Saturday, September 24, 2016

YEC guru advises YECs not to use entropy arguments against evolution.

The Boltzmann entropy equation: Entropy as a function of statistical weight. 

I was intrigued by this article on the YEC web site Creation Ministries International*. At last I have found some sensible advice on the second law of thermodynamics coming from a fundamentalist source.  The article contains the replies by YEC guru Jonathan Sarfati to the queries of a YEC follower who has an engineering degree but who was nevertheless struggling to understand the second law of thermodynamics and whether or not it can be used to support YEC opposition to evolution. In fact the article is entitled How useful is the Second Law of Thermodynamics as an argument against evolution?

Below I quote bits of the article and interleave my comments.

 YEC follower: I heard an example used by an atheist to show proof of self-organizing systems or increased complexity by way of a naturalistic manner. This is done to support molecules-to-man evolution. The example is: As two hydrogen molecules come together with an oxygen to form water they say it is proof that the complex can come from the simple without help from God in some kind of autopoietic (?) fashion perhaps

My Comment: Observe the worry caused by this YEC’s implicit dualism; he takes for granted that the whole debate can be cast into a dichotomized naturalism vs. God mold.  If it were ever shown unequivocally that the cosmic status quo has the informational wherewithal to generate life then this YEC may have a problem; to him, and ironically also to atheist detractors, the cosmos then looks suspiciously “autopoietic”.  This fear is in fact encouraged by the de facto IDist’s botched “god intelligence-of-the-gaps” epistemic filter an epistemic which requires physical explanations to fail before the presence of an intervening intelligent agency is declared.

YEC follower: My first reaction when I heard this was to bring up the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Indeed, complexity seems to increase but at the expense of heat loss as an exothermic reaction where some (or most? don’t remember right now) of the heat is never to be recovered again. This shows entropy of the system/universe as a whole, an enemy of their attempt to see this as an autopoietic system…… Would the entropy of the heat/work available in the system support a refutation on the biblical creationist’s part regarding the impossibility of any system to ‘self-organize’ due to the Second Law. Am I leaping too far at this point?

My Comment: He’s aware of that the second law doesn’t rule out local decreases in entropy as long as they are outweighed by increases in entropy elsewhere in the closed system, but he is confused about the implications of this for both evolutionists and fellow YECs: For evolutionists (and not as this YEC follower suggests) the global rundown of the universe is not a necessary problem because that run down is still consistent with local increases in order, increases which potentially might include the development of life. This YEC follower, however, is troubled by the possibility of local increases in order because from the perspective of his dualistic paradigm of God vs. nature he senses it may play into the evolutionists hands.

YEC follower: I may be heading in two directions at once on this since a discussion of Thermodynamics may be all that’s needed without dragging in a secondary one regarding Information Theory or something. Although I’m not sure how to apply Information Theory to the water molecule formation yet, I would like to if it fits somehow or helps the creationist refutation.

My Comment: He’s hankering after the common YEC canard that the second law is a self-contained mathematical argument refuting evolution with all the certainty of physical law. This is, as it turns out, a will-o-the-wisp for YECs. He’s better following through with information theory (as Sarfati himself advises. as we shall see below), but that will take him into deep waters he wants to avoid.

YEC follower: Next, I was stumped for a while on trying to decide what to do with ‘endothermic’ reactions. If an endothermic reaction borrows heat from its surroundings then it only temporarily stores heat until released by another type reaction later perhaps. Maybe like a tree? Would not a tree be something like an endothermic reaction that increases in apparent complexity from a seed to a full grown specimen drawing in energy from its surroundings, IE. the sun?

My Comment: The recurring theme is that our YEC follower senses that those manifest local increases in order set a bad precedent for his subliminal God vs naturalism paradigm; for perhaps somehow evolution is one of these temporary local increases in order? And yes, biological systems routinely increase local order by organising huge quantilties of less ordered matter. They can do because they have the informational recipes in the form of DNA instructions along with mechanism s to read them and thence churn out proteinised matter. So perhaps hidden up in the physical status quo is sufficient information to bring about local increases in order such as would be needed for evolution? Or perhaps not! Who knows! The proof of this either way may be computationally irreducible and thereforwbeyond human analytical solution.

YEC follower: With Information Theory and molecular genetics telling us that the seed has all it needs to be a tree, it indeed then ‘borrows’ energy from the sun for a time building in ‘apparent’ complexity through a type of endothermic system. However, in the end the tree would finally give up this ‘borrowed’ energy in the form of heat exothermically by way of being burned, eaten, or chemically rotted away perhaps. This would then be an end process like the exothermic formation of a water molecule in a ‘Second Law supporting’ event, again upholding the previous idea of increased entropy in the system.
So, do I drag in Thermodynamics, Information Theory, Autopoiesis, or what to draw up a good article on this idea of the humble water molecule?

