Monday, May 22, 2017

What's Gone Wrong?

The Copernican cosmos as promoted by Thomas Digges in the 16th Century

During a BBC Horizon program on the Stars historian of science Stephen Pumphrey of Lancaster University said that the Copernican Solar System was the beginning of both a scientific and social revolution in as much as it heralded a profound shift in humanity's perception of its place in the universe. To support his point Pumphrey quoted  two lines of a poem by John Donne (1573-1631). This poem was called An Anatomy of the World. Below I quote the latter quarter of the poem and this contains the quotes used by the Pumphrey; these I have emphasized in bold

Be more than man, or thou'rt less than an ant.
Then, as mankind, so is the world's whole frame
Quite out of joint, almost created lame,
For, before God had made up all the rest,
Corruption ent'red, and deprav'd the best;
It seiz'd the angels, and then first of all
The world did in her cradle take a fall,
And turn'd her brains, and took a general maim,
Wronging each joint of th'universal frame.
The noblest part, man, felt it first; and then
Both beasts and plants, curs'd in the curse of man.
So did the world from the first hour decay,
That evening was beginning of the day,
And now the springs and summers which we see,
Like sons of women after fifty be.
And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world's spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation;
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.
This is the world's condition now, and now
She that should all parts to reunion bow,
She that had all magnetic force alone,
To draw, and fasten sund'red parts in one;
She whom wise nature had invented then
When she observ'd that every sort of men
Did in their voyage in this world's sea stray,
And needed a new compass for their way;
She that was best and first original
Of all fair copies, and the general
Steward to fate; she whose rich eyes and breast
Gilt the West Indies, and perfum'd the East;
Whose having breath'd in this world, did bestow
Spice on those Isles, and bade them still smell so,
And that rich India which doth gold inter,
Is but as single money, coin'd from her;
She to whom this world must it self refer,
As suburbs or the microcosm of her,
She, she is dead; she's dead: when thou know'st this, 

Pumphrey puts his quotes firmly in the context the Copernican revolution,  I have to confess that I find poetry difficulty to read and so I'll have to take Pumphrey's word for it that these lines are allusions to the Copernican revolution, for revolution it definitely was. Pumphrey also implies that the medieval thought form "As-above-so-below" meant that Copernicus had help clear the way for a social revolution and not just a scientific one. It was the start of a history of scientific endeavor that in stages removed humanity from its Ptolemaic place of being centre stage, the focus of the Cosmos, but instead humanity apparently - and I stress "apparently" - became a mere incidental side show in the great Cosmic perspective.  For many the new philosophy no longer made sense and so in this context the lines: "And new philosophy calls all in doubt,...Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,..." are very appropriate. 

My understanding of the final quarter of Donne's poem is that it starts by lamenting the fall of humanity and the consequent corruptions it lead to; if I'm reading Donne right then included in this wide ranging field of corruption is the discomfiture of the Copernican revolution; that is, he appears to see Copernicanism as an outcome of the fall!

One coping strategy, when faced with difficult truths, is, of course, to go into denial; We can see this in the anti-science of the Christian Fundamentalists who in some cases have gone so far as too revert to the cosy stage-set of a geocentric cosmos. (See also here, here, here and here)

But things are even worse than that; we've already seen on this blog how some Christian fundamentalists are going even further and are turning to flat earth theory. When this happens flat earthists necessarily explicitly employ conspiracy theorism in order to give account of how the scientific establishment could be so systematically deceived (or deceiving!). Now, what is interesting is that flat-earth conspiracy theorism is not the exclusive domain of Christian fundamentalists, but, it seems, it is part of much more general anti-establishment malaise. Evidence for this has recently come to light on my Facebook account where one of my friends leans toward new-age ideas. I have been vaguely aware that there are new-age conspiracy theorists out there and moreover I knew that my Facebook friend, if not and out and out conspiracy theorist, was drawn toward conspiracy theorism. This came apparent when he announced on Facebook that some flat earth postings had caught his interest. In his  subsequent FB posts which stimulated a lively debate, I was not sure whether he was trying to troll his friends or whether he was seriously countenancing flat earth theory: I came to the conclusion that he was rather intellectually blown-away by flat earth apologetics as he hadn't seen it before, but he kept up the demeanor of a troll in order to hedge his bets.

Below I publish  posts from my friend (whom I shall call "Frank Saucepan") and two other Facebook users who reacted to my friend's provocative posts and who also had new-age and conspiracy theorist sympathies:

Frank Saucepan: I have to say this 'flat earth' business has seriously got my attention!

Johnny Duckpond: There are no photos of a globe earth only composites no video footage from any of the supposed 25000 satellites I'm not a flat earther but you gotta question that shit! … I've decided to believe nothing until it's proved! I want to say it's round but then there's this 😏 not sure it's exactly the right one but check it out. Remember this deception has been going on for hundreds of years so well ingrained into popular culture. I'm just looking at all the evidence on everything & it's only becoming obvious that there are some major lies going on, I'm not sure of all the answers but I'd rather say I don't know than trust what I know to be bullshit!
Frank Saucepan: Yep! Flat earth, globe. Can't say I'm 100% on either. One thing I can say is I know we've been lied to on so many layers on many topics
Frank Saucepan: I believe the 'Truth' is ultimately defined by the level of acceptance that the individual is willing to adopt. For me, I'm on the journey of accepting that maybe, just perhaps my entire life has been lead by corrosive and corrupt minds of maniacs

In response to some video taken from the space station Johnny, who seems to be a full blown conspiracy theorist, responding as follows to critics of flat earth:

Johnny Duckpond: Like I said, prove that's real! My posts are tests you can do yourself. Don't know about you but I can only just afford a flight to Portugal this year. Get the point? It's total crap fabricated by idiots, NASA. If you sincerely believe that to be real Eta then I'm simply lost for words buddy!!!

Between them Frank and Johnny stimulated a large number of thread comments, by and large hostile to flat earthism, I'm glad to say. However, I couldn't quite dispel the feeling that Frank was pulling everyone's leg, but then again his leaning toward new-age antiestablishmentarianism and conspiracy theorism sets him up for a belief in flat-earthism.

