Wednesday, December 31, 2014

People in (Epistemic) Glass Houses…..

This post by “News” (= Denise O’Leary) on Uncommon Descent raises questions about the nature of scientific epistemology. The redoubtable Ms. O’Leary starts with some quotes and then comments on them. Below I reproduce the article along with my own interleaved comments.

Breaking: Article in Nature defends integrity of physics against multiverse, string theory
December 18, 2014
Posted by News under CosmologyIntelligent DesignNews
“Scientific method: Defend the integrity of physics” by George Ellis and Joe Silk,” Nature, open access:
This year, debates in physics circles took a worrying turn. Faced with difficulties in applying fundamental theories to the observed Universe, some researchers called for a change in how theoretical physics is done. They began to argue — explicitly — that if a theory is sufficiently elegant and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally, breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical. We disagree. As the philosopher of science Karl Popper argued: a theory must be falsifiable to be scientific.

My Comment: This kind of epistemic manoeuvring is, to my mind a) forced on us in sciences that investigate complex “high level” and/or less than accessible objects such as we find in sociology or world view synthesis b)  not as worrying as the authors of this quote think as it is necessarily widespread and may be little different for physics at the high end. It would be very nice if all theories could be predictively tested against experiential protocols, but the fact is testing at will is not always an option in the face of epistemic intractability; we may have to fall back on trying to assess just how well the theory makes post-facto sense of the data samples to hand. Moreover, "falsifiability" provides no sharply defined criterion for demarcating "good" or "proper" science, because no theory is absolutely falsifiable; we can always, with a bit of imagination, appeal to hidden adjustable variables in order to “explain” away anomalies, although this kind of special pleading, if used in quantity to prop up a failing theory, can start to look a little contrived; multiplication of variables, if reality is really that complex, considerably reduces the chance of us hitting the right combination of variables. It is no surprise then that everybody hopes that Occam’s heuristic is right, a heuristic that works on the presupposition that the world is rational and simple, with few variables and therefore with less opportunity to get things wrong!

Earlier this year, championing the multiverse and the many-worlds hypothesis, Carroll dismissed Popper’s falsifiability criterion as a “blunt instrument” (see He offered two other requirements: a scientific theory should be “definite” and “empirical”. By definite, Carroll means that the theory says “something clear and unambiguous about how reality functions”. By empirical, he agrees with the customary definition that a theory should be judged a success or failure by its ability to explain the data.
He argues that inaccessible domains can have a “dramatic effect” in our cosmic back-yard, explaining why the cosmological constant is so small in the part we see. But in multiverse theory, that explanation could be given no matter what astronomers observe. All possible combinations of cosmological parameters would exist somewhere, and the theory has many variables that can be tweaked. Other theories, such as unimodular gravity, a modified version of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, can also explain why the cosmological constant is not huge.
Some people have devised forms of multiverse theory that are susceptible to tests: physicist Leonard Susskind’s version can be falsified if negative spatial curvature of the Universe is ever demonstrated. But such a finding would prove nothing about the many other versions. Fundamentally, the multiverse explanation relies on string theory, which is as yet unverified, and on speculative mechanisms for realizing different physics in different sister universes. It is not, in our opinion, robust, let alone testable.

My Comment:  Carroll is implicitly admitting that some of these exotic physical theories are not easily testable at will, although they do in his opinion make sense of accepted “empirical” evidence. He therefore advocates relaxing the requirement that a theory should make testable predictions, but demands that a theory at least make unambiguous empirical post-dictions about our cosmos. As I have said many times in this blog some ontologies are a lot less epistemically tractable than others, (That would certainly apply to multiverse ideas for example) and this entails these ontologies being less amenable to data sampling. I have no particular objection to Carroll’s wanting to relax the epistemic standard so long as he acknowledges the risks and the loss of empirical authority. Moreover, if Carroll has at last realised that some ontologies are less empirically responsive than others he ought to also realise that he has stumbled upon a sliding scale that can be pushed even further. Viz: Some theoretical objects, particularly in the social and historical sciences, don’t have an unambiguous connection with observational protocols. but make probabilistic post dictions.  So, on balance I’ve no complaints about Carroll’s epistemic procedure provided he doesn’t start pushing it as part of the authoritative status quo that gives him a pretext to kick dissenters into line.
But the redoubtable Denise is less sympathetic:

No wonder some would like to abandon testability for elegance, and reality for fairy tales.
Unfortunately, the plea ends on a somewhat tinny note,
“The imprimatur of science should be awarded only to a theory that is testable. Only then can we defend science from attack.”
Guys, listen (yes, you George Ellis and you Joe Silk, it is you we are looking at): The problem really isn’t attacks from outside. Quit fooling yourselves.
The problem is entirely within. If physicists want to join the many and various advocates of self-expression who do not depend on rigorous examination of evidence to validate their assertions, that is a choice physicists make.
No one forces that choice on physicists. But they are free to make it.
It sounds as though some of your colleagues have been making just such choices, and defending their choices by asking for exemption from traditional standards. It’s your profession’s call to determine whether their wishes/demands can be accommodated simply to prop up whatever rickety theoretical structures they have built.
But if your profession does choose to accommodate, two things:
1. Physics becomes just another player in a culture war, with no more genuinely respectable claims for attention than the demands we hear daily from grievance warriors that their version of events be accepted without cavil as Truth. You could find yourselves currying favour with politicians, as an identity group, for your version of nature versus that of magical thinking. Is that really what you want?
2. If so, just remember, no one did that to you. You did it to yourselves.
See also: The bill arrives for cosmology’s free lunch

My Comment: …but she’s probably right in her drift: The kind of “high level” barely accessible ontologies Carroll is proposing lose something of their empirical authority and have more the flavour of a world view synthesis. They therefore should not be pushed as logically obliging “Truth” or “fact”; that’s the sort of thing fundamentalists do. Conversely, I’m sure Denise realises that her ID community also have a science that is not good at making unambiguous predictions, and is better regarded as a post-facto quasi-archaeological sense making proposal. So, all in all there are lessons in mutual understanding here for both Denise O’Leary and Sean Carroll.

But when it comes to foisting on people world views that masquerade as “Truth”, I avoid communities and cultures that are predatory and use "moral" duress, group pressure and worse to persuade: Crowds of people with a highly uniform world view have always given me the creeps.

The voice of the crowd
is nothing but loud;
the nod and the wink
supports a group think.
It may be baloney.
Beware the crony.

Some relevant links:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Melencolia I Part 5: Creating Information

The dream goes on!

The latest paper in my Melencolia I series can be obtained here . I reproduce the introduction to this paper below:

As we saw in the previous post of this series, there is a class of configurations, a class I called “complex”, with configuration sizes less than the logarithm of the time needed to generate them and therefore they cannot be generated in practical times with “conserved” parallel deterministic processing. In this paper I develop a very similar looking relationship for non-deterministic “conserved” parallel processing. By “conserved” I mean computations that use fixed resources in terms of processor power (Although I assume unlimited amounts of memory and time are available).  This conclusion leads onto to a brief consideration of “non-conserved” processing and a proposal that non-conserved processing is one of the conditions of intelligent activity.

I have increasing doubts that classical evolution, which plods along with a classical form of conserved parallel processing, has the efficacy to generate and select life. In contrast I have an increasing conviction that somehow evolution is a process that exploits what appears to be the potentially available expanding parallelism of quantum mechanics. And moreover, as I hope to explore in later posts, the requisite criteria by which configurations are selected from the rapidly generated configurations of expanding parallelism, turns a mindless imperative process into an intentional declarative process.

Links to the previous posts in this series:

Also relevant:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mangling Science Part 5: Two Kinds of Science?.

The Whirlpool Galaxy is 20 odd million light years away. With Jason Lisle’s AiG published ASC model in mind does its study classify as observational science in the present or historical science? Or does it really matter? Don't ask Ken Ham; there is little chance that this fundamentalist will understand that in science the time coordinate doesn't have a fundamental significance; scientific epistemology is an attempt to get data samples about logical structures for which time may be thought of as just one coordinate.

 Below I have published a blog post by Fundamentalist Ken Ham where once again he tries to explain to himself why he is not being anti-science in rejecting historical science. It all swings on Ham attempting to maintain that there is a sharp distinction between "observational" (sic) and historical science. As I have said before in this series this distinction can’t be made because all science is at once both historical and observational. This is not to say, however, that all science is on an equal footing in terms of its observational rigor. The objects science deals with vary in their logical distance from observational protocols and the number of observational samples gathered supporting these quasi-conjectured objects. If Ham had his head screwed on properly he would simply maintain that some scientific objects have a more tenuous basis in accepted observational protocols than others. What the scientifically naive Ham is trying to prove to himself is that there is a fundamental difference in quality between "observational" and historical sciences that provides him with a pretext for writing off historical science as “unobservable”. This is all very typical of the fundamentalist mentality which tends to think in black and white dichotomies anyway. I caught Ham trying a similar trick with his “mature” creation theory where he has a need to decide what objects are permitted to show evidence of a bogus history and those that aren't – that is, the YEC needs to try and decide when and when not to apply the omphalos hypothesis. (See my Beyond our Ken series – links at the end of this post).