My Comment: He’s confused. Yes, ultimately as he suggests there is the run down into a total entropy increase, but in the meantime the natural world clearly allows local increases of order as the routine growth of life shows. So the question remains, could those local increases of order become so large as to allow macro evolution ? If it did then somewhere the requisite information is implicit.
 
Sarfarti, YEC guru, responds: (My emphases in bold): The reaction 2H2 + O2 → 2H2O occurs because it is exothermic, which pumps heat (Q) into the surroundings, thus by definition increases their entropy by Q/T. This outweighs any loss because of the higher ordering of the water molecules.

Also, the order in the water molecules is based on the chemical properties of the component atoms. This is very different in kind from the organization of proteins and DNA. My response to an evolutionary science writer explains this in more detail as does my book By Design.

Endothermic reactions I’ve touched on in this article I co-authored for the homeschooling magazine The Old Schoolhouse: Scientific experiments for homeschoolers.

I tend not to use entropy arguments at all for biological systems.

I must admit that I hardly ever refer to the second law, although as a Ph.D. physical chemist I am well qualified to do so. Without meaning to brag, if I don’t use it, then few people should; instead, concentrate on the information argument. I’ve seen both creationists and evolutionists make mistakes in their discussions; see for example The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Answers to critics. But for a sound discussion on second law arguments, which are strongest when dealing with chemical evolution (origin of life from non-living chemicals), see the chapters from The Mystery of Life’s Origin.

I tend not to use entropy arguments at all for biological systems. I have yet to see the calculations involving either heat transfer or Boltzmann microstates involved for natural selection. Until creationists can do that, they should refrain from claiming that organic evolution contradicts the Second Law; a trite appeal to “things become more disordered according to the Second Law” is inadequate.

Origin of first life is different, since natural selection can’t occur without two or more self-reproducing entities.

I hope these comments are helpful.


My Comment: That’s the most sensible statement I’ve seen from a YEC about the second law of thermodynamics; I largely agree with it. But at what point do those awkward local increases in order permitted by the second law become taboo for a dualist YEC?  The second law in and of itself is far too loose a law to be used as a standalone disproof of evolution. As Sarfati rightly implies it all swings on the question of the ultimate origin of the information present in living structures. We know for example that biological systems routinely and massively increase local order. In this case, however, we know where the informational mechanisms are located; namely the DNA recipes and its associated reading and “writing” mechanisms. It is therefore conceivable that information for evolution resides somewhere in the physical regime; perhaps in the laws of physics or some other aspect of the physical regime not yet understood; basically there is no unassailable argument which pins down the source of that information; either it’s part of the physical regime’s status quo or it is patched in ad hoc by a deity or alien intelligence. As regards the possibility that this information is implicit in our physical regime, Sarfati implies we need to know the breakdown of the microscopic statistical weights per macrostate. This would then tell us the likely path the physical system will take through the space of macrostates as its global order runs down. But this calculation is a huge many body problem and no one knows the answer, and that includes YECs as Sarfati frankly admits. But the second law in and of itself provides no short cut answer to that problem as some naive YECs and naive IDists have tried to maintain.

Sarfati mentions the book The Mystery of Life’s Origins. I looked at three of the relevant chapters of this book in the Darwin centenary year of 2009 (See here, here and here) and it became clear to me that these chapters don’t address the question of how the information needed for life is applied; whether through the constraints of the physical status quo or whether that information is patched in ad hoc on occasions by some alien intelligence.

***

Where many YECs and IDists go wrong is that they don’t acknowledge the potential and critical role of the information implicit in the constraints introduced by the physical regime. It is these constraints which determine the macro evolution of the system. The second law only tells us that the system will likely move toward the macro states of greatest statistical weight – a not particularly startling conclusion. But it is the constraints of the physical regime which will tell us if the macro states through which the system passes as it moves from macro states of lower statistical weight to macro states of higher statistical weight include localised regions of high order such as organic structures.

The pertinent question, a question not answered by the second law, is how the information implicit in the system is applied: Is it part of the God ordained constraints of the physical status quo or does God behave like an “alien-of-the-gaps” who on occasions down loads information into the system? Dualists who hold to an implicit God vs nature paradigm have little option but support the alien-of-the-gaps concept of divine intervention in the "natural order" of things. Given the immanence of God and the failure of alien-of-the-gaps' science of interventions, at least in its YEC and IDist manifestations, this seems an unlikely option. 