I could't resist joining the fray by responding to one of Frank's threads which he apologetically headed as:

Frank Saucepan: All I did was say this flat earth business has caught my interest!
Timothy V Reeves It caught mine too, but it only works if you add huge dollops of conspiracy theorism. But conspiracy theorism has inner contradictions: Once you believe conspiracy theory A you can always find conspiracy theory B which explains conspiracy theory A as a product of a conspiracy of deception. In short conspiracy theorism completely phux-up any attempt to arrive at the truth. Any so called "truth" arrived at via conspiracy theory A is easily undermined by conspiracy theory B. Here's a video showing how easy it is to invent fanciful but plausible conspiracy theories : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEPazLTGceI.  [This was a link to the clever Star Wars tongue in cheek conspiracy - unfortunately the sound track has been copyrighted]
Timothy V Reeves See also: http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/hovind-defends-science-against-flat.html
Timothy V Reeves And this:http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/the-anti-establishmentarian-malaise-and.html
Johnny Duckpond: Kent Hovind the Creationist? Anti Evolutionist?
Timothy V Reeves: Among fundamentalists irony piles on irony
Johnny Duckpond: I'm neither but simply looking for the truth & it certainly isn't in the mainstream! I don't think it's in scripture either but somewhere in between the lies of mainstream & metaphor of scriptures ( all scriptures ) as a lot can be contrived over several thousand years of indoctrination & tradition! Only a few have eyes to see...
Timothy V Reeves: So what's your take on "flat earth"?
Johnny Duckpond: It's an interesting concept personally I can't prove it either way but I don't ' Believe ' it is flat. I also don't believe what NASA showed us is real in fact I know it isn't real n that is a fact. What earth looks like I don't know.
Timothy V Reeves: So do you think that NASA, ESA, the Chinese, the Russians, map makers and numerous satellite operators etc etc are all lying in unison? That sounds like quite a sweeping catch all theory in itself! If you can't believe anything why even believe that?

In response to that I got some come-back from an all-out Flat-Earther and "NASA is fake news" conspiracy theorist:

Johnson Kaputski: I don't see flat earth as a conspiracy theory. Was Plato a conspiracy theorist?? Anything that doesn't confirm to the religion of science is conspiracy.. talk about anything not given in text books or presented by mainstream media and you are a crackpot. So many lies told to so many fools... me included...
Timothy V Reeves Plato didn't have satellites, aircraft, sophisticated navigation, radar etc etc all technologies that to work take into account the curvature of the earth. Moreover do you think that NASA, ESA, the Chinese, the Russians, map makers and numerous satellite operators, aircraft software writers etc etc are all lying in unison? If so then that sounds like quite a sweeping catch-all-theory in itself! To imagine that such organisational feats are possible is a highly theoretical stance that surpasses the relatively simple abstractions entailed in spherical Earth theory.
Timothy V Reeves PS: The Greeks were the first to propose a spherical Earth theory. So Plato likely believed in a spherical Earth.


Shortly afterwards Kaputski deleted his entry and my replies went with it. I've been in half a mind to reinstate it on Frank's thread, but perhaps that would be too nasty.

In someways Frank succinctly summed up his take on antiestablishmentarianism when he posted:

Frank Saucepan:  I believe the 'Truth' is ultimately defined by the level of acceptance that the individual is willing to adopt. For me, I'm on the journey of accepting that maybe, just perhaps my entire life has been lead by corrosive and corrupt minds of maniacs

I think Frank is serious! He has absolutely no trust or respect for the system that has educated him. But there may be an inconsistency in Frank's thinking: It is unlikely that the corrupt minds of a set of maniacs could be coherent, coordinated and disciplined enough to wrought such a huge systematic deception!

***

So just what has gone wrong with our Western education? Why do we have Christian fundies and new-agers  who  are so disaffected as to totally despise the educational institutions of their societies? The difficulties that the human spirit has with anchoring its soul in a post Ptolemaic cosmos probably has something to do with it, as Stephen Pumphrey has implied: Copernicanism had an inherent tendency to eventually subvert any notion that the cosmos is some kind of cosy stage set.  Thomas Digges (1546-1595) was among the first to start subverting the old order, although he retained a spiritual perspective on the meaning of it all:

"This orb of stars fixed infinitely up extends itself in altitude spherically, and therefore immovable the palace of felicity garnished with perpetual shining glorious lights innumerable, far excelling over [the] sun both in quantity and quality the very court of celestial angels, devoid of grief and replenished with perfect endless joy, the habitacle for the elect."

But I think the antiestablishmentarianism I'm talking about here is fairly recent. Whilst spiritual hope existed alongside post Ptolemaic science it seems that faith and trust remained largely intact. But now, of course Western societies teeter in the brink of noetic nihilism, a nihilism which in some cases even denies the reality of human consciousness and promotes the notion that life is ultimately empty of meaning apart from some self-defined fickle subjective goals.  If that is what some educators are trying to teach us it is no surprise that some reject the whole caboodle.*

Footnote:
* Let's assume we operate the epistemic filter I described here and in time arrive at a full law and disorder (L&D) description of the Cosmos. Could we then claim that the job of science is complete and has furnished us with a full solution as to the nature of the Cosmos? Very doubtful: Firstly it is conceivable that more than one L&D scheme will join the dots of data, or that further "data compression" could take place in terms of a more succinct L&D scheme. But more philosophically profound is the question as to whether L&D constitutes a complete explanation at all; after all, in the final analysis it's mere flat description; useful, yes, but it only addresses part of the intuitive sense of mystery.  For some mentalities, however, this may feel enough; full explanation in terms of L&D dispels all their curiosity; mystery solved! But for other mentalities (myself included) who feel that only purposeful, teleological and personality based explanation stands a chance of  addressing mystery the job of explanation is only just starting. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sabotaging Christianity

Howls of laughter could be heard coming from the readers of the blog Panda's Thumb after they had read an article on the Christian fundamentalist web site Answers in Genesis. (Follow the links from the Panda's Thumb post here). The tongue-in-cheek title of Panda's blog post was telling:

Don't let me catch any of you heretics claiming that creation was 10,000 years ago!

