Wednesday, August 31, 2005

An answer to Ahab

To answer Ahab on the Lehigh statement affirming Darwinian theory and repudiating intelligent design, this is a clear case of avoiding the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. No one is challenging his credentials as a biologist, no one is denying that he has done genuine scientific work, they deny only that ID is science. Similarly, one could deny that Francis Crick's panspermia thesis is scientific while at the same time affirming that his DNA discoveries were prefectly scientific (which no one in their right ind would deny, of course).

It's one thing to say that ID isn't really science, (you'll notice that they don't even say that it could never be science, only that it is not now science), and it is another to say that no true scientists endorse it. It's that latter claim that I think can't be made without committing the NTS fallacy.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A post from ID the Future

Here is a post from ID the Future, about Daniel Dennett's op-ed piece. I would like to hear critical responses from opponents of ID. Can Dennett be defended?

More on Myers and ID

I deliberately included Myers' comments about translation and then neglected to comment upon it. You are right, he did say that, so he was not simply planning on leaving us to trust them. I do have some expertise in another field (Ph.D in Philosophy from University of Illinois at Urbana), and sometimes I think I can see some things based on my own background that might be missed by people inside a discipline. The disciplines don't categorize as neatly as one would like, and while a distinction between science and metaphysics can be drawn in principle; very often there is an overlap.

An example is the conflation of ID with creationism. Immanuel Kant pointed out in the 18th Century that even a successful design argument would prove the existence of an artificer but not a creator. One can believe that the artificer is the creator, but the argument itself establishes only the artificer. So a defender of ID would have to admit that their scientific arguments do not establish the Judeo-Christian God, even if they work. And of course ID advocates seem to have dropped any attempt to defend a literal reading of Genesis. The question "Can we detect design in nature" is a different question from the question "Is Genesis 1 literally true," or even "Is there a God?" And that's a distinct question from the question "Has there been significant microevolution?" It may be that the motives of ID advocates are similar to those of creationists, but the questions they pose are different, and these questions desperately need to be distinguished.

Arguments from design are traditionally in the domain of philosophy; Swinburne defended design arguments but distinguished between scientific and personal explanations. Has evolutionary biology discovered, or merely presupposed, a lack of design in nature? It seems to me that is not strictly a scientific question, though it is addressed by science. I don't think I'm completely at the mercy of the experts on at least some of the relevant issues.

I think there are a number of things that evolutionists are doing that harms their position with the general public. As a Christian, for example, I am embarrassed by Pat Robertson's incredibly stupid and immoral comments about assassination. I try hard to show by example that Christians can be rational and intelligent, and then this idiot pops off. Some of the anti-ID invective that I read on pro-evolution websites really hurts their cause in the long run, and I think sensible evolutionists should react to it in much the same way I react to Robertson. Unless the e-mail evidence put forward by the Office of Special Counsel was made up, then the issue at the Smithsonian is a problem that evolutionists need to be concerned about. Evolutionists should learn to distinguish between quality control and a search-and-destroy mission. Even if Dawkins contadicted himself in a previous passage, he did say what he did about people who don't believe in evolution, and this is results in bad public relations. Because to some extent we have to trust experts in biology, there are things that the scientific community can do to either enhance or undermine that trust.

I haven't forgotten some of the public school lobbying by creationists and ID advocates that I think has been misguided. That doesn't alter the fact that, at least as I see it, the ID people have asked good questions. I'm not going to argue that they have found the right answers.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

P Z Myers on why evolution is accepted

Jim Lippard has called my attention to this passage from P. Z. Myers's weblog:

Those kinds of papers are the real reason no serious scientist in
biology accepts creationism. They are dense with data, full of
observations that fully support evolution, and often push past it to
clue us in to the promising paths that evolutionary theory is leading
us down. Any one of those papers outweighs all the noise from the
Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research and
Answers in Genesis…and those papers just keep pouring out of the
world's research institutions, week after week.

Unfortunately, those papers all assume a scary amount of background
knowledge, rattle off lots of dry technical points in abstruse
language, and are entirely unapproachable to even a well-educated
layman, let alone a creationist—and they're the ones who really
need to be made aware of this volume of work.

And that's where I think the science webloggers have to step in. We need to translate. That's also our role.