However, if the information needed for evolution is part of the physical status quo that would require the spongeam to exist, a mathematical object whose existence I doubt**. Hence, through my two projects, Melancolia I and the Thinknet project I’m probing the idea that the physical regime has bestowed upon it some of the necessary features of an intelligent system; chiefly the ability to embark on searches of huge numbers of cases using expanding parallelism and then selecting. This activity, as I show, is capable of creating (local) information especially if some kind of teleological selection is adopted. But even under these conditions it doesn’t necessarily follow that the second law is contravened.

But be all that as it may Sarfati has done science a service in advising YEC followers not to use the second law against evolution. In a future post, however, I intend to look at what Ken Ham’s tame research guru, Danny Faulkner, has written on the second law. I have not been impressed with Faulkner’s work (See here and here for example) and it’s no spoiler alert to let it be known he makes a pig’s ear of it as do many YECs and IDists. 


Footnotes
* On CMI: Creation Ministries International are the YEC organisation who had the misfortune to get caught up in the sordid John MacKay Affair.
** The reasons for this doubt are based on the overwhelming statistical weight of disorder. See this paper for details. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Disorder and Randomness

Meccano Microcosm: Obsessed with the mystery of randomness, I made this machine blending order and randomness at the end of the 1970s as an agreeable pass time. See here  for the story

I have recently compiled a book-length electronic document containing some of my earlier writings on disorder and randomness. This compilation can be accessed as a PDF here  I worked on this subject as a hobby throughout the 1970s and 1980s and I now publish what was originally a typescript. I have, however, enhanced the content as well as the format.  The current publication is edition 1, but it is likely that I will re-read the document in a few months time and produce edition 2. After a while I get bored with reading the same old text and I have to wait some weeks before the desensitization wears off and I can continue to spot errors, omissions and naiveties. 

Below I reproduce the introduction to the book: 


Introduction

This book deals with the subject of randomness. It presents a personal record of my engagement with a topic which, early in my thinking career, presented itself as something of fundamental importance: The algorithmic nature of deterministic physical laws seemed relatively easy to grasp, but what was this thing called indeterminism? How would we know when it was operating?  Above all, what was this strange discipline of predictive statistics? It was strange because no one expects its predictions to be exactly right. A naive philosophical stance might think that a miss is as good as a mile and therefore anything registering less than 100% truth as nothing short of 100% error; but no, in statistics the concepts of approximation and nearness figure prominently and give the lie to fundamentalist sentiments that anything less than absolute certainty isn’t worthwhile knowledge.

In the short Sherlock Holmes story The Cardboard Box, Holmes solves a particularly tragic crime of passion; both the killer and his victims are ordinary people who against their better judgement are driven by overwhelming human emotions into a conflict that leads to murder. If you got to know these people you would find none of them to be particularly immoral by human standards. In a cool moment they would likely condemn their own hot blooded actions. After bringing the matter to a conclusion in his usual consummate and controlled way, Holmes betrays a rare moment of being completely at a loss as to understanding the meaning of the affair. The details of the crime he guided us through, where all the clues formed a rational pattern which Holmes alone completely understood, stand in stark contrast to his utter mystification at the human significance of the story as a whole:

“What is the meaning of it, Watson?” said Holmes, solemnly, as he laid down the paper.  “What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But to what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.”

In this expression of the problem of suffering and evil, chance and meaninglessness are seen as be related: A world ruled by chance is purposeless, or at least it is difficult to discern purpose. Although the exorable mechanisms of determinism can themselves conspire with chance to generate meaningless scenarios lacking in anthropic significance, the background fear expressed by Holmes is that chance is ultimately sovereign. For Conan Doyle’s Victorian God-fearing character this was unthinkable. Today, of course, it is no longer unthinkable, although for many a very uncomfortable thought. But what is “chance” and just why should it come over as the epitome of meaninglessness and purposelessness? Since the rise of the quantum mechanical description of reality chance figures very strongly in today’s physical science and raises profound questions about the nature and meaning (or lack of meaning) of chance’s manifestation as randomness in the physical world.

