Sunday, December 24, 2017

Yet Again! De facto ID gets lost in the false dichotomy zone. Part 1

It's been sometime since I've critiqued a post on the "Intelligent Design" web site "Uncommon Descent". There is probably little more I can say about the their dualistic "natural causes" vs. supernatural causes "Intelligent Design" paradigm. However, these two posts on UD here and here are such classic illustrations of de facto ID's  dualist tradition that I've just got to comment on them.  The first post is by someone  called "StephenB". (I have commented on his dualism before)  and the second post is by Barry Arrington. I will look at B's post here and Arrington's post in Part II.  


Before I start just a word or two about my own take on evolution. Evolution, in so far as it describes a natural history of life, is a settled science, so settled that many IDists of the Uncommon Descent persuasion would likely agree that the natural history of life isn't in question; the question is over the mechanism of change. In fact even an evangelical atheist like Larry Moran makes heavy weather of the actual processes driving natural history (See here and here). So, the only people left out in the cold when it comes to natural history are the toy town religious fundamentalists, Christian and Muslim. 

Any pattern generator (such as physics or a computer algorithm) has to start with an irreducible kernel of information; this kernel of "brute fact" information resides in the algorithms of the pattern/configuration generator.  Hence, even if the cosmos has the kind of physical laws which have the efficacy to generate the configurations of life with a realistic probability, there would still remain a big question as to the origin of this information kernel. So, given the inevitability of this Grand Logical Hiatus I suppose it's not completely unreasonable for theorists such as we see at UD to posit that certain aspects of bio-structures weren't generated by physics but instead are part of a more general inevitable logical hiatus which at some point must be acknowledged as the a-priori conceptual foundation of the cosmos.  For IDists, then, there is, as it were, a logical "edge" or "gap" in biology just as there is an inevitable logical gap in fundamental physics. 

Along with the IDists at UD I'm backing the horse that the cosmos has its origins in an a-priori intelligence. However, my own avenue of exploration is not the intelligence-of-the-gaps approach, but something I call intelligent creation. This notion identifies the processes of physics as part and parcel with the intelligence that creates designs. I'm not defending this notion of mine in this post; it is a highly speculative idea I am developing elsewhere

But I suppose it’s not unreasonable for Christian theists to entertain as a possibility that a grand logical hiatus (perhaps more than one!) is not only found in the generating algorithms of physics but also in the self-replicating, self perpetuating processes of life. Therefore I'm not unsympathetic to the "God-of-the-Gaps" biology at UD even if I think it unlikely; after all, I myself am pursuing the idea that mind is an a-priori phenomenon and therefore it seems just possible, from this perspective, that the biological "gaps" are there to be accepted as brute fact as are the equations of physics. But having said that, I have to acknowledge that I'm not a biologist: For a biologist with a knowledge of the evidence, the notion that some evolvable general purpose replicator is a given might be like postulating that star-light is created in transit (an assertion heard too often from the anti-science fundamentalists). Nevertheless, I am potentially sympathetic to god-of-the-gaps ID.  I'm afraid to say, however, that the de facto-IDists at UD have squandered my sympathy: I am now not sympathetic. The two posts I will be reviewing show just how much the IDists at UD are screwing up their own case.


Ostensibly B's post is an attack on the concept of Theistic Evolution as promoted at the Biologos web site (Started by Christian evangelical Francis Collins). Now, I can't speak for Biologos, but we don't need to know about Biologos to observe B's dualistic mind set at work. Below I quote his post and interleave my own comments.

Rather than sit at the feet of nature and learn her secrets, [Biologos] try to remake her in the image of their faith commitment. For them, there is one a-priori truth that must never be denied: God used the random mechanism of Darwinian evolution to produce His intended outcome of homo-sapiens. This absurd proposition, which defines the entire BioLogos project, is a direct assault on reason itself. Only a designed or purposeful process can produce a specified outcome; a random process can produce only indeterminate outcomes (surprises).

MY COMMENT: Firstly let's get a handle on the nature of randomness. In my book on Disorder and Randomness I define randomness as a pattern where all small space short time algorithms (Or SSST algorithms) which attempt to predict the pattern return a maximally disordered hit sequence. But there is a practical problem with this theoretical definition. The set of small space short time algorithms is just too big for us to be ever sure that there isn't some SSST algorithm out there which returns a better than random hit sequence. The best we can do is to test a pattern with our own limited algorithmic resources. Bearing this feature of randomness in mind it is just conceivable that there are unknown SSST algorithmic event generators behind "the random mechanism of Darwinian evolution" of which we are totally unaware. I don't think this is a likely scenario myself, but we need to proceed bearing this obscure possibility in mind. 

What B is effectively thrusting into the mouths of Biologos probably has less to do with Biologos than his subculture’s understanding of evolution. He portrays Darwinian evolution as a "random mechanism" without any further qualification. But this straw man resides purely in B's imagination and has little to do with Darwinian evolution as properly conceived. Darwinian evolution, if it is to work, cannot be just a "random mechanism" in spite of what IDists like B
 (and some atheists!) are claiming.

See the following posts where I consider the ideas of atheists Joe Felsenstein and Tom English. It is clear that it is far from Felsenstein's and English's minds that evolution is just a "random process". In fact Felsenstein obviously understands that the randomness in evolution plays out within a highly constrained process, where the origin of the constraints on this process, he says, is a question for physics. 

Felsenstein vs. Dembski
Felsenstein and English vs. Dembski, Ewart and Marks

Once again I must reiterate my usual disclaimer: I don't necessarily accept the standard account of evolutionary mechanisms. All I am saying here is that B thoroughly misrepresents that account.

A practical example should make the point clear:

[a] Designed process: I load the dice such that the number 7 will appear with every roll.. In other words, when I throw the dice, I can guarantee the outcome because it is the only one that is possible—all others have been closed off. If I had not closed them off, I could not guarantee the result.

[b] Random process: I use fair dice, in which case there are eleven possible outcomes. This is an open ended process that will allow any number from 2 to 12, including 7, to appear. On any given roll of the dice, I cannot guarantee that I will get 7 because I did not close off all of the other possibilities.

It is, therefore, logically impossible for any Creator, human or divine, to guarantee an outcome using a non-interventional, random process. In effect, Theistic Evolutionists violate the law of non-contradiction by trying to have it both ways: When they speak of God’s providence, they claim that evolution is purposeful, but when they speak of the process itself, evolution is random.