The AiG article which was the subject of so much (understandable) derision was a stern authoritarian piece explaining why anyone believing the Earth to be as much as 10,000 years old (rather than AiG's clipped figure of 6000 years) was in danger of compromising their faith! The language used by the author of the article would no doubt please his boss Ken "Hell and Hamnation" Ham. Here's a sample taken from the article (my emphases):

Naturally, this [That is, the 10,000 year view] calls into question the integrity and accuracy of the Bible in Genesis 5, Genesis 11, 1 Chronicles 1, Luke 3, and others—which makes this a serious biblical authority issue. It would call into question the majority of accounts where fathers and sons are discussed as overlapping in the text too. If you can’t trust the Bible in the area of genealogies, then why trust it anywhere? This would be a dangerous step toward unbelief, especially if taught to unsuspecting children.

When you leave open the possibility for the earth to be 10,000 years old, you are suggesting that God erred in numerous places in the Bible. My humble [!!!!] suggestion is to be more precise based on the biblical data that is given. It is better to “err” on the side of Scripture than the side of sinful, fallible man’s ideas about the past.

Don’t let the world influence you to doubt the genealogies and chronological data in the Bible. 

Like so many of the fifth-rate articles appearing on AiG's web site it's just not worth spending too much time exposing this article's numerous fallacies. Suffice to point out here that the article in question indulges in the usual fundamentalist practice of stuffing its twisted logic into the mouths of other Christians in order to secure charges of compromise and even heresy. But here the target isn't Christian evolutionists or atheists but instead a group of Christians who one might think would be the natural allies of AiG. But no! Under Ken Ham AiG has become so authoritarian and controlling  that it is even determined to kick into line other fundamentalists. It attempts to do this by using its usual turn of spiritually intimidating language; even these Christian are being firmly placed by Ham's organisation into the category of compromising heretics. As I've implied before fundamentalist vs. fundamentalist slanging matches are  the natural outworking of fundamentalist logic.

In the past I've accused AiG of being highly sectarian and partisan, but I think it's fair to say that this latest article boarders on the cultic. But really this ought to be no surprise; AiG boss Ken Ham sets a fine example of how to holy bad mouth people who don't obey his teaching the Bible. Of course, to the readers of Panda's Thumb this behavior is all but indistinguishable from the many crack-pot Christian sects and cults which litter the Western world, especially in the US.

However, it's worth comparing AiG line on the age of the Earth with the view taken by fundamentalists Whitcomb and Morris in their book The Genesis Flood, a book which helped to trigger the young earthist revival of the 1960s. My 1974 copy of this book has an appendix on page 474 which is entitled Genesis 11 and the Date of the Flood. This appendix talks about the Genesis genealogical lists, lists used by fundamentalists for estimating the age of the Earth.  In that appendix we can read the following:

Another reason for questioning Ussher's chronology for Genesis 11 is the evidence that not all the post diluvian patriarchs are listed in our present Hebrew text.... p475

If the strict chronology interpretation of Genesis 11 is correct, all the postdiluvian patriarchs, including Noah, would still have been living when Abram was fifty years old; three of those who were born  before the earth was divided (Shem, Shelah and Eber) would have actually outlived  Abram; and Eber, the father of Peleg, not only would have outlived Abram, but would have lived for two years after Jacob arrived in Mesopotamia to work for Laban!.....On the face of it, such a situation would seem astonishing, if not almost incredible. p477

...it seems that the strict chronology view must be set aside in order to allow for the deaths of these patriarchs long before the time of Adam. p478


Whitcomb and Morris develop the thesis that there is enough latitude in the Genesis genealogies to stretch the limit on the age of the Earth beyond archbishop Usher's seventeenth century estimate of 6000 years. 

Summing up their Biblical researches Whitcomb and Morris conclude:

A careful study of the Biblical evidence leads us to conclude that the Flood may have occurred as much as three to five thousand years before Abraham. p489

So, if we take this three to five thousand year window and assume a thousand years between creation and flood, then given that Abram lived about 4000 years ago Whitcomb and Morris effectively return an estimate for the age of the Earth between 8000 and 10,000 years old. By Ken Ham's standards that sounds pretty heretical to me!

***

It is quite possible that the authoritarian, bordering on cultic character of Answers in Genesis is down to its head personality Ken Ham. He gives every impression of being a very unreasonable and uncompromising character. For example, when Biologos offered to meet Ken over a friendly meal he refused; after all, what have the sons of Belial to do with the sons of righteousness! The story behind this occasion can be found on Ham's blogs here:

https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/10/14/should-i-have-dinner-with-biologos/
http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/10/21/dinner-and-discussion-with-deborah/

The response to Biologos' friendly overtures was delivered through one of Ken's mouth pieces (my emphasis):

Dr. Haarsma’s intent to dialogue with us (and as also expressed by others at BioLogos) is for the purpose to try to show Christians that we can all agree to disagree. We will not, however, send out such a kumbaya message. (Though we would certainly welcome Dr. Haarsma to tour our Creation Museum, as we would [Gavin]; if they have not yet visited, they may not know how the entire museum points to Christ and is highly evangelistic.) Biblical authority matters deeply to us, and we will not pretend to be conciliatory towards those who already know our position and yet clearly want to reinterpret the plain reading of Genesis to match fallible human opinion held by the scientific majority—which is a dangerous hermeneutic.

It is possible (but by no means likely) that when Ken Ham leaves AiG a change of leadership could usher in a more reasonable regime. Although a new leader would likely still vigorously promote a 6000 year old Earth (s)he just might have more respect for other points of view, Christian and atheist. But while the cultic Ham, friend of the religious crank John MacKay, is in charge this won't happen. We should bear in mind that most if not all cults are initially seeded by strong uncompromising self-believing personalities (e.g. Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, Ron L Hubbard, David Berg, David Koresh, Noel Stanton etc) who surround themselves with 'Yes' men. A self perpetuating bureaucracy is then set up which is liable to perpetuate the uncompromising didactism of the founder.