Arthur Koestler in his book The Roots of Coincidence spelled out some of the paradoxes of chance events and their treatment using probability theory. In his book Koestler’s interest in the subject arises from his interest in those extrasensory perception experiments which make use of card guessing statistics and where there is, therefore, a need to determine whether the outcome of such experiments is statistically significant. Perhaps, suggests Koestler, the apparently skewed statistics of these experiments are bound up with the very question of just what randomness actually means. After all, in Koestler’s opinion randomness itself seems to have a paranormal aspect to it. To illustrate he gives us a couple of examples where statistics has been used to make predictions: In one case statistics was used by a German mathematician  to predict the distribution of the number of German soldiers per year between 1875 and 1894 kicked to death by their horses. In another case Koestler remarks on the near constancy of the number of dog-bites-man reports received by the authorities in New York. In response to the idea that probability theory leads to an understanding of this kind of “statistical wizardry”, as Koestler calls it, he says this:

But does it really lead to an understanding? How do those German Army horses adjust the frequency of their lethal kicks to the requirement of the Poisson equation? How do the dogs of New York know that their daily ration of biting is exhausted? How does the roulette ball know that in the long run zero must come up once in thirty seven times if the casino is to be kept going? (The Roots of Coincidence, Page 27)

I have to admit that for some time after reading Koestler I too was puzzled by the success of probability theory’s paradox of being able to predict the unpredictable. At the time I knew how to use probability calculus but I had really no idea how and why it worked. Later on in his book Koestler introduces us to mathematician G. Spencer Brown who was researching probability in the 1950s. Of him Koestler says:

...among mathematicians G. Spencer Brown proposed an intriguing theory which attempted to explain the anti-chance results in card guessing experiments by questioning the validity of the concept of chance itself. (The Roots of Coincidence, Page 102)

Koestler tells us that Spencer Brown proposed that ESP statistics “pointed to some anomaly in the very concept of randomness”. Koestler goes on to quote Sir Alister Hardy who sponsored Spencer Brown:

…It remained for Mr. G. Spencer Brown of Trinity College, Cambridge, to suggest the alternative and simpler hypothesis that all this experimental work in so called telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psycho-kinesis, which depends upon obtaining results above chance, may be really a demonstration  of some singular and very different principle. He believes that it may be something no less fundamental or interesting – but not telepathy or these other curious things – something implicit in the very nature and meaning of randomness itself… In passing let me say that if most of this apparent card-guessing  and dice influencing  work should turn out to be something very different, it will not have been wasted effort; it will have provided a wonderful mine of material for the study of a very remarkable new principle.  (The Roots of Coincidence, Page 103).

Koestler says that Spencer Brown’s work petered out inconclusively. But whilst we continue to feel that we really don’t understand why it is that probability theory works then Brown’s ideas remain plausible: Perhaps we’ve got probability theory wrong and this accounts for the unfamiliar statistics which apparently show up in paranormal research involving card guessing and dice influencing. Whether or not there was something to Brown’s ideas, at the time I first read Koestler in the early 1970s I couldn’t tell. But for me the “near miss” effectiveness of probability calculus was a nagging problem that remained with me for some time. At university I had taken it for granted that there was no mystery in probability theory, but a social science student whose name I have long since forgotten challenged me with Koestler’s comments. These comments made me realize that I although I could use probability calculus I didn’t really understand why it worked. However, by the time I finished the work in this book, although inevitably there were still questions outstanding, I felt fairly confident that the kind of thing Spencer Brown was looking for did not in fact exist if true randomness was in operation. In the epilogue I briefly take up this matter along with the question raised by Sherlock Holmes.

During the mid-seventies I had dabbled a little with quantum theory with the aim of trying to make anthropomorphic sense of it, but after a while I shelved the problem for later. (The sense I did eventually make of it is an ongoing story I tell elsewhere). However, in the 70s my dabblings with quantum theory gave way to what was in fact, for reasons I have already given, a philosophically more pressing problem; Viz; the nature of randomness and probability. In any case the probability question arose very naturally because probability is at the heart of quantum theory; if I didn’t understand the meaning of the language of probability in which quantum mechanics was formulated how I could understand the nature of quantum theory? The gradual shift in my interests from quantum theory to probability started to produce results immediately. I pursued the idea of taking disorder maxima of binary sequences and rediscovered the statistics of Bernoulli’s formula by way of a very long-winded maximization proof. But as I continued with this line of inquiry it become increasingly apparent that probability and randomness are not the same thing: Probability is to do with our information or knowledge about systems and, in fact, arises in connections where randomness is not present (I have presented more on the subject of probability in my 1988 paper on probability). Randomness, on the other hand, is to do with patterns, specifically, as we shall see, patterns about which practical algorithmic methods of prediction reveals only maximum disorder. This means that a pattern can be disordered and yet not probabilistic; for example, if we have a book of random numbers generated, say, by some quantum process, the pattern is going to be disordered or random, but in the sense that the book has captured the pattern and it can now be thought of as part of human knowledge this pattern is no longer probabilistic.

