and believes they have made a choice in favour of "unintelligent forces". His “IDiot” community is at logger heads with these scientists and so this straw-man strategy is fair game.

As I have repeatedly said in this blog: If evolution works in the way the academic establishment tells us, then it can certainly be interpreted as an intelligent design option: This is because the selection of the right physical “law and disorder” regime which would be sufficient to constrain the thermodynamically energized computations of seeking, rejecting and selecting is itself a computationally complex task and would therefore demand a highly intelligent act of selection. It is surely an irony that it is in the context of theism confidence in the efficacy of those so-called "unintelligent forces" is refreshed. It is a belief in Divine intelligence that undermines Sewell's contention that "natural forces" can be labelled  unintelligent (*2)

However, as I'm not part of the academic establishment myself there is no pressure for me to commit myself to accepted evolutionary mechanisms or the equivalent belief that current physics provides sufficient constraint to make the formation of living structures a realistic probability. I actually have my doubts, although I do have sympathy with Larry Moran when he says: “I think it's the most reasonable explanation. I don't know of any other explanation that is supported by evidence.

In fact given that improbable givens are a mathematical fact of life in all the physical regimes we can conceive, I’d even go as far to entertain the possibility that, say, “evolvable replicators” may be one of the givens of this world. But in saying this I would definitely want to distance myself from the kind of theological dualism that Sewell stands for. He is part of a community that has invested all their emotional energy and finances into a dogmatic belief in the incompleteness of physics to explain life and habitually contrast the so-called "unintelligent natural forces" of physics over and against the Divine hand. For them "evolution", should it be valid, is tantamount to the death knell of their faith. Conversely, for their atheist alter ego's, just as bound to theological dualism, evolution serves a redundancy notice on God.

Well, perhaps they are right about the incompleteness of physics, but I would not then stuff a half-baked concept of “unintelligent forces” (as does Sewell) into the heads of those Christian scientists who do believe in the efficacy of evolution (as it is currently understood) to generate living structures.

 *1) “IDiot” is Larry’s Trade Mark term of endearment for the anti-academic establishment Christian community that Sewell belongs to.

  *2) I once caught another IDist emasculating  “self organization” by simply taking it for granted that the algorithms of a physical regime aren't intelligently selected. See here:

Addendum 28/12/13
It is a remarkable irony that as people like Granville Sewell and friends look out onto  the cosmos they see by and large a Godless place filled with the chaotic patterns generated by natural and unintelligent forces. The cling on, for all their faith is worth, to the notion that the configurations of life simply couldn't be generated by these mindless natural processes; for if they were then that would raise in their minds the spectre of a universe very likely devoid of any master intelligence; atheism would beckon. This slide into atheism and even nihilism is a theme I pick in my essay entitled "The Riddle of The Sphinx" (See link on side bar). We perhaps can see why the God intelligence vs naturalism debate is a contention that is argued with so much vociferousness on both sides; huge emotional stakes are involved. In particular, the North American ID community represented by Sewell is only a few conceptual steps away from atheism and they probably can sense that.
See also:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Ultimate Conspiracy Theory

…perhaps not the ultimate conspiracy theory but it’s up there with David Ike’s Reptilian invasion. We are, after all, talking about Flat Earth Theory here; that’s right, I said Flat Earth – as if geocentrism wasn’t bad enough (- or equally as bad is Biblical literalist David Lowe’s claim that “Our Sun isn’t a Star” with “proof” from the Bible of course -  see my footnote *). As evidence that I’m not kidding check out these links:

One link I found particularly interesting was this one:

…as it concerns a certain Charles K Johnson who was president of the flat Earth Society from 1972 until his death in 2001. Today, the Flat Earth Society has cut itself adrift from Biblical literalism and now stands simply as a society of conspiracy theorists, but in the days of Johnson, the Flat Earth society was very much bound up with Biblical literalism. Picking out some highlights from my last link we read:

"You can't orbit a flat earth," says Mr. Johnson. "The Space Shuttle is a joke—and a very ludicrous joke." (Johnson believed space flights to be part of a conspiratorial fraud – as do the neo Flat Earthers)

"Nobody knows anything about the true shape of the world," he contends. "The known, inhabited world is flat. Just as a guess, I'd say that the dome of heaven is about 4,000 miles away, and the stars are about as far as San Francisco is from Boston." (Dangerous claim to make because a clever and resourced amateur could probably conceive an experiment to measure the parallax at that distance - if he felt it worth pursuing!)

