Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Divine Graffiti in the DNA?

North American Intelligent Design theorist VJ Torley is looking for the holy grail of his version of ID; namely, the equivalent of the Wow! signal spliced into the genetic code, a signal that effectively says “God Intelligence woz here!”. Torley sees the whole question of life through a dualistic God vs Natural forces paradigm and this leads to a false dichotomy between the work of God and the work of natural forces. This outlook has grave consequences for Torley's views should the academic establishment evolutionist's case prove to be sufficiently convincing (If indeed such a proof is possible!). But for me natural history is its own “Wow!” signal, and nothing Torley says can detract from that.

The sci-fi paradigm of Intelligent Design: IDists look for physical anomalies.*

* This is not to suggest that there are no such things as anomalies and erratics, but the version of ID that Torley and his colleagues support tends to swing on such discoveries being made.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

North American IDists Screw Up Irreducible Complexity Definition

The North American ID movement’s concept of irreducibly complexity is badly formed; it defines irreducible complexity as the necessary juxtaposition of two or more parts in order for a function to work. But quoting a footnote to one of my blog posts :

Irreducible/reducible complexity: I don’t use these terms in the sense of Micheal Behe’s flawed concept of irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity and reducible complexity as I conceive them are to do with how stable organic structures are laid out in configuration space. If a set of structures are reducibly complex they form a connected set in configuration space: This means that the diffusional computational process of evolution can bring about considerable change in organic structure. Irreducible complexity, on the other hand, is the opposite. That is, when such structures are widely separated in configuration space it is not possible for evolutionary diffusion to hop from one organism to another. Irreducible complexity, if defined properly (that is, not in the Behe sense), is an evolution stopper.

....the implication being that the Behe definition and that promoted by an ID site like "Uncommon Desent" is not an evolution stopper.
Further details on my view of irreducible complexity can be seen here:
The weakness of the North American concept of irreducible complexity becomes all too apparent in one of PZ Myers posts where he criticizes IDist Casey Luskin’s use of the concept. See here:

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Watchtower on Creation

I have managed to lay my hands on another of the Watchtower’s (that is, the Jehovah’s Witnesses) creation magazines. Its title is “Was Life Created?” and it is dated 2010. If you read the two pages I reproduce below you will see that as per my previous post on the subject we find the Watchtower is anxious to disassociate itself from the “religious fundamentalists [who] believe that the Earth and everything on it was created in six 24 hour days”.  In fact the approach of this magazine is very much along the lines taken by the North American intelligent design people who generally believe the Earth to be old but are highly critical of evolutionary theory. 

(Click to read)

As you will see by reading the above pages the Watchtower certainly knows how to play this card: They can align themselves with the scientific establishment against the crackpot anti-science Genesis literalists and at the same time play on doubts about evolution, driving a wedge between design and natural history.  But as I said in my previous article, the JWs are every bit as fundamentalist as the Genesis literalists in the sense I define here: In particular their concept of dealing with sin is bound up with an observance driven faith and this aspect of the Watchtower is very fundamentalist in flavour. This leads them to engage in the holy character assassination of detractors who criticise their system of observances, a practice that is common among fundamentalists. This holy bad mouthing serves the function of engendering the moral duress and alienation that helps separate out a sect's “holy remnant” from society at large. It can also have the knock on effect of making sect affiliates susceptible to a conspiracy theorists world view.

The Jehovah's Witnesses go back to the 19th century when the issue among Christians was not the age of the Earth but eschatology. Because they are a cult the Jehovah's Witnesses were well insulated from the evangelical cultural alienation of the 1960s which panicked many evangelicals into supporting the anti-science stance of Young Earth Creationism.

On Date Fixing

This 1984 'Watchtower' cover (on the left of this picture) alludes to the now defunct view of the JWs that the end of "this system of things" would come within one generation of 1914. At one time the JW's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was with date fixing but they have had some aversion therapy (i.e. repeated prediction failure!) that seems to have fixed it for them (The OCD, not the dates!). No surprise that an embarrassment of this order is no longer spoken about among them. Equally as embarrassing is the quiz for kids, pictured below, by a Genesis literalist. It also is based on date fixing; namely, a belief in the creation of the cosmos a mere 6000 odd years ago. Much of the Genesis literalist's faith revolves around this particular OCD and they are likely to consider Christians who don't suffer from it as having an inferior faith. But unlike the JWs they haven't quietly dropped the date; on the contrary they are very proud of misleading impressionable children (and ignorant adults) up this garden path of crackpottery! 

