Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Western Dualism in the North American Intelligent Design Community. Part 4

(Picture from http://www.faradayschools.com/re-topics/re-year-10-11/god-of-the-gaps/ )

In this post I will complete my series showcasing Intelligent Design guru V J. Torley’s implicit God of the Gaps dualism as it appears in a post on Uncommon Descent. In his post Torley is reacting to Orthodox theologian David Hart’s objection that de-facto ID theology entails a “divine tinkerer”.

Now I’d like to ask Dr. Hart two questions. First, does he think that God could, if He wanted, give pieces of wood the power to assemble themselves into a ship? Second, does he think that an affirmative answer to the first question entails that the highly specified complexity which we find in living things could (in principle) have arisen from particles of non-living matter that initially lacked this specificity, via a series of law-governed natural processes?
Regarding the first question: one could perhaps imagine embedding the various pieces of wood with homing devices and identity tags, and even some switches to guarantee that they assembled in the right sequence. But it would be a fool’s enterprise: designing a ship that could assemble itself would be even more work than the task of assembling it oneself. With living things, the problem is much, much worse. ……..Now try to imagine designing a program for bringing all of the chemical building blocks for this bacterium together, assembling these building blocks in the right way and in the right order, and dealing with all the unplanned contingencies that might conceivably upset the assembly process. Dr. Hart says he doesn’t like a tinkering Deity. Methinks his Deity will have to do a lot more tinkering than mine.

My Comment: Here Torley continues with his caricature of the alternative to the divine tinkerer –  that of a universe whose parts have been contrived to come together in a preordained way, where the solution to the problem of generating life is effectively front loaded into the cosmos and is then set going.  This concept of an imperative algorithmic system unwinding to reveal an implicit front loaded solution very much contrasts with my declarative programming paradigm where the generation of life is the subject of a proactive teleological search for a solution (See my Melencolia I series)

In other words, what Aquinas is doing here is sketching an Intelligent Design argument: the complexity of perfect animals’ body parts and the high degree of specificity required to produce them preclude them from having a non-biological origin. The only way in which their forms can be naturally generated is from the father’s “seed,” according to Aquinas. (We now know that both parents contribute genetic information that helps build the form of the embryo, but that doesn’t alter Aquinas’ key point.) From this it follows that the first “perfect animals” must have been produced by God alone.
Rather, what Aquinas taught was that some changes – in particular, the generation of complex organisms – require so many conditions to be satisfied in order to occur, that they are beyond the power of Nature alone to bring about: they require a special act on God’s part.

My Comment: Ibid: “….preclude them from having a non-biological origin”, “….the first 'perfect animals' must have been produced by God alone.” What Torley identifies as an Intelligent Design perspective derived from Aquinas has a very “God of the Gaps” flavor about it. It is difficult to know whether Torley supports a similar view, but it has a good fit with the North American explanatory filter epistemic, an epistemic which makes a sharp distinction between natural forces and input from intelligent agency. It also has a good fit with Dembski’s ideas about the conservation of information; as I hope to eventually show the concept of conservation of information is best suited to imperative parallel computing but not the declarative computational paradigm.

While Aquinas might well have admired the ingenuity of the Neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, he would also have pointed out that our modern understanding of genetics has exacerbated the problem of accounting for complexity to the n-th degree: living things are far, far more complex than he imagined them to be, in the thirteenth century. In other words, the number of conditions required to make a complex organism – or a lowly bacterium, for that matter – is orders of magnitude greater than what Aquinas supposed it was, in his day. In order to account for this complexity, then, we need a theory of evolution that is orders of magnitude more efficient than former theories. And it is precisely here that evolution’s Achilles heel becomes apparent. In my post, At last, a Darwinist mathematician tells the truth about evolution, I explain why according to Professor Gregory Chaitin’s calculations, Darwinian evolution should take quintillions of years, rather than billions of years, to generate the life-forms we see on Earth today. And that assumes that you have a living thing, in the first place. Professor John Walton, a Research Professor of Chemistry at St. Andrews University who holds not one but two doctorates, has explained why he believes Intelligent Design is the only adequate explanation of the origin of life, in an interesting online talk.

My Comment: Chaitin is probably right! But what if you have available a processing power that is the equivalent to quintillions of years of computation?