Now can someone please explain to me why this doesn't boil down to "We're the experts. Trust us." And given what I know of how the rationalistic vision of science has been undermined by books like the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, given the questionable objectivity of the peer-review process, given the clearly unjustified conflation of ID with Scientific Creationism, given the persistent attempt to portray evolution critics not merely as mistaken, but ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked, this is just not a sufficient answer. I'm not saying that a good enough answer couldn't be given, I just want an answer that doesn't require so much faith.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

With Christians like these, who needs atheists

So Pat Robertson wants the US to perform a covert operation to "take out" Hugo Chavez, and he recommends this by announcing it on his nationally televized 700 Club????? Besides being highly un-Christian and un-biblical, this is just incredibly stupid.

Dialogue with Ahab on motivation

would argue that there potential motives of all kinds on all sides in this matter, than no one is immune from the influence of their passions when it comes to the decision as to whether to believe in God or not, and I am not inclined to disbelieve someone when they tell me they don't believe in God in virtue of their best efforts to evaluate the evidence pro and con. I do get somewhat offended when people like Russell imply that Christians are really engaged in wishful thinking when they claim that their beliefs are based on reasons.

Even for someone who is an atheist, who believes in a practices a moral code which is based on human considerations, there is probably something appealing about the idea that this moral code did not come from some supreme being.

Another factor that kind of works on all sides of this is that both believers and unbelievers come to be at home in their universes; they get used to thinking of things in theistic or non-theistic terms, and to change that, especially late in life, is emotionally taxing.

I think it is not unusual or strange for someone to not want there to be a God. The desire for humans to be autonomous, even if they are no constantly engaging in what Christians would call sin, is very powerful. "Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven," says Milton's Satan.

Do you think that a special burden of proof falls upon theists because they believe what most people really want to believe, whether they admit it or not, while atheists have less in the way of non-rational motivation preventing them from discovering the truth?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Maverick on God and Comfort

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A provocative post from Brandon on atheism

This reminds me of the time in grad school (though I wasn't in this particular class) when a tenured faculty member came into the classroom and saw a cross drawn on the blackboard. He lay his head down on the front desk until someone asked him why. Then he said "We can't start class until someone erases that.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Lunch with Steve Lovell

One thing I forgot to mention in my report on Cambridge was meeting Steve Lovell in person, with whom I had e-mailed and who wrote his philosophy dissertation on C. S. Lewis. We are working on editing a philosophical Lewis anthology, but the project has been slowed by the ups and downs of human existence. Hopefully, we can get rolling toward the finish line.

This is Steve's Philosophical Themes from C. S. Lewis site.

The Office of Special counsel on the Sternberg case

The Office of Special Counsel has decided that Sternberg's complaints were justified. See

And this is a discussion of Michael Ruse's differences with some of his fellow Darwinists.

Apparently he is considered a traitor by some on his own side.

My point is this: regardless of what "side" you are on, you can and should be critical of misguided tactics on the part of your own side. Even if you think that ID is insane, you don't have to go on a crusade against it.

That said, it does not follow from the fact that some people are overzealous in their attacks on ID, that ID is good science.

I feel the same way about heresy-hunting Christians and their crusade against open theism, for example.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Carr on Plantinga

Steven Carr wrote:

Plantinga writes 'Furthermore, since an argument can be good even if it is not deductively valid, you can't refute it just by pointing out that it isn't deductively valid.'

There goes his defense to the logical problem of evil, condemned out of his own mouth.....

You have to admire Planting'a chutzpah, and his ability to contradict himself - *and keep going as though nothing had happened*.

VR: Of course an argument can be good even if it's not deductively valid, unless it attempts to prove the opponent's beliefs not only false, but contradictory. Then it's a bad argument unless it deductively proves precisely that. That is what the Logical Argument from Evil claims, and in accusing the theist of logical contradiction, it places upon itself the burden of showing that there really is a contradiction in which the theist believes. Most atheist philosophers, such as Keith M. Parsons in God and the Burden of Proof, acknowledge that Plantinga has shown that the Logical Argument fails to prove a contradiction in the theist's beliefs.

On the other hand, the Probabilistic of Evidential problem of evil can be good even though it's not deductively valid. It is an attempt to show that theism is unlikely given the existence of evil, and this argument is always given separate treatment in Plantinga's writings, going all the way back to God and Other Minds, The Nature of Necessity.

