Thursday, December 26, 2013


Dual of Dualists: As atheists struggle to make evolutionary theory water proof IDISTS are committed to finding new gaps in the theory as they attempt to sink it

Evangelical atheist Larry Moran asks the question “What do Intelligent Design Creationists believe?” (See "Sandwalk.blogspot", 25 Dec). In answer he quotes “IDiot” (*1) Granville Sewell:

So what do ID proponents believe?
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to state clearly what you have to believe to not believe in intelligent design. Peter Urone, in his 2001 physics text "College Physics" writes, "One of the most remarkable simplifications in physics is that only four distinct forces account for all known phenomena."
The prevailing view in science today is that physics explains all of chemistry, chemistry explains all of biology, and biology completely explains the human mind; thus physics alone explains the human mind and all it does. This is what you have to believe to not believe in intelligent design, that the origin and evolution of life, and the evolution of human consciousness and intelligence, are due entirely to a few unintelligent forces of physics. (My emphasis)
Thus you must believe that a few unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the fundamental particles of physics into computers and science texts and jet airplanes.
Contrary to popular belief, to be an ID proponent you do not have to believe that all species were created simultaneously a few thousand years ago, or that humans are unrelated to earlier primates, or that natural selection cannot cause bacteria to develop a resistance to antibiotics.
If you believe that a few fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the basic particles of physics into Apple iPhones, you are probably not an ID proponent, even if you believe in God. But if you believe there must have been more than unintelligent forces at work somewhere, somehow, in the whole process: congratulations, you are one of us after all!

In response to this Prof Moran writes:

This is a very broad definition. If you believe in God then you pretty much have to be an IDiot unless you are a strict deist. Every single religious person that I know believes that "there must have been more than unintelligent forces at work somewhere, somehow, in the whole process."1 Therefore, every Roman Catholic and every evangelical Christian is an IDiot, according to Granville Sewell. This includes Ken Miller and Francis Collins. In fact, it includes every religious scientist.
Not bad, eh?
For the record, I do not "believe" that " ... a few fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the basic particles of physics into Apple iPhones." I think it's the most reasonable explanation. I don't know of any other explanation that is supported by evidence.

I certainly concur with Larry Moran and can say along with him that Sewell’s definition of ID actually covers all theistic scientists I know of. This would also include people like John Polkinghorne and myself. Sewell has thoroughly screwed up his definition as he didn't intend it, of course, to cover theistic evolutionists. Sewell, like other dualists of his persuasion, sees it as stark choice between unintelligent natural forces vs. God intelligence”. He stuffs this distorted dichotomy into the heads of Christian scientists who are part of the academic establishment and believes they have made a choice in favour of "unintelligent forces". His “IDiot” community is at logger heads with these scientists and so this straw-man strategy is fair game.

As I have repeatedly said in this blog: If evolution works in the way the academic establishment tells us, then it can certainly be interpreted as an intelligent design option: This is because the selection of the right physical “law and disorder” regime which would be sufficient to constrain the thermodynamically energized computations of seeking, rejecting and selecting is itself a computationally complex task and would therefore demand a highly intelligent act of selection. It is surely an irony that it is in the context of theism confidence in the efficacy of those so-called "unintelligent forces" is refreshed. It is a belief in Divine intelligence that undermines Sewell's contention that "natural forces" can be labelled  unintelligent (*2)

However, as I'm not part of the academic establishment myself there is no pressure for me to commit myself to accepted evolutionary mechanisms or the equivalent belief that current physics provides sufficient constraint to make the formation of living structures a realistic probability. I actually have my doubts, although I do have sympathy with Larry Moran when he says: “I think it's the most reasonable explanation. I don't know of any other explanation that is supported by evidence.

In fact given that improbable givens are a mathematical fact of life in all the physical regimes we can conceive, I’d even go as far to entertain the possibility that, say, “evolvable replicators” may be one of the givens of this world. But in saying this I would definitely want to distance myself from the kind of theological dualism that Sewell stands for. He is part of a community that has invested all their emotional energy and finances into a dogmatic belief in the incompleteness of physics to explain life and habitually contrast the so-called "unintelligent natural forces" of physics over and against the Divine hand. For them "evolution", should it be valid, is tantamount to the death knell of their faith. Conversely, for their atheist alter ego's, just as bound to theological dualism, evolution serves a redundancy notice on God.

Well, perhaps they are right about the incompleteness of physics, but I would not then stuff a half-baked concept of “unintelligent forces” (as does Sewell) into the heads of those Christian scientists who do believe in the efficacy of evolution (as it is currently understood) to generate living structures.

 *1) “IDiot” is Larry’s Trade Mark term of endearment for the anti-academic establishment Christian community that Sewell belongs to.

  *2) I once caught another IDist emasculating  “self organization” by simply taking it for granted that the algorithms of a physical regime aren't intelligently selected. See here:

Addendum 28/12/13
It is a remarkable irony that as people like Granville Sewell and friends look out onto  the cosmos they see by and large a Godless place filled with the chaotic patterns generated by natural and unintelligent forces. The cling on, for all their faith is worth, to the notion that the configurations of life simply couldn't be generated by these mindless natural processes; for if they were then that would raise in their minds the spectre of a universe very likely devoid of any master intelligence; atheism would beckon. This slide into atheism and even nihilism is a theme I pick in my essay entitled "The Riddle of The Sphinx" (See link on side bar). We perhaps can see why the God intelligence vs naturalism debate is a contention that is argued with so much vociferousness on both sides; huge emotional stakes are involved. In particular, the North American ID community represented by Sewell is only a few conceptual steps away from atheism and they probably can sense that.
See also:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Ultimate Conspiracy Theory

…perhaps not the ultimate conspiracy theory but it’s up there with David Ike’s Reptilian invasion. We are, after all, talking about Flat Earth Theory here; that’s right, I said Flat Earth – as if geocentrism wasn’t bad enough (- or equally as bad is Biblical literalist David Lowe’s claim that “Our Sun isn’t a Star” with “proof” from the Bible of course -  see my footnote *). As evidence that I’m not kidding check out these links:

One link I found particularly interesting was this one:

…as it concerns a certain Charles K Johnson who was president of the flat Earth Society from 1972 until his death in 2001. Today, the Flat Earth Society has cut itself adrift from Biblical literalism and now stands simply as a society of conspiracy theorists, but in the days of Johnson, the Flat Earth society was very much bound up with Biblical literalism. Picking out some highlights from my last link we read:

"You can't orbit a flat earth," says Mr. Johnson. "The Space Shuttle is a joke—and a very ludicrous joke." (Johnson believed space flights to be part of a conspiratorial fraud – as do the neo Flat Earthers)

"Nobody knows anything about the true shape of the world," he contends. "The known, inhabited world is flat. Just as a guess, I'd say that the dome of heaven is about 4,000 miles away, and the stars are about as far as San Francisco is from Boston." (Dangerous claim to make because a clever and resourced amateur could probably conceive an experiment to measure the parallax at that distance - if he felt it worth pursuing!)