Around the Twist World with Ken Ham

ShareThis Published on December 5, 2014 in Current Issues in the World.

I recently saw something in Discovery News that perfectly highlights the difference between observational and historical science.

Common Tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus). By John Mather (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
A study has shown that tenrecs, hedgehog-looking creatures, have an amazing ability to hibernate (observational science) so the scientists inferred that the tenrecs must have hibernated through the dinosaur extinction (historical science)! As I’ve said many times previously, there are two different kinds of science. Observational science deals with the present and is observable, repeatable, and testable. It’s what produces our technology and our medical innovations. Creationists and evolutionists can both agree on this kind of science. Now, historical science deals with the past. It is not testable, repeatable or observable. What you think about historical science is based on your starting point. Do you begin with God’s Word or man’s ideas? Well, I would like to show you how to recognize the difference between these kinds of sciences by looking at this news item that is reporting a scientific study.

My Comment: Notice straight away that this science dunce is imposing a dichotomy on the situation. He thinks that “observational science deals with the present and is observable, repeatable, and testable” whereas “….historical science deals with the past. It is not testable, repeatable or observable”.  It seems well beyond Ken Ham’s mentality to make the fine distinctions needed to understand that in an absolute sense nothing is observable and repeatable and everything is subject to “your starting point”.  Even when testing the present tense continuous objects of physics we can never exactly reproduce test conditions and the test is therefore subject to one’s starting point in terms of fundamental assumptions about the rationality, uniformity and epistemic integrity of nature. Moreover, given that observational protocols quickly pass into history Ken’s so-called “observational science” is bound up with history.  And yet in a relative sense a wide class of objects, including historical objects, are all subject to observation and repeatable tests in as much as, for example, we can go back to check and reinterpret documents and fossils and perhaps even find new documents and fossils. In fact as a rule all science depends on us interpreting signals sent to us from the past; documents and fossils are an example of such signals.

I’d agree with Ken that a lot depends on one’s a priori world view. E.g. one’s view about very fundamental and foundational stuff like whether or not one considers the world to be rational, readable and to have epistemic integrity. But as a hardened heretic hunting fundamentalist Ham ups-the-ante by raising his far less fundamental opinions about Biblical interpretation to the level of fundamental and unreviewable authority. It is on this basis that Ham does his heresy testing: “Do you begin with God’s Word or man’s ideas?” He hasn’t spotted the abstraction that “God’s Word” is a signal and as such must be interpreted.

Observational Science
According to Discovery News, radio transmitters with body temperature loggers were strapped onto 15 tenrecs for a scientific study on hibernation. The tenrecs were then released back into the wilds of Madagascar. The scientists involved learned some interesting things about tenrec hibernation and body temperature. For example, one of the male tenrecs hibernated for nine months with no ill side effects! According to the news report, the information about hibernation from this study, as well as a similar one being done in the United States, “could one day allow researchers to better mitigate the effects of induced medical comas and the ‘hypogravity and/or inactivity’ that would occur during a lengthy trip through space.”
Now, everything from the study so far is observational science based on directly observable, testable, repeatable studies. A creationist or an evolutionist could have done the study and obtained the same data, and either scientist could apply the data to medicine or space travel. But the study then does a huge leap from observational evidence to the unobserved past. They switch from observational science to historical science. And it’s this switch that people need to learn to recognize, as evolutionists do the same sort of switch when talking about origins!
My Comment: This is a case where the tenrec study provided a replete set of data samples about the objects under scrutiny. But let’s not fool ourselves that this is about “direct observation” as Ham would have it. Scientists clearly did not directly observe tenrecs but were engaged in the interpretation of signals sent by them. And no, fundamentalists don’t necessarily agree about “observational” science even with other fundamentalists: Viz: Ken Ham would certainly disagree with fundamentalist Gerardus Bouw about the “observational” science that leads Bouw to propound geocentric theories. And in turn Bouw would disagree with the late fundamentalist Charles K Johnson whose science of “appearances” lead him to propound flat Earth theories. At the most abstracted level there is only one kind of science: Viz: the observed signal and the interpretation of the text it is sending us.
The past is observable in as much as it sends us signals that ultimately result in observational protocols; as does everything else. True, we may not have as many signals as we like returning to us and they may have been a long time in the travelling, but they are observations none the less. Ken Ham just doesn’t seem able to make this theoretical abstraction about signals being the medium of all observation. It is ironic that it was his AiG organization that first published Jason Lisle’s ASC model of the cosmos, a model that so blatantly raises questions about the nature of signaling and by implication just what is “the present” and what is “the past”! But this sort of stuff is well beyond our Ken not to mention his audience of admiring and less than critical followers.