Plantinga may be wrong, but he's not stupid. Whenever you think someone of that stature is just plain contradicting himself, better take a second, a third, and a fourth look. It's like when Kasparov looks as if he's hanging a piece. He could be just blundering, but like as not it's mate in seven. I'd say the same thing about David Hume, with whom I disagree about nearly everything, and I'd say the same thing about C. S. Lewis.

Some Distinctions Concerning Methodological Naturalism

I think we need to distinguish between someone who says "We will be methodological naturalists in the way in which we do science," and someone who says "No one is doing science who does not observe MN." Also there is a difference between MN as a defeasible heuristic and MN as an absolute. when Lewontin says "Our commitment to materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door," I think we have the kind of dogmatic naturalism that concerns me. But not every version of MN is similarly open to objection.

A note from Rasmus EmilMoller on natural-born dualists

I was going through some old e-mail and found this item from Rasmus Emil-Moller. Is dualism a natural belief, like Hume would say that belief in cause and effect is a natural belief? Is it natural to believe in God?

Hello Mr. Reppert,

I have followed with great interest the apologetic debate a while ago in
alt.books.cs-lewis and followed the lead to the dangerousidea blog.

You might already have heard of this essay "Natural-born dualists" by Paul
Bloom, himself a materialist admirably facing the certain and permanent failure of
convincing the general populace of what he thinks is the truth.

I recommend it and find it relevant to your blog:

I am myself a traditional protestant (resurrection of flesh AND soul)
- I majored in science and engineering - though disagreeing with
Mr. Blooms materialistic views, I am pleasantly surprised with his
respect for and understanding of the reasons why people
in general will never accept those views.

I believe that C. S. Lewis would not at all be surprised to learn
that science would one day find evidence that dualism is deeply
and inextricably innate to us instead of being indoctrinated upon us :)

We did not invent "God(s)" and souls; on the contrary I (personally)
see those findings as evidence of our true origins.


Rasmus Møller

Do we all worship the same God?

There is a post on on whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God reminded me of my favorite Bertrand Russell story. When Bertrand Russell was imprisoned for anti-war activities, he was checked into a jail cell by a man who asked him what his religion was. He answered "agnostic," to which the jailer replied, "We all worship the same God."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Benign methodological naturalism?

A passage from a paper I wrote on miracles suggest tome a way in which methodological naturalism can be formulated such that it can avoid the charge of dogmatism and still do some serious work. I wrote:

.....Someone who postulates a miraculous account of something may try to claim that by admitting a miracle in the background, we render a number of natural events more open to naturalistic explanation. If we find that someone refuses to recant his faith when threatened with death by torture, this occurrence is a natural event. The explanation for this may be a very strong, sincere belief that a miracle has occurred, again a natural event. But it may be that the least "forced" explanation for this sincere belief is that a miracle did occur.

It is a mistake to think that just because a theory involves commitment to the supernatural, that the supernatural content is all that there is to the theory. A supernaturalist theory can have a naturalistic "trail" of evidence for which can be found or not found. Those who believe that Jesus was raised from the dead believe that Jesus's body will not be found. If it is found (or if it had been found in the first century), traditional Christian belief will be faced with a devastating disconfirmation. If believers choose (or had chosen) to maintain their belief somehow in the face of this kind of counterevidence, this would perhaps show their irrationality, but would not show the untestability of their belief per se.

My modest proposal is this. In this essay I am suggesting that the apologist for the miraculous cmay suggest that in the case of certain chains of events postulating miracles will give us more, not fewer, naturalistic explanations. I think that if we assume that Jesus rose from the dead, we can provide better and more accurate naturalistic explanations than if we deny it. You may that I'm nuts about this; nevertheless it suggests a test that explanations that violate strict methodological naturalism must pass in order to be scientific.

BMN (Benign methodolgical naturalism) says this: In science, naturalistic explanations are the coin of the realm. We are in the business of coming up with as many and as accurate of naturalistic explanations as we possibly can find. Does this mean that all explanations have to be naturalistic? No, but if you are going to use a non-naturalistic explanation, it has to be helpful in producing the kinds of naturalistic explanations we're going after in science.