The sun and moon, in the Johnson version, are only about 32 miles in diameter. (Ditto – but why state the two significant figures of “32” rather than the round 30 or 40? This suggests that Johnson had some very precise ideas here)

Johnson's beliefs are firmly grounded in the Bible. Many verses of the Old Testament imply that the earth is flat, but there's more to it than that. According to the New Testament, Jesus ascended up into heaven. (“Firmly grounded in the Bible” – the times I’ve heard that one!)

"The whole point of the Copernican theory is to get rid of Jesus (My emphasis) by saying there is no up and no down," declares Johnson. "The spinning ball thing just makes the whole Bible a big joke."  (That’s not so far removed from Ken Ham’s claim that those Christians who don’t support Ham's views are preaching a Jesus different from the Jesus of the Bible)

"Wherever you find people with a great reservoir of common sense," he says, "they don't believe idiotic things such as the earth spinning around the sun. Reasonable, intelligent people have always recognized that the earth is flat." (Funny claim that; when I look out to sea with a pair of binoculars the world actually looks round to me!)

"We're two witnesses against the whole world," observes Charles Johnson. "We've chosen that path, but it isolates us from everyone. We're not complaining; it has to be. But it does kind of get to you sometimes." (It’s the inverted modesty of the “we are a hero remnant” syndrome; part of the conspiracy theorist's mental complex)

"It's the Church of England that's taught that the world is a ball," he argues. "George Washington, on the other hand, was a flat-earther. He broke with England to get away from those superstitions." If Johnson is right, the American Revolution failed. No prominent American politician is known to have publicly endorsed the flat-earth theory in the past two centuries. (The North American tendency toward non-conformity and anti-establishmentarianism comes out here! They've never got over  the unhelpful meddlings of the British crown and the war of independence! When it's not the Church of England, it's Darwin!)

One would, of course, never study Flat Earth theory  in a purely scientific and comparative way as a serious contender to the academic establishment’s position, any more than one would study David Ike, Gerardus Bouw, David Lowe or Ken Ham as if they are making serious and radical scientific proposals. One studies these people and the communities they stand for from the point of view of sociology, psychology and religion, but not science. In particular, the inverted pride that comes from believing oneself to be part of an elite remnant group who know the “Truth” and sees one’s community as a heroic tribe battling for Right, is a way of coping: This coping response seeks to break up our huge anonymous and homogeneous industrial societies into smaller more emotionally amenable tribes.  Paranoia, marginalization, alienation, epistemic insecurity and fear, are the underlying emotions that get transformed into the sense of superiority found in the belief that the main stream rank and file have been fooled into believing the heresies propagated by the malign evil intelligences of the conspiring establishment. Members of these marginalized communities console themselves with the thought that they must be cleverer or more privileged than those outsiders who have been fooled along with “all them others”. In the confines of these more intimate communities bonds of trust can be formed with its relatively accessible leaders and gurus who rule and guide them - in contrast to the establishment’s ivory tower authorities who are completely distrusted as, perhaps, the emissaries of evil. By immersing themselves in these marginalised religious community society's cultural refugees make themselves big fish in small bowls rather than remain the inconsequential tiny fish in a huge ocean where a sense of belonging and identity is often lacking.

There is, however, an interesting philosophy of science aspect to all this. The Flat Earthers, like other fundamentalists, find themselves in the intellectual rear-guard action of a science of negation as they critique established science. Their positive science, if they have any, involves much special pleading as it attempts to explain away such things as the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during lunar eclipses. We see here what suppositionalism is all about: Undeterred as they are with the difficulty of joining the dots of observation with their flawed back ground concepts the fundamentalist suppositionalists will bend and tweak their favorite theory with all sorts of ad hoc devices until it fits. At the bottom of this is the epistemic conceit that their opinions have divine authority and therefore can never be revised. This vehemently asserted conceit is probably a reaction to secular society as a whole where one finds so much aimlessness, purposelessness, meaninglessness, emptiness, uncertainty and nihilism.

