Thursday, October 27, 2011

Good News from Ken Ham.

Yogic Flying: Defying gravity with no evidential support

In a blog post dated October 26th and entitled “It’s Rare – It’s a Creationist Seminary” Ken Ham talks about his chance to speak at a Baptist Theological seminary that enthusiastically supports Answers in Genesis’ Young Earthism (= “Creationism” in Ken’s mind). The good news is, of course, Ken’s admission that Young Earthism is a rarity amongst seminaries:

Sad to say, the overwhelming majority of seminaries in this nation do not have a faculty that all take an ardent stand on a literal Genesis as they do at Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary. I certainly felt at home among friends! …. What a difference there would be in the churches across this nation if more seminaries took the biblical stand like this one does, training pastors and missionaries who do not compromise God’s Word. However, so many Christian leaders today do compromise—with devastating effects in churches as the authority of God’s Word is undermined by such compromise.

That’s good news and a much needed salve for my growing unease, paranoia even, about the state of American intellectual life; having accused Americans of being paranoiac I think I’m going that way myself! The trouble is, fundamentalist buffoons like Harold Camping, William Tapley, The geocentrists, The Flat Earthers, Answers in Genesis etc get more than their fair share of publicity because everyone likes a clown. But truth be told most theological seminaries in America are intellectually serious institutions; that’s good news and I’m much relieved.

Now, onto another subject. There was one little reference in Ken’s post that piqued my interest: Ken said:

The president also told me they would not employ a professor who does not accept the six literal days of creation and a young earth/universe. How refreshing!

Note the reference to “young earth/universe”. Jason Lisle’s attempt to solve the YEC star light problem has failed. That throws AiG back on Russ Humphreys’ gravitational well theory (an earlier theory). Unlike Lisle who mangles physics Humphreys at least respects current physics if not astrophysics. Trouble is, whilst Humphrey’s theory supports the idea of a young Earth, it requires an old universe. This is because the very localised geocentric gravitational well that Humphreys posits would only slow time down in the near neighbourhood of the Earth*, but not in the universe at large; beyond 6000 light years from Earth the physical clocks in the rest of the universe clock up millions, if not billions of years worth of ticks. In short then, Humphrey’s theory is at odds with Ken’s “young universe” and thus  beyond our Ken!

Foot note: *Humphreys’ Earth centred gravitational well would seriously distort the shape of our galaxy; I’m not aware that this has been observed.

AiG are having a big problem with Gravity…..

….Ken’s Ark will only float on land because of it….

….AiG’s Dr. Jason Lisle PhD doesn’t believe in it….

…..and AiG’s Dr. Russ Humphreys PhD is still struggling with it….

............Perhaps they ought to consult this guy, particle physicist and yogic flier  Professor John Hagelin PhD, who thinks he can defy it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Intelligent Design’s Big Issue

Interesting is this post on Uncommon Descent quoting Origin Of Life researcher, Jack Szotsk, as saying “ We’re half way there”. At this optimistic outlook I couldn’t help but quip in the comments:

I think I’ve heard about this kind of “half way there” before: Viz: “We want to get to 10^40 Mev. We can currently do 10^20 Mev so we must be half way there”. Exponentials; who’d have them?

After all, in the past I have been rather prey to optimistic visions of the future state of science and technology, so a measure of skepticism about that kind of claim is in order I feel.

But in spite that, as I think I have made sufficiently clear, this blog is sympathetic to the conjecture that cosmic physics is the very rare precondition (i.e. a high information condition) which considerably enhances the chances of life arising via some kind of evolution: Conceivably there exists in platonic space systems of succinct mathematical functions (although presumably an extreme rarity) which limit the possible histories available to physical systems to such an extent that the class of life generating histories has a statistical weight high enough to confer upon life a realistic probability. If this is the case it is certainly wrong to caricature the products of evolution, as Cornelius Hunter has done, (see “Darwin’s God” blogspot, entry dated Oct 19th) as follows:

…Everyone knows biology is full of complicated designs, but evolutionists think it arose spontaneously, as a result of the play of natural laws. In other words it happened to happen. First there was nothing, then there was something, then that something became very complicated. All this just happened to happen.

If evolution has happened, indeed if it is mathematically possible, it is an injustice to describe its efficacy in the language of the fortuitous (as does Hunter), for it is likely that very rare preconditions (in terms of the selected physical laws and boundary conditions) would have to be selected for it to work.

Having said that, however, I have to admit to intuitive doubts about conventional evolution. As an illustration: The rules of chess considerably limit the number of game histories that can occur, but if one were to move the pieces on a chess board at random but within those rules I doubt if the result would be a game worth watching. In this connection Hunter may have something for us worth taking to heart: In this blog post I give Hunter credit for giving us a feel for the exponential problems that evolution has to solve if it is to work. It is certainly not immediately clear that even our very constraining physics eliminates those exponential intractabilities.