The sun and moon, in the Johnson version, are only about 32 miles in diameter. (Ditto – but why state the two significant figures of “32” rather than the round 30 or 40? This suggests that Johnson had some very precise ideas here)

Johnson's beliefs are firmly grounded in the Bible. Many verses of the Old Testament imply that the earth is flat, but there's more to it than that. According to the New Testament, Jesus ascended up into heaven. (“Firmly grounded in the Bible” – the times I’ve heard that one!)

"The whole point of the Copernican theory is to get rid of Jesus (My emphasis) by saying there is no up and no down," declares Johnson. "The spinning ball thing just makes the whole Bible a big joke."  (That’s not so far removed from Ken Ham’s claim that those Christians who don’t support Ham's views are preaching a Jesus different from the Jesus of the Bible)

"Wherever you find people with a great reservoir of common sense," he says, "they don't believe idiotic things such as the earth spinning around the sun. Reasonable, intelligent people have always recognized that the earth is flat." (Funny claim that; when I look out to sea with a pair of binoculars the world actually looks round to me!)

"We're two witnesses against the whole world," observes Charles Johnson. "We've chosen that path, but it isolates us from everyone. We're not complaining; it has to be. But it does kind of get to you sometimes." (It’s the inverted modesty of the “we are a hero remnant” syndrome; part of the conspiracy theorist's mental complex)

"It's the Church of England that's taught that the world is a ball," he argues. "George Washington, on the other hand, was a flat-earther. He broke with England to get away from those superstitions." If Johnson is right, the American Revolution failed. No prominent American politician is known to have publicly endorsed the flat-earth theory in the past two centuries. (The North American tendency toward non-conformity and anti-establishmentarianism comes out here! They've never got over  the unhelpful meddlings of the British crown and the war of independence! When it's not the Church of England, it's Darwin!)

One would, of course, never study Flat Earth theory  in a purely scientific and comparative way as a serious contender to the academic establishment’s position, any more than one would study David Ike, Gerardus Bouw, David Lowe or Ken Ham as if they are making serious and radical scientific proposals. One studies these people and the communities they stand for from the point of view of sociology, psychology and religion, but not science. In particular, the inverted pride that comes from believing oneself to be part of an elite remnant group who know the “Truth” and sees one’s community as a heroic tribe battling for Right, is a way of coping: This coping response seeks to break up our huge anonymous and homogeneous industrial societies into smaller more emotionally amenable tribes.  Paranoia, marginalization, alienation, epistemic insecurity and fear, are the underlying emotions that get transformed into the sense of superiority found in the belief that the main stream rank and file have been fooled into believing the heresies propagated by the malign evil intelligences of the conspiring establishment. Members of these marginalized communities console themselves with the thought that they must be cleverer or more privileged than those outsiders who have been fooled along with “all them others”. In the confines of these more intimate communities bonds of trust can be formed with its relatively accessible leaders and gurus who rule and guide them - in contrast to the establishment’s ivory tower authorities who are completely distrusted as, perhaps, the emissaries of evil. By immersing themselves in these marginalised religious community society's cultural refugees make themselves big fish in small bowls rather than remain the inconsequential tiny fish in a huge ocean where a sense of belonging and identity is often lacking.

There is, however, an interesting philosophy of science aspect to all this. The Flat Earthers, like other fundamentalists, find themselves in the intellectual rear-guard action of a science of negation as they critique established science. Their positive science, if they have any, involves much special pleading as it attempts to explain away such things as the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during lunar eclipses. We see here what suppositionalism is all about: Undeterred as they are with the difficulty of joining the dots of observation with their flawed back ground concepts the fundamentalist suppositionalists will bend and tweak their favorite theory with all sorts of ad hoc devices until it fits. At the bottom of this is the epistemic conceit that their opinions have divine authority and therefore can never be revised. This vehemently asserted conceit is probably a reaction to secular society as a whole where one finds so much aimlessness, purposelessness, meaninglessness, emptiness, uncertainty and nihilism.

It is ironic that fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists are held thrall by a cynical post-modern scepticism in the ability of society to make both moral and epistemic progress; they do not believe our world to be providentially rational enough for this to happen. (See for example:

* Footnote:
Here is Biblical Literalist David Lowe's summary of why he doesn't believe the sun to be a star. As you might expect it’s all down to his very literal reading of the Bible:

In closing, the best evidence we can have is the very inspired words of God Almighty, who has clearly told us in his revelation to us that the Sun and stars are not the same. Here is a summary of the main arguments of this paper:
Over and over, the Sun and stars are mentioned separately in the same sentence. The Sun and stars have different Hebrew and Greek words and meanings Paul tells us that the Sun and stars are different in glory. Luke clearly distinguished between them in Acts 27. Moses tells us the Sun was created, then the stars were "also" created. David tells us in Psalm 72:17 that the Sun will endure forever. Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 13:10 that the stars will not give their light in the future, and Jesus tells us that stars will fall from the heaven. Yet Jesus also tells us that the Sun and stars will have different and separate prophetic futures - the Sun will only be "darkened" temporarily, since in the end, the Sun, according to David, and verses in Revelation, will endure FOREVER, while the stars will "fall from the heaven".