AiG desperately needs regime change and Quantum Non-Linearity urges all reasonable young earthists to do what they can to marginalize Ken Ham and his friend John MacKay.

Monday, April 10, 2017

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

That the debate over de-facto intelligent design has, in some quarters, solidified into the false dichotomy of "Intelligence vs Natural forces" on both sides of the debate is evidenced by this post from IDist in chief Barry Arrington entitled Astonishing Things Materialist Say. I reproduce the content of the post below:

Sev muses:
The problem for creationists is that positing an intelligence that is able to create life out of inanimate materials is to claim that life can be created out of non-living materials. The question then becomes, if it’s possible at the hands of a creator then why not through natural causation?
Hmmm.  The space station exists.  Just why couldn’t it have been built by blind purposeless natural causes?  I suppose the analogy is not really fair, because the nano-technology displayed in even the most simple life makes the space station look like a tinker toy.

 As a Christian I have no a priori problems over  the introduction of intelligence into the ultimate origins debate. However, as I've made clear in this blog I believe the de facto IDists have really made a pig's ear of it. See here and here. I would like to suggest that the operation of intelligence and "natural causation" are, as in the human mind, well and truly of a piece.

Addendum 13/04/17
Further polarised  dualism can be seen in a post by IDist Gordon Mullings on:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/fft-tjg-ponders-the-design-inference-objecting-mindset/

E.G.:

For them, [evolutionists] NOTHING is too difficult for evolution or blind random natural processes!

Since they do not believe in God, anything & everything that exists, even if can’t be explained, is still thought to have come into existence by pure random natural processes – including their own thoughts (Now there’s a thought to chew on for a while! – heh:)

...once again we have the "random natural processes" vs "intelligence of the gaps" dichotomy.
In answer to the atheist world view Mullings uses ID's clunky explanatory filter, a clumsy epistemic algorithm that requires repeated and separate evocations rather than one filter that does the whole job. The clunkiness of ID’s epistemic filter is plain in the way one needs to re-apply it n-times in order for it to work. Let’s say for the sake of argument that it was satisfactorily shown that life evolved. Using de facto ID's epistemic filter one would then conclude that “natural forces did it”.  But the de facto IDist can’t really concede defeat at this point and therefore must apply the filter again but this time to the higher level physical regime that has generated life. The same thing happens again if it should prove that the physical regime has an outer physical regime which explains it and so on. This n times invocation of the filter suggested to me that some kind of recursive filter should be adopted rather than this repeated resubmission of the same filter.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Evolution: So, its mechanism(s) is not a fact!




The above video was posted on Sandwalk, the blog of evangelical atheist Larry Moran, biochemistry prof at Toronto university. In it James Downard defines evolution simply as this:

Natural Branching Common Descent

Compare that with the definition preferred by Larry Moran which in shortened form goes:

Change in allele frequency over time.

There are several points to make here

1. The reference to "Branching Common Descent" by Downard is an explicit reference to evolution as a history of change. The second definition, on the other, hand stresses evolution as a present tense continuous process: Defined in this differential way the implications for natural history in terms of a branching tree of life may or may not follow. I suppose this is probably Downard's niggle with the definition preferred by Moran; it's too open about natural history. 

2. Both definitions make no commitment to the mechanisms of evolution and for good reason I believe: According to Larry Moran the exact range mechanisms are debatable and theoretical.  This sounds like good news for those who might want to include intelligent activity in the mechanism!

3. What is unsaid here is important: Seldom do evangelical atheists make an admission about the burden of up front information needed to make conventional evolution work. See here, here and here.

4. There is nothing philosophically untoward in either definition of evolution, except that I suspect that for Downard the word "natural" comes with a huge amount of implicit philosophical baggage connected with the old dualist "God did it vs natural forces did it " contention. Going on what Larry Moran has said (and I can quite believe him), the exact mechanisms for evolution are the subject of on going study, so its no surprise that questions over the gaps in this area are likely to be subject to speculation and implicit world views.  For example in Downard's case it is almost certainly true that by "natural" he's ultimately thinking of law and disorder mechanisms. 

5. The "science" of BYL & LISLE: In someways Downard has hit the nail on the head as far as challenging the young earthists is concerned: They would likely be very uncomfortable with his explicit reference to a branching history. Young earthists hate science's treatment of natural history and are willing to patch-in bogus histories if needs be.  See for example fundamentalists BYL & LISLE. In fact John BYL is very explicit about the need for fundamentalists to have a vision of a God who is prepared to patch-in deceptive bogus cosmic histories, but I don't  think Jason LISLE would want to put it like that!  Between them BYL and LISLE reveal much about just what Christian fundamentalism does to one's grasp of science. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dualism, Theology and Cognition

The following summary of the areas I’ve been working in over the years was prompted by my reading of a pre-published paper by Christian Missionary and anthropologist Jim Harries. In very different ways both of us are struggling to come out from under the dualistic philosophical wreckage that pervades much of Western thought. In particular I’ve had years of trouble from Western paradigms which either:

a) Cut the knot of dualism by declaring conscious cognition an illusion in favour of a crude billiard ball materialism or,

b) Persist in maintaining a sharp dualism between mind/intelligence and “Natural forces”.

In Africa Jim Harries has found that once you get past the language barrier and speak the native lingo you soon realise that although like Westerners rural Africans desire wealth, they are not buying into Western dualism as a way of seeking it.  (See here and here).