Historical Science
Again, the observational evidence showed that tenrecs have an amazing ability to hibernate (observational science). But the scientists then took the evidence beyond observational science to infer that tenrecs must have hibernated through the dinosaur extinction (supposedly millions of years ago) and that’s how mammals survived to evolve into other mammal species (historical science). Supposedly, dinosaurs “‘intensely suppressed, dominated and bullied’ early mammals, which ‘could never get big in size because then they would not have been able to hide effectively during the day.’ This presumed pressure, combined with seasonally limited resources and other factors ‘may have armed modern mammals with the useful capacity to metabolically switch off.’” It is claimed. So, tenrec ancestors apparently evolved the ability to hibernate for long periods of time because of competition with dinosaurs. And they just happened to be lucky enough to hibernate at the right time to avoid extinction. Now, this is all historical science, and creationists and evolutionists would (quite obviously) disagree here. This jump from the observable hibernation periods of tenrecs to the unobservable supposed dinosaur extinction event is based, not on observational evidence, but on imagination. The study itself shows nothing about supposed tenrec ancestors and the supposed dinosaur age millions of years ago!
Interestingly enough, according to the lead author of the study, “the common tenrec [is] a living Cretaceous fossil, a living critter that has retained the physiological characteristics of our common placental ancestor.” In other words, tenrecs basically haven’t changed since their appearance in the fossil record. The evolution isn’t in the fossils or the tenrecs—it’s in the imaginations of scientists!
My Comment: No!... this evolutionary hypothesis about tenrecs is not in principle beyond observational science because the past sends us signals such as historical documents, research papers, archaeology, fossils, light rays etc. But what I would concede is that in this case the signals are highly attenuated, the observational protocols few and far between and perhaps the gaps filled in with a fair amount of speculation. You see, the issue is not to do with the past per se, but with the comprehensiveness of the sample of observational protocols and their logical distance in terms of adjustable variables from the putative objects they allegedly reveal. This is not an issue of a fundamental distinction in science, but a question of degree of observational support for a hypothesis; true, we can sometimes be tempted to join very few dots with very free format speculation and elaboration.
But Ham being a fundamentalist thinks habitually in dichotomies and not in degrees. Ham wants to portray himself as science friendly and give a pretext based on his dichotomized thinking to justify to himself  his science hostility and scientific ineptitude. He cannot accept that there is a uniformity of principle at stake with all science, historical and otherwise; namely, the interpretation of the signals sent to us from the cosmos near and far. It is simply beyond the mentality of this man to understand the paradox that relatively speaking just about everything is observational and repeatable and yet in an absolute sense nothing is observational and repeatable!


What Does the Bible Say?
Now, the Bible’s account of origins would mean the tenrec kind was created on Day 6, to reproduce after their kind. Tenrecs produce tenrecs (interestingly enough, in nature we see tenrecs producing only tenrecs)! God created animals to fill the earth, so He placed in their DNA the information they would need to produce the wide variety within a kind that we see today so that they would be able to survive as the environment changes. The incredible variety of tenrec species displays God’s care and wisdom in equipping them with the information they needed to fill many niches in the different environments found on Madagascar and in Africa. One of these features is the ability of some tenrec species to hibernate for long periods of time. So this incredible ability to hibernate is just one more example of God’s care for His creatures.
As you read through science news, I encourage you to be discerning, part of which involves learning how to separate observational science from historical science.
In the debate with Bill Nye, I took time to explain the difference between historical and observational science, as once people understand this, they recognize that molecules-to-man evolution is a belief system.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
My Comment: I suspect that Ken’s comments about “Information” are based on the North American taste for a God-of-Gaps theology of evolution. It would simply be too much to expect Ham to attempt to think round these categories to advanced ideas about information generation, so I can’t be too hard on him here. Notice, however, that his main agenda is to impose on his followers his fundamentalist views about a fundamental division in science based on a bogus distinction between observational and historical science. However, I would agree that any signal interpretation is influenced and perhaps even based on a priori belief systems – it’s just that some belief systems, for a variety of socio-psychological reasons, are far more elaborated, baroque, entrenched, authoritarian and unreviewable than others; know what I mean?
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying that Ken Ham will be less of an embarrassment to Christians.