Could this suggestion help to improve the ID debate?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My road to the ID problem

I thought I should spell out some of my own intellectual history as it bears on the Creationism, evolution, and ID issue. I remember being in grade school when some minister in Phoenix tried to get an initiative on the ballot banning the teaching of evolution in public schools. The minister of my church, Central Methodist in downtown Phoenix, gave a sermon opposing the effort, saying that Christians do not need to oppose evolution. I had always grown up with the idea that opposition to evolution was in order to defend what I thought was a hyper-literal understanding of the book of Genesis. I could never see why you had to accept that kind of literalism in order to be a Christian, and so the evolution problem didn't seem to be something you had to get so worked up about. C. S. Lewis never supported the kind of creationism that I encountered during my undergraduate days. Besides, if you really want to say the world was created in six literal days, then a conflict with Darwin is the least of your worries. Garden-variety astronomy is sufficient to cause a problem. If there are stars out there more than 6000 light years away, and the universe was created 6000 years ago, then we have a problem. Further, these creationsts believed in a worldwide Noachian flood. Let's see, all the animals in the WHOLE WORLD had to get on the ark, the ark is only yea big, (the Bible tells you how big it is), and then after the flood is over, the kangaroos have to get back to Australia, the three-toed sloths, who ordinarily live up to their name, have to go lickety-split to go back to the tip of South America, and so forth. If you say, "It's a mystery but God managed it," then please don't complain about the mysteries left by the theory of evolution.

At the same time, I thought, and still think, the historical case for a miraculous career and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is, on the whole, reasonably good. Just as an example, what sense does a skeptic make of Acts 4: 7-13:

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: "By what power or what name did you do this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is " 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

I mean this takes guts. Peter is basically telling the people who got Jesus crucified (and therefore have the power to get people crucified), that Jesus, whom they condemned to death, was right and they were wrong, and that God had proved that by raising Jesus from the dead. If you say something like that, you had better be right, because there's an awfully good chance you are going to end up on another one of those crosses.

Things like this are the cornerstone of the standard historical apologetic which I first encountered in Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict. That book has many deep flaws, but I think the resurrection apologetic is a strong one.

But I became a philosophy major, and encountered Hume's essay on Miracles. Here was a problem. Hume's argument implied that no matter how stong the evidence for a resurrection is, we should reject a miraculous historical account "from the very nature of the fact." Hume presents this test case for the question of the miraculous;

But suppose, that all the historians who treat of England, should agree, that, on the first of January, 1600, Queen Elizabeth died; that both before and after her death she was seen by her physicians and the whole court, as is usual with persons of her rank; that her successor was acknowledged and proclaimed by the parliament; and that, after being interred a month, she again appeared, resumed the throne, and governed England for three years: I must confess that I should be surprised at the concurrence of so many odd circumstances, but should not have the least inclination to believe so miraculous an event. I should not doubt of her pretended death, and of those other public circumstances that followed it: I should only assert it to have been pretended, and that it neither was, nor possibly could be real. You would in vain object to me the difficulty, and almost impossibility of deceiving the world in an affair of such consequence; the wisdom and solid judgment of that renowned queen; with the little or no advantage which she could reap from so poor an artifice: all this might astonish me; but I would still reply, that the knavery and folly of men are such common phenomena, that I should rather believe the most extraordinary events to arise from their concurrence, than admit of so signal a violation of the laws of nature.

Now this strikes me as going a little too far. It would have the implication of making it impossible for Almighty God to convince Hume (except perhaps by performing a miracle that Hume directly perceived) to reasonably believe that He existed. I ended up writing three papers in college in seminary on the Hume's argument, and eventually I wrote two published papers on the subject, one that appears at, but the first appeared in the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion in 1989, entitled "Miracles and the Case for Theism."

Now the odd thing was that although I never especially wanted to defend creationism, very often the arguments against it sounded a little too much like Hume on miracles to be correct. One book I read attacking creationism actually used Hume's essay to do it.

When I studied New Testament criticism, I reacted to the radical Bultmannian stuff (precursors of the Jesus-seminar stuff that is coming out today) much the way Lewis did: the most sensible explanations involve accepting the reports as mostly accurate. Attempts to avoid this have always seemed contrived; the really ridiculous phenomenon was those attempts to preserve Jesus as a hero while accounting for his actions naturalistically. The arguments used by Bultmann weren't even as serious as Hume's; all he said that in the modern era we can't continue to use the wireless and the electric light and believe at the same time in the NT world of spirits and miracles. (Why? Isn't this just a bald version of the fallacy of chronological snobbery?)