MY COMMENT:  Contrary to what B claims in the above quote one can have it both ways. An algorithm can usefully be a blend of predictability and unpredictability. For example take the diffusion equation. Viz:

The first term on the right hand side of this equation represents the dynamics of random walk. The second term on the RHS (the potential term) has the effect of putting a constraint on this walk. It is the information in this constraint which determines the probability of interesting configurations coming out of the mix. (This is not to say that I think this is how evolution happened). 

What the above equation tells us is that a process can be both usefully random and usefully ordered at the same time. We could simulate  the above equation on a computer in order to solve certain kinds of problem; the whole thing would then be a product of purposeful design and simply doesn't fit in either of B's polarized categories. In effect B violates the law of coherent thinking with his dichotomous views. 

Moreover, according to my proposed definition of randomness. it is a pattern which can be just as much a purposeful & designed "interventional" (sic) pattern as any other pattern: it's just that random patterns lie outside the computational resources of SSST algorithms. 

The broader point is that they have a firm and non-negotiable starting point. An omnipotent God, we are told, would never design nature by progressive stages since He could easily program nature to “create itself.” Thus, ID’s scientific evidence, which allows for a tweak or two, is inadmissible because it makes God busier than He needs to be.

This is nonsense because any world view is equally vulnerable to these kinds of speculations. One could just as easily argue that evolution is false because an all-powerful God doesn’t need to wait billions of years to achieve His goal. Note, also, that God spoke to the BioLogos Community about this matter many years ago: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding.”—Job 38:4

MY COMMENT: I might not disagree with B here (although B could be misrepresenting Biologos). In trying to anticipate just how a divine intelligence might operate, then without further evidential revelation, who knows how that intelligence might work; perhaps via a purposefully designed mix of order and disorder where V(...) in the above equation is the given, or perhaps by designing a general purpose evolvable replicator. Or perhaps there is something else we haven't thought of, such as a hidden SSST algorithm.  But without that further revelation I have spoken of it is difficult to have any a-priori opinions on this matter.

Still, it is the unfailing faith in Darwin’s random mechanism that drives the BioLogos project. Occasionally, someone in the that camp will begin to sense the absurdity of it all and search for ways to bridge the gap between chance and purpose, following the lead of “divine action” theologians.

MY COMMENT:  We see here the same old fallacy driving B’s thoughts. Evolution as a "Random Mechanism". 

Yes, they say, the evolutionary process is random, but perhaps God provides the needed direction by tweaking it behind the scenes through trillions upon trillions of quantum events. Remarkable! They rejected ID’s hypothesis because it allows for a small number of tweaks, and now they have God tweaking every nanosecond. Already, they have forgotten about their impertinent command to God: Thou shalt use secondary causality and nothing else.

MY COMMENT:  I can't get into arguments between Biologos and UD about the "number of tweaks" God is supposed have used. But the point I would like to make here is this: Even if God should use secondary causality and nothing else, then according to my understanding of theology that still entails trillions upon trillions of tweaks because secondary causality simply won't work without continuous divine sustenance and direction.  Christian evolutionary biologist Dennis Alexander makes this point well in his book, a book I review here and here. So whether you believe that providence designed physical laws with the efficacy to generate life with a high probability or if you believe that well-designed  evolvable general replicators were the fundamental givens, either way trillions of trillions of divine "tweaks" everywhere and everywhen is theologically entailed. Thus, either scenario makes little difference in this respect. 

BTW the way, notice the theological intimidation used by B here. Biologos stand accused of the blasphemy of giving impertinent commands to God. I'm more used to this sort spiritual bad mouthing from fundamentalists like Ken Ham

They have also forgotten something even more important. If God must tweak or steer a “random” process to keep it on course, then God, not the process, is calling the shots; the process has merely come along for the ride and plays no role in the outcome. But according to Neo-Darwinism, it is the natural mechanism, acting alone, that determines the outcome. That is why BioLogos members refer to the “science” of evolution and rhapsodize over the “beauty” and “creative wonders” of natural selection.

MY COMMENT: Here we go again with the dualistic ID paradigm: Viz "Natural mechanisms" are contrasted  over and against God's action as if the natural world has a life of its own apart from God's sustaining and directing power. If you are a Christian theist this idea of “natural processes” acting alone should be anathema. No process can act alone: A process may act according to some algorithmically controlled flow; but as we know algorithms need a substrate to maintain and guide them - namely, computer hardware. Algorithms don't "naturally" run themselves as processes divorced from a controlling machine. Likewise it is theological nonsense (except for atheists who don't believe in God) for a Christian to talk of "natural mechanisms" in contradistinction to "divine interventions". B is starting to speak like a gnostic dualist!

Clearly the BioLogos project is a program of unjustified assumptions and irrational claims. Whether their mixed messages are intentional or not, the facts remain: They use the language of design, teleology and purpose, but they argue for chance, randomness and chaos. I encourage everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, to reject this unprecedented assault on reason and common sense.

MY COMMENT:  Once again I can't answer for Biologos here and comment on whether, like B, they hold in their minds incoherent dichotomies such as natural mechanisms vs divine interventions. However, I encourage everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, to reject B's unprecedented assault on reason and common sense with his woolly, incoherent, dichotomised thinking. 


You may be a young earth creationist who believes the cosmos was spoken into existence  by words of magic 6000 years ago; you may believe that evolution's constrained trial and error searching method is contrary to divine morality; you may believe that God injected the information needed to for biological replicators every now & then via a long natural history of design innovations; you may believe that sufficient providentially supplied  information is present in our current physical regime to generate life according to conventional evolutionary theory; or you may believe that some underlying SSST is doing it all.  But whatever creation narrative strikes your fancy we know that B's sloppy characterisation of evolution as a "natural" random process and his dualistic gnostic categories are completely misleading..

Friday, December 08, 2017

Beware: Anti-Science Mind at Work

Don't bother to argue with this guy: He's not likely to understand and will just 
repeat the same old faux pas.

In a blog post about fossil bones dated 7th December fundamentalist salesman and theme park manager Ken Ham repeats to himself the same old "You weren't there!"canard encapsulating the essence of his anti-science delusions; although it is probably a fair conclusion that he succeeds in suckering his customer base.

In his post, as is the wont of anti-science fundamentalism, Ham focuses on the epistemic problems which science inevitably faces but which, as we know all too well, warms the heart of fundamentalists. They are as a class well and truly alienated from the academic establishment and any discomfiture of academia goes down well with them. The particular scientific epistemic difficulty that is the subject of Ham's post is the interpretation of scratch marks found on some fossil bones.  Here's Ham's key passage: 

Therein lies the problem with historical science — we weren’t there! Historical science isn’t directly testable, observable, or repeatable because it deals with the past (history) and we weren’t there to observe what happened. But there was someone who was there, our Creator God, and in his Word, he revealed to us what happened in the past. We can use the history in God’s Word—in particular a 6,000-year-old universe, a global Flood, and the events at the Tower of Babel—as a framework for understanding the world around us. 