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On Dualistic Theologies

 Dualists get their heads together to solve their theological problems. 
(Sometimes I feel like banging their heads together)

In a recent Blog post by gentleman (albeit a bit curmudgeonly with it) atheist Larry Moran (Sandwalk, December 17th) we read:

Here are the questions on yesterday's exam for students in my course. Students will be graded on their explanations and not so much on the actual answer they give. The idea is to reward critical thinking and that includes the ability to see both sides of an issue and recognize problems with whatever side you choose to defend.
  1. Assuming that the technology is safe and effective, should we, or should we not, have laws forbidding the cloning of humans?
  2. What is the best definition of a "gene"? Explain why you choose that definition and give examples of possible "genes" that don’t fit your definition.
  3. Elliott Sober is a highly respected philosopher. He explains that theistic evolution is a reasonable hypothesis because God could easily cause mutations to occur in a way that scientists would not be able to detect. In other words, a specific, directed, mutation would be indistinguishable from a random mutation. Thus, it would appear that evolution was an entirely naturalistic process while, in fact, its direction was being guided by God. Do you think this is a reasonable argument in support of theistic evolution? Why or why not?
  4. In his book, The Myth of Junk DNA, Jonathan Wells writes.
    According to intelligent design (ID), it is possible to infer from evidence in nature that some features of the world, and of living things, are better explained by an intelligent cause than by unguided natural processes.
    What sorts of positive arguments do ID proponents use to support this inference from evidence in nature? Are they effective?

I wouldn't want to touch 2 as I'm not a biologist and I'd feel insecure about dealing with 1 as it's so open ended. But if Moran is doing justice in putting forward their cases, let me just note in passing that both Elliott Sober and Jonathan Wells are clearly in the dualistic theistic tradition, a tradition that is inclined to view God as an ancillary causal agent that fills in the explanatory holes left by Law & Disorder science's descriptive (and prescriptive?) project; that is, God intelligent agency as an explanation is seen as being in competition with so-called "naturalistic explanations", or what these IDists refer to as "chance and necessity" (Sic - better "Law & Disorder"). In my view theistic explanations are "meta theories" or "meta explanations" that  embed the explanations of Law and Disorder science rather than necessarily being in competition with it; as such theology is not a predictive science but a soft science offered as an embedding meta-narrative advanced post-facto. However, all that's by the by.

I may be very critical of Sober and Wells but this certainly doesn't mean that I wouldn't exchange mutually curmudgeonly blows (figuratively speaking, of course) with Larry Moran over the kind of discussion material precipitated by question 3. In particular see this for example: 

On top of that I would also claim that Larry Moran holds a dualistic theology in concept (if not as a reality), a theology that is very close to that  of Wells and Sober. See here for example:    

Monday, December 09, 2013

Of Comet Tails and Cat Tails

We've all heard of Schrödinger's cat, so let me introduce you to Ken’s Kat.

A comically fallacious argument goes thus:
1)      No cat has eight tails.
2)      A cat has one tail more than no cat.
3)      Therefore, a cat has nine tails.
Under the watch of fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis is using logic of this quality.

In a blog post about the disintegration of a recent comet Ham and one of his tame research gurus (Danny Faulkner) respectively conclude:

The good news?  Well, Comet ISON’s recent decay gives us even more evidence confirming a young universe.
….the catastrophic loss of Comet ISON underscores the major point of the planetarium show—that comets indicate that the solar system is far younger than most scientists think. Comets are very fragile. Many astronomers thought that Comet ISON was making its first pass by the sun, yet it couldn’t survive even one trip. If the solar system is billions of years old, there ought not to be any comets left…. if the solar system is only thousands of years old, then there is no problem with comets still being here, despite the rapid rate at which we’re losing them.

Notice that these quotes use vague terms like “a young universe, “far younger” and a Solar System “only thousands of years old”. No explicit mention is made here of a 6000 year old Solar System and no claim is made that this figure can be derived from cometary data. In fact the number of ways a Solar System can be “only thousands or years old” ranges right up to and well beyond 100,000 years. Compare that with AiG's Biblical literalist claim that the Solar System is far less than 100,000 years old or even an Egyptian dynasty accommodating 10,000 years (*1), and instead is a mere 6000 years!

The failure by these literalists to provide compelling cometary evidence for their 6000 year old Solar System (and universe?) is no surprise because to use comets to put an estimated age limit on the Solar System we would have to know amongst other things:

a)      The rate of comet consumption as a function of time. (*2)
b)      The source/origins of comets.

We perhaps know a little about (a), but (b) is the subject of hypothesis. In a similar vein: The current consumption rate of meteors entering our atmosphere doesn't in itself tell us a great deal about their origins let alone the age of the Solar System.  There is therefore no evidential basis for making claims like "there ought to be no comets left". The unkowns surrounding comet origins is weak evidence for AiG''s 6000 year time scale.

Needless to say AiG advances no positive theory of comet formation and destruction, but considers it sufficient to engage in the negative activity of simply pointing to a lack of evidence about the origins of these objects. AiG is, after all, an anti-science organisation. Of course, we know the hidden subtext here; AiG's “theory” - surely an abuse of the term -  is likely to be mature creation; that is “God did it! Just like that!

Ken Ham and his research gurus depend on their ignorant followers filling in the holes in their arguments with non-sequiturs; in this case the non-sequitur is that absence of evidence is evidence of a 6000 year old Solar System! All Ham and his staff of gurus need do is endeavour to undermine and subvert established science: Under this perceived imprimatur their gullible followers will do the rest for them by rushing in to fill in the logical gaps with their 6000 year time scale.*3

Theism of any kind is going to always be treated with derisory contempt by some sections of society, but at the very least Christians are advised to stay away from the anti-scientific clowning we get from Biblical literalists and which rightly draws criticism and derision. The bottom line is that the kind of logic Ken Ham presides over is nothing but a huge embarrassment to Christianity and tempts mockery of the faith.

*1 With their mere 6000 year old Earth and commitment to a global flood that occurred about 4300 years ago the Biblical literalists of AiG have to adjust established Egyptian history to fit.
*2 That is, we would need to know the second differential in time. This differential has the effect of “de-localising” the phenomenon in time and extending it into history – yet another reason why the Biblical literalist’s “observational vs. historical science” distinction is a red herring. See also:
*3 I guess that Ham's tame research guru would understand the weakness of their logic here, but we have to recall that he is probably payrolled.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Premium on Prediction

In this post of last July I considered the question of why we find theories (or agents) that make successful predictions more believable than those that work as retrospective sense making structures. I've now released this post as a PDF. It can be accessed and downloaded from here or from the side bar.