So while I didn't care about defending creationists, at the same time I had found that dogmatic methodological naturalism, in the case of people like Bultmann, didn't lead to more "scientific creativity"(as BDK would say), it led either to groundless guesswork or the frank confession that we have no idea what happened. (That's really what you have to conclude if you think supernaturalism is false, since all the available sources are tainted. But people keep re-inventing the Historical Jesus while impugning the reliability of any of the sources that would tell us anything about Jesus).

So some people come along and say "Forget all that Genesis literalism. Can't we figure out a way to determing if things in nature have intelligent designers? After all, we do make "no-design or design decisions" on a regular basis .

In my first published paper, the above-mentioned "Miracles and the Case for Theism," I wrote:

"We can illustreate the problem of reasonably believing that nature has been interfered with by using the example of a poker game. Now it is certainly possible for events to occur in a poker game that are impossible given its rules, e. g. if five aces were to be dealtina poker hand, that could only occur if someone had tampered with the deck. On the other hand, consider a game in which the dealer's best friend gets royal flush after royal flush. Were the dealer to be accused of cheating, he might suggest that the charge of cheating had not been proved, since it is afterall possible that the hands dealt came up at random. Nevertheless, players in the game would be well advised, for thes ake of their own pocketbooks, to regard such hands as the result of intelligent "interference" on the part of the dealer with the ordinary pattern of dealing. There are always players, of ocurse, who are inclined to suspect cheating every time they get a run of bad luck, just as there are people who are inclined to jump to the conclusion that a miracle has occurred every time someone testifies to something the least bit unusual. On the other hand contintued refusal to suspect interference on the grounds that, after all, it is possible for a string of unusual hands to work by chance to the advantage of the dealer's best friend, would be clearly irrational and hazardous to one's wealth.
Of course, if soemone does not believe that there is an intellgent dealer, then he can reasonably be expected to be more reluctant than otherwise to suspect foul play. If, for example, there wree a supposedly tampre-proof dealing maching, more evidence than ordinary would be required to convice us that the cards were being interfered with. Yet if the evidence were strong, or if ewe had some dounts to begin with about the machine's being tamper-proof, we might be convinced that some bright young hacker had rigged the machine. If a coherent story can be told about how the mahcine came to be rigged, and that story generates expectations about what we should expect to occur, then that account can be confirmed or disconfirmed by future events. Similarly, in the case of miracle claims, we can ask ourselves wheter the evidence,
all things being equal, is mroe like what we sould expect given a miracle, or more l ike what we should expect if there had been no miracle. If the evidence more resembles what we should expect given the miracle, then this evidence is mroe like what we should expect if thesim is true than if naturalism is true. Therefore, evidence for miracles can be evidence for theism.

Later, Plantinga would illustrate my point in a more colorful manner, in his review of Dennet's Darwin's Dangerous Idea entitled Darwin, Mind and Meaning, in the context of the "fine-tuning" argument for theism:

Dennett's rejoinder to the argument is that possibly, "there has been an evolution of worlds (in the sense of whole universes) and the world we find ourselves in is simply one among countless others that have existed throughout all eternity." And given infinitely many universes, Dennett thinks, all the possible distributions of values over the cosmological constants would have been tried out; as it happens, we find ourselves in one of those universes where the constants are such as to allow for the development of intelligent life (where else?).

Well, perhaps all this is logically possible (and then again perhaps not). As a response to a probabilistic argument, however, it's pretty anemic. How would this kind of reply play in Tombstone, or Dodge City? "Waal, shore, Tex, I know it's a leetle mite suspicious that every time I deal I git four aces and a wild card, but have you considered the following? Possibly there is an infinite succession of universes, so that for any possible distribution of possible poker hands, there is a universe in which that possibility is realized; we just happen to find ourselves in one where someone like me always deals himself only aces and wild cards without ever cheating. So put up that shootin' arn and set down 'n shet yore yap, ya dumb galoot." Dennett's reply shows at most ('at most', because that story about infinitely many universes is doubtfully coherent) what was never in question: that the premises of this argument from apparent design do not entail its conclusion. But of course that was conceded from the beginning: it is presented as a probabilistic argument, not one that is deductive valid. Furthermore, since an argument can be good even if it is not deductively valid, you can't refute it just by pointing out that it isn't deductively valid. You might as well reject the argument for evolution by pointing out that the evidence for evolution doesn't entail that it ever took place, but only makes that fact likely. You might as well reject the evidence for the earth's being round by pointing out that there are possible worlds in which we have all the evidence we do have for the earth's being round, but in fact the earth is flat. Whatever the worth of this argument from design, Dennett really fails to address it.