This summary of my work is indicative of my two-front intellectual war against both knot-cutting-denial of the reality of conscious cognition and the rampart dualism current in much of Western Christian folk culture. In particular as a Christian myself Western Christian folk culture, with its implicit dualism, has been a challenge to my keeping the faith; in fact much more so than any challenge an atheist might raise; at least atheism does try to rationalise its categories rather than multiply entities! (although, of course, I don’t accept the way atheists carry out their rationalisation; as a result of which they teeter on the brink of nihilism)

***

Most people who have studied physics are impressed by its tendency to suppress the multiplication of entities: Viz: Phenomena which from the first person perspective seem very different in category are often merged by physics into a unifying theoretical narrative. e.g a) Heat and light collapse into the single category of electromagnetic radiation b) Matter and electromagnetic radiation collapse into the single category of quantum waves etc. It was this powerful category simplification that attracted me to physics in the first place and I’ve been in the business of category rationalisation ever since: It’s a great occupation because it considerably simplifies reality & simplification equates to understanding.
 
Below I list some examples of how I’ve carried on in the spirit of physics’ category rationalisation. In some ways this represents a kind of sketched out manifesto summarising the drift of my thoughts and the “policies” I’m working on. These “policies” have been filled out to a lesser or greater degree and I provide links to related articles giving more details.

Category rationalisation 1:  Human beings are goal seeking systems. 

I introduced the idea of “goal seeking systems” during a written discussion I was having with Jim Harries. As Jim Harries has made me aware Western Christians have theologically slanted their goal seeking toward the dual goals of social development and the afterlife whereas Africans slant it in favour of the single goal of prosperity teaching. Nevertheless, in spite of this big cultural difference there is the obvious underlying shared universal, namely goal seeking. Whether pertaining to the afterlife, hocus pocus magic, prosperity teaching or just plain old commercial goals, Westerners and Africans are both involved with goal seeking; it is a cross cultural universal. In both cases actions are being carried out now with an eye to the future; Viz: sacrifice and work now for a return on the “investment” later; and by “sacrifice” it could be literal! (unfortunately!).  Goal seeking may be either carried out with some consciously conceived aim or the goal seeking system is set up in such a way that when it stumbles across the “goal” it selects it. The teleology of goal seeking is, I propose, a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of intelligence. The concept of goal seeking is pivotal in what follows here.  In my last point below I introduce the radical but tentative idea that the cosmos is an intelligent computation in as much as it shows evidence of having a declarative structure  as opposed to an imperative structure.

While on the commonalities of Africans and Westerners let me also mention, as I hope the following will make clear, both Westerners and Africans engage in the epistemic activity of narrative creation in order to give sense to their otherwise very variegated experiences .

Category rationalisation 2: The elimination of language processing as a distinct cognitive category. 

If I’m right in my simulation models of association then language is just a (very) tweaked version of a general cognitive learning ability which is capable of bringing experiences (in this case experience of symbols) into a weighted association.


Category rationalisation 3: Elimination of the empirical vs metaphysical distinction. All things are at once both empirical and non-empirical.

In its most general form theorising is a case of weaving our diverse experiences together with a unifying sense-making narrative; this is true of both:
a) Low level formal science which deals largely in bits and pieces and
b) The high-level activity of all-embracing world view synthesis, an activity which tends to be informal, seat of the pants and often carried out unconsciously.

The difference between these two epistemic activities is not one of fundamental distinction but one of degree: Science tends to be a very disciplined, formal and highly conscious self-critical activity confined to elementary low level objects with regular behaviour like springs and precipitates. Worldview formation is far more informal, tries to boil down huge intricate nutrient beds of experience and incorporates them into complex “mythological” sense-making narratives. One other difference is that science endeavours as far as possible to engage in a prediction-test coupling in order to cross check its narratives – but this is not always possible even in science – String Theory is an example; we are told that it does a good job of making post-facto sense of things, but it has yet to pass the test of prediction. World view synthesis, because of the complexity and epistemic intractability of its subject matter, tends to be a post-facto sense making activity and doesn’t readily make predictions.

Nevertheless the general idea behind both formal science and world view synthesis is that in both cases theoretical narratives are used in an attempt to join the dots of experience. The upshot is that in one sense every theoretical concept is observable in as much as it attempts to make sense of experience.  And yet in another sense nothing is observable: This is because we do not directly observe the constructions that our minds place behind the data dots of experience; rather those experiences only effectively sample the theoretical objects they purport to manifest. This is true of simple objects like Hooke’s law right through to the most complex baroque conspiracy theory – both activities involve data dot joining, although it has to be said that in this extreme example these activities are of very different levels of rigor, consciousness, self-awareness and self-criticism.

So the pertinent questions revolve not round whether an object is metaphysical or empirical, but rather questions about the epistemic quality used to construct the narrative which links the data dots of experience.

For more, see the side bar of my blog which is entitled The Ideas-Experience Contention and see also here:

In many ways the foregoing is effectively eliminating the science vs. non-science distinction; all epistemic endeavours have both an empirical and metaphysical element. 

The difference between scientific knowledge and other knowledge consists not only in differences of the formality and rigor of the epistemic technique but also in the regularity, order and complexity and of the phenomenon studied.  Springs and precipitates are low level, very regular and therefore very amenable to formal scientific epistemology. In contrast world view synthesis grapples with complex and highly erratic experiences and consequently can’t be expected to return synthesizing narratives with anywhere near the authority of the elemental objects delivered by science. 


Category rationalisation 4: Elimination of the Natural forces vs God’s work dichotomy: See here and here.


Category rationalisation 5: Elimination of the subjective vs objective distinction.

So called “objective” matters are couched in the language of the third person, a language which affects to be absent of the observer perspective. Ultimately, of course, those third person accounts must trace back to a conscious observer-theoretician although third person language tends to suppress this by positing the existence of some perspective detached from any sentient observer; almost a kind of “God’s eye” view, ironically! But I would question whether this detached “thing-in-itself” perspective is a coherent idea: The only world we really have inside knowledge of is the world of sentience and therefore with any third person account, with its affectedly detached language, we actually implicitly assign to it first person content and significance. We have some inkling as to what it means and feels like to be another sentient being, but we don't know what it feels like to be, say, a block of lead. In fact apart from an observer's ability to perceive the block and theorize about it, the block seems to have no real intelligible existence; for even when we think about the existence of the block in third person terms, apparently independent of observers, we implicitly understand its existence in terms of how it impacts cognition. 