Hands on predictions are risky: But we tend to believe those predictive agents that get it right.


We should disbelieve those like Harold Camping (left) whose predictions fail. Camping's predictions fell over more than once. The Watchtower's (Jehovah's Witnesses) predictions have failed many times; 1975 was just one of them. But people continue to believe these agents, so it seems that factors are at work other than a simple mathematical heuristic.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Breaking the First Law of Holes

The 1st Law of Holes: When you're in one, stop digging!

The North American “Intelligent Design” (sic) web site Uncommon Descent has a regular posting that is categorized as “news”. This series of posts, I think, is compiled by Denyse O’Leary; at least that’s going to be my working assumption here.

This post by O’leary involves a similar projection of her alter ego onto detractors that we find in a blog post by Biblical Literalist Jason Lisle . In both cases Lisle’s and O’Leary’s worst dreams about the efficacy of “natural forces” to act as a god substitute are set up as a straw man and then burnt at the stake. The fictitious evolutionists in whose mouths they thrust their words are actually their own selves.

Below I’ve taken some quotes from O’Leary’s post and commented on them.  It is well to remember that I’m not necessarily a committed to evolutionary mechanisms as currently understood and I would, in fact, classify myself as a ID creationist; but I would certainly not support the ineptitude of O’Leary's views. It is also well to remember that Christians who are part of the publicly funded academic establishment like Ken Miller and Francis Collins are O’Leary’s pet hate.

But there’s a big problem in loving both God and evolution. The premise of theistic evolution is incoherent. The “theistic” part connotes a creator God who knows what he wants to do and does it. The “evolution” part connotes a process that is random and in no need of supervision by any conscious agent because it is sufficient unto itself. So theistic evolution might be rephrased as “a system whereby God creates using a process that he cannot influence in any way and which has no need of him.” Huh?

My Comment:  Here, O’Leary is distorting the concept of evolution. As I've said so many times before, even assuming evolutionary theory as it is presently understood, it still follows that there is only a realistic chance of living structures being located by physical processes if the disordered agitations of thermodynamics are sufficiently constrained: So, whilst one might maintain that there is no “guidance” of the random walk behind thermodynamic diffusion (a diffusion which gives evolution its “search energy”), this diffusion must work within sufficiently narrow probability envelopes for it to have a realistic chance of “discovering” anything (A moot point in my view). If the known laws of physics determine those envelopes (the implicit assumption of evolutionary theory) then they constitute a transcendent object controlling the flow of events in time. This is exactly the opposite of O’Leary’s misleading claim that evolution is a process needing no supervision; evolution is effectively being supervised everywhere and everywhen by physical constraints. O’Leary is simply repeating the error of deism and then pinning that error onto to those Christian scientists she despises.

If the theistic evolutionist responds, “Oh I don’t mean that kind of evolution. I mean the kind of evolution which is guided by God to fulfill his purposes,” then the true evolutionist will reply, “Well, that’s no kind of evolution. That’s some sort of creation scenario and you have no right to use the evolution word.”
“But!,” protests the theistic evolutionist, “I want you to know that I have nothing to do with those Intelligent Design idiots. I’m one of you! I’m one of the smart guys who is up on science, not some primitive religious fanatic. I truly do believe that Darwin got it right and random mutation coupled with natural selection is all there is. All I’m saying is that God uses that process to create all the living things on Earth.”

My Comment: The so-called “true evolutionist” O’Leary speaks of here is her alter ego and therefore she is arguing against her own distorted concept of evolution, a concept which she wrongly portrays as an uncontrolled process. Rejecting the incoherent version of evolution that O’Leary stands for doesn't necessarily mean that one is wanting align one’s self with the smart guys who are up on science – rather it is more likely to be a case of, as she puts it, wanting to have nothing to do with those intelligent design idiots like O’Leary.

Anyway, here’s a little bit more from O’Leary’s alter ego:

“Oh brother,” says the true evolutionist, “You just don’t get it do you? As soon as you toss God into the equation you blow evolution to smithereens and reveal yourself as exactly what you say you aren’t—a religious nut case. Evolution doesn’t need god, or goals, or interference by any intelligent agent. All evolution needs is a steady supply of random mistakes and the process of elimination called natural selection. That will get you to any form of life no matter how complex. It’s beautiful and you’re just too stupid to understand that its self-sufficiency IS its beauty. Now get lost. You bore me.”
As I’ve played out this imaginary dialogue, I hope I’ve made clear that the last thing a theistic evolutionist wants is to be invited into the ID camp.

My Comment: Here we go again. O'Leary’s alter ego is imagining a process capable of generating life and tells us that it is self-sufficient.  O'Leary's alter-ego threatens to trivialize the production of life by caricaturing it as a process of “mistake elimination” that needs only trivial computational resources. She fails to see that the selection process would require far from trivial controlling physical algorithms. She is much too stupid to understand that evolution is dependent on very particular and highly sophisticated conditions being contrived. Therefore I'm not in the least surprised that the last thing theistic evolutionists like Miller or Collins would want, would be to be invited into the kind of camp that O’Leary stands for; one could hardly blame them if they repeated O’Leary’s words back to her: Get lost. You bore me.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Industrialisation and Christianity

Smoke Stack World.

I added the following comment to an article on Network Norwich and Norflok to an article by James Knight  about capitalism, science and Christianity. For the article see here.

I think you are on an important tack here James. Yes, we really do need to get a perspective on the fact that industrialization started about 1750 years after the birth of Christ. There were probably some significant precursors prior to 1750 like the breakup of the feudal system and the renaissance, possibly both related to the Back Death. Also, in the 1600s England, (the mother of commercialization and industrialization) started to experience a shift in its zeitgeist in favour of the rational. Not only that, it was a century when the money making middle classes clashed with the medieval rearguard in the form of the Stuart dynasty.  These money makers went on to innovate and subsidize mechanization. Yes, commercialism, (that is sheer profiteering) is implicated as one of the motivators of a life enhancing bread and butter technology and research base (although often very cutting edge science is done for its imaginative rewards without an eye on profit).  But having said that, it is clear many devout Protestants were in the thick of the social and technological innovations during industrialization, with their faith very much modulating their behavior.

