Wednesday, January 22, 2014

An Email from a Fundamentalist

Same tired old party line parroted again and again

Below I publish part of an email from a Biblical literalist that I was ccd into. (A literalist called “John Heininger”). This email was unsolicited  and I wouldn't respond to it: Unless I see a clear benefit I  have a policy of minimising my contacts with fundamentalist and strict religious sects, either their leaders or their rank and file. (This policy is based on my past work amongst fundamentalist sect members. This work has lead me to believe that their doctrines - which have a relationship with "conspiracy theories" - do not promote healthy trusting relationships with non sect members, especially those like myself who critique the message of obedience to the touted "divine authority" of fundamentalist opinion)

The subject header of the email was in caps: 


Straight away, then, we can tell that this client has a poor grasp of the scientific epistemic and has simply swallowed whole and subsequently parroted the erroneous philosophy that does the rounds in the Biblical literalist community; this is the belief that there is a fundamental distinction between observational science and historical science.  But all science is observational in as much as all science juxtaposes observations/experience with theoretical structures and thereby attempts to evaluate (i.e not “verify”) both theory and experience  against one another in a two way transaction. These theoretical structures can be either historical objects or present tense continuous objects such as physical law. And yet at the same time all science is historical in that what we call evidences are always at the head of signals from source events which to a greater or lesser extent are past events. The other mistake this literalist makes is his failure to distinguish between evidence and proof as his email I have published below shows; here I have highlighted his repeated errors in bold and with underlines:

So, let me give you a helping hand by telling you how to change evolution from a subjective "historical theory" about what "supposedly" happened in the unobserved distant past into real "verifiable" science. First produce real verifiable empirical science based on experimentation and observation for the following criteria essential to the evolutionary continuum:
1. Provide a VERIFIABLE empirical scientific answer for the origin of life.
2. Provide a VERIFIABLE empirical scientific answer for the origin of the DNA double helix from scratch.
3. Provide a VERIFIABLE empirical scientific answer for the origin of complex genetic code from scratch.
4. Provide a VERIFIABLE empirical scientific answer for the origin of the mind and consciousness.
5.  Provide a VERIFIABLE empirical scientific answer for the origin complementary sexual reproduction attributes.
6.  Provide a VERIFIABLE empirical scientific answer for the origin of reason from no reason.
7. Provide a VERIFIABLE empirical scientific answer for the origin of intelligence from no intelligence.
8. Provide a VERIFIABLE empirical scientific answer for the origin of human attributes such as altruism, morality, love, sense of right and wrong, good and evil, and justice and injustice.
Of course, these are only a few items needed for the evolutionary continuum to work, but these few will get you started.
So, there you have it!  AWLO and Levin are still struggling with this, and have wisely decided to back away every time I ask for verifiable science rather than history lessons.  No surprise, as Levin still mistakes history for science, though ever hopeful. He starts out with yeast, and always finishes up with yeast - and is still wondering why.

Science doesn’t deal in absolute verifiability; since the days of Popper this is usually understood; well, it probably is amongst most scientists, but not amongst rank and file Biblical literalists who seem unable to critically assess the misunderstandings handed down to them by their literalist gurus. Science deals with the interpretation of evidences and those evidences are always empirical/experiential in nature whether they be fossils, light signals from a galaxy or the texts of the scientific papers that have come down to us from the past.

However, the “observational” data samples natural history has delivered to us are sparse compared to the size of the object they are reporting on and so I myself am reserved about the currently accepted mechanisms of evolution. But I certainly don’t base my reservations on the kind of naive arguments we see above. These arguments have conflated evidence/observations with the theoretical structures that attempt to make sense of observation/experience.  Present tense continuous theoretical objects like, say, the Schroedinger equation and Einstein’s gravitational equations deal with huge superset objects and therefore can hardly be claimed as observational objects. Signals arriving from these objects at our experiential doorstep need considerable interpretation, interpretation that only works on the assumption of a providentially rational and readable world. It is the particular error of Biblical literalists to attempt to drive an “observational” wedge between classes of theoretical object in order to support their anti-science agenda. All such objects in the final analysis are abductions from evidences and observations.

The Biblical literalist community is working to a presuppositional metaphysic that has a very weak view of the rational readability of the cosmos (See for example Jason Lisle’s cosmology). Ironically this in turn is liable to subvert our very ability to read and make sense of the Bible; after all, the Bible contains signals from the past. Moreover, Genesis 1 is not an eyewitness account: No human saw those times and God does not have literal eyes. To talk of Genesis 1 as a divine “eyewitness” account is to engage in a crude anthropomorphism.