To a mind like Ham's "being there" solves all the epistemic problems! But he fails to see that we are dealing with a continuum rather than a fundamental distinction of type and he cannot see that there is an underlying commonality which means that all science is at once both observational and yet historical. It's a matter of degree: All information about the world, whether via the Bible, documents, telescopes, microscopes and what have you arrives at our door via signals, signals that need interpreting; it's just that some objects are closer to us and provide more prolific and reliable signals than other objects separated from us by a greater distance in space and time*. There is also a more abstract "distance" set up by the logical complexity of the object being studied; the more complex a phenomenon the greater the difficulty in drawing conclusions.

Ham cannot see that there is one category here rather than two ("Two" as per his "Historical science vs observational science" dualism).  I can't expect someone like Ham to take this on board even if he was willing. For example, to his mind "technology" is all about the here and now - that is about "observational science" rather than "historical science". But of course to trouble shoot complex technologies (e.g. aircraft) and to get them to work requires the input from a history of tests and historical accounts. The complexity here entails that logical distance I have already spoken of. And if he thinks that complex technology provides readily repeatable conditions then it is clear that he really knows little about the subject. Technology doesn't come more repeatable, deterministic and "here & now" than software and yet we have no general way of proving a program's correctness! Testing complex software depends very much on keeping an eye on its history.

In one sense we are never there! We might be closer or we might be further away from some object under investigation, but we are never absolutely there! We see the whole world through an interface of duly arrived signals of which we are invariably obliged to make assumptions about their rational integrity. This rational integrity is always vulnerable to the pathological logic of wackaloons. Ham's motive for attempting to draw a bogus distinction between science that is somehow based on direct observation and science that comes out of interpretation is an attempt to give outright justification for his attack on the sciences of natural history, archaeology and geology and thereby offer credence to the notion that he isn't a complete anti-science Luddite.

I've posted on this subject many times before: See here for example. 

Ham isn't the brightest bulb in the box; but that is both the cause of his failing and of his success: It is a failing because he'll never make it as clever science buff able to speak to the academic community on their own level; the best he can do is spiritually intimidate and dominate a few tame scholars. But it is also his success because he speaks the language needed to pass on his delusions to a technically challenged customer base and present fundamentalist "science" in terms they understand and will readily purchase.

* There is an intriguing self referencing phenomenon here. When Isaac Newton investigated the propagation of light he was of course using the signals delivered by light to his eye in order to study light. That is, light signals are needed to investigate light signals.  In order to carry out a successful and meaningful investigation of light certain initial assumptions have to be made about the nature of light. These initial assumptions are needed to bootstrap a successful investigation which further refines our concept of light. We have to assume that our world is rational enough to point us in the right direction in the first place; that is, it has a "self reinforcing" rather than contradictory form of self reference.  Similar considerations of self reference were mentioned in this post.

The following link contains some comments on the notion that fundamentalists see the world through a purely biblical lens:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Fascist Fantasy Land; Why Conspiracy Theorism Doesn't Work

I first saw the above elaborate schemata on PZ Myers' blog -  see here. According to Myers it's the world view of a website called MAGAPILL. But given that we are dealing with the internet here, one must approach this bizarre material bearing in mind Poe's law. In what follows, however, I am proceeding under the assumption that we here a genuinely held world view.....

The diagram above merges many observable aspects of our social world into one grand slam conspiracy theory. This comprehensive theory interprets ostensible features of Western society as the superficial and misleading manifestation of an underlying matrix like reality; in fact "The Matrix" (as in sci-fi film) is exactly what they liken it to. The creators of the schemata probably see themselves as the heroes of the story, heroes who have discovered the "matrix" and have broken the code of its sham facade. It's no surprise that we are dealing with Trump supporters here. Trump is a man with a tenuous connection with reality but who explains away any consequent intellectual dissonance using his talent for apportioning blame and his belief to be a victim of an institutionalized facade of disinformation and "fake news"; this is prototypical conspiracy theory. Trump, apparently, was pleased that MAGAPILL praised him for his accomplishments.

If you look at the above picture you can read about false flag terrorism, earthquake machines, classification of patents threatening the industrial status quo, displacement of helpful natural compounds with harmful controlling synthetics, weakening the nutritional value of crops with GM, weaponizing vaccinations and viruses, and a whole lot more. All in all it's very Alex Jones-esque!. However, I haven't found any mention of flat earthism, contrails, and the moon landing hoax! But they could be in there somewhere! Also, I can't see anything like David Ike's lizard conspiracy. That may be because mainstream conspiracy theorists don't believe David Ike to be a random crackpot but instead a false flag conspiracy theorist working for the Illuminati and out to discredit conspiracy theorism! For the hardened conspiracy theorist big events which turn on random causes or the work of a lone crackpot don't figure strongly in their world view. For the addicted conspiracy theorist big events are not meaningless but must fit into a comprehensive and covert background of malign grand purposes.

The above picture portrays a world which is in the controlling hands of criminal secret societies, some of whom have an official front. Life, they tell us, isn't what it seems: Rather it's a much more exciting affair of heroes against cloak and dagger Machiavellians. These clever and brave heroes have unraveled the secret code of reality and blown away its covers. Like Neo in The Matrix and Donald Trump they are in a battle of good vs. (hidden) evil.  On the other hand is it as PZ Myers says "a warped and dangerously demented perception of reality"? I know what I think! A mixture of suspicion, self aggrandizement and a sense of having solved a riddle thus giving meaning to life are at the heart of the motivations for conspiracy theorism. 


One way to discredit a movement is to draw parallels with the fascists and Nazis and that is exactly what I'm going to do here.  In fact it's not a stretch of the imagination to find commonality between the people who fall for grand conspiracy theorism and the Nazis of prewar Germany; after all, the Nazis bought into paranoid fantasies which they believed to be the underlying social reality; namely, that rich Jewish financiers were pulling the strings of Western societies, causing poverty and wars. More generally the Jews were likened to an infestation of over breeding rats. The Nazis also promoted historical fantasies regarding the superior origins of the Aryan race and some, such as Himmler, mixed these ideas with fanciful occult mysticism*.  The emotional need which help maintain these fictions was found in racial pride and social paranoia. So, the parallel I'm drawing here between Nazi philosophy and modern grand conspiracy theorism is that they both see the world through a delusional filter egged on by a combination of ego, narcissism, fear and insecurity. The Nazis also provide a lesson in what a real controlled society actually looks like; it looks nothing like the covertly controlled society of the conspiracy fantasists whose theories are dependent on the postulation of secret and unseen societies of Illuminati pulling the strings behind the scenes: For unlike these secret societies of grand conspiracy theorism the fascists were hardly a secret - far from it; their existence and the overtly brutal means by which they controlled  society were all too evident!