It may well be that the scientific epistemic whereby theory is tested against experience was in part released by the Reformation with its emphasis on testing theology against one’s personal reading of Biblical texts. This is ironic because today’s Biblical literalists have a pathological view of science, a distortion that depends on an arbitrary demarcation between historical and “observational” (sic) science.. Since everything, including Biblical information, arrives at our “observational” doorstep via signalling it follows that in the final analysis, all science is bound up to a greater or lesser extent with history. The upshot is that the Biblical literalists of the 1960s “YEC reformation” are forced to compromise on the rational readability of our world, a compromise which ultimately undermines God’s creative integrity. (Caveat: None of this is to say that I’m necessarily committed to the mechanisms of evolutionary change as they are currently understood)

By and large contemporary evangelical Young Earthism only goes as far back as the 1960s “YEC reformation”, as in fact fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham will admit*. Moreover, he also admits that in spite of this “reformation” Young Earthism is very much a minority amongst high achieving academic Christians and Christian colleges – even in America. That I think is good news.
*Footnote: There are exceptions such as Adventist George McCready Price whose work was referenced by the 1960s Biblical literalists. It is an intriguing fact that nearly one hundred years before the "YEC reformation" an Adventist was at the bottom of the JW excursion into literal eschatology and date fixing.

In England industrialisation followed the necessary precursor of commercialisation. Commercialisation may be connected with the social mobility of the Anglo Saxon social ethos. But we mustn't forget the suffering and injustice caused by big social shifts:

Pre nineteenth century Norwich was a big producer of textiles, but it lost out to the cities that used power spinning and weaving such as we see in factories like this. Fanciful perhaps, but the spinning bank above reminds me of Turing's Bombe:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Western Dualism in the North American Intelligent Design Community. Part 1

(Picture from

At the recent Vulnerable Mission conference at Norwich Central Baptist Church (See here for details) I presented a paper which compared and contrasted Western dualism with rural African monism. This paper will in due course be made available.  In the meantime, as an example of Western dualism, I present below the first part of a case study. This case study is based on a post by North American IDist Vincent J Torley which appeared on the “Intelligent Design” (sic) blog Uncommon Descent.

In his post Torley defends his version of Intelligent Design against criticism by Orthodox theologian David Hart. In a previous post by Torley we discover that Hart has thrown out two blanket criticisms of Intelligent Design. These are:
a) ID depends on “gaps” in the natural order  
b) ID also posits a part time God who tinkers on and off with creation.
I can’t answer for Hart, who in any case appears to exclusively (and wrongly) identify the kind of views that Torley typically represents as Intelligent Design - in fact so does Torley himself. This is Torley’s first big mistake: As I once pointed out Christian physicist John Polkinghorne would, if pushed, also claim to be an intelligent design creationist and yet like myself he is loath to align his views with the category of ID that many North American evangelicals promote. However, Hart nevertheless raises criticisms that are similar to my own and this consequently draws Torley out, exposing his dualist philosophy, a philosophy which embeds the false folk dichotomy that can be expressed as:  Either God did it or  Natural forces did it!

Below I’ve taken several quotes from Torley’s long post and point out where I feel his categories are going awry.

Let’s begin with a definition. In its broadest sense, the theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain empirically observable features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and that this intelligent cause can be shown to be the best explanation by applying the scientific method in order to rule out rival explanations, such as chance and/or necessity. (I assume that Dr. Hart is thoroughly familiar with Professor Dembski’s explanatory filter, so I won’t elaborate further.)

My Comment: Straightaway Torley is contrasting ID over and against “Law and Disorder” (Law and Disorder – what Torley inappropriately refers to as “chance and necessity”) by declaring them as rival explanations. (See my highlight in the quote from Torley). Dembki’s explanatory filter is partly if not fully to blame here because it polarizes apart Intelligence and Law & Disorder into two rival categories of explanation. Instead L&D should be included in the set of observable features (sic)  that are used to decide whether a meta-intelligence is to be invoked to make sense of those features. Dembki’s filter does work with human and alien intelligence but even here it is arguable that at the most fundamental level it breaks down: If one is an atheist and believes L&D are the primary reality then one is likely to believe that intelligence is only a secondary cause which in turn is itself a product of L&D. So, in short, Torley is already paving the way for a “God did it vs natural forces did it” shoot-out. His polarised categories invite the contrary belief that L&D are primary and not secondary.  Torley should be framing the question not as a choice between God and natural processes but rather as a question of whether the cosmos has features, features which are inclusive of L&D, which connote to us an all-embracing primary creative intelligence.

One obvious objection is that such a Deity might be nothing more than a mere Demiurge, who imposes forms on the cosmos but does not conserve it in existence. But if one could show that the features of the cosmos which indicate a Designer are not merely incidental but essential or defining properties of the cosmos, then it would follow that the cosmos could not exist without those features – in which case, the Designer Who is responsible for those features is also responsible for keeping the cosmos in being……
……So it should certainly be possible for us to determine which properties are its defining properties, and scientifically investigate whether these properties show signs of having been designed. An affirmative answer would mean that the Designer doesn’t merely tinker with the cosmos, but rather, gives it its very identity, and makes it what it is. (Let me add in passing that like many Scholastic philosophers, I consider the notion of a “pure passive potency” underlying all forms to be utterly unintelligible: like Suarez, I hold that even prime matter has a form of some sort.) Hence I see no reason in principle why cosmological Intelligent Design could not take us to a Deity Who maintains the world in being, as opposed to a mere Demiurge who does nothing more than impose his designs on a pre-existing cosmos. Of course, the argument for such a Deity would need to be fleshed out in a mathematically and scientifically rigorous fashion, which is something that has yet to be done.

My Comment: The ID community that Torley represents has only got itself to blame for this concept of the demiurge rearing its ugly head. If you are going to use an explanatory filter which explicitly sets up L&D and God intelligence as two rival explanations then it is a very natural inference that God is a being who works within the natural order as would a demiurge, rather than transcends it If, as Torley puts it, an intelligent cause is a rival explanation to natural forces then this is not at all conducive to the view that this intelligence is active in maintaining (presumably creating) those forces! Torley’s insistence on setting up God as a rival explanation to "natural explanations" leads to a deep intuitive paradox in his theology. As Hart's reaction shows, interpreting the North American ID God as akin to a demiurge is a very easy step to take.