It is ironic that fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists are held thrall by a cynical post-modern scepticism in the ability of society to make both moral and epistemic progress; they do not believe our world to be providentially rational enough for this to happen. (See for example:

* Footnote:
Here is Biblical Literalist David Lowe's summary of why he doesn't believe the sun to be a star. As you might expect it’s all down to his very literal reading of the Bible:

In closing, the best evidence we can have is the very inspired words of God Almighty, who has clearly told us in his revelation to us that the Sun and stars are not the same. Here is a summary of the main arguments of this paper:
Over and over, the Sun and stars are mentioned separately in the same sentence. The Sun and stars have different Hebrew and Greek words and meanings Paul tells us that the Sun and stars are different in glory. Luke clearly distinguished between them in Acts 27. Moses tells us the Sun was created, then the stars were "also" created. David tells us in Psalm 72:17 that the Sun will endure forever. Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 13:10 that the stars will not give their light in the future, and Jesus tells us that stars will fall from the heaven. Yet Jesus also tells us that the Sun and stars will have different and separate prophetic futures - the Sun will only be "darkened" temporarily, since in the end, the Sun, according to David, and verses in Revelation, will endure FOREVER, while the stars will "fall from the heaven".

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On Dualistic Theologies

 Dualists get their heads together to solve their theological problems. 
(Sometimes I feel like banging their heads together)

In a recent Blog post by gentleman (albeit a bit curmudgeonly with it) atheist Larry Moran (Sandwalk, December 17th) we read:

Here are the questions on yesterday's exam for students in my course. Students will be graded on their explanations and not so much on the actual answer they give. The idea is to reward critical thinking and that includes the ability to see both sides of an issue and recognize problems with whatever side you choose to defend.
  1. Assuming that the technology is safe and effective, should we, or should we not, have laws forbidding the cloning of humans?
  2. What is the best definition of a "gene"? Explain why you choose that definition and give examples of possible "genes" that don’t fit your definition.
  3. Elliott Sober is a highly respected philosopher. He explains that theistic evolution is a reasonable hypothesis because God could easily cause mutations to occur in a way that scientists would not be able to detect. In other words, a specific, directed, mutation would be indistinguishable from a random mutation. Thus, it would appear that evolution was an entirely naturalistic process while, in fact, its direction was being guided by God. Do you think this is a reasonable argument in support of theistic evolution? Why or why not?
  4. In his book, The Myth of Junk DNA, Jonathan Wells writes.
    According to intelligent design (ID), it is possible to infer from evidence in nature that some features of the world, and of living things, are better explained by an intelligent cause than by unguided natural processes.
    What sorts of positive arguments do ID proponents use to support this inference from evidence in nature? Are they effective?

I wouldn't want to touch 2 as I'm not a biologist and I'd feel insecure about dealing with 1 as it's so open ended. But if Moran is doing justice in putting forward their cases, let me just note in passing that both Elliott Sober and Jonathan Wells are clearly in the dualistic theistic tradition, a tradition that is inclined to view God as an ancillary causal agent that fills in the explanatory holes left by Law & Disorder science's descriptive (and prescriptive?) project; that is, God intelligent agency as an explanation is seen as being in competition with so-called "naturalistic explanations", or what these IDists refer to as "chance and necessity" (Sic - better "Law & Disorder"). In my view theistic explanations are "meta theories" or "meta explanations" that  embed the explanations of Law and Disorder science rather than necessarily being in competition with it; as such theology is not a predictive science but a soft science offered as an embedding meta-narrative advanced post-facto. However, all that's by the by.