Relevant links: 

Note 05/02/14: One way of summarising the overall situation here is this: There is an ontological distinction between present tense continuous objects and historical objects but the epistemological problem they both present us with is the same; that is, that of gathering observational samples which constitute signals/evidence from these objects.  In fact it is possible for a convoluted present tense continuous object (one that is everywhere and everywhen), like say Einstein's equation, to be far more logically distant from us than are some historical objects  (like say the fact that it rained yesterday).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Melencolia I and The Great Plan.

The above engraving was cut in 1514 by the German Artist Albrecht Durer.  According to Wiki:

The work has been the subject of more modern interpretation than almost any other print.

The most straightforward interpretation is that it represents the stultifying effects of depression on the human creative spirit:

One interpretation suggests the image references the depressive or melancholy state and accordingly explains various elements of the picture.

…one of those elements is the hour class which tells of time running out whilst the melancholic figure is immobilized by a depressed mood; there is so much to achieve in a world rich with significance and yet apathy hamstrings progress.  Many artists who thrive on the creative effort will know this disabilitating condition.

However, as the Wiki article says interpretations surrounding this work abound, so here is another interpretation offered by the same article. This one focuses on the “I” in Melencolia I:

Instead it seems more likely that the "I" refers to the first of the three types of melancholia defined by the German humanist writer Cornelius Agrippa. In this type, Melencholia Imaginativa, which he held artists to be subject to, 'imagination' predominates over 'mind' or 'reason'.

This interpretation is very apposite in the light of what I will now share. In 1996 I felt inspired to write an essay called The Great Plan, an essay that I would definitely class as one where I allowed my imagination to predominate over reason. This essay can be downloaded from here. I actually have no regrets over this piece of imaginative theatre because imagination is, after all, the fuel of creative production. However - and this is important - the products of creative production must ultimately subject themselves to the purifying fires of criticism. Accordingly, since the writing of The Great Plan I have tried to get its ideas on a more rigorous footing.

The Great Plan flowered out of a software project which attempted to simulate word association, a project which also inspired my excursion into quantum gravity. (See here). This project helped me understand the difference between the procedural and declarative programming models, an understanding which in turn inspired The Great Plan. I consciously and deliberately executed this essay with unbridled imaginative excess – I wanted to give my imagination a free reign to see how far it would go without the potentially destructive effects of criticism.

As well as Melencholia Imaginativa my essay on The Great Plan has another connection with Durer’s print; this is the magic square which can be seen in the top right hand quadrant of the engraving. In my essay I used this square to illustrate the teleological nature of the declarative programming paradigm.

This essay represents a kind of manifesto of the conceptual paradigm I have been trying to develop since the early nineties and I feel the time is ripe to publish it on this blog. This paradigm is in contrast to the default dualist thinking that habitually and unquestioningly contrasts so-called “natural forces” over and against God’s creative power. I have for a long time sensed that something is fundamentally wrong with Western Thought of which dualistic theological categories are the primary manifestation; these theological categories are manifestly present in the thinking of atheist and theist alike. The Great Plan is my attempt to think round and past dualism and break the mold of Western conditioning.

Friday, January 17, 2014

"Evidence" not "Proof"

Nihilism; when the demand for proof is insatiable.

Evangelical atheist Larry Moran (See Sandwalk, 15  January Michael Egnor offers his proof of god(s)) quotes  Discovery Institute IDist Michael Egnor accordingly:

The proof of God's existence is in Larry Moran's nose, and everywhere, in every atom.
The fact that any subatomic particle moves in a predictable fashion-- let alone in a fashion as mathematically elegant as quantum mechanics-- is straightforward evidence for God's existence. It is, in fact, God's handiwork, manifest everywhere and always.

After that quote Moran makes no further comment as he probably thinks Egnor has made enough of a faux pas for it to act as argument against Egnor’s version of "IDiocy".

This talk of “proof of God” should end. Evidence is seldom, if ever, inductive and therefore seldom, if ever, provides “proof”.  As I have put it in this blog post:

Theoretical Narrative => Evidence

Evidence !=> Theoretical Narrative

That is, almost always theoretical notions are far larger objects than their evidences and therefore theoretical explanation of evidence is an act of incorporation into an object that has far higher logical level than the evidence. In short, we move (in a conceptual sense) from our theoretical ideas to the evidences and not the other way round. The evidences then are seldom, if ever, proof. Moreover, it is not always possible to use our theories to anticipate evidences (i.e. predict them) and we may have to be satisfied with embedding the evidences post-facto.  This is an elementary epistemic point.