But Dr. Carroll might reply that if naturalism explains the world more parsimoniously than what he calls “the God hypothesis,” then we may provisionally conclude, as a working hypothesis, that naturalism is true. Carroll also contends – and here, I think, he is on shaky ground – that simpler explanations are inherently more likely to be true, other things being equal. On this logic, then, even if we cannot know that naturalism is true, we might reasonably judge it to be likely, or probable.

My comment: Here we see Torley interpreting atheist physicist Sean Carroll to be a user of the same categories as himself, that is the naturalism vs. God hypothesis dichotomy. I can’t speak for Carroll of course, but it is conceivable that one may accept in its entirety the kind of “naturalistic” account of the cosmos offered by Carroll and yet at the same time be an intelligent design creationist. How is this? This is because theism, in its most general form, effectively adds on another layer of metaphysical structure in order to purportedly explain these nomological facts (to use the very words of Sean Carroll as quoted by Torley). That is, theism doesn't necessarily compete with naturalistic histories and processes but rather takes the natural order and embeds it in a higher level theological narrative. Of course, it goes without saying that for Sean Carroll this is, “an unnecessary complication” (quoting Carroll) and so he leaves it rather than takes it. I am not here to discuss Carroll’s views but instead wish to point out the difference between theism as an all-embracing meta-narrative that takes explanation to a whole new level and Torley’s take on theism whereby he habitually perceives “naturalism” as a rival of explanation to his homunculus intelligent design paradigm.  Where Torley has gone wrong is that instead of proposing God intelligence as a competing narrative to natural forces he should be proposing it as a meta narrative which embeds the scientific account of “natural forces”.

Further on in his post Torley quotes Thomas Aquinas:

[D]ivine power can sometimes produce an effect, without prejudice to its providence, apart from the order implanted in natural things by God. In fact, He does this at times to manifest His power. For it can be manifested in no better way, that the whole of nature is subject to the divine will, than by the fact that sometimes He does something outside the order of nature. Indeed, this makes it evident that the order of things has proceeded from Him, not by natural necessity, but by free will.

My Comment: Here Aquinas is of course talking about the miraculous as a discontinuity in the flow of “normalcy”. Now, I’m not going to argue against miracles, but interestingly Torley sees this quote through his polarizing lens:

Here, Aquinas says that God’s power and voluntary agency “can be manifested in no better way … than by the fact that He sometimes does something outside the order of nature.” I conclude that he would have had no qualms whatsoever about appealing to effects that require a supernatural Cause, in order to convince skeptics of God’s existence. The question which then arises is: are there any scientifically observable occurrences within the natural world, which point to its having a supernatural Cause?

My Comment: So Torley is looking for the discontinuities of the miraculous as pointers to the supernatural; fair enough, as we can’t rule out occasional miracles, but what if Torley fails to find them? Would that mean everything is “natural” and therefore there is no supernatural God? These thoughts flow very naturally from Torley’s dualistic thinking which has the effect of setting the supernatural in conflict with the natural.
Torley quotes Hart:

…[T]hose who argue for the existence of God principally from some feature or other of apparent cosmic design… have not advanced beyond the demiurgic picture of God. By giving the name ‘God’ to whatever as yet unknown agent or property or quality might account for this or that particular appearance of design, they have produced a picture of God that it is conceivable the sciences could some day genuinely make obsolete, because it really is a kind of rival explanation to the explanations the sciences seek…

My Comment: This argument by Hart follows if the role of God is one of being an explanatory stopgap; that is, as an explanation to fill the gaps not currently covered by Law and Disorder explanations. This God-of-the-gaps God is indeed in danger of being explained away. The fact that the North American ID community have staked so much on the idea that Law and Disorder are in principle insufficient to generate life means that their role for God faces this threat. But having said that Hart doesn’t tell us that if science should ever be in the position of providing a complete L&D description of nature, then the properties and qualities of the cosmos would include some very extraordinary laws; those laws are extraordinary by virtue of the computational complexity needed to locate a suite of laws capable of generating life in what is in fact a short algorithmic time. The upshot is that this still flags an intelligent design alert, albeit at the meta level rather than the competing alternative explanation level proposed by Torley.

At some stage, we reach an ultimate mathematical framework which explains how the multiverse works. If even this framework exhibits features which indicate design, then the design must be an essential feature of the cosmos, rather than a merely incidental one.

My Comment: I’m inclined to agree with Torley here: My main difference with Torley and his de-facto ID community is that they are staking too much on a belief that an L&D physical regime is in principle incapable of generating life, a belief which has the knock-on-effect of setting God against his own physical regime.
But having said I agree with Torley that attempts to press the L&D paradigm further by trying to explain our own L&D physical regime in terms of a higher level L&D regime (such as a multiverse) simply leads to a turtles all the way down regress.. There is no way in which the universe can be explained with trivial truisms even if one resorts to multiverse theory. Whichever way one tries to skin it, peculiar and contingent conditions have to be assumed as a starting point in one’s theory. So, in as much as we are faced with the inescapable truism that our theories of the cosmos will always start with non-trivial conditions this will invite a design meta-narrative, and in this respect I would certainly agree with Torley. (Ref: See here and here).

Torley quotes Hart as follows:

For Thomas Aquinas, for instance, God creates the order of nature by infusing the things of the universe with the wonderful power of moving themselves toward determinate ends; he uses the analogy of a shipwright able to endow timbers with the power into develop in to a ship without external intervention.