I would tend to go along with a view not dissimilar to Bishop Berkley’s version of “positivism”; namely, that a world without cognating observer-theoreticians makes little intelligible sense. As I've implied already, the cognating observer is actually implicit in the so-called “objective” third person accounts.

NOTE: Don’t get too hung up on the connotation of “theoretician”. I’m not necessarily thinking of a consciously deliberating intellectual theorist. The fact is our minds are so smooth and quiet in operation that we theorise and hypothesis about day-to-day-things without apparent thought; the hypothesising mind works informally in the background and then presents its end-results to our consciousness.


Category rationalisation 5: Elimination of the mind vs matter distinction.


When the third person perspective zooms in for a close look at the first person what is seen from the third person perspective is a complex collection of neural nodes signalling each other. Of course, we don’t expect the third person to actually see any consciousness present in the brain of the first person since by definition the third person is other than the first person. I propose that the so called material brain is how the third person experiences the presence of the first person he is observing. Thus, it follows that “matter” is another name for the third person’s conscious perspective on the first person. “Matter” is in effect the medium of communication between minds. “Matter” is how different minds experience one another whereas consciousness is how a mind experiences itself.

Ironically with today’s technology it is possible for the a first person perspective to get a third person perspective on his/her own neurons and thus be aware of himself not only as an object of conscious cognition but also a concomitant object of organised matter; this is likely to produce some interesting chaotic feedback effects.

The two accounts, third person and first person, go hand in glove. In fact I would maintain that both first and third person accounts are needed to make an intelligible cosmos; they are irreducible and inseparable; if you try to make one primary and the other secondary you end up stuck in a schizophrenic philosophical dualism that is liable to reduce the cosmos to either an ill-defined irrational medley of unconnected qualia or an insentient world of billiard-ball matter; both reductions are an error in my view and a full account of the cosmos requires both perspectives to be put together in a complimentary and rational way. “Matter” is the theoretical means by which conscious sentience understands itself.  I sketched out the latter idea when I wrote the prologue of my book.


Category rationalisation 6:  There is no Bible vs Nature distinction.

Because natural language (of the Bible) works by connotation, then for its meanings to be generated the Bible must utilise the mental resources of association that bind it seamlessly and organically to our world.  See here.


Category rationalisation 7:  There is no clear justification whereby one can posit a dichotomy which contrasts an invisible God over and against visible people. Both God and man are invisible as far as the third person perspective is concerned.

Clearly the essence of a person is neither the visible body nor the behavioural sample that the third person observes. In actual fact the essence of a person is a far more extensive object consisting of the immense behind-the-scenes frenetic sentient activity that the third person can only sample and from that sampling informally construct that complex invisible theoretical object we call “personhood”. The essential point is that like everything else the thing-in-itself we call “personhood” is basically invisible apart from a few observed behavioural traits which constitute the “data dots” available to the third person. In other words personhood is not directly observable – it is an object constructed by the third person in order to arrive at a sense making narrative about personality.  This isn’t, of course, done in a formal theoretical way but by innate cognitive packages that work to a large degree unconsciously.  The cognitive package which deals with the (re)construction of deity may well have considerable overlap with our social interaction packages. But in spite of this I think it would be wrong to say that deity isn’t subject to observable tests: In a sense people test their faith every day; experiences confirm or may disconfirm their faith:  But this daily “walk with deity” is carried out in a very informal, subconscious and anecdotal way and this probably renders formal scientific testing of the existence of deity via established epistemic protocols all but impossible.

Being the sort of guy who is probably on the autistic spectrum may peculiarly fit me to understand this lesson of the invisibility of personhood. I can remember a time at infant school when I used to walk around the school playground by myself believing that all the other children were unconscious; they all seemed so irreflexive. This almost solipsist response of mine was probably down to my social cognitive package not working very well; that is, in my case there seemed to be no automatic conclusion which kicked in and told me that the other kids were conscious – it is something I had to learn over a period of time. But the essential point is that in consequence of my mild disability it became plain to me that the behind-the-scenes conscious personality is an entirely invisible entity and has to be mentally constructed by the third person. Human personhood is as invisible as God’s personhood; the epistemics of personhood means that it is always something one has to interpolate between the data dots. 


Category rationalisation 8: This is the ultimate category elimination: Everything is cognition.

Is it right to say that mind is embodied in matter? Probably no, if we accept the idea that so-called “matter” is in fact the third person’s perspective/experience of the first person. The concept of “matter” necessarily follows if one is to have a set of communicating centres of cognition.

But I’m going to go a bit further here and remark upon my on-going speculations in this area. Viz: Rather than “mind being embodied” it is better to say, I propose, that “matter is incognated”. What do I mean by this? My current thinking is that the parallels between quantum mechanics and the way our minds work at the neural level are indicative of one thing; in both cases I see hints of a declarative goal seeking computation rather than the standard view of physics as entirely the domain of imperative processes.  This has prompted me to conjecture that the cosmos is in fact the inside workings of an immanent sentience in action. On this view the cosmos is itself a cognitive process in which we are all immersed. If true, then given cosmic dimensions and its potential computational power, it follows that as far as we are concerned the cosmos looks to be the mental workings of a deity of immense power. Just as the third person perspective of the neuroscientist only sees signalling neurons when he zooms in on the first person, so our low-level perspective of the cosmic cognitive process only sees quantum signalling. Yes, it's all conjectural I know, but its a notion worth pursuing in my opinion. 

To anticipate and suppress any possible pantheistic misinterpretations in these proposals let me point out that the relation between God and his Creation may not be dissimilar to the relationship an author has with his/her story: The author’s story is created by the author and runs in his/her mind as a huge idea and yet the author remains, nevertheless, very distinct from and eminent in relation to his creation.