From Moran’s quote alone it is not clear whether or not Egnor grasps all this; but why else would he kick atheist butt by using words like “proof”? The evidences for God are by and large incorporated into one's theology after they are known (i.e. post-facto) and this incorporation involves a proactive imaginative leap. Nothing wrong with that as all science, to a lesser or greater degree, engages in this activity of imaginative incorporation. However, my sympathies are with atheists who feel they just can’t make this bold imaginative leap even though mere  “law and disorder” science is obliged to leave us with a logical hiatus; either that or a resort to a  Turtles-all-the-way-down regress. If atheists feel that this dead end is good enough for them and that the law and disorder logic of the physical sciences needs no metanarrative I don’t feel I can complain; after all many intelligent mammals seem entirely satisfied with an understanding of their surroundings that goes no further than understanding the patterns of behaviour in their environment. If this is the heart of atheism then it is no surprise that atheists are going to feel annoyed if hassled by Egnor with arguments that he calls “proof” of God when they are no such thing.

But if Egnor doesn't understand the nature of explanation it seems that neither does Larry Moran. Like many other evangelical atheists his vehemence prevents him from reviewing his meaning of the word “explanation” and he is therefore stuck in a dualistic verbal trap where for him its either a “natural explanation” (good) or a “supernatural explanation” (bad). Evangelical fervency has never been conducive to a dispassionate and studied detachment from one’s views. Polarization and argumentative battle lines prevent this.

Some relevant links:

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Western Dualism in the North American Intelligent Design Community. Part 2

This is the second in the series where I comment on a post by North American IDist Vincent J Torley.  (See part 1 here) The aim is to expose the essential dualism of Torely’s views, views which are based on a false dichotomy between God’s creative activity and so called “natural processes”.  The Western mind finds it difficult to think past this dichotomy and this seems to be down to the paradox of keeping both the eminence and immanence of God in mind at the same time.  (See here)

In his post Torley quotes atheist Sean Carroll (See quote below). Reading this quote I find it ironic that Carroll actually succeeds in articulating a theological concept that I actually agree with, although of course he wouldn't accept that this concept corresponds to any reality:

[T]he ultimate answer to “We need to understand why the universe exists/continues to exist/exhibits regularities/came to be” is essentially “No we don’t.”…
States of affairs only require an explanation if we have some contrary expectation, some reason to be surprised that they hold. Is there any reason to be surprised that the universe exists, continues to exist, or exhibits regularities? When it comes to the universe, we don’t have any broader context in which to develop expectations. As far as we know, it may simply exist and evolve according to the laws of physics. If we knew that it was one element of a large ensemble of universes, we might have reason to think otherwise, but we don’t. (I’m using “universe” here to mean the totality of existence, so what would be called the “multiverse” if that’s what we lived in.)…
There is no reason, within anything we currently understand about the ultimate structure of reality, to think of the existence and persistence and regularity of the universe as things that require external explanation. Indeed, for most scientists, adding on another layer of metaphysical structure in order to purportedly explain these nomological facts is an unnecessary complication. (My emphases)

Where I agree with Carroll is that he sees theology as adding another layer of metaphysical structure that purports to explain the universe’s existence and the persistence of its regularities. What Carroll has effectively put his finger on here is that he has identified theology as a metanarrative that embeds science rather than competes as an alternative narrative. Of course, as you’d expect, Carroll believes this meta-narrative to be an unnecessary complication. This post is not the place to critique Carroll’s dismissal of this meta-narrative. Suffice to say for the moment that to Carroll’s “No we don’t..” I would simply reply at this stage with “Oh yes we do!…”. What concerns me more here, however, is that as far as his theology is concerned Carroll seems to have “got it” whereas Torley hasn't! Making theology a meta-narrative doesn't bring it in to inevitable collision with Law and Disorder science, whereas Torley’s commitment to the dualist idea that God fills in the gaps where L&D science seems to fail gives rise to a potential conflict.
Further on in his post Torley quotes John Lennox:

There is an immense gulf between the non-living and the living that is a matter of kind, and not simply of degree. It is like the gap between the raw materials paper and ink, on the one hand, and the finished product of paper with writing on it, on the other. Raw materials do not self-organize into linguistic structures. Such structures are not “emergent” phenomena, in the sense that they do not appear without intelligent input.
Any adequate explanation for the existence of the DNA-coded database and for the prodigious information storage and processing capabilities of the living cell must involve a source of information that transcends the basic physical chemical materials out of which the cell is constructed… Such processes and programmes, on the basis of all we know from computer science, cannot be explained, even in principle, without the involvement of a mind. (p. 174)