My Comment: To me this is at odds with what Hart has already said; namely that one can’t appeal to this or that particular cosmic feature or property as suggesting a need for a design meta narrative. In fact here Hart seems to be appealing to the observed fruitfulness of the physical regime to generate life as evidence of God’s work, which to me looks like a design feature prompting a design meta narrative! This paradox may have arisen because Hart, like other Westerners such as Torley, have two distinct categories when they should have one; that is Hart, like Torley sees the power of God in contradistinction to the innate power of nature.
However, Hart tries to square the circle by suggesting that this innate natural power has been outsourced to nature by God himself. This, I suppose, is better than Torley who, like the rest of his ID community sees the power nature as a rival explanation to God. But somehow Hart’s view still feels a little wrong. If nature is sufficiently endowed to generate life it would be a product of the patterns imposed by the cosmic L&D regime that run it. That L&D regime doesn’t look to me like some innate animistic power because this regime is a statement of pattern rather than innate power and has more the character of a transcendent object controlling nature. To me this is suggestive of God’s ever present immanent power rather an innate “natural” power. Perhaps I’m making too fine a distinction, here! But be that as it may, it remains clear to me that Torley and his Christian subculture are promoting a problematic paradigm, as we shall continue to see.

…to be continued

50 Years Ago: The Kennedy Assassination


Thursday, November 07, 2013

Taking Science For a Fun Ride

For this guy it's a laugh-a-minute at the Creation Museum

More than one critic of Biblical Literalism has referred to Ken Ham as a clown.  Clown or not it would help the Christian cause if Ken stopped clowning with science.  For instance take this priceless quote by Ken:

But what Dawkins doesn’t seem to realize is that there is a difference between observational (operational) science—which is testable and repeatable—and historical science—which can’t be proven. For instance, humans can use measuring tools in the present to measure the width of North America—they can then do it again and again—repeating the measurement in the present. That’s observational science.
But the same humans cannot go and measure the age of the earth in the same sort of way. One has to use a process that changes with time and assume many things about the past (and such assumptions could be very wrong) to try to attempt to age date the rock—that’s historical science.
Biblical creation falls into the category of historical science, and so does Dawkins’s belief in evolution! Neither can be proven. They’re both systems of interpreting the evidence in front of us.

I’ll deal with this misrepresentation of science when I have more time to resume my Mangling Science Series. In so successfully deceiving himself  Ken Ham has taken many epistemically insecure and scientifically challenged Christians along with him.  But the good news is that anti-science Biblical Literalism is, even according to Ken Ham himself, on the wane:

In this day and age, more and more pastors, church leaders, and Bible scholars are choosing either not to take a stand on Genesis or to teach some form of evolution and millions of years.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Springs, Precipitates, the Paranormal and Heretic Hunters

Without generalising and extending our epistemology science will go down the tubes

Once again I find atheist Larry Moran’s blog an excellent frizzen for creating the sparks to ignite some thoughts on epistemology: The following quoted material can be found here.


I think there IS a conflict between science and religion. For example, I think that a proper understanding of evolution leads inevitably to the conclusion that there is no purpose or goal in evolution and that the evolution of humans on this planet was largely a chance event. This conflicts with many religious views.

My Comment: A proper understanding of evolution, even as it is understood by the academic establishment leads inevitably to the conclusion that it is highly directed in the sense that its probing “gaseous” fingers of probabilistic diffusion must be limited to very narrow channels in the space of possibilities, otherwise nothing interesting would evolve in realistic time scales. Using phrases like “chance event” fails to do justice to this background structure that guides the process of evolution. See this post where I discuss the channelled nature of evolution with one of Larry Moran’s commenters, a commenter who, like Professor Moran himself, seemed unable see the logic of his own position.
Let me just say by way of qualifying myself, that I'm not committed to the academic establishment's view of evolutionary mechanisms and I'm here only pointing to the implications of what people like Larry Moran must himself be committed to even if he is unaware of it.
There may be a conflict between science and religion if one conceives God’s involvement in natural history as necessarily being that of a kind of jumped alien homunculus who majors in tinkering with the natural order, making science, as we currently know it, fail at those points. (See:
As for the concept of “purpose” let’s be clear that this notion has no meaning unless we are talking about a context where sentience is implicit and consequently where such concepts as plans, goals and aims are meaningful. In contrast there is no intrinsic “purpose” to be found in the mechanisms of evolution any more than one can find purpose in some man-made artifact without imagining the social context in which it functions. "Purpose" is an extrinsic property of an object and it exists by virtue of the object's relation to its context. In a similar vein: One can’t find purpose in the mechanisms of evolution any more than one finds sentience at the low level of brain neurons. Purpose and sentience are only found at the high system level. If purpose is to be found in evolution it will only become apparent in the higher context of the world-view within which one interprets the meaning (or lack of meaning!) of evolution. Therefore contrary to what Larry Moran says it follows that a proper understanding of evolution is not in itself sufficient to throw light on the subject of purpose (or lack of purpose)

I think that science can, and has, dealt with supernatural explanations and found them wanting in all cases. I do not believe in non-overlapping Magisteria. There's nothing that science can't investigate.

My Comment: I agree that there is nothing that can’t be investigated scientifically and I don’t myself believe in non-overlapping Magisteria. But this is not to say that science’s investigations will always be successful; as I have said here, amenability of an ontology to scientific investigation will have a bearing on the level of scientific success. It is quite possible to imagine intractable ontologies that do not readily yield their secrets to scientific epistemology.
I’m not really sure what Larry means by “supernatural explanations” but I suspect this is all bound up with the Western dualist mindset that makes a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural agencies.

I believe that Kevin Padian is wrong when he says that religious scientists such as Ken Miller, Michael Behe, and Francis Collins "do not place religious views above empirical evidence." They all believe in miracles, they all believe that humans have a soul, and they all believe in life after death. They all believe in the existence of a personal, creator God in spite of the fact that there's no evidence that such a being exists. 

Larry Moran appears not to understand how “evidence” really works: There is even evidence for David Ike’s bizarre world of reptilian conspiracy, but whether it is sufficient evidence and interpreted with epistemic discipline is another matter. Human beings do not proceed logically from evidence to theoretical narratives but are inclined to work from theoretical narratives to evidences. These narratives serve as sense making and explanatory objects of those evidences. This very human and open ended capability comes with all the potential epistemic hazards of imaginative and undisciplined over-interpretation. What Moran seems not to understand is that religious views are a way of interpreting accepted evidences against a backdrop of endeavor that seeks to reach an all-embracing world-view by abduction. People like Miller and Collins don’t differ with Larry Moran about evidences or the relatively low level physical science narratives in which these evidences are embedded. But they do differ with Moran in their willingness to put those objects and evidences in the much wider context of a religious world view. Miller and Collins are adding to the basic physical science narratives and not subtracting from them (as do fundamentalists). That they may believe in the occasional few and far between historical suspensions of the normal physical regime (i.e. miracles) can hardly be construed as anti-science heresy (which is, I suspect, the charge that Mr Moran is seeking to bring) and will make little difference to their science.