As I propose in the epilogue of this book, the reason for the close connection between probability and disordered patterns such as generated by quantum processes is that disorder is epistemically intractable until it becomes a recorded happened event; for as this work attempts to demonstrate randomness is not practically predictable by algorithmic means; therefore up until the random pattern is generated and recorded it remains unknown to those who only have available practical methods of making predictions. A random pattern is thereby probabilistic by virtue of it being intractable to practical algorithmic precognition.

The bulk of the mathematics in this book was written in the late seventies and eighties. I eventually produced a typescript document in 1987 and the contents of this typescript provide the core of the book. Like most of my work, all of which is a product of a private passion, this manuscript will be of no interest to the academic community as they have their own very professional way of answering similar questions; the book presents the record of a science hobbyist. As such it is only of autobiographical interest.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Epistemic Notes

The evidence: Guide lines but not tram lines. 

The following are some responses I made on Facebook to a link publicising this article by and evangelical atheist, George Felis. Felis is of the opinion that "faith" is a moral failing which willfully flies into the teeth of the evidence with nothing but a fideist  rationale, if rationale it can be called. It's true that there are fideist Christians out there who respond in such a way, but the author of the article is over generalizing. In fact even fideists, although they won't admit it, are trying in their perverse way to come up with an embracing world view, based on evidence - in their case what is to them the overwhelming evidence of their intuitively felt gut feelings.

My responses below take the view that world view synthesis is an epistemically risky business; it is an activity which trades-off evidential rigor against far reaching narratives which attempt to make sense of the big picture - usually some kind of anthropic sense. World views can be as rational as the sparse evidence allows, but they lack epistemic authority and are inherently tentative and exploratory in my opinion. To use a Christian metaphor; they are a kind of pilgrimage.

Disclaimer: I would concede the point that when it comes to world view synthesis with its open ended fields of evidence different people join different dots of evidence with different narratives and therefore epistemic humility is in order. However, I don't accept that this can be true, without gross rational violations taking place, when it comes to basic science such as the spherical Earth, and its position in space and time. In the case of Flat Earthism, Geocentrism and Young Earthism, Moon landing conspiracy theorism etc. a fanciful world view is filtering down to the basic science level and corrupting it.

The following has been amended from its original form to enhance readability and content. 


Timothy V Reeves
You don’t have to be a theist to see that this article doesn’t stack up epistemically. All, repeat all, attempts at getting a epistemic handle on the world involve “joining the dots of data” with theoretical narratives that to a lesser or greater degree tax our imaginations and the robustness of our epistemic methods. It is an epistemic error to believe that there is such a thing as some non-contentious standard of “reason and evidence” that take us inexorably and mechanically toward the truth. 


You often hear the cliché “There isn’t a shred of evidence for X”. It is a cliché used by both fundamentalists and evangelical atheists. A much more realistic epistemic scenario is that human beings imaginatively fit the data to the narratives with varying degrees of success. Just how successful depends on the criteria we find in the science of science i.e. meta-science i.e philosophy – a very debatable area. But overall there is a generalised method used by all: Fitting a world view to the accepted data in order to try and make sense of that world i.e. world view synthesis. Some people commit to a world view and others are floating voters


In spite of Aumann’s “agreement theorem” we expect disagreements in this general epistemic process as it is highly dependent of people’s different and open-ended pools of experience, mental traits, context etc. I would probably depart from James Knight on this point. 



It’s interesting to see that Felis quotes the Christian fideists: All fideists I have come across, when probed, reveal that they are actually using the general method of “dot fitting” – perhaps not very well, but they are trying. Fideist assertions, such as quoted by Felis, are there to give conclusions which are actually based on (bad) implicit background reasoning a sacred inaccessibility and authority and thereby apply moral duress in order to dissuade close examination. "Don't analyse it!" cried one aficionado of the Toronto Blessing 



But then Felis himself, as an evangelical atheist, is also trying to apply moral duress; he is accusing those who don’t agree with him of moral failing, as do many Christians; that’s why I would call him “evangelical"



Timothy V Reeves
An article I wrote: http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/.../evidence...



QUANTUMNONLINEARITY.BLOGSPOT.COM|BY TIMOTHY V REEVES
NOTE: Somebody replied that the above sketch is in line with psychological picture that people tend to fit narratives to data retrospectively. 