The human mind is an highly imaginative cognitive machine; it has to be to "read between the lines" of direct experience and interpolate meanings in order to build up a picture of the complex reality behind the ostensible. It does this by joining the observable data dots into theoretical narratives. But the epistemic challenge is that it is not always possible, especially when it comes to social reality, to formally and rigorously construct one's theories in a systematic scientific way. When it comes to social reality the human work-a-day epistemic is necessarily a very seat-of-the-pants affair. There is little choice for it to be otherwise because an uncontrolled stream of social data flies by daily at a rate of knots, quickly becoming history and leaving nothing but conclusions drawn on the hoof, largely unconsciously. But where the real problem lies is less in a necessarily flaky epistemic but in the unconsciousness of the precarious foundation on which this creative process rests. This is especially so when allied to a human need to act with conviction; in fact sometimes with utter confidence and decisiveness on its otherwise flaky world view. The heuristic behind this behavior may be that bad conclusions are more profitable than no conclusions at all. Perhaps it's a bit like playing a lottery: If you put an investment into a long shot there is a chance you will get some big wins; but then who can calculate the bottom line which is the balance of costs and benefits?

The grand conspiracy world view envisages a society which behind the scenes is highly organised and centrally controlled (albeit in a very malign and manipulative way) thus effectively positing a potentially knowable social world. For the grand conspiracy theorist very little of importance happens in society which is haphazard, random or a product of internal chaos. The grand conspiracy theorist believes that grandiose and purposely contrived Machiavellian themes run throughout society and these themes largely explain its ostensible features.  Little or no cognizance is taken of the chaotic wild card effects of human nature with its curious blend of compassion, creativity and the conflicts between ego and superego;. that is, between the demands of the self and the need to be a good citizen. The idea that the myriad decisions made by a myriad human beings with no one group in full control is not an idea conspiracy theorists feel secure with. These theorists don't like wild cards. (See the Kennedy assassination)

When self trumps citizenship the old fashioned word for it is "sin", the word with the "I" in the middle. "Sin", by definition, limits horizons to self and the consequent decentralizing effect of sin tends to break down and disorganize. The Biblical vision of human society's enemy emerging from the seething chaos of the deep as a serpent taps into to the archetype of the chaos monster; an apt metaphor for the effects of human and satanic sin and the resultant Chaoskampf. In contrast the conspiracy theorist's secret societies have to be highly moral between members of their class and epistemically unified in order to follow the unity of purpose required if their class is to stay secret and stay in power. I don't believe human beings are either moral enough nor epistemically empowered enough to maintain full and amicable agreement. Social life is simply far too sinful and chaotic for that. Highly organised pan-global secret conspiracies would entail the use of many cooperating operatives. This is an entirely unrealistic expectation, an  expectation the conspiracy theorist is unwilling to give up because their world view personalizes the struggle against social corruption, providing an identifiable enemy against which the theorist can fight, thus gaining the glory and self respect of being a heroic protagonists in an important struggle. In comparison the Chaoskampf resulting of the natural state of human affairs, namely the bulk effects of ignorance, stupidity, pride, sleaze, and corruption is far too impersonal, mundane and prosaic for conspiracy theorists;  Chaoskampf is the struggle against drowning in a sea of meaninglessness, an apparently much less heroic struggle. The struggle against shady well organised characters in government is a far more romantic an idea than the Chaoskampf resulting of the disorganizing effects of our own nature. Heroes need to fight against super-villians, not common-or-garden sleaze and corruption!

The response would probably be: 
"You're pay-rolled by the Illuminati". 
In my time I have come across several people with some kind of paranoid personality disorder and have become familiar with their fertile imaginations which populate the world with conniving demons as they stand, unimpeachable heroes, against the baroque plots against them. I see something  similar among the conspiracy theorists. I must also mention the christian fundamentalists who are fertile ground for the prototypical conspiracy theorism such as we see in Donald Trump. Their state of mind allows them to readily accuse detractors of being engaged in heinous sins and machinations against them and God.

Finally a confession. I have laid it on thick against the conspiracy theorist's world view. And yet I find myself in some ways having to engage in a similar epistemic activity -  namely, that of trying to make sense of the world of experience by building some kind of coherent narrative which fits it all together into a single package. The only alternative to the hubris of this rather ambitious project is to either go down the route of scientific minimalism - that is, to confine one's attention to the relatively uniform and less erratic objects like springs and precipitates, objects amenable to formal and systematic methods -  or to throw one's hands up and become a postmodern nihilist. But if one wants to have a chance of progressing further than the relatively simple non-erratic objects of institutional science  one is left with little choice but to fly in the face of epistemic difficulties and go for it; you never know, there might be big winnings. I'm attempting to synthesize a comprehensive world view based on Christian fundamentals, but without falling into the errors of either positing a highly ordered covert malign political organisation or giving any credence to the prejudices and epistemic arrogance of Christian fundamentalism, a fundamentalism which thinks that scripture short cuts epistemic difficulties. These pitfalls are prevented if one is aware of the human precariousness of one's scriptural interpretations. God or no God we work out our salvation with fear trembling as we rely on the informalities of anecdotal history and personal testimony in place of formal and systematic testing.

* The mystical world of Heinrich Himmler
Mystical symbolism and a mysterious ritual space at Himmler's Wewelsburg castle

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Adam’s Navel and the “Appearance of Age”

Answers in Genesis' David Menton writes: "It’s no wonder that for centuries artists have been at a loss to portray just what the first couple’s abdominal region looked like—did they or did they not have a belly button? You will note that artists generally avoided the whole issue by conveniently covering their midsections with nearby foliage". And as the picture above shows the tradition continues at AiG!

Recently an article appeared on the Christian fundamentalist web site Answers in Genesis entitled Creation and the Appearance of Age by David Menton. According to an editor’s note this article was first published in the St. Louis MetroVoice 5, no. 8 in August 1995. The article is therefore 22 years old and evidence that the same tropes go round and round in fundamentalist circles without needing a great deal of modification. The reason why the same well worn arguments and articles are sufficient for a fundamentalist ministry is because they are not trying to convince the academic elite – which they’ve written off as a satanically inspired  conspiracy – but rather they are selling their ideas to an uncritical technically challenged audience who can’t, won’t or don’t have time to think things through for themselves. As long as this audience can see some semblance of plausibility, technicality and academic authority in the articles coming out of a fundamentalist ministry those articles have done their job and sold themselves.