I may be very critical of Sober and Wells but this certainly doesn't mean that I wouldn't exchange mutually curmudgeonly blows (figuratively speaking, of course) with Larry Moran over the kind of discussion material precipitated by question 3. In particular see this for example: 

On top of that I would also claim that Larry Moran holds a dualistic theology in concept (if not as a reality), a theology that is very close to that  of Wells and Sober. See here for example:    

Monday, December 09, 2013

Of Comet Tails and Cat Tails

We've all heard of Schrödinger's cat, so let me introduce you to Ken’s Kat.

A comically fallacious argument goes thus:
1)      No cat has eight tails.
2)      A cat has one tail more than no cat.
3)      Therefore, a cat has nine tails.
Under the watch of fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis is using logic of this quality.

In a blog post about the disintegration of a recent comet Ham and one of his tame research gurus (Danny Faulkner) respectively conclude:

The good news?  Well, Comet ISON’s recent decay gives us even more evidence confirming a young universe.
….the catastrophic loss of Comet ISON underscores the major point of the planetarium show—that comets indicate that the solar system is far younger than most scientists think. Comets are very fragile. Many astronomers thought that Comet ISON was making its first pass by the sun, yet it couldn’t survive even one trip. If the solar system is billions of years old, there ought not to be any comets left…. if the solar system is only thousands of years old, then there is no problem with comets still being here, despite the rapid rate at which we’re losing them.

Notice that these quotes use vague terms like “a young universe, “far younger” and a Solar System “only thousands of years old”. No explicit mention is made here of a 6000 year old Solar System and no claim is made that this figure can be derived from cometary data. In fact the number of ways a Solar System can be “only thousands or years old” ranges right up to and well beyond 100,000 years. Compare that with AiG's Biblical literalist claim that the Solar System is far less than 100,000 years old or even an Egyptian dynasty accommodating 10,000 years (*1), and instead is a mere 6000 years!

The failure by these literalists to provide compelling cometary evidence for their 6000 year old Solar System (and universe?) is no surprise because to use comets to put an estimated age limit on the Solar System we would have to know amongst other things:

a)      The rate of comet consumption as a function of time. (*2)
b)      The source/origins of comets.

We perhaps know a little about (a), but (b) is the subject of hypothesis. In a similar vein: The current consumption rate of meteors entering our atmosphere doesn't in itself tell us a great deal about their origins let alone the age of the Solar System.  There is therefore no evidential basis for making claims like "there ought to be no comets left". The unkowns surrounding comet origins is weak evidence for AiG''s 6000 year time scale.

Needless to say AiG advances no positive theory of comet formation and destruction, but considers it sufficient to engage in the negative activity of simply pointing to a lack of evidence about the origins of these objects. AiG is, after all, an anti-science organisation. Of course, we know the hidden subtext here; AiG's “theory” - surely an abuse of the term -  is likely to be mature creation; that is “God did it! Just like that!

Ken Ham and his research gurus depend on their ignorant followers filling in the holes in their arguments with non-sequiturs; in this case the non-sequitur is that absence of evidence is evidence of a 6000 year old Solar System! All Ham and his staff of gurus need do is endeavour to undermine and subvert established science: Under this perceived imprimatur their gullible followers will do the rest for them by rushing in to fill in the logical gaps with their 6000 year time scale.*3

Theism of any kind is going to always be treated with derisory contempt by some sections of society, but at the very least Christians are advised to stay away from the anti-scientific clowning we get from Biblical literalists and which rightly draws criticism and derision. The bottom line is that the kind of logic Ken Ham presides over is nothing but a huge embarrassment to Christianity and tempts mockery of the faith.

*1 With their mere 6000 year old Earth and commitment to a global flood that occurred about 4300 years ago the Biblical literalists of AiG have to adjust established Egyptian history to fit.
*2 That is, we would need to know the second differential in time. This differential has the effect of “de-localising” the phenomenon in time and extending it into history – yet another reason why the Biblical literalist’s “observational vs. historical science” distinction is a red herring. See also:
*3 I guess that Ham's tame research guru would understand the weakness of their logic here, but we have to recall that he is probably payrolled.