So, does standard physics require something extra for life to develop? Is that extra something so called “Intelligent Design”? No, because it seems that ID, the way it is currently defined by William Dembski, is almost unavoidable: As I have so often tried to make clear, the conditions that lead some people to identify the existence of ID are very difficult if not impossible to avoid in the positing of physical models. The rarity of those conditions, such as the selection of those conjectured life generating laws, have the effect of triggering Dembski’s design detection criterion (That is Dembski “Explanatory filter”). I myself long ago reached the point of accepting that the a priori existence of very rare/unique conditions is an unavoidable truism in the physical sciences, whether those conditions be generating functions, boundary conditions or just brute fact configurations. The physical sciences have an inevitable incompleteness about them, an ultimate embedded logical hiatus that cannot be banished. More likely than not people fail to see this, because they conflate conditional probabilities with absolute probabilities; conditional probabilities may be relatively high, but absolute probabilities, if one is to accept the principle of equal a-priori probabilities (Assuming those probabilities are definable and quantifiable) are extremely low. Ergo, the concept of ID which metaphysically hooks on to the pervasive Logical Hiatus and improbability in physical models is less an ancillary extra needed to help the world go round, than it is an ever present substrate in the day to day running of the world.

The difficulty of excluding rarity/uniqueness/improbablity from proposed physical models means that if one were to simply define ID to exist whenever extreme rarity/uniqueness/improbability is encountered ID almost becomes a logical truism. The question then is less whether ID exists, and more a question of how ID expresses itself in terms of just which rare preconditions have been selected for in our cosmos.

Few writers and correspondents on Uncommon Descent would go along with the young Earth buffoonery we see at “Answers in Genesis”. Most UDers (and hope I am right) would at least accept Earth’s story as it is currently told by academia, if not the Darwinian mechanisms that are thought to govern it. Thus evolution in the trivial sense that life on Earth has changed over billions of years, is accepted by most UDers. (It is no surprise, to hear AiG’s buffoon in chief, Ken Ham, claiming that William Dembski is a theistic evolutionist.)

The big question, then, is just what physical regime describes the patterns of natural history. Did the selection agency give us a unique/rare system of law and disorder that generates the right configurations or did that agency simply grant existence to (living) configurations that no elegant system of law and disorder could generate in anything like a realistic time? Is natural history, in the final analysis, a narrative intense pattern of change that simply cannot be described as the execution of short time algorithms?
"What those deistical chumps don't realise is that I not only have to design it, but sustain it as  well. And don't give me  any of this 'turtles all the way down' stuff"**

** This "turtles all the way down" references alludes to the regress I speak about in the following blog posts:
 I notice that in this blog post on Uncommon Descent Barry Arrington has also picked up on this regress

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Auschwitz" by Francesco Guccini

Here's another song by Francesco Guccini with compelling (disturbing even) lyrics, as translated by my brother in law Jonathan Benison.

I’ve died – died with hundreds
I’m dead – I was a baby
Up the chimney, I went up in smoke
And now, I’m in the wind

At Auschwitz, it was snowing
The smoke rose up slowly
In the cold, cold of winter
And now, I’m in the wind
And now, I’m in the wind

At Auschwitz, so many people
All held in one great silence
It’s strange – still I’m unable
To smile – here in the wind

I ask, how is it that a man
Can kill his fellow man
And yet, we’re in our millions
Here in the wind – dust in the wind
Just dust, out here in the wind

Still thunders the cannon
And yet still it hungers
Blood – the beast that is man
And still, we’re carried by the wind

I ask, when will it be
That man will have learned
To live without killing
And the wind will find its peace
And the wind will find its peace
And the wind will find its peace

Italian lyrics:

Son morto con altri cento, son morto ch'ero bambino:
passato per il camino, e adesso sono nel vento.
Ad Auschwitz c'era la neve: il fumo saliva lento
nel freddo giorno d'inverno e adesso sono nel vento.
Ad Auschwitz tante persone, ma un solo grande silenzio;
è strano: non riesco ancora a sorridere qui nel vento.
Io chiedo come può l'uomo uccidere un suo fratello,
eppure siamo a milioni in polvere qui nel vento.
Ancora tuona il cannone, ancora non è contento
di sangue la belva umana, e ancora ci porta il vento.
Io chiedo quando sarà che l'uomo potrà imparare
a vivere senza ammazzare, e il vento si poserà.

The song appears on Guccini’s album “FOLK BEAT N.1” (1967)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Self Referencing Nature of Conscious Cognition

I was very interested to read this blog post by up and coming theologian Arni Zachariassen (his blog is recommended reading, a much needed antidote to dull witted fundagelicalism). His brief post is about the limitations of scientific “reductionism”; it contrasts the scientific description of life’s experience with the compelling qualia of the individual’s subjective perspective. For example, the scientific description of music in terms of wave mechanics and neural effects at first sight seems to have little in common with the parallel story of its impact articulated in terms of the consciousness of the listener with all its deep existential connotations.