I’ve seen it many times: The paranoid assumption of hard-line fundamentalism is that Christians are in an unrelentingly evil, totally depraved world where every activity that doesn’t fall within the scope of some favoured fundamentalist faction is suspect and cannot be trusted –  even other Christians who are outside that faction; in fact especially other Christians outside that faction. A fine example of this institutionalized paranoia is AiG’s boss Ken Ham: Christian opponents of Ham’s word are condemned by him as heretics following man’s word rather than God’s word (because effectively Ham equates his word with God’s Word). In this context of irrational suspicion it is no surprise that  fundamentalism is fertile ground for conspiracy theorism and some fundamentalists are actually  moving into flat earth theory with its need to adopt a very strong form of conspiracy theorism to make such a theory work – this is an extremum outcome of the social paranoia that drives fundamentalism. In flat earth fundamentalism we have a subculture who are rejecting some very basic established science, science worked out at least 2500 years ago. As far as I can tell this is actually part of a social malaise which extends beyond Christian fundamentalists to New Agers. I fear for civilisation. But I digress.

I’ve looked at the question of  fundamentalism's “appearance of age” before. See these posts:

I’ve also done a series on a related question; namely, the bogus dichotomy mindlessly and endlessly repeated by Ken Ham that observational science is fundamentally distinct from historical science. In support he often quotes technology as an application of “observational science”. He clearly has never had to do any substantial trouble shooting of problems of complex technological artifacts where the observable records and traces left by the fleeting passage of an artifact through history are important in the diagnosis of those problems. A similar point applies to medical science as it attempts to diagnose organic pathology. For my series on this false dichotomy, which is a core doctrine of Ken Ham's anti-science stance, see here:

The 22 year old AiG article I’m looking at can be found here:

Below I interleave quotes from Menton's article with my own comments. We read the following at the start of Menton’s article:

Why, I wonder, would God spend an entire six days doing a miracle that would require of Him literally no time at all? Think about it: How much time does a miracle take? How much time, for example, did Jesus take for His first miracle when He changed water into the finest quality wine (as judged by a professional steward) for the wedding at Cana? The answer, of course, is no time at all—He told the servants to fill the pots with water and serve it! Still, the Bible clearly reveals God took six whole days to initially create everything to perfection; so, we must either take God at His Word, or presume to stand in judgment of all Scripture.

MY COMMENT: No! We cannot conclude that miracles take no time at all: It may seem from a human perspective that a miracle is absolutely instantaneous but we really don’t know just how divisible time is; who knows how many events are spread out over a period too small to register on human time scales during, say, a water-into-wine miracle? If we could zoom in on the time coordinate and see how God sees it, a second could be an aeon in terms of the number events it contains as water converts to wine.

But even if the miracle took no time at all there still remains the question of divine time as measured in terms of the complexity involved in the assembling of the event in God’s mind. My guess is, however, that fundamentalists tend to subliminally view God as a super magician who need only say “abracadabra” and stuff jumps into sight thus consuming neither divine time nor divine thought. As one evangelical song has it“[God] Spoke the stars into existence”.  The belief in a deity who just has to speak high-level commands that don’t break down into a myriad lower level activities is a fundamentalist trope. This is magic. That Menton probably has this magical paradigm in mind, at least subliminally, is evident when he writes:

Think of any one thing that our omnipotent God might instantly create out of nothing by the power of His Word.

That is, sheer word power rather than thinking power creates things. This is magic. Perhaps the theological lesson of Genesis' mythological six-day creation is that it tells us that God is not a lazy pagan magician who can just sit back and speak stuff into existence but a workman who assembles his creations.

Notice also the fundamentalist inquisitional tactic in the last sentence of the quoted paragraph. Here Menton stuffs a straw-man confession into the mouths of those who wouldn’t agree with him; namely, if you don’t agree with Menton about those six literal days then you are presuming to stand in judgement on the Almighty Himself. Fundamentalist paranoia means that they are unwilling to accept that those who disagree with them do so with a clear conscience and don't see themselves as contradicting the Almighty.  (This inquisitional tactic of using straw-man confessions has also been used by fundamentalist Jason Lisle)

The appearance of age in the things that God created is a much-debated issue in contemporary Christian scientific circles. Can God—or more accurately—would God create something that at the very moment of its creation has the appearance of age? The short answer to this question may be: How else? How, indeed, could God create anything that did not appear to us to be aged (like a fine wine) at the moment of its creation.

MY COMMENT: Written in 1994 this article is showing its age, or should I say “maturity”? I think the AiG editorial staff who decided to publish this article will find that there are young earthists nowadays who don’t like the phrase “an appearance of age” and prefer the vaguer “mature creation” as it has less connotation of God building in misleading signs about age into His creation (But see fundamentalist John Byl below).

Menton is wrong: It is possible to conceive objects which have no "appearance of age" and/or are a-historical. Take for example a parameter P which measures some aspect of an object where:

P = A T -1

…and where A is a constant and T measures time. Obviously, here P is the reciprocal of time. If we use this equation then measuring P will immediately give us calculable age. Of course using Menton’s philosophy this age could be misleading because God could have created the object of this equation with a particular value of P, just as he could, according to some fundamentalists, have created star-light-in-transit. Thus the value of T calculated using the above equation is then only an “apparent age” according to Menton.  However, assuming that the values of T are not just apparent, then we find that the object at T=0, on the basis of the above equation, returns an infinity. That is, the object at T=0 is beyond human understanding and humanly speaking to assign an “apparent age” beyond the statement T=0 is meaningless in this context. Ergo, Menton is wrong about not being able to create an object without the “appearance of age”. Presumably God can create such an object.

Another case in point is a Newtonian gravitational system of perfect billiard ball spheres orbiting one another. This system returns no age at all; it could have been there forever or it could have been created out of nothing by God, yesterday; the object is timeless and it betrays no clues as to its history – it is a-historical, it is ageless.

So in summary we find that some objects show signs of having a history and some are a-historical. And of course it is likely that some objects are ambiguous and difficult to fit in either category.

Think of any one thing that our omnipotent God might instantly create out of nothing by the power of His Word.
……Maybe you thought of a visible star—depending on its distance from the earth, its light might appear to have been traveling for over a billion years to reach your eyes. All of these things would have the appearance of age and an ongoing process at the very moment of their creation.