The kind of objections to the paranormal that we see from Larry Moran may typically have their roots in an a-priori concept of what reality should be like. Rather than objecting to the paranormal for the epistemic reason that its observational protocols are far too erratic to give us a firmly established theoretical narrative the real objection is actually ontological; that is, there is an ulterior and exclusive line being drawn around what can be and should be. What is happening here is that when investigations start to go beyond the relatively amenable world of mechanisms established by spring extending and test tube precipitating sciencethe epistemic difficulties of acquiring knowledge are wrongly perceived as an ontological limitation rather than an epistemic limitation; that is, if it’s beyond the mechanisms within the purview of spring extending and test tube precipitating science then the default assumption is that it doesn't exist. But science isn't ontology, it is epistemology, an epistemology that must wait without prior prejudice on what ontology puts its way. A belief in the identification of the epistemically tractable with ontology is itself a world view that has effectively over interpreted the evidence available.

Having said that, however, I nevertheless respect diffidence about belief in the paranormal (which includes the miraculous) because the manifestation of the paranormal in human consciousness is highly erratic. I therefore find no good reason to blame anyone for genuine disbelief in it. I would certainly not take the line of the Christian fundamentalists who use Romans 1 in an indiscriminating and comprehensive way as a pretext to make a cathartic full-on hell-fire attack on their detractors, accusing them of the most heinous sins of blasphemy and/or heresy: We see atheists like Larry Moran accused of being crypto-theists suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness as per Romans 1. The history referred to in Romans 1 is inapplicable to people like, say, Larry Moran who gives every impression of having a clear conscience in their disbelief of the paranormal and of God. Romans 1 is about the rejection of the true God in favor of idolatry;  that is, in favor of perverse depictions of God and not atheism per see.
Given the erratic nature of the paranormal and all that is so bizarre and repugnant about many religious communities there are cultural circumstances that help fuel disbelief: This is, in fact, the general lesson that comes out Romans 1; namely, that false depictions of God promotes disbelief. In this connection I'm sure many an atheist will receive mercy on judgement day; they only need plead the mitigating circumstances of Western culture which includes the likes of the Jehovah witnesses, the Mormons, Answers in Genesis, Barry Smith, William Tapley, Harold Camping, David Koresh, David Berg -  the list is endless. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Norwich and Norfolk Faith Group Lecture.

There’s been another interesting lecture by Norwich and Norfolk’s Science and Faith group, (see here for my post on a previous lecture), this time by Astrophysicist Rodney Holder. According to the article on NN&N Dr Holder (as reported by Patrick Richmond) makes the following points:

The universe is finely tuned in order to give rise to life like us. Its current form arises out of very special conditions.

My Comment. (Just as a note here: We need to distinguish between supporting life and generating life.) That scientists like Dr Holder make constant appeal to the Universe’s very special “sitting-on-a-knife-edge” condition is evidence they actually support “Intelligent Design” in its most general sense. Sad to say, however, that the “Intelligent Design” rubric is probably to be avoided because it has become blighted by its association with anti-academic establishment groups and, much, much worse, Young Earth Creationism. (See John Polkinghorne’s understandable reaction to the term “ID” here)

A universe with an absolute beginning seems to pose a problem for atheists. Some cosmologists continue to seek theories that avoid absolute starts. These attempts are looking problematical in the light of work by Alexander Vilenkin.

My Comment: See my previous post here for comment on this. I’m glad to see Dr Holder steered round the Kalum argument.  It is true, however, that because we are creatures who live in the causal unfolding of time, a logical hiatus at the start of the universe is very compelling, far more compelling than the more abstract logical hiatus that is silently with us everywhere and everywhen. Human beings need an obvious discontinuity and/or change on the stage of time before it becomes newsworthy and demands explanation! As my good friend James Knight points out we are like fish swimming around in the sea asking where is the water?

The main feature of the Christian doctrine of creation is less about beginnings then in it addressing the deep question of “Why is there something rather than nothing”. “Something from nothing” doctrines such as we see from Stephen Hawkin contradict themselves, because they are clearly positing assumed physical properties from the outset. This is not “nothing” (See my comments here)

My Comment: This “Why is there something rather than nothing?” question is basically a probe about that immersive logical hiatus that is with us everywhere and everywhen.

Even the multiverse calls on special mathematical conditions for it to generate universes. Moreover a huge majority of the organisation observed in the cosmos is redundant to our existence; in terms of likelihoods our universe is far too over engineered if it were just one of an infinity of largely disordered universes.

My Comment: I touch on this issue in this series of posts. It is an issue that brings out the very particularity of our cosmos; that is, high complexity in service of simplicity. The North American ID community call this “specification” ( or complex specified information)  - definitely one of their better ideas, I'll give them that!  
Dr Holder concluded that modern cosmology seems to confirm Christian belief.

My Comment: By “confirm” I’m taking that not to mean making an inductive connection to “God” from the known universe, but rather a connection to God that is deductive. Given the known universe it doesn't follow in any inductive logical way I can think of that "therefore God".  On making note of the very general logical hiatuses Dr Holder refers to I've always preferred the deductive approach: That is "In the beginning God, therefore an intelligible rational universe”. (See here). "Evidence" for an object really means passing from object to evidence rather than evidence to object. Such are the imaginative a-priori epistemic methods of the human mind.

Whatever way we turn, whether to standard evolution, multi-verse, or continuous creation we find that the cosmos has particular and idiosyncratic logical "edges" to it. This is evidence of the mathematical truth that descriptive "compression" will always terminate with an irreducible kernel of information, and enigmatic non-trivial information at that.


Seeing people like Rodney Holder and the N&N faith group at work is a breath of fresh air. I’ve made it my lot in life to focus my time on the eccentric, bordering on crank, versions of Christianity, and sometimes I wonder why.