Caveat: Poe's law means that the provenance of the above two pictures is subject to question, but as far as I'm aware they are both genuine

Relevant links:

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Contingency and the Grand Logical Hiatus

I first heard this argument in 1973!

The above picture was published on a Facebook thread by an atheist. It was used as the basis for a rebuttal of the first cause argument for God. The idea of getting something from nothing was also tendered as perfectly OK providing we use the “sophisticated” concept of “nothing” used by physicists, such as, perhaps, the quantum vacuum. Below I publish the answers I gave. I’ve always agreed that the Kalam First cause argument (as promoted by William Lane Craig, for instance) is a poor argument for God, although I took issue with the “something from nothing” argument.

First Cause Argument. Arguments which presuppose a well-defined concept of “cause and effect” in order to either deny or affirm theism are in my view fundamentally flawed.
Firstly: In physics time appears as just another coordinate of the space-time canvass on which the patterns of matter in motion are impressed. This loss of time as a special coordinate immediately raises a question over the preferred use of time as the basis for some kind of “cause and effect” notion requiring the arrow of time to define it. The arrow of time is a little problematical in physics (although not in human subjective experience!)
Secondly: Physics is about the mathematical description or understanding of pattern. In some of these patterns, in particular the highly disordered patterns of randomness, the concept of cause and effect is rather ill defined. (Note: “cause and effect” is probably most well defined in Newtonian physics)
In the light of these considerations I’ve long suspected the Kalam first cause argument for God to be bogus. (Even though I’m a theist).   
Something for nothing? Perhaps the concept of an empty or null set is the nearest we can come to defining “nothing” with any mathematical rigor. But on this reckoning we find that the complex set of mathematical objects describing a “quantum vacuum” which could (conceivably) generate our current universe is far from “nothing”. The one-liner mathematical basis for this indictment of the notion of “something coming from nothing” is found in data compression theory: It is impossible to compress a data set to “nothing” (i.e. no data). Ergo, “something from nothing” simply doesn’t stack up from a mathematical point of view.

The problem of contingency A corollary of this is that contingency is necessarily built into the mathematical objects with which we attempt to understand and describe the cosmos: Physical theorizing always entails the preferential selection of particular mathematical objects: Viz: Of all the possible mathematical objects that occupy platonic space only a tiny apparently arbitrarily selected subset has been “chosen” to work for our universe. This asymmetry of selection can be expressed by the question: “Why has one small set of mathematical objects been put up for physical reification in preference to others?”
Physicist Max Tegmark has realized that this contingency issue needs some explaining and so this has prompted him to come up with his “Mathematical Universe” concept. Here, the “preference enigma” is removed by simply postulating that somehow all mathematical objects, and not just some, have been reified as truly existing ontologies and our universe is just one of those reified ontologies. This theory of Tegmark’s is a form of extreme “Copernicanism”.
The fact is physical “explanation” is philosophically shallow and actually only goes as far as providing us with descriptive understandings of the status quo. In one sense “explanation” of this kind utterly fails to satisfy our intuitively felt yearning for answers to the problem of contingency; Viz Why this particular Universe? Our intuitions seek to appeal to some deeper obliging logic, than “It just is!”

Tegmark’s MU is just one attempt to provide something deeper; it’s not a good answer in my view but it at least takes our philosophical yearnings seriously, as do other attempts such as the simulation argument, various multiverse arguments and theism itself. They all represent attempts by the mind of (wo)man to go beyond a mere understanding of the status quo and make sense of that enigmatic cosmic contingency by immersing it in some higher level justifying narrative.


That the problem of brute fact contingency will always be with us is a mathematical truism. It is conceivable, though, that for some people “scientific explanation” in the sense of providing a complete descriptive understanding of the contingent cosmic status quo will be enough to fully satiate their curiosity, perhaps to the extent that they may even regard the asking of any deeper question about “why” to be meaningless.  (cf Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”.). But the fact is the restless and inquiring spirit of (wo)man is unlikely to be satisfied with that, as Max Tegmark, in his own eccentric way, has demonstrated. The inevitable logical hiatus left by science will always invite further imaginative speculation and revelation.