MY COMMENT: This example betrays the dilemma that fundamentalists are in: Do they go the whole hog with “mature creation” and postulate that star light was created in-transit? Or do they get out their pencils and paper and work out theories consistent with a 6000 year time scale and yet which give a history to the star light without having to posit a dubious in-transit creation?

 As we have seen in posts on this blog AiG fundamentalists have recently had a tendency to do their best to drop in-transit star light creation and give starlight a genuine history of propagation of one kind or another. However, these efforts have had limited success (See here, here and here). A similar situation exists in regard to continental drift; a fanatical mature creationist might claim that God created what geologists see as evidences of a history of drift (such as sea floor magnetic patterns) “as we see them, just like that!”. But recently there has been a theory submitted by a young earthist of “runaway” continental drift which attempts to fit all the necessary intervening drifting events into a suitably short time scale. In order to preserve the rational integrity of God’s creation some young earthists are at least trying to do some science rather than short cut science with “mature creation”.

So why do we have these strenuous efforts by fundamentalists who ignore Menton's assertion about the inevitability of the "appearance of age" and attempt to provide histories for objects that are clearly not a-historical? I think it's because they can sense the violation of rational integrity that bland acceptance of an "appearance of age" is liable to lead to. 

The Genesis fundamentalist thus faces a difficult question: Which observed evidences require an historical theory in order to maintain the rational integrity of God’s work and which can be written off as simply “mature creation”? Adam’s navel is a case in point. Of this matter Menton comments:

Also let’s not forget the critically important placenta—its development in the womb necessarily precedes that of the baby so that it can serve the function of a temporary lung, kidney, liver, gut, and endocrine system until the baby develops its own. It’s no wonder that for centuries artists have been at a loss to portray just what the first couple’s abdominal region looked like—did they or did they not have a belly button? (You will note that artists generally avoided the whole issue by conveniently covering their midsections with nearby foliage.)

MY COMMENT: Ken Ham who, as I noted in my Beyond Our Ken series, confidently claims that Adam had no navel and yet accepts that the trees of Eden would have been created with a bogus history of yearly growth rings. Menton, however, being a less bullish authority than Ham, like the artists he speaks of, doesn’t know where to go on the navel question!  (See also the picture at the head of this post which has been taken from one of Ken Ham's children's books)

This whole line of thinking gets us into what is called a “first cause” problem. We live in a “cause and effect” world, where every action causes a reaction and is itself the result of a previous action. Everything appears to be an ongoing process for which we are incapable of really grasping a beginning. This is all popularly expressed in the age-old question: “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” If we say the chicken, we will be asked from whence the chicken came; yet if we say the egg, we will be asked from whence the egg—and so round and round we go. Somewhere, there had to be a beginning to this cyclical process we call the chicken and the egg

MY COMMENT: “First causism” has some issues which are really off-topic in this context so I won’t talk about them here. (But see here). Menton tells us: Everything appears to be an ongoing process for which we are incapable of really grasping a beginning. But as my toy town models show there can exist systems/objects for which an antecedent history is meaningless or is a-historical.

However, in the case of the chickens and egg, as in the question of Adam’s navel, we find a set of observations where to deny a history violates the creation’s rational integrity; to postulate a chicken or an egg first is the biological equivalent of postulating in-transit start-light creation.

Menton concludes with:

We may conclude that the Lord is captive to neither time nor process.

But God is captive to the Truth and Integrity. Therefore He creates a world with rational integrity, not a world of belly buttons without placenta or tree rings without a history of growth or star light without a history of travel. A truthful God makes a creation of intellectual integrity. But if you are prepared to pass up this integrity anything goes. For example, Whitcombe and Morris in The Genesis Flood were quite happy with in-transit photon creation.

As I have said some objects are a-historical (such as two perfect spheres in Newtonian orbits) and some have clear histories like star light, sedimentary rocks, tree rings and Adam’s navel. Some objects are in between and have an ambiguous history, such as an alcohol molecule which can be constructed in the lab or by fermenting grapes. As we saw in my “Beyond Our Ken” series fundamentalists are having problems drawing the line. Some fundamentalists like John Byl will claim that it is perfectly legitimate for God to create objects with an appearance of having a bogus history and in any case Byl suggests that God may do just that to deceive those evil scientists! But as a concession to rational integrity fundamentalist Jason Lisle will claim that star light has traveled the whole distance from its source along the radials leading to Earth, although Lisle has to concede that in-transit photon and graviton creation is needed across non-radial paths. Ken Ham thinks that Adam had no navel but believes the trees in the Garden of Eden were created with rings thus having built into them a bogus history of growth and Sun spot minima.

We get poor quality articles from Ken Ham’s organisation such as we see from David Menton and Danny Faulkner and yet if one doesn't accept their dubious logic Ken Ham will spiritually abuse detractors and spit hell and hamnation in order to spiritually pressure acquiescence. This is the epistemic arrogance of a brutal primitive spiritual logic that at one time sent people to the stake.

ZakDTV tells us about the lunatic fringe. I fear for civilisation!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Ontological Reductionism vs Mathematical Reductionism

On 23rd October I published a blog post with the above title. This post was an analysis of a draft paper co-authored by Jonathan Kopel promoting the concept of "Relational Ontology" and contrasted it over and against "Reductionism". Since then the paper has been updated and has a different author list. It now awaits publication. Jonathan asked if I could remove my original post as it pertained to the now defunct draft paper. This I have done. However, as my original post contained content which can stand without the paper, then in this current post I reproduce this content. Moreover, when Jonathan's paper is eventually published I will review it once again and I am likely to make reference to the material that follows.


Firstly, then, what is reductionism?  When used in the context of the physical sciences “reductionism” is usually understood to be the contention that somehow every aspect of reality "reduces to" or is fully "explained" by the motions, properties and interactions of fundamental particles. This “reductionist” paradigm might also be characterized as “mechanistic” in as much as its only recognized qualities are defined by a purely geometrical dynamic. Reductionism in its strongest and most emphatic manifestations regards all other qualities as illusory.  Notice however that here a) the concept of “explanation” is not defined and b) this sketch of reductionism actually conflates two forms of reductionism. Viz:

A1: Ontological reductionism. This is the assumption that particulate physics constitutes some kind of ultimate reality to which all else “reduces”, whatever that means. In comparison with this particulate world the world we actually perceive is thought of as all but illusory. This strong view  of reductionism may also be characterized as “elemental materialism”.
A2: Mathematical reductionism. This is more a dream than an assumption: It is hoped there is a final succinct (mathematical) theory out there waiting for us which is general enough to fully describe the ontology assumed in A1. It is then hoped that in combination with A1 the final theory, as its name suggests, will explain everything. The increasing generality of our current theoretical narratives is usually taken as lending support for this hope and, moreover, may be offered as a reason to believe in A1.