Relevant Links
Mangling Science Series

Beyond Our Ken Series

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

A note on the limitations of Dembski’s Conservation of Information

"Conservation of Information" ideas may appeal to "God of the Gaps" thinkers..

Although Intelligent Design Guru William Dembski’s work on the Conservation of Information is, I believe,  entirely correct, the definition of “information” he uses results in his work failing to capture vital aspects of what we would informally associate with the term “information”. The definition of information as used by Dembski can be found in this web site article:
Criticisms I would make of the applicability of Dembski’s ideas are:

ONE: Dembski uses the concept of information as  “– log p”, where p is the probability of an event. From this definition it follows that improbability entails high information. But this measure of information, although fine for the event-centric world of communication is not uniquely sensitive to the quantity of information implicit in a static configuration. The value “p” could be the probability of a simple single event or it could be the product of a complex configuration of independent events such that p = P1 x P2 x P3Pi ….etc. where Pi is the probability of the ith event; in short “high information” in Dembski’s sense doesn't necessarily entail a complex configuration. One way of quantifying the complex information in a configuration is to define it as the shortest compressed string that will describe the configuration in question. Wiki has a similar criticism of Dembski’s use of the term “information”: See here:

TWO: Probability is a function of our level of knowledge and therefore probability changes with knowledge; e.g. if we have perfect knowledge about a complex configuration this entails a configuration probability of 1; that is, a known configuration has a probability of 1 therefore no information. This conclusion makes sense if we are thinking about communication, that is about receiving and registering signals; in this context the reason why a known configuration no longer contains information is because once it is known it is no longer informative. But if this signal oriented concept of information is pressed into the cause of measuring configurational information it tempts some silly conclusions: Let’s assume for the sake of argument that given the size of the visible cosmos along with its constraining physical regime, the probability of life being generated is nearly 1. This quasi determinism implies that life contains next to no information as, of course, a probability of 1 entails zero information. I’ve actually seen an argument of this type used on ID website Uncommon Descent (I wish I had stored the link!). It went something like this:
 “Necessity (=The laws of physics) could not have deteministically generated life because that entails a result with a probability of 1 and therefore zero information. Life contains lots of information, therefore it could not have been generated by necessity!”. 
This bogus argument is not only using an inappropriate measure of information but is also based on dichotomizing “chance and necessity”, another of the false dichotomies habitually used by the de-facto ID movement. (Although this false dichotomy is another a story)

THREE: If for the sake of argument we assume the existence of a sufficiently large super-verse where every conceivable possibility is realized then the communication based concept of information that Dembski is using once again returns a counter intuitive conclusion; Viz, that life has no information because in the superverse Prob(Life somewhere) = 1.

FOUR: In his work Dembski assumes the principle of equal a priori probabilities amongst possibilities for which there is no known reason why any of those possibilities should be preferred. Given that the number of cases favouring life in platonic space is an extremely tiny proportion of all that is possible it follows that the probability of life, p, is very small and therefore life is information packed. So far, so good, I wouldn’t quibble with that. However, I’m currently working on a speculative theory that posits huge (expanding) parallel computational resources as a means of finding living structures: In a parallel scenario where there are multiple trials in parallel, say m parallel trials, then depending on algorithmic efficiency, it is conceivable that the probability of life could be as great as m x p. If m, as I eventually intend to propose, expands rapidly with time, then it follows that the probability of life also changes rapidly with time; ergo, under these conditions “information” as the de-facto ID community habitually understand the term is not conserved.* Moreover, if information is defined in terms of configurational complexity we find that this can be both created and destroyed and therefore it too is not conserved.

Let me repeat again that none of this is to say that Dembski’s work is wrong: In particular his "signal" concept of information. (although inappropriate) is conserved when computing resources are conserved. However, Dembski's ideas, when one starts to move into alternative radical models of computation, fail to capture some important facets of the situation. Let me just say in finishing that I can’t help but feel that the reason why the concept of “Conservation of Information” has struck a chord with the de-facto ID community is because it sits very well with the “God of the Gaps” concepts that are implicit in the North American ID community. (See my series on ID guru V J Torley).

* Assigning probabilities and “Dembski information” to the computational models themselves is difficult because it is difficult to define classes of favourable  cases in relation to total possible cases in the open ended vistas of platonic space.

Relevant Links:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

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

(Picture from )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other parts of this series:

Relevant Links:

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

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Melencolia I Part 4: Generating Complexity with Parallel Processing

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

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

Sunday, November 02, 2014

A Cry for Help

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

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

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

Some relevant links

* See: and then search for "Ethell"