My Comment: This quote probably appeals to Torley because of its dualistic flavour. Here we see again the Western dualistic outlook in action; that is, a matter verses mind dichotomy superimposing itself on the language used to discuss creation. The connotation of this kind of language is that matter is a passive medium rather like the painter’s colours or the writer’s ink, with no life of its own and subject to the will of an intelligent homunculus who comes along and manipulates it. In this dualist context matter is not thought of as a proactive medium with an associated immanent active intelligence. In the communities that hold this dualistic paradigm talk of “self-organization” or “emergent properties” is tantamount to conferring intrinsic creative powers on matter thus setting Mother Nature against Father God. This dualistic paradigm does not conceive God as the proactive agent immanent in the dynamic of matter, and therefore any notion of matter as an expression of (divine) "oomph" looks to them dangerously like a creative competitor to God.

We don’t have to go to evolutionary theory to see God’s immanent intelligence at work: The growth of an organism from a fertile seed is an act of so called “self-organisation” whereby a total physical regime, a regime which includes initial conditions and present tense continuous processes, succeeds in generating an autonomous survival machine. Few would dispute this. Where the dispute lies is between dualistically minded  atheists and theists who are divided on the question of whether or not this undisputed ability of a physical regime to generate living structures can be applied recursively. That is: Is the physical regime that generates organisms itself a product of a physical regime? To the atheists, of course, the ability of a physical regime to recurse clinches the case for “natural processes” being an alternative to a creator God.  To the community that Torley represents this concept of recursion is all but taboo because their “explanatory filter”, which puts God on the same logical level as physical processes, means that recursion leaves God out in the cold.

 The central claim of Dr. Stephen Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell (HarperOne, New York, 2009) is that the best explanation – indeed, the only causally adequate explanation – for the digital code that we find in the cells of living things is intelligent agency.

My Comment: This is plain old dualistic god-of-the-gaps; that is, intelligence vs. physical regime. The subtext is: “We can’t find a physical explanation for life, therefore intelligence and therefore God!”. But this line of argument all too easily prompts its anti-thesis; That is: “Natural processes explain life, therefore no intelligence and no God”! In the next quote below we find that Torley’s biological “god-of-the-gapsism” is part and parcel with that other god-of-the-gaps proposal, namely the cosmological argument:

Here is where the biological argument for Intelligent Design can take us beyond the cosmological argument, which takes cosmic fine-tuning as its starting point.

My Comment: Once again notice how Torley has an implicit habit of mind whereby he exclusively identifies ID with his brand of god-of-the-gaps. Torley goes on to suggest that those theists who, because of considerations of intellectual elegance, favour the idea that life has been generated as a result of a single divine dispensation embodied in the cosmic physical regime have…

…a limited concept of beauty, which can account for some kinds of beauty that we see in the world, but not the richest kinds.

My Comment: I'm not going to get into this argument about the respective aesthetics of god-of-the-gaps vs. one-creative-dispensation. All I want to maintain here is that a physical regime based concept of life’s origin can be construed as very much an Intelligent Design position in spite of Torley’s subliminally dualistic habit of mind which prompts him and his friends to exclude mono-dispensationalists from the intelligent design paradigm. (See my previous blog post here where “IDist” Granville Sewell confidently pronounces “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.”)
As I finish this second part let me add my usual disclaimer: I don’t necessarily agree with the establishment’s position about the mechanisms of evolution. However, I certainly wouldn't argue against the establishment’s position in the way Torley does. The establishment’s view is that the algorithmic functions of physics are likely to be sufficient for evolution and that the evolutionary biologist's brief is to account for the generation of life in terms of currently understood physics and chemistry – this is evidenced by my observation that no biologist I've yet heard of is looking for any new physics to explain evolution. In contrast as a private worker there is no career pressure on myself to stop me entertaining ideas that the immanent God provisions the cosmic physical regime in proactive ways we have yet to understand, thus making it organically “fruitful” (“fruitful” is a term I have got from John Polkinghorne). But in spite of classifying myself as an Intelligent Design Creationist I have major problems with the approach of  Torley’s “IDist” community who have help create an inevitable conflict between their dualist theology and science.

This series will continue with an in depth look at Torley’s post, a post where, if anything, we go from bad to worse.