Now, as a physicist I’m quite a fan of A2 (but not a dogmatic fan). Although we can’t be sure about A2, it is, nevertheless, at least an intelligible proposition. In contrast I regard A1 as either an incoherent philosophical bias, often adhered to without self-awareness, or a pictorial myth on which we can hang our thoughts and give some recognisable human visualisation to our mathematical formalisms (I find nothing wrong with the latter). But it is far from clear just what it means to assert that reality somehow “reduces” to elementary particulate components. Hence, although I can tentatively accept the mathematical reductionism of A2 I do not accept the elemental ontological reductionism of A1, an idea I find unintelligible.

Reductionism is not the only term whose meaning is unclear in this context: After all, what does it mean to "explain something"?  But unlike "ontological reductionism" the concept of "explanation"  can, I believe, be given a clearer meaning. If we take it that “explaining” is essentially a mathematical activity which simply provides some kind of successful mathematical description of the patterns displayed by the physical world then this concept of explanation stands a chance of being defined with some precision - See footnote *1. But a successful mathematical description in and of itself doesn’t entail the need to imbue that mathematics with fundamental ontological significance, a significance against which all other perceptions and conceptions are thought to be “illusory”. Imputing some kind of elemental fundamental ontology to our formal mathematical terms amounts to an interpretation of the meaning of those terms. Such would classify as a  world view synthesis, a world view which amounts to a metaphysical belief as to the actual essence and true meaning of the world. Such a belief, which is essentially the content of A1, is highly contentious of course. The upshot, however, is that when A1 and A2 are conflated the theoretical narratives of physics become inseparably bound up with the contentious elemental reductionism of A1.

Scientific narratives emerge out of the interplay between experience and the trial theoretical constructions we tender in order to make sense of experience. It is a kind dot joining game where the “dots” are our experiences and the structures joining them are our theoretical conceptions. The scientific narrative is written in the language of the third person. But this language hides the truism that all science traces back to the experiences and theoretical constructions of a first person somewhere; the “dots” belong to a first person experience and the theoretical constructions which attempt to unify our patterns of experience are reified in a first person cognition. The third person account is framed, though, as to give the impression that it refers to some reality beyond cognition. This projected "reality" is Kant’s “thing-in-itself”, an object which is really only mediated through our cognition and therefore in an absolute sense inaccessible. I wouldn’t want to go as far as positing a kind of “cognitive positivism” by asserting that human cognition is the ultimate reality or somehow primary rather than secondary; that would be as bold a conceit as A1. However, it seems that ostensibly we have a tenuous grasp on the exact nature of this “thing-in-itself-reality” and don’t really know what it means. In contrast, as Kant suggested, we do have inside knowledge of what it means to be a first person reality whose perspective on the world is mediated through experience and theory (and perhaps ultimately this understanding may throw light on the very essence of all reality). Our first person theoretical perspectives may or may not resemble some ontology beyond cognition; for particles, strings, waves, fields, spaces or whatever, may be just an expression of the way we are cognitively equipped to think about the thing-in-itself ontology. Although we have no absolute connection with the “elemental materialism” posited in A1, we nevertheless have a good registration between many of our theoretical constructs and the  “dots” of our experience; that is, experience and theory cohere and especially so when theory successfully predicts experience. Although this coherence is very suggestive of the existence of an ontology beyond our cognition, the registration between theory and experience doesn’t reveal the “thing-in-itself-ness” of that ontology.  


Because ontological and mathematical reductionism are easy to conflate we find that anti-reductionists may look unfavorably on idea of the potential completeness of mathematical physics and thus perceive their mission to be one of trying to throw doubt on the mathematical efficacy of physics.  What may give power to the elbow of those who are tempted by this road is that even if our theories are complete their mathematical intractability can scupper any idea that they give easy prognostications about the physical world. For example, even if we assume that our current quantum equations capture everything about fundamental particle interactions (which of course they may not) the mathematical consequences of even these equations, when applied to many particles, remain staggeringly complex and it is likely that multi-particle quantum mechanics is computationally irreducible; that is, only the system itself can simulate itself; there are no analytical mathematical short cuts beyond running the particle system in real time in order to exactly compute the outcome; the system must be its own computer.  In the light of this it is not particularly startling that so called chemical bonds come in many different types and that these types consist of classes with fuzzy blended boundaries. 

In any case science has so often depended on approximate, sometimes  almost “toy town” models, simply because reality is too complex to take into account every impinging factor. These "toy town" models may even be simplifications of our own enunciated equations simply because those equations may be too difficult to solve analytically. Moreover, given that “isolated systems” are more often than not idealizations, then it is no doubt one of those toy town models to approximate a chemical structure as a configuration of static elements. For example, I don't think anyone thinks those models of molecules showing well defined coloured polystyrene spheres connected by tooth picks (i.e. bonds) are very literal – one can think of them to be on a par with a child’s stick man representation of a human being!

Even on the basis of quantum mechanics as it currently stands it is clear that our simplifying models are highly caricatured representations of the consequences of this mechanics. When using such “caricatures” to describe molecular dynamics it is probably prudent to use several completing metaphorical models which only when taken together maximise the sense making power of what is in fact a very human narrative. But really all this is very much business as usual as far as science is concerned, a business where our computational idealizations and compromises should not be taken too literally. As I’ve already said even our current equations, when used to treat multi-particle scenarios, are likely to be computationally irreducible. This means that only models employing simplifying approximations are going to be analytically tractable to limited human computational resources. Our cartoonish depictions of molecular dynamics are just the way science has always worked and will continue to work. Given what are clearly human limitations (which is the natural state of human affairs) there is no reason to throw up our hands and declare that somehow all this portends a broken scientific paradigm which needs to be discarded in favour of a new paradigm. For example, I would suggest that so-called Relational Ontology is not going to bring a fundamental revolution in science, but only an enhanced philosophical appreciation that the objects science deals with are necessarily relational in nature. A similar "radical" paradigm which is unlikely to usher in anything more than an enhanced philosophical understanding is that of "contextual emergence" an idea which Robert C. Bishop describes as follows: 

Contextual emergence is the circumstance where domain A provides necessary conditions for the description or existence of elements of domain B, but lacks sufficient conditions for the description or existence of elements of domain B. This is to say that the sufficient conditions necessary to complete a set of jointly necessary and sufficient conditions for the description or existence of elements of domain B cannot be obtained from domain A alone. Information from domain B—a new context—is crucially needed 

As far as I'm concerned this is old news. For if I understand this passage correctly then “contextual emergence" even becomes apparent in something as elementary as a binary sequence. We readily talk about a “binary bit”, but in isolation the binary bit is in fact an incoherent object: A binary bit is only a binary bit by virtue of it being within a sequential context – that is, its reality is necessarily mediated via its relation to other binary bits. But the sequence itself is a meaningless concept if regarded in isolation to the bits it contains; take away the bits and you’ve got no sequence. We have here a kind of circular mutual dependence: A bit doesn’t have a reality apart from its sequential context and the sequence doesn’t have a reality apart from its component bits. The concept of a sequence provides the necessary conditions for defining the existence of a bit, but not sufficient conditions for the description of a bit because the bit has its own degree of freedom of 1 or 0. Conversely, the sequence is not an entity independent of the bits because the state of each bit is a necessary condition for a description of the sequence. I say, again what’s new here?