But as we have seen, that’s not what Aquinas holds: for him, each and every species of organism “generated from seed” requires an act of God to account for its origin. What’s more, for Aquinas, gaps of this sort are good gaps, since God’s power and voluntary agency “can be manifested in no better way … than by the fact that He sometimes does something outside the order of nature.” I can only conclude that Aquinas’ thinking is very much at odds with Dr. Hart’s, on the subject of Intelligent Design.

My Comment: More God of the Gaps from Aquinas… sorry, I should have said God of the good Gaps. Of course we can’t blame the medieval theologian for this kind of concept, but his ideas are no model for the post industrial revolution 21st century, nearly 800 years later.

Aquinas responds that some material changes are beyond the power of Nature to produce. In this passage, Aquinas even likens the production of Adam’s body from slime to the miracle of raising the dead to life, showing that he regarded it as clearly beyond the power of Nature:

My Comment: If Torley is right then we see in Aquinas a fine example of  what is so easy to read as “this is the bit that God did!” theology.

 I use the term “act of God” here, because it is not my intention to argue in this essay that biological Intelligent Design requires a supernatural miracle (although Aquinas apparently thought it did). We can suppose – as I do – that living things share a common descent, without committing ourselves to the assumption that natural processes lacking foresight (e.g. random variation culled by natural selection) are sufficient to generate life in all its diversity. Exactly how God guides these processes to generate creatures is none of my concern. What matters to me is that an Infusion of Intelligence is required, in order to generate the life-forms we find on Earth today. The question of whether God used a miracle to generate life is a secondary one.

My Comment: Presumably a “supernatural miracle” is something that overtly transcends the normal operation of the cosmos, so I guess that Torley is allowing for the possibility that God does his stuff in a more covert way than the occasional mega intervention. This is a step in the right direction but even so Torley still doesn't escape from thinking in dichotomies: He contrasts “natural processes lacking foresight” against “an infusion of intelligence”. It is ironic that it is precisely because those processes lack foresight that a declarative search is the way the operation of an immanent intelligence manifests itself. Torley may or may not rule out mega interventions, but the theological damage has been done. Torley promotes a view of creation that emasculates the potency of natural forces and so everyone now reads “Intelligent Design” as a de-facto God of the Gaps creation paradigm.  Nothing Torley has said heads off this bad theology and his promotion of Aquinas doesn't help.*

To sum up: the use of the word “program” to describe the workings of the cell is scientifically respectable. It is not just a figure of speech. It is literal. Additionally, the various programs running within the cell constitute a paradigm of excellent programming: no human engineer is currently capable of designing programs for building and maintaining an organism that work with anything like the same degree of efficiency as the programs running an E. coli cell, let alone a cell in the body of a human being.

My Comment: To sum up: It is ironic that in spite of his observation of what the imperative cellular program is capable of  Torley has no vision of how “natural forces” might be capable of finding and maintaining life.
The de-facto ID community continues to implicitly promote God of the Gaps thinking. It is paradigm that is also very clear among fundamentalists like, say, Stuart Burgess who in his book “He Made the Stars Also” tells us that the Bible describes God as “master craftsmen” and  then concludes:

The description of God as a great craftsman measuring out the dimensions of the foundations of the Earth supports the conclusion that God did not use evolution because a craftsman carries out instantaneous  and deliberate actions whereas evolution involves a long random process. (Page 31).

Burgess doesn’t see that the Biblical metaphor fails to support his case. Real craftsmen are not magicians bringing about instantaneous actions of creation, but they are workman seeking answers to technological problems; this involves experimental searching and much thinking round possibilities. Real craftsmen seek solutions and build bit by bit.  In contrast the God of this kind of fundamentalism is a magician and not a workmen , a magician who "speaks" stuff into existence “Hey presto”,  just like that!

The other parts of this series:

Relevant Links:

* As an illustration of the ease with which V J Torley is interpreted as a God of the Gaps theologian see the following post by atheist biochemist Larry Moran:

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Melencolia I Part 4: Generating Complexity with Parallel Processing

For this latest part of Melencolia I I'm releasing this paperBelow I publish the introduction as it appears in the paper.
This paper is part of my “Melencolia I” series, a series where in the first part I introduced a very speculative essay called “The Great Plan”. This essay was an impressionistic picture of God’s relation to our world and it was followed by further blog posts where I tried to sharpen the focus. Viz:

This set of essays and blog posts don’t come as a completed work or thesis but more as an unfolding exploration, a journey rather than a destination; perhaps a journey to nowhere!
In this latest paper I continue the Melencolia I  project, although as far as throwing light on the generation of life is concerned I have to admit I’m still very much in the uncritical and deliriously creative world of Melancholia I; as Durer’s Melencolia I print shows the tools that connect us with the world of experience are laid on one side whilst the contemplator has a flight of the imagination, although rightly the products of the imagination must ultimately submit themselves to criticism; but  criticism first needs something to criticise and only the imagination can provide that.
However, this particular paper is, in fact, more about criticism than creativity. In it I look critically upon the idea that ordinary parallel processing of the power we typically conceive has the computational efficacy to generate life. Although I by no means have an absolute proof, the evidence I present here suggests that this parallel processing is unable to deliver the goods. This is not to say, however, that I intend to promote the kind of “God of the Gaps dualism”  seen amongst the North American Intelligent Design community; I propose, rather,  that we need to think again about just what natural processes are and just what they are capable of.
From the perspective of the theist philosophical dualism is a ticking time bomb; it is a philosophy which takes it as granted that “natural forces” and God are two distinct and conflicting paradigms of creation. The logical kick-back of this philosophy is that if so-called “natural forces” can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt to be able to generate life then this will likely as not be read by Western dualists as refuting the case for God as Creator.
Many Western Christians have unconsciously committed themselves to the tinkering, eminent, quasi-deist God (sometimes vaguely referred to as an “intelligent agent” distinct from “natural forces”) who makes the occasional visitations to download a piece of his mind into the cosmos thereby disambiguating his creative effort from profane “natural processes”, processes which otherwise are thought to behave in a quasi-autonomous if unintelligent way.  It is therefore no surprise that for some dualistically minded theists evolution really does feel like evil-ution because it appears to them as a “naturalistic” creator-pretender.
Although I loathe the implicit dichotomy, if I had to make a choice within the Western dualistic paradigm I would say that my money is, in fact, on “naturalism”; that is, I believe our cosmos is sufficiently endowed by an immanent, and sustaining providence to generate life. This is not necessarily to say that I think current scientific concepts are sufficient to explain the generation life; in fact my gut feeling is that there is much more to uncover on this subject.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

A Cry for Help

A comment on fundamentalist’s Jason Lisle’ latest blog post (Research Update 20 August) caught my eye. It’s from a fellow fundamentalist who is clearly having trouble with the star light problem:

David Ethell says:*
Dr. Lisle,
I greatly appreciate your work in biblical apologetics and specifically in astrophysics. I was a Physics major from a Christian college, yet the college taught theistic evolution and I spent much of my time there defending a young earth view. Naturally, one of the consistent hammers used by my professors was the problem of starlight and time.
I read one of your comments recently about the SDSS [ Sloan Digital Sky Survey] survey and a study from a colleague of yours about the evidence from super nova remnants for a young age of distant objects. I’ve been in regular discussions with atheist or agnostic physicists about the age issue and am myself trying to get my head around using General Relativity to explain long ages for the distant objects. It sounds from your recent statements, however, that you are not relying on time dilation to account for these distances and ages if you are noting that the super novae remnants, for example, point to < 10,000 year ages of these objects.
Do you have a recent update on your hypothesis or understanding of the ages of these "distant" objects? If these novae are truly the same age as our local system then how do we explain the red shifts?
I have been trying to use a model similar to Humphries white-hole cosmology but find it falling apart in my discussions due to the shear forces that would be present on the Earth in such a gravity dense situation. I can't see the Earth surviving its exit from such a system. So while in theory that system "protects" the earth from aging while the rest of the universe goes about the billions of years of expansion, it seems to fall apart when we look at the shear forces that would tear the Earth apart in that environment.
Thanks for your time in responding to all these comments and for your work for Jesus Christ in the exciting realm of science.
David Ethell

No reply from Lisle yet. Russ Humphreys' model does at least try to stay true to science by committing itself to the outcome of physical laws and minimizing special “God did it” pleading, although of course it miserably fails to account for the distribution of matter in the heavens (as Ethel hints). Also, Humphreys positing a universe billions of years old (except in the near vicinity of the Earth, of course) contradicts Lisle's "Young" Universe outlook.  David Ethell is in for a shock when he realizes that Lisle’s model by and large goes back to the old in-transit-signal-creation concept, but obfuscates this fact with his coordinate transformation sophistry. Ethell has come to the wrong guy if he doesn't want to be baffled by casuistry.

Some relevant links

* See: www.jasonlisle.com/2014/08/20/research-update/comment-page-2/#comment-39179 and then search for "Ethell"