Timothy V Reeves I had this long email correspondence with James Moar (See below) where we discussed this issue of "narrative weaving". I think I took the line that as far as world view synthesis is concerned all Christians can offer people is "a best fit narrative" and acknowledge that sometimes the fit doesn't seem that good; after all, we're going for the big picture here and epistemic trade-offs are inevitable. I think James Moar felt that this wasn't in line with the committed tone of the Bible. He's probably right, but then the Bible is true to the culture of the day and we can't expect it to be aware of what is probably an epistemic universality which seems to be even built into our neural make it. I'm a Christian myself but as you can see I probably wouldn't classify as evangelical! I don't accept that studied detachment is a sin; as a general value epistemic humility must be maintained at all times (2 Cor 10:12ff)

Timothy V Reeves Although, as I often say, there is a general epistemic “method” which involves a contention/dialogue between narrative and “data” it is clear that the formal methods of the physical sciences don’t always have a natural portability to other disciplines. E.g one could paraphrase Simon's paraphrase as follows:

"One cannot apply physical science's epistemic methods to historical narratives because historical ontology is far more complex than the relatively simple objects of the physical sciences (e.g. water boiling at 100C at sea level, and so forth)."

Although I would contend that history, sociology, political science, philosophy, and even theology do employ a generalised epistemolgy that puts narrative and “data” in dialogue, specific methodologies between disciplines are very different. E.g in the humanities the methods are less formal and consequently the conclusions more contentious than in the physical sciences; that, I suggest, is down to a difference in the complexity of the objects they are dealing with. However, Feyerabend even puts a question mark over the physical science’s claim to formal methodology. The take home lesson: Our epistemology is not robust.



There seems to be some kind of trade-off between ontological complexity and epistemic authority: The physical sciences come over with more assurance in their conclusions. Accordingly, I would rate disciplines in order of their claim to convince: Viz: the Physical sciences, economics, history, sociology, philosophy, and theology. So, if you are going to hazard a world view synthesis that attempts to give the big picture you expect a loss of epistemic authority. In fact you might have to go as far is to admit it is a speculative and conjectural venture. 



The fact that I rate theology as having the lowest epistemic authority no doubt puts me beyond the pale for those Christians of fundamentalist persuasion who try to convince us of the divine authority of their opinions. 



I think James got it very right when he says (See above) 



QUOTE: Here's why. Analyzing Christian belief is not like analysing scientific data - it is more like analysing love…..[and following paragraphs] UNQUOTE


I would certainly go a long with all that! When it comes to theology it is very difficult to generalise from the diversity of personal experience which acts as the nutrient bed nourishing faith. But the trade-off here is that the subjective component of theology means its epistemic authority is considerably lowered. It is my (non-evangelical) opinion that if an atheist claims the “God narrative” makes no sense of their experience then this claim should be respected as a genuine statement made with good conscience. 

Let me answer Simon's question as to whether or not faith is simply an a priori affair where evidences are coped with post hoc; that is, faith conclusions are authoritarian, inflexible and will suffer no potentially challenging dialogue with evidence: I think Simon is likely to be right if one throws one’s lot in with some tight knit Christian sect; sectarian authoritarianism and its claim to divine authority puts one under huge duress to uphold the party line and seek a justifying narrative post hoc, ergo propter hoc. I’ve been involved with evangelicals of one sort or another for many years now and I have to admit that this does happen especially among the fundamentalists of the persuasion. I myself have in the past been under duress to follow suit. However, I’ve long since rebelled because it all so transparently has its roots in human foibles, fears, failings and epistemic insecurities. In particular, in reaction to the latter there is often an attempt to re-establish  epistemic authority using a kind of "The Emperor's New Clothes" social pressure. Much of authoritarian sectarian Christianity has consequently failed to earn its right to intellectual respect as far as I 'm concerned.  Its bad reputation is well deserved!

My own pilgrimage is probably succinctly put as a “God seeking” journey into the unknown. This comes out of what is for me the plausible conjecture (back to James proprietary experience point!) that we are on the inside of some huge immersive (personal) intelligence. My faith is the sum total of my pilgrimage which is in a very unfinished state. Consequently, I believe I have no grounds to badger an atheist into belief....all I can do is show people where I am at personally (which is very unfinished business) and respect the consciences of those who differ in their own journey of life.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Evolution of Conspiracy Theorism


Roberts: a stage in the evolution of conspiracy theorism. 

The above video has being doing the rounds of late. It shows Prof Brian Cox's clash with right wing Australia senator Malcolm Roberts over climate change.  Cox presents some climate data but Roberts simply rejects it as data manipulated by NASA.  The shortened Guardian version of the clash appeared on Facebook. I shared it and added my comment as follows:

Poor old Cox is reckoning without the conspiracy theorist's mindset: conspiracy theorism allows the fanciful multiplication of any number of entities and Machiavellian players who, it claims, are systematically distorting the truth. Presenting science to conspiracy theorists doesn't work because science depends on institutions and according to the conspiracy theorist those institutions are systematically corrupt.. Christian fundamentalists are of a similar ilk.