Seemingly, then, we have a discontinuity between two apparently incommensurable worlds: a) The third person accounts of science expressed in formal tokens and sharable in the public domain, accounts which “reduce” sentience to an ontology of unfeeling elementa, such as atoms, coordinates, fields etc. This world of elementa is set against b) the first person ontology of conscious cognita; a world of apparent privacy and even scientific inaccessibility. In the polarized paradigm of a contemporary milieu that is apt to see logos and mythos as irreconcilable there is a tendency for the aficionados of these contrasting perspectives to deny the reality of the other: Naive materialism which places so much store by the formal descriptive tokens of science will, of course, find no sentience in elementa and is therefore tempted to deny the reality of consciousness. The existentialists claim that life’s mysterious experiences are all we really can know and that there is no common sharable objective reality out there.

It is truism, however, that from a third person perspective human beings, their pleasures, their feelings, and their thoughts etc can only ever be seen as “physical objects”; that is, as a complex configuration of behavioral traits which when looked at under the microscope resolve into complex patterns of interacting physical elementa. As a physics fan I’m quite partial to the idea that a full third person description of human behavior ultimately “reduces” to physics; that is, that there is point by point map between first person cognita and the third person elementa of physics. I may even be prepared to go as far as to say that humans, from the third person perspective, are highly sophisticated computational devices. (Although, perhaps, incorporating some exotic elements such as sensitivity to quantum events and some of Penrose’s ideas on incomputability). But even if such a mathematical reduction is possible it would have little impact on another inescapable truism, a truism that is apparent even in the reductionist’s vision: For the existence of the third person perspective necessarily carries with it, albeit implicitly, the fact that a reductive third person mathematical description must be instantiated with the observational protocols of a first person perspective . As I have said elsewhere , the third person mathematical description is, in the final analysis, an account of how the first person, in a self referencing act, describes itself. This self referencing act is reminiscent of those programming languages whose compiler is written in the self same language it compiles.

In his book “The Rediscovery of the Mind” the philosopher John Searle expresses the view that the first person perspective of the conscious thinking agent must be regarded as an irreducible feature of the cosmos . I agree. Clearly we do not think of one another in terms of those third person accounts which “reduce” human beings to configurations of interacting elementa. Instead our innate ability to empathise enables us to project into the minds of other persons the qualia of conscious cognition. This is the foundation stone of morality: For if we could only think of other sentient beings as conglomerations of elementa we would have become sociopaths.

I have written on this subject before. See:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Removing the teeth in the face of the evidence

According to YECs the entire cat family (of course!) also all had an "original diet of plants"  - see the following link on the Jaguar for example: YEC handling of complex carnivorous adaptations is to biology as their handling of star light is to physics. In both cases the elephant in the room is a 6000 year time scale that simply can't accommodate the number of events needed to accomplish the history of change required; Viz: Change in the position of the photons for starlight and change in functionality in the case of carnivores. (Note: Some YECs have suggested that carnivorous adaptations evolved in some way after the fall)

Further Note: These two issues also have in common the fact that they are simple enough for "yer average" Joe & Josephine Pugh to appreciate the difficulties they raise for YEC. Most people understand what a limited value of c means for YEC and most people can see that jaguars are rather over-engineered for a life-style of running down and catching the the odd leafy shrub or lush pasture. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

“Letter” by Francesco Guccini

(See also here)


The cherry-tree in the garden has come into bloom with the new sunshine
The neighbourhood is soon filled with snow from the poplars and with words.
At one o’clock on the dot the clatter of plates reaches the ears
The TVs’ thunderous rumble meets the unfazed indifference of the cats;
As you can see, everything’s normal in this pointless sarabande
But blowing through this unchanging pattern of life is the whiff of a question,
The prickly presence of an eternal doubt, what’s past seething like an ants’ nest,
Troubling those who leave it till winter to wish it were summer again.

The streets are coming back to life, a perfect finishing touch to the world,
Mother and daughter brazenly parade the same face and round bottom,
Identical in the head, no history, challenging everything, no limits,
Their strutting briefly outdone by the wailing of swallows and children;
As you can see, nothing out of the ordinary in this cumulus of life and death,
But, sobering thought, I’m not unhappy stuck in this rut of wishes and fate,
This over-shiny net, these goals we dream up for ourselves,
This unquenchable thirst, of those who hold back, unwilling to fly.

Slowly the roses wither, clusters of fruit appear on the apple-trees,
High up, clouds pass silently through the strips of cobalt-blue sky;
I lie stretched out on the fantastic green-grass plane of my past
But just-like-that age dispels all I believed and have not been;
As you can tell, everything’s just fine in this world free of worries,
As life skimmed past me, I correctly discussed the set topics,
My enthusiasms never lasted long, lots of philosophising stances,
A life of amusing encounters turned tragic, some too close for comfort, some not close enough.

But the times gone by, who will return them to me? Who’ll give me back the seasons
Of glass and sand, who can bring back rage and gestures, women and songs,
The lost friends, books I devoured, the simple enjoyment of appetites,
The healthy thirst of the parched, the blind faith in poor myths?
As you can see, everything’s as usual, just that time is pressing and the suspicion arises
That it’s not a big deal to be weary and breathless at the end of a race,
To be anxious as people are the day after, or sad at the end of a match,
No big deal the slow aimless unfolding of this thing that you call life.

Translated by Jonathan Benison

Italian text :here