Monday, December 28, 2015

Melencolia I Project Articles

I'm using this post to collect together the articles and papers I have produced for my Melencolia I series. I will update this post as I produce written items.  I will be using a link to this post to give access to the whole series.

The errors of the de facto Intelligent Design movement
The de facto ID community represented by the likes of websites such as Uncommon Descent and The Discovery Institute talk obliquely of a mysterious Intelligent Agent being the likely default means of explanation when our understanding of "natural forces" is (currently) unable to account for a phenomenon. Of course, everyone knows that these people are really talking about God and the IDists' studied detachment from theology comes over as an affectation, disingenuous even. Talking vaguely about "Intelligent causes", however, does give a scientific gloss to their work; after all, it is true that archaeology is in the business of separating out the "natural" from the "artificial". Moreover, if ever an obviously empirical situation should arise like that depicted in 2001 Space Odyssey, the question of intelligence and the nature of that intelligence would loom large in scientific circles. So arguably "Intelligent Design" is a little like archaeology and SETI and  therefore does have a prima facia claim to being  science. 

But of course we know that the de facto IDists are really thinking theologically and that is where lie their mistakes: They have in fact committed scientific, tactical and theological errors.  Their error is scientific because their epistemic filter is misconceived; this misconception  leads into a natural forces vs God dichotomy which in turn helps foster scientific blunders such as the claim that evolution is inconsistent with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Their error is tactical because their pretense at doing science uncontaminated by theology is just that; a pretense and everyone, especially atheists, can see it. Their error is theological because God is both immanent and eminent and therefore He is immanent in natural forces. It follows then that we can seek God in those so-called natural forces and not just as an ancillary outside intelligent agent; or perhaps I should say that those "natural forces" are in God. For God is the eminent and immanent context of all that his authorship permits reification in the story He tells. The immanence of God means that he is of an entirely different genus to any ancillary intelligence such as man or aliens; if we are theologically turned on we don't expect ancillary intelligence to be a good model for God. 

In order to maintain a scientific gloss we find that IDists will often try to avoid mention of God in their works. Not only has this tactic miserably failed but I believe it is impossible for the Christian to carry on like this. If we are dealing with immanent intelligence and not just ancillary intelligence this subject cannot be approached without mention of the immanent Sovereign Manager and Creator. That's not a mistake I intend to make myself. My project is explicit about seeking the Sovereign Manager and Creator of our cosmos. I therefore make explicit mention of Him. Also, unlike the IDists I am not making strong claims of doing exclusively science (although some parts will be science) since my epistemology is more broad brush than spring extending and test tube precipitating scienceThis will mean that any atheist who dislikes the idea of a Sovereign God being at the heart of a study will not find grounds for accusing me of trying to pull the wool over his/her eyes. There is one thing worse than a deceiver and that is an incompetent deceiver who is unaware of his attempt at deceiving both himself and others.

So all in all I've become increasingly displeased with the de facto ID movement and their transparent facade of studied scientific detachment. But I'm in good company I don't think Sir John Polkinghorne is pleased with them either

See also:

Main Papers and Articles.
Supporting and Relevant Articles
Configuration space Series
William Dembski’s views:
Felsenstein vs. Dembski
Felsenstein and English vs. Dembski, Ewart and Marks

Thinknet Project Articles.

My Thinknet Project uses ideas taken from Edward De Bono's book, The Mechanism of Mind in an attempt to elucidate selected aspects of the processes of intelligence. Clearly a complete account of intelligence is well beyond our current science and consequently my terms of reference are satisfied if at least some inroads can be made into the subject. 

I'm using this post to collect together the articles and paper's I have generated for my "Thinknet" series. I will update this post as and when I produce written items. I will be using this post as a link to give access to the whole series.

ThinkNet papers

Supporting articles

On intelligence and incomputability
General article on procedural vs. declarative computation

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Nature of Intelligence

The question of the nature of Intelligence/sentience presents intellectual traps that are difficult to avoid; not least the problem of a nested regress!

This post on Uncommon Descent is a fine example of how, on the  Intelligent Design question, I'm probing an entirely different line of inquiry to the de facto IDists. The post is by Denyse O'leary who quotes one of the ID community's gurus, Robert Marks.