However, I don't think Roberts is a fully-blown conspiracy theorist himself, but he has the necessary precursors - deep suspicion of the motives of a scientific institution and the public funded scientific enterprise in general. There is probably a continuum here from a fairly undeveloped prototypical form of conspiracy theorism to the fully blown version we see in David Ike for instance. I interpreted Cox's vain attempts to teach Roberts about the need for theoretical modelling as a sign that Roberts doesn't have a well formed notion about the scientific dialogue between theory and observation; my guess is that he thinks modelling is non-empirical; this modelling may be too far removed from the obvious to register as empirical in Roberts mind. I've seen a similar mistrust of the academic community's orientation toward deeply theoretical narratives among flat earth theorists who would declare that the Earth is manifestly and empirically flat. The unfortunate fact is that academia has become in the eyes of the right-wing an ivory tower elite who speak a cryptic language beyond the average true hearted citizen whose common sense engagement with the truly empirical is the measure truth - well that's how the right-wing are liable to spin it if they can - in fact watch out for Donald Trump because this is the sort of thing you might hear from his mouth. If he becomes president it could become a time of danger and persecution for the academic community. 

This episode is also an indication of how far NASA has fallen since the glory days of the Moon landings. Roberts is part of the general drift toward suspicion and conspiracy theorism with its dread of government, even Western democratic government. I'm not quite sure of the reason for this overall drift; but at least two possible reasons occur to me; 

1. In the 1980s Marxism lost the argument with free market laissez-faire economics and its concomitant individualism. We are now seeing the outworking of this free market individualism in its more libertarian extreme. This is particularly so in America where its whiggish historical traditions were helped along by the over-interference of the British government with its colony, Those otherwise good American traditions have sprung into life and have been mythologized by paranoiac right-wingers as a government vs. the individual scifi romance. 

2. Secondly, the demise of Christianity: Christianity has become increasingly intellectually marginalized (expelled even!) in the West particularly in the public academic institutions which ironically had their origins in the Western church. Christianity's all embracing world view has been replaced by...... nothing. There have been some attempts to argue that atheism is a religion in its own right, but that is not convincing except in cases where Marxism or another atheist philosophy acquires a mystical eschatological status thereby resembling religion with its sense of destiny. Otherwise atheism is more naturally described as an ideological vacuum which fails to satisfy the soul of many. Possible outcomes of this are that either the ideological vacuum grows to envelope the whole of life in a hopeless dark cloud of nihilism. or that the vacuum gets filled with the most horrible ideological demons such as some version of fundamentalism. Like parts of Islam Christianity is reacting adversely and fanatically to intellectual marginalization and in consequence finds that it naturally identifies with the "libertarian" cause and its hatred of institutionalized public funded learning.  I say this as a Christian myself; my closeness to the Christian cause may have given me an advantageous perspective on the  malaise suffered by some contemporary Christians. 


***

I have recently learnt of another crackpot theory that is doing the rounds, namely, the  belief that Earth's mountains are the remains of what was at one time huge silicon trees which reached the clouds. (Devil's mountain, which vaguely resembles a large cut-down tree stump, is quoted as evidence  - I wonder where the chainsaw is that cut it down!). This theory isn't worth evaluating. but it goes to show that there is a contingent of people out there who so distrust scientific institutions that they would prefer to fill their minds with weird and wonderful fantasies propagated on the internet. They no longer believe in modernist progress and the theoretical narratives that have been painstakingly put together over the course of centuries in order to be consistent with observation. This is the new protest tradition of "throw it all out and start again!". That the established scientific community could be so systematically wrong about such gross aspects of our world invites systematic theories about intentional, clandestine and deceptive error. This context is fertile ground for conspiracy theorism. 


Stuff decades of geological research! Those flat topped mountains are obviously and empirically tree stumps!

Addendum 15/9/16:

It is basic. The sun warms the earth’s surface. The surface, by contact, warms the moving, circulating atmosphere. That means the atmosphere cools the surface. How then can the atmosphere warm it? It cannot. That is why their computer models are wrong.

I think that speaks for itself. I need say no more.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Denis Alexander: "I would suggest dropping the term 'methodological naturalism'"

Theological Dualism: The "God bits" vs.  the "Natural  forces bits":  You only need drop the "God bits" and you're an atheist. 