***

I have attempted to give the foregoing thoughts a more defined shape in The Cosmic Perspective (see here, here and here),  The Melencolia IPproject and the The Thinknet Project. This blue skies investigation is on going

c. Tim Reeves,  March 2017

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Christian World Views. Part 2: The Christian Academic Establishment

The Christian Faraday Institute is very much part of the academic establishment. 
https://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/index.php


In part 1 of this series I looked at the anti-science reaction of fundamentalists to the Christian cultural marginalization which quickened pace during the 1960s (Slow marginalization had in fact been going on for a long while before that). This reaction has also had the effect of linking Christian fundamentalism (and also the de facto IDists) to the anti-establishmentarian right-wing via the right's conservative and anti-liberal appeal.  In this second part I want to look in detail at the views of a scientist and Christian evangelical who is part of the academic establishment, Denis Alexander. Let me admit that I'm completely biased and very much in favour of Alexander's views and those of the Faraday Institute. However, in spite of my moral support I'm not part of the institute; I'm too much the amateur who likes to stay and work in his shed.

I have recently finished reading Denis Alexander's book "Creation or Evolution; Do we have to chose?". Naturally, in view of my criticism of de-facto Intelligent Design's default dichotomy of intelligence vs natural processes and its all but inevitable outcome of God-of-the-gaps thinking I was very interested to read chapters 14, 15 and 16 which deal with intelligent design in relation to evolution.  In this post I showcase some of Alexander's thoughts, thoughts which reflect my own conclusions about de facto ID being a heavily god designer intelligence-of-the-gaps oriented paradigm, On page 403 Alexander sets the scene with a quote from William Dembski, one of the founders of contemporary ID: 

If for every instance of biological complexity some mechanism could readily be produced that accounts for it, intelligent design would drop out of the discussion

I don't think you can get more designer-of-the-gaps than that! Dembski's statement is quite emphatic about the exclusiveness of "intelligence" and "some mechanism"; Viz: "Some mechanism" implies no intelligence is needed and therefore presumably, no God is needed either! How very dangerous for theology! Dembski embodied this kind of thinking in his explanatory filter. Some ID people have tried to get round this by reapplying the explanatory filter at the "fine tuning level" which goes to show how very clunky this explanatory filter is. Presumably by "some mechanism" which "accounts for it" Dembski is thinking in terms of law and disorder mechanisms (That is, explanations which use some combination of physical law and statistics) Dembski's statement contains the implicit assumption that 'intelligence' and  'some mechanism' are very distinct categories; in fact, as I've said, mutually excluding categories. 

Below I quote Denis Alexander on the subject of Intelligent Design. I've tried to minimize my own comments and let him have the stage as I've already said so much (probably too much) about ID's dualism.....

Page 403: Many of ID's proponents .... believe that only through the gaps in our present knowledge do we have incontrovertible evidence that God is at work  in design.

Given that ID probably envisages God's designing involvement as a kind miraculous event, Alexander quotes Augustine's views on the subject of miracles, a view which subverts the God vs natural forces dichotomy:  

Page 404: When such a thing (a miracle) happens. it appears to us as an event contrary to nature. But with God it is not so; for him 'nature' is what he does.

Alexander comments on IDist Stephen Meyer's book Signature in the Cell:

Page 407: The problem with "Signature in the Cell" is that the author makes his 'design inference' based on the failure of other current scientific explanations to provide adequate explanations for the origins of such complex  systems........; in other words, the inference is based on our present scientific ignorance - back to the designer of the gaps again.

Alexander realizes that ID provides fertile ground for conspiracy theorism:

Page 410: ID proponents are quick to suggest that there is a conspiracy among the editors of journals to prevent the publication of their articles.

...that actually points to the deep political matters which I have touched on in this blog and explains at least in part why North American IDists readily find themselves aligned with anti-establishmentarianism, the right wing, libertarianism, fundamentalism, Donald Trump and the anti-eco-lobby.

Alexander criticizes ID's half baked concept of "irreducibly complexity", but he does say this:

Page 412: In fact, I could very easily argue that all biological systems without exception are, in one sense, 'irreducibly complex'.

Too true! What appears to be 'irreducibly complex' is, according Alexander, exactly the opposite. Because there is such a widespread appearance of 'irreducible complexity' in the dependence of biological function on multiple components it renders the concept questionable. What Alexander is implicitly saying here is that because conventional evolution, by definition, moves in survivable incremental steps, every organic form must be placed on a path of continuous incremental change, Such paths trace a history of stable self-perpetuating structures through configuration space. This statement by Alexander is actually an implicit and back handed acknowledgement of the spongeam. Although I have reservations as to its existence, the spongeam is a necessary requirement of conventional evolution.

Page 417: To now assign the word 'design' to some biological entity is an attempt to introduce the language of Aristotelian  teleology back into science, and many centuries of endeavour suggest that the attempt will be sterile. 

This is really a comment for me; although my rather speculative ideas entail information creation by so-called "natural" means, this information creation must be supplemented by teleological selection; As I have said many times: "Nature", to me, looks suspiciously like a declarative computation. However, Alexander is probably right; such teleological explanations are more likely to remain as post-facto sense making narratives, not readily testable in the scientific prediction-test sense. So my ideas may not fly well. But then unlike the IDists and fundamentalists, I'm not touting myself as God's gift to science - I'm just an eccentric amateur who enjoys knocking up a bi-plane or two in his shed.

Alexander remarks that although the Bible does have the near equivalent of the word "design", nevertheless...

Page 419: ...the idea [of design] was around at the time, which makes it even more interesting that the idea  was never applied  as a metaphor for God's creative work. 

...an intriguing theological point. When I picked up Alexander's book I thought it would be just a biology refresher for Christians, but Alexander turns out to be a very good theologian as well!

Alexander spots the inner contradiction of the intelligence-of-the-gap paradigm which majors on the natural forces vs intelligent creation dichotomy: Philip Johnson, one of the founding fathers of ID, thinks that "apparently naturalistic processes" are a sign of the probable absence of God. But in response to this Alexander suggests that for Christians the very category of "natural forces" is a non-starter.

Page 421: So God cannot possible create by 'apparently naturalistic processes'  for the simple reason that if there is a God who creates, then there are no 'naturalistic processes' because naturalism is false. (My emphasis)

When Authors like Johnson talk of the "naturalistic blind watchmaker" it seems that he is utterly clueless as to the true nature randomness.