Firstly, setting the scene:

Anything algorithmic can be done by a computer. Give me a recipe for doing something, and I can whip it up in the kitchen. There are things which are not algorithmic the most celebrated of which is Turing’s halting problem: there exists no algorithm able tell whether or not a computer program runs forever or halts. (The halting algorithm must work for any and all computer programs.)

But a computer program will halt or won’t halt. But since there is no algorithm to figure this out, the halting problem is undecidable. We don’t know before running the program whether or not it will halt. It could run trillions of years and then halt long after we’re dead. If it doesn’t halt, we may never know (unless we know the so-called busy beaver numbers which is the same as knowing Chaitin’s number which is unknowable. But I digress.)

Clearly there are some elementary algorithms where we can prove they halt. However, the tenor of the halting theorem is that there is no general algorithmic procedure which takes any algorithm as a parameter and is then able to determine whether it stops. That is, we may be able to determine halting conditions in special cases, but not in the general case.  The halting theorem can be proved by showing  that when an attempt is made to submit a hypothetical general halting detection algorithm to itself as a parameter this results in a contradiction. Hence, some questions we submit to algorithms are incomputable. Incomputablilty has the potential to arise whenever an algorithm attempts to flag conditions about itself: Like the well known contradictions arising from Russell's paradox it is not possible for an algorithm in general to talk about itself without raising contradictions. 

But I digress. I'm actually more interested in the following quotes from Marks, quotes which bring to light something I've long suspected would be a position favoured by a de facto IDist like Marks. Basically it's another Intelligence-of-the-Gaps sentiment:

Lastly, Roger Penrose in Shadows of the Mind and The Emperor’s New Mind makes the case the human mind, through creativity and the creation of information, does nonalgorithmic things (and is therefore not merely a computer).

I am starting to believe creation of information requires a nonalgorithmic process, hence intelligent design.

This is not unexpected: As I have made clear many times on this blog, IDists like Marks are dualists who see a sharp distinction between "intelligent agency" and "natural forces". This dualism is embodied in the IDist's  explanatory filter; This filter ensures that when "natural processes" fail as an explanatory device a default is forced to "intelligent agent".  So it is no surprise to find Marks casting around for reasons why intelligence should be classed as an entirely different genus to "natural processes" and fundamentally different.  Marks thinks information cannot be created by "natural processes". This is an error in itself which I will be publishing on shortly. However, if you believe "natural forces" can't create information it is a very easy next step to posit that some kind of mystical unknowable process must be creating information and of course that process can only be the apparent inscrutability of intelligence! Wouldn't it be right then if intelligence fits in the category of the non-algorithmic?

I had anticipated long ago that IDists like Marks would settle on Penrose's proposal that intelligence is non-algorithmic. My own opinion is that this proposal is unlikely and I give my reasons for this here and here. All evidence suggests to me that the human mind is finite and therefore the ontology of human intelligence has the same reflexive limitations that give rise to the halting theorem and incomputability in general: Viz: human intelligence is based in a system that can not make certain general statements about itself without those statements invalidating the very conditions these statements are attempting to comment on; there are certain things we cannot know about ourselves. Ergo, human intelligence doesn't step outside the limitations of incomputability.

From my perspective I feel that the de facto IDists are more than welcome to explore this dualist line of inquiry whereby intelligence is categorized as a different genus of process capable of exploring the realm of incomputability; I'm not trying to stop them and I'm happy that they follow this very different line of inquiry; although if they are committed to this view of intelligence they will find progress difficult.

But the polarized dualist backdrop against which de facto ID plays out doesn't favour the intellectual nuancing needed to explain why some people follow one route and some another. Much more in line with de facto IDism's embattled community is the hunting out of fifth columnists and traitors and then hanging them out to dry; as we will see in my next post!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

2001 Space IDyssey

The de facto IDists I've come across believe the configurations of life have been patched in as might an artifact against a  backdrop "natural landscape" and therefore life is regarded as entirely anomalous against the background physics of the Cosmos. 