Taking this further with an object a little more sophisticated than a binary sequence here’s what I wrote as an end note in my annotation of Jonathan''s draft paper:

Relational ontology (RO) acknowledges that things have both intrinsic and extrinsic properties. Take for example a cat: We could isolate it in weightless low cryogenic vacuum for a short while in order to study its intrinsic particle configuration, but that would only yield half the story. The concept of a cat only makes complete sense in relation to its environment and how it uses that environment (e.g. territory defence, nocturnal hunting of prey, reacting to human owners etc). Thus being a “cat” entails a huge burden of extrinsic properties (or relations) without which “being a cat” is rather meaningless. This sort of reasoning applies to most objects we can think of.

I also touch on this matter in my essay “The Great Plan”.

RO might encourage an enhanced philosophical understanding on the relational aspects of descriptive science but it doesn’t advance the scientific understanding of chemistry; only more finely honed theoretical models will do that.


As I have already said we need to appreciate the different possible meanings of the term “explanation” with its sensitivity to one’s world view, particularly if ontological reductionism  and mathematical reductionism have been conflated. This appreciation will prevent putting ourselves on a collision course with the day by day business of the physical sciences. This day-to-day business inevitably employs simplified models, a mix of metaphors, idealisations and isolation approximations. Moreover, it is conceivable (although by no means certain) that one day the theoretical scientific account, in a purely formal mathematical sense, will be complete in terms of its descriptive power. But if that juncture should ever be arrived at it still wouldn’t follow that ontological reductionism is the logical conclusion. Ontological reductionism is just another comparative guess and/or belief as to the true nature of the ultimate thing-in-itself. In the meantime whether we understand Relational Ontology or not, the same issues revolving round questions of interactive isolation and computational irreducibility will remain very much the stuff of routine science and will continue to be respectively addressed using iterative methods*2 and a cluster of metaphorical simplifications/approximations. 

The mathematical objects of science are philosophically meaningless and unintelligible without positing the cognating first person who is both an experiencer and theoretical narrative constructor. In the introduction of my book Gravity and Quantum Non-Linearity I note this fact especially alongside the advances of neural science which is developing a third person account of human beings in terms of neurons, electric fields, chemistry, molecules and what-have-you. Hence, we have here the first person constructing a third person theoretical narrative which is then used to explain the first person perspective. This is in fact a self-referencing loop; theories conceived and tested by a first person are then used to explain the first person perspective. I liken this self-reference to the practice in computer software where C++ programs can be compiled using a compiler written in C++. That is C++ is defined in terms of C++.  Likewise, human beings have constructed theoretical concepts which can be used to give account of the human theory constructor. Thus, to attempt to do away with either the theoretical objects of science or the first person perspective is to do a violence to the other: Without the first person perspective of conscious cognition the so-called “atoms and the void” posited and understood by the first person is an unintelligible concept. But when we look closely at conscious cognition from a third person perspective all we find is “atoms and the void”. But only the first person knows just what inner conscious qualities are entailed by the apparently colourless third person world of the "atoms and the void". So, it is only when the two perspectives of the first and third persons are taken together that things start to make sense.


*1 On Mathematical Description
In my book Disorder and Randomness I look into the limits of theoretical narratives and their ability to “explain” in the descriptive sense of the word. For the purposes of the book I define “explanation” as the ability of small space short time algorithms to generate patterns of observations, patterns which we assume can be represented by binary sequences as per a digital computer simulation. Absolute randomness is then defined as those sequences which are unreachable using small space short time algorithms. The point to be made from this is that “explanation” in this sense is clearly a very human perspective; that is, it depends on the meaning of what we consider to be small and short; or in a single word, 'succinct'. The meaning of small and short is relative to our humanity; if we allow an indefinite extension to small and short then the sky is the limit in terms of explanation; complex and/or long running algorithms can conceivably explain (i.e. describe) any possible sequence and the concept of what is truly random then goes out of the window with it: either that or the concept of “explanation” becomes a trivialism. If one can store enough information or allow an algorithm to run for long enough it is very likely that anything could be “explained” and this renders rather redundant the meaning of "explanation" in the descriptive human sense.

*2 On Iterative Methods
Now, it’s a well-known cliché that in the final analysis everything is connected with everything else; complete and ideal isolation of any cosmic sub-system from everything else is just not absolutely possible. So, how then can we get an analytical scientific handle on the universe when strictly we should take into account the whole cosmic caboodle in our investigations of a subsystem? After all, in an absolute sense any subsystem we probe may be affected in complex and unknown ways by its environment, thus rendering any claim to having discovered a law which applies to the subsystem potentially invalid. The answer to this conundrum is experimental iteration.

To implement experimental iteration we start by making a crude judgement on what we think is needed to approximately isolate a system and then go about studying its patterns of behaviour. We thus can derive at least approximate analytical laws governing the universe. From there we can then use our first pass theories to get a better understanding of how to isolate subsystems. We can now start over again the process of subsystem experimentation and thus refine our theory, which in turn assists in the creation of better isolated subsystems thus further helping to hone our theories. The hope is, and it is only a hope, that some kind of convergence takes place toward better theoretical narratives.

This iterative process has some resemblance to Newton’s method of finding solutions to equation and like Newton’s method it has to start out by assuming that the epistemic chances are stacked in our favour; namely, that we have initial hunches and heuristics which will ultimately lead us in the right direction. This is not such a problem for theists who see epistemic providence at work in science. But it is not a game faithless nihilists will feel secure with! Ironically neither will Christian fundamentalists naturally take to this process because they are forever trying to throw doubt on the assumptions of rationality which are inevitably needed to make science work in the first place. For example, fundamentalists Jason Lisle and John Byle are cases in point.