I'm continuing to work my way through (v. slowly)  Denis Alexander's book  "Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose". Chapter 8, which is entitled "Evolutionary Creation", critiques the concept of "naturalism" (and also "methodological naturalism"), a concept which I have also criticized in this blog many times. Naturalism is the subliminally theological idea that so called "natural forces" are set over and against Divine creative "interventions". Underlying "naturalism" is, in fact, the deistic notion that the cosmos works "naturally" by itself and where God (if you believe in him) steps in on occasion to do his stuff. Perhaps I caricature just a little, but to a dualist "Evolution did it" is identical to saying "God didn't do it" and "God did it" is the same as saying "Evolution didn't do it"! This mindset readily connects with subliminal gnosto-dualism, an implicit view where God is set over an against the inferior, if not downright evil, "natural forces".

"Naturalism" as a concept is also subliminally entrenched in the de-facto Intelligent Design community's explanatory filter. This filter is actually a sound epistemic procedure if we are dealing with human or alien artifacts: Intelligent entities, although they themselves may arguably conform to the laws of physics, are nevertheless too complex a realization of physics to their make treatment from physical first principles possible and therefore their works are best treated as a separate "intelligent" category. 

But the explanatory filter is grossly flawed if used in Christian theology where a totalising all-embracing immanent God is inextricably bound up with all that passes under the created order. In short all activity in creation, theologically speaking, traces back to Divine intelligence whether by permission or proactive decree. There is really no such thing as autonomous "natural forces" unless by it one simply means those phenomena whose patterns of behavior which are tractable to the law and disorder descriptions of conventional science. In contrast, the de facto IDists find it difficult to conceive God as much more than a tinkering alien. Let me submit here a radical proposal: If manifest divine "interventions" are the main basis for belief in God you may as well drop the whole concept of God and become an atheist.

I'm not going to do justice to Alexander's account here - he really needs to be read - but he also is highly critical of "naturalism" and by implication its subliminal philosophy of dualism,. However, I will give some sample quotes from Alexander. I don't myself necessarily accept the plain neo-Darwinist ideas of the academic establishment, but I believe Alexander is right in saying that Darwin's explication of creation as a process had the ironic consequence of actually giving traction to the idea that God was immanent and active in creation. For example, Alexander quotes Aubrey Moore, a fellow of St John's College Oxford and curator of the Oxford botanical gardens  in Victorian times:

There are not, and cannot be, any Divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot interfere with Himself. His creative activity is present  everywhere. There is no division of labour between God and nature, or God and law...For the Christian theologian the facts of nature are the acts of God. (p. 202)

What's gone wrong since then? Christian theology, at least among the de-facto IDists and fundamentalists seems to have gone backwards since the nineteenth century! The above exposes the theological naivety of trying to put the intelligence of God in a similar category to that of aliens or humans who work very much within the created order. The only thing I would want to add to the above is that like an author of a book God has different attitudes toward what he brings forth from platonic space for reification by his permissive or  proactive will.

At the very least the quote from Moore does bring out Alexander's point that evolution favored explications that moved away from deism and dualism towards a full-time rather than part-time dualist-deist God. (At this juncture we must bear in mind that there are arguments against the notion that the creation didn't initially contain death as is maintain by most fundamentalists -  see Alexander's comments here)

If I'm not careful I could end up quoting the whole of chapter 8 but here are some further samples:

This rapid baptism of evolution into the Christian doctrine of creation, so characteristic on both sides of the Atlantic, was facilitated by a strongly providential theology that emphasized the total sovereignty of God over the whole created order. (p. 203)

Given that context it's no surprise that Alexander has turned against so-called "naturalism" and  also it seems "methodological naturalism":

We don't call Christian accountants 'naturalistic' because of the absence of theological terminology as they check the company accounts, any more than we expect our doctor to use theological language when she tells us that we've got the flu, or the mechanic to refer to Biblical texts when servicing our car. The absence of specific references to God does not render our lives suddenly 'naturalistic'. Quite the opposite: Christians walking with God in the power of the Spirit will be only too aware of God's presence and leading permeating every aspect of their daily lives. Naturalism is the philosophy that there is no God in the first place, so only an atheists can provide truly naturalistic explanations for anything. 
For the same reason I would not myself use the term 'methodological naturalism' to refer to what scientists do in their research, irrespective of their own personal beliefs. .....I would therefore suggest simply dropping the term 'methodological naturalism'

But today in the West we are in reactionary gnosto-dualistic times, so I don't suppose Christians unschooled in the nuances of the sciences like Alexander will be able to unthink the well entrenched dualism of God vs "Natural Forces". In its place a defensive blend of anti-science Biblical liberalism and "touch of God" gnosticsm are likely to persist in Christian fundamentalist circles as they fight a retreating rearguard action. These people are unlikely to listen to Denis Alexander or any other Christian member of the academic establishment for that matter. For the extremists that establishment is all part of the end-time satanic conspiracy!

More on the false dichotomy zone

 ...and so on and so forth!