The following post has recently appeared on Panda's Thumb. It's a comment by Nick Matzke on  the debate between Panda's Thumb posters Joe Felsenstein and Tom English (FE) and IDists William Dembski, Winston Ewart and Robert Marks (DEM).


Game over for antievolutionary No Free Lunch argument
By Nick Matzke on December 4, 2015 10:58 PM | 121 Comments
This has been obvious from the start, but as far as I know it has taken 10 years for the ID guys to finally admit it. Winston Ewert writes at the Discovery Institute blog:
However, Felsenstein and English note that a more realistic model of evolution wouldn’t have a random fitness landscape. Felsenstein, in particular, argues that “the ordinary laws of physics, with their weakness of long-range interactions, lead to fitness surfaces much smoother than white-noise fitness surfaces.” I agree that weak long-range interactions should produce a fitness landscape somewhat smoother than random chance and this fitness landscape would thus be a source of some active information.
GAME OVER, MAN. GAME OVER! The whole point of Dembski et al. invoking “No Free Lunch” theorems was to argue that, if evolutionary searches worked, it meant the fitness function must be designed, because (logical jump herein) the No Free Lunch theorems showed that evolutionary searches worked no better than chance, when averaged over all possible fitness landscapes.
Emergency backup arguments to avoid admitting complete bankruptcy below the fold, just so I’m not accused of leaving out the context

We disagree in that I do not think that is going to be a sufficient source of active information to account for biology. I do not have a proof of this. But neither does Felsenstein have a demonstration that it will produce sufficient active information. What I do have is the observation of existing models of evolution. The smoothness present in those models does not derive from some notion of weak long-range physics, but rather from telelogy as explored in my various papers on them.
As always, the ID objections to evolution, when stripped of pseudo-technical camouflage, boil down to “I just don’t buy it because (gut feeling).”
See also: recent PT posts and Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog.

FE did a good job of demonstrating the plausibility (but admittedly not "proof" as Ewart points out) of the idea that by means of fitness surfaces physics provides the information needed for evolution to occur. Although like Ewart I have reservations about fitness surfaces (doubts which I express here) I don't have an in-principle objection to the notion that physics (even if has to be modified) is implicated as the agency of biological information. This is where I differ from the view of the average IDist. They are likely to have an in-principle objection to any idea that physics could be the providential means by which evolution has been directed (And for standard evolution to work it must be channeled). But for the IDists I have featured in this blog the default view appears to be that the information for life has been patched-in ad hoc by God (and let's make no bones about just what de facto ID really means by "intelligence"). This divine ad hoc activity is not dissimilar to the way the intelligence behind the 2001 Space Odyssey monolith patched-in an artifact on the otherwise "natural" lunar landscape. The 2001 Space Odyssey ID paradigm treats biological structures as bolt on extras in the cosmic scene, extras that can only be explained by the activity of an auxiliary intelligence, much like alien artifacts. This view is at least in part driven by the explanatory filter epistemic. This epistemic leads to a very suspect theology where God works on the natural order rather than in the natural order.

There's not enough information in the above quotes to know whether Ewart's take on teleology leads him away from this god-of-the-gaps ad hocery or not. However, I suspect  that behind his rejection of FE's work lies de facto ID's standard false dichotomy of God vs. Natural forces. God works the way he works: If God works through the physics of fitness surfaces (leaving aside my doubts) then that's the way he works and we have to get used to it; I see no point in apposing biologists simply for the sake of it.

Relevant links:

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Nice Guys Finish Last

I might agree with that!

During the nine years I have maintained this blog I have come across several nice guys; William Dembski and Tim Ventura are a couple of names I can mention straight away. But both these gentleman have ended up being taken for a ride, perhaps in part because they are prepared to give even rogues some leeway: See here and here.

Another nice guy is Paul Davies, professor of physics and science broadcaster. The good professor, although no doubt a very busy and clever man, took the time to reply to an email of mine that I wrote in January 2006 after reading his fascinating book "The Goldilocks Enigma". That brief correspondence can be seen here. Recently. however, the Prof has run into a bit of aggravation because he has been caught discipline trespassing;  he has been dabbling in biology!