Alexander talks disparagingly of ID's 'two tier universe':

Page 423: ID literature gives the impression that there is something inherently naturalistic about certain aspects of the created order and not about other aspects, and such thinking appears to stem from a very inadequate doctrine of creation ... in biblical theology, the natural order is seen as a seamless web of God's creative activity.....Philosophical naturalism, like any philosophy resides inside the heads of some people but not others. (My emphasis)

I would claim that what IDist identify as naturalistic and materialistic are in fact law and disorder processes - that is, processes which can be unpacked in terms of algorithmics and statistics. But then the operation of the brain from a third person perspective looks to be composed of law and disorder components and yet we know that somehow intelligence and consciousness is immanent to the brain. Ergo, law and disorder are inextricably bound up with the operation of intelligence, but de facto ID, with its dualism, has violated this unity; it has disembodied intelligence from its deep connection with the material world.

Alexander appears to hold the view that the requisite information for evolution is already present in the universe. Such a view is, in fact, an outcome if one regards the processes of nature as imperative rather than declarative and therefore with no explicit declarative teleology - the teleology in imperative processes is implicit rather than explicit as it is in declarative processes. The quotes below are evidence that for Alexander the intelligence has already been built into evolution via its information burden. These quotes are taken from two sections in chapter 15 entitled Is Evolution Designed? and Intelligent Evolution. The latter title has echoes of my own appellation "Intelligent Creation", meaning that we are observing in the material world the very process of intelligence in action, much as a neuro-scientist sees the workings of intelligence in brain processes; but because the neuro-scientist is getting such a key-hole view it is often difficult to see how it all adds up to an integrated intelligence.

Page 425: I would like to suggest that recent biological discoveries clearly point to the theistic account of the overall story of evolution on planet earth, and I will give just a few examples of what I mean...

Page 425: It [evolution] is tightly organised and highly constrained.....

Page 426: But once we stand back and look at evolutionary history as a whole, then the idea of progress is inescapable... 

Page 426: ...So it is perverse to deny some form of directionality to the arrow of biological time..

Page 427: ...the mechanisms of life look highly constrained, far more than we ever realised even a decade or so ago....

Page 427: A research group from Harvard published a paper on this topic entitled 'Darwinian evolution can follow only very few mutational paths to fitter proteins' It is intriguing to read the sentence in the abstract: 'We conclude that the protein tape of life may be largely reproducible and even predictable'.

Page 428: ...there are only a few ways to arrive at a particular protein function because only some mutations will get you there and not others. It is as if an evolutionary path is already laid out in front of the gene encoding the enzyme, and the genetic dice keeps being thrown until the enzyme structure is generated  that optimizes fitness for its particular function...

Page 428: As the authors conclude in their paper published in Nature: 'That only a few paths are favoured also implies that evolution might be more reproducible than is commonly perceived, even predictable. 

Erratum page: The phenomenon of 'convergence' in evolution also highlights the way in which the process as a whole displays evidence of order and constraint......Simon Conway Morris..... (See here and here)

Page 430: ...convergence is ubiquitous... 

Page 432: So we are living in an ordered universe, not at all a random universe, but an anthropically fruitful one in which there is a biological narrative culminating in us as its observers. 

Page 432: Evolutionary history on this planet displays overall increased complexity, genomic constraint and convergence. This seems to be more consistent with a providentialist account...... and render less plausible the claims made by Gould, Dennett and others that evolutionary history is a totally random walk...

Page 434: To my mind the most recent findings from evolutionary biology are more consistent with the plan like theistic account that the Bible reveals to us.

I have written several blogs on the necessity of an imperative version of evolution to be "guided" in the sense of it being highly constrained; that is, the process must start with a large burden of information.  See here  and here and also here.

I can testify to the fact that de facto IDists make much of what they call the "blind, materialistic and random natural forces of nature" which they tell us are unable to generate complex organised structures. I've seen that kind of expression from de facto IDists umpteen times. I have also remarked how ironic it is that they should use such an expression of God's creation when this is just how atheism tends to view evolutionary processes i.e. "blind and natural".  Alexander has also picked this up and this is what he says in chapter 16:

Page 436: ...yet one still reads, in the ID literature, of the impossibility that life could emerge out of the chemicals by sinister-sounding 'blind materialistic, natural forces' But wait a minute; these are God's chemicals, God's materials. that are being talked about here. A mystery bigger than the origin of life is why Christians should ascribe pagan sounding characteristics to God's world.

Finally let our professional scientist sum up:

Page 460: In none of this account have we been talking about 'blind, natural forces' doing things because for the Christian such language is inappropriate.  We are living in God's world. These are God's chemicals and God's molecules that we are talking about...... As I've already highlighted, why Christians would want to ascribe pagan notions like 'blind natural forces' to God's holy materials. beats me.... (My emphasis)

Page 461: Christians should let the scientists get on with their work, without thinking they are engaged in some sinister conspiracy to promote materialism and naturalism. (My emphasis)

Page 462: The public promotion  of creationism and ID continues to create intellectual barriers for scientists, significantly diminishing  the likelihood of their taking the gospel seriously.

Page 462: My own experience within the scientific community is that the word 'Christian' is now often equated with the ideas of creationism or ID, making it that much harder to share the good news about Christ.

So, if Alexander is right then we can all give a big thank you to the IDiots, John Byle, David LoweJason Lisle,  John McKayKen Ham, Ray Comfort, Kent Hovind, Gerardus Bouwthe flat earthers, Danny Faulkner and Alex Jones etc, all of whom actually don't have much to agree about between themselves anyway. What better tribute could be given to these intrepid thinkers than the dulcet tones of the one and only William Tapley, the third eagle of the apocalypse and said by some to give batshit crazy a bad name.




Note: 
For further  relevant links: See Part 1.

For more on Denis Alexander see:
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/denis-alexander-is-coming-to-norwich.html
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/denis-alexander-at-norwich-cathedral.html
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/denis-alexander-i-would-suggest.html