In his no doubt genuine desire to lend a helping hand and move things along, Davies seems to have been completely and merrily unaware that his efforts weren't really welcome, mostly because he looks to have made a dogs-dinner of it! Davies and myself share an interest in the apparent physical anomaly of life, the question of its origins and also in the enigma of the very particular physical regime that pervades our cosmos; that's why I have avidly read several of his books. However, unlike myself Davies dares to get rather immersed in biological details, details that on his own admission he may not know a great deal about. Wiki quotes him as saying:

I had the advantage of being unencumbered by knowledge. I dropped chemistry at the age of 16, and all I knew about arsenic came from Agatha Christie novels. 

So are biologists so incompetent that they need someone who is completely uninitiated into their trade secrets to causally and easily breeze in and show them how it's done? Perhaps they do, but you can guarantee they won't like it anymore than the inhabitants of a spaghetti western town like the arrival of Clint Eastward! Moreover, many biologists are none too keen on what they perceive as physics hubris at the best of times!

Reading his Wiki page we find that typical of Davies very helpful persona he unwisely jumped in to assist Felisa Wolfe-Simon with her radical and risky "Arsenic can replace phosphorus" theory, a theory which according to some should be retracted. That theory seems to be in the Martin Fleischmann, cold fusion league; Farces like this make me wonder what right minded person would want to engage in risky blue skies intellectual endeavors and have a reputation to lose as well as the salary that pays the mortgage!

But for Paul Davies, no doubt a man of independent means, none of this has dampened his enthusiasm for biological dabbling. In his latest move he has taken up theorizing about cancer along with his physics colleague, Charlie Lineweaver. Davies and Lineweaver are developing a theory that cancer is a kind of recapitulation phenomenon where cells revert to an ancient ancestral phenotype; that is, they return to simple cell division and multiplication, the very basic activity of  the first life.

The cancer problem has similarities with the problem humanity has had in the search for a sustainable energy source; scientists have worked on both problems all my life and although there have been worthy advances in both areas there have been no panacea catch-all type breakthroughs. The log-jam here has provided a space for the paranoiac cranky conspiracy theorists who feel that someone somewhere must covering up what they know. The twists and turns of devious and fanciful conspiracy theorist logic has no compunction about dreaming up what the imagined Machiavellian conspirators might have to gain from such a cover up; the usual suspects involve control freakery and money making; there may even be an alien or two thrown in for good measure.

So in all in all Paul Davies and his colleague, clever and original thinkers though they may be, are unlikely to find their latest interest a walk-in-the-park between their "real science" (!) of pondering abstruse physics equations! In fact for Davies the walk-in-the-park has already turned into what is more like a walk in Jurassic Park! For none other than PZ Myers has been viciously savaging Davies ideas on the subject of cancer! The general thrust of Myers argument is that cancer is simply a case of corrupt DNA and that can take many forms; cancer is far too pathological, random and bizarre to be identified as a living atavism.

But the even bigger sin of Davies in the eyes of someone like Myers is that he's soft on the religion. He was awarded the Templeton prize in 1995 and overall he tends to be sympathetic toward a religious outlook (See Davies Wiki page and the quote in my picture above). In this connection here's how Paul responded to a question that I slipped in at the end of my correspondence:

My Question: The moral of the story may be that artifacts in one’s perspective have a bearing. As we know, Newtonian dynamics can be developed using the “teleological” looking extremal principles. But, of course, these are mathematically equivalent to the conventional view that sees one event leading to another in sequence without recourse to end results. It is almost as if the choice of interpretation on the meaning of things is ours to make! Thus, perhaps the way we personally interpret the cosmos constitutes a kind of test that sorts out the sheep from the goats! Which are you? Some theists (but not me, I must add!) probably think you are a goat, but then some atheists probably have the same opinion! Can’t win can you?

Paul Davies: I hate being pigeonholed, so I won't respond to the sheep/goats question.

Well, I think they've well and truly pigeonholed Paul whether he likes it or not! Both Christian fundamentalists and evangelical atheists are likely to have it in for him regardless! You just can't win can you? Specially if you are Mr. Nice-Guy!