So, in spite of growing up pretty much a theistic evolutionist, I have trouble with attacks on ID which maintain that it's a nonstarted because it appeals to the supernatural. In fact it may well be that terms like "natural" and "supernatural" should not be used without some detailed definitional work. But that is a subject for another entry.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Answering an Inquiry on LIbertarian Free Will

Dr. Reppert,

My name is Ross Parker. I'm 24 years old and I am about to start seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I'm a frequent visitor to your blog, and I have learned greatly from your comments in the field of Philosophy of Religion, especially your critiques of the Calvinistic worldview. I have a philosophical question that has really caused a lot of confusion and frustration for me over the past several weeks, so I was hoping that you could help me out.
I have always firmly believed that I have Free Will-- that my decisions are up to me. I have never been able to make sense of the Calvinistic worldview. How can God cause all events (including people's sins, and souls being eternally seperated from Him in Hell ) and at the same time be a loving God.

Recently I decided I would read up on the issue of Free Will from a philosophical perspective. Here I encountered my first critiques of the concept of Libertarian Free Will. The major critique that caught me right between the eyes (so to speak) was the argument that our decisions are dictated by our strongest motive. The argument (as I'm sure you know) says that not only is the concept of LFW wrong; it is impossible. Decisions are either 1) caused by psychological factors or 2) random and therefore not "up to me".

So I'm in kind of a mental bind. I firmly believe that we have to be free in a Libertarian sense in order to make sense of our common experience of life as well as making sense of the existence of evil and a loving God. But I am clueless as to how LFW "works" (for lack of a better term). The more I think about the issue the more I can't make sense of how I would make a decision if there is no reason that causes the decision. But that would take away my responsibility for the action, and make God responsible for the evil actions that I do.

If you get a chance, I hope that you can respond to my inquiry regarding a rational account of free agency. Perhaps you could recommend the best article or book that you can think of to help me out. I know that you're very busy, so there is no rush. But I hope that you will be able to give me a little insight. I certainly look forward to hearing back from you!


Ross Parker

This argument is a false dilemma that begs the question against agent causation. By way of response, I would look at chapter 4 of William Hasker's The Emergent Self.
Also, Jerry Walls' book Why I am Not a Calvinist should cover this, though I haven't actually read it.
Let us say you being tempted to commit adultery. You have your desire for what pleasure it would bring you on the one side, and the reasons not to do it on the other. You have reasons for both actions, and agency libertarianism says you can perform either action, you can choose to follow one set of reasons or the other. Your action isn't reasonless either way; but it's your choice which reason you follow. To say that there has to be a determining cause here is to assume determinism, a question-begging position for a determinist to take.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Jason Pratt on ID

I got this note from Jason Pratt:

The question was recently asked, whether failures of Darwinism can be pointed to, similar to the crop failures resulting from trying to apply Lamarckism.In one sense, the obvious answer is that no such similar failure could_ever_ occur; because Lamarckism has a bit of leeway in its basis proposal which could allow the introduction of intentional development (e.g. a person _chooses_ to do this or that, and so passes on any physiological advantages thus gained genetically); whereas neo-Darwinian theory explicitly and exclusively proposes non-directed accidental effective mechanism. Consequently, any directed experiment (whether success orfailure) necessarily includes an element in its process and result which is supposed to be utterly foreign to the whole point of NDT process and result. Parts of the biological mechanism can be tested, and inferences can be drawn about how well the results fit into the basis theory; but the basis theory itself cannot (in this case) be validly tested.The results of testing parts of the mechanism can of course be combined with inferences grounded in systematic observations about actual real-world behavior; with these being compared to inferences grounded in what thebasis theory itself should be implying.So, for instance, if gradualistic NDT is correct, there should be asignificantly large number of 'link species' still in biological play.Mutant B from species A, isn't going to increase its numbers unless it canstill breed with species A. Ditto for Mutant C, D, etc. At some point (callit species X--the changes all being gradual, per gradualism), X shouldn'tbe able to breed with A anymore, and so an actually new species would be inexistence.(Taxonomically I suppose it wouldn't be called a species--a genus maybe? In popular pro-NDT arguments it's still called a new species, generalizing for the sake of simplicity--and I'm okay with that; the principles would be ineffect either way.) But even once X is in existence, there also ought to be a significant number of transitional species still around, able to interbreed with oneanother fairly successfully. (Even if, say, species F has gone extinct in the meanwhile, species K still ought to be able to breed fairlysuccessively with species D et al.) Humans, for instance, ought to be a rare exception--we can't breed with anything else, all our previous transitional species having gone extinct in the meanwhile (maybe because weintentionally killed them off?)In point of fact, however, we humans _aren't_ the rare exception. Cats, for instance, cannot breed with skunks, even though these are genetically very close to feline; just as we cannot breed with gorillas or chimpanzees. Thisis the very common norm. Whereas, even if X can no longer breed with A,there still should be x-number of genetically distinctive intermediary interbreeders between them, _all_ of which are capable of breeding with each other (except for X and A). It's also rather hard to see how multiple kinds of DNA configuration (different numbers of chromosomes, different amounts of DNA per chromosome,etc.) could effectively be transmitted once accidentally generated.A mutation to a gamete-producing cell, or a copy error from such a cell while producing a gamete, could theoretically generate a change of that sort (and it should be obvious that only cell mutations of this very limited sort would be in any position at all to generate mutants--heartcell mutations don't generate mutant offspring for instance). The question is whether the resulting mutant--assuming the mutation even succeeds in running the gamut of sheer luck against any particular gamete, up to thepoint of becoming a breedible entity that is actually performing nominal breeding operations (so to speak)--is carrying anything in his/her/its own gametes that could successfully pair up with non-mutated gametes (keeping in mind that only one pair of the mutant's chromosomes would be carrying the mutation in the first place at all--half the gametes being fired by the mutant will be altogether non-mutated, therefore not possibly sending along the mutation.) And this is only at the macrobiological level. The feasibility of the theory doesn't (currently) hold up very well at the microbiological level either.
Preliminary microbiological restrictions----------------------------------------
The key restriction that must be remembered, is this: **If a protein ismade from a random order of amino acids, chances are nearly certain the protein will do nothing at all.** Furthermore, in many (though not all) cases, something must already be in existence to be the _receiver_ of the protein behavior. Some proteins behave in ways that build such receiver-units, of course. The point is that even if a protein's order might do something, it usually needs a receptor already capable of receiving it to work. Otherwise it might as well be totally useless.Thus, (at least) five levels of protein functionality-composition: a.) the new protein is totally function less in any possible situation (within that organism); b.) the new protein would function if there was a receptor, but there isn't one; c.) a receptor exists which can receive the effect of the protein, but theuse is harmful or effectively neutral; d.) a receptor exists, which can _usefully_ use the protein;ande.) the protein builds a receptor. (It may be possible that this always results in a receptor which canusefully use a protein that does already exist; but I haven't yet heardthis for sure.) The complexity (and restrictions) intensify when we consider that sometimesa road (so to speak) must already exist to get the protein _to_ an alreadyexistant receptor.Aside from questions of original mutations _accidentally_ creating DNA sequences which generate proteins that build receptors and/or roads; anysubsequent random mutation in a DNA sequence becomes exponentially more improbable to generate useful (not even merely useable) proteins the more accidentally complex (so to speak) the organism _already_ is. Besides receptors, and roads (the chemical paths between receptors andDNA), the relevant reactions also require 'catalyst' chemicals. In many cases: no catalysts, no reactions at all. These protein catalysts are the'enzymes'. Enzymes are terribly important in another way, too. They not only helpcertain chemical reactions to work at all, they also help speed reactionsup to rates that are useful. All known enzymes speed up protein-receptor chemical reactions by a factor of at least a million. Factors of ten billion to a hundred trillion are not uncommon (i.e. a reaction that would normally take 3000 years happens in 1/1000th of a second.) One way or another (or sometimes both), enzymes are absolutely necessaryfor the other existant processes to work; thus adding yet another development-complexity factor--and adding yet another way in which an accidental copy error of the DNA in the chromosomes could (much morelikely) mess something up (rather than adding functionality). As I have been stressing, any addition to (existant) complexity not only adds development time constraints (especially when we consider that someextinct species _already_ had biological and genetic systems virtually as complex, at the microbiological level, as modern animals--subtractx-hundred million years for _their_ development time). It also adds increased liklihood that a random mutation will result in something that runs _against_ the existing system.Granted, a system could be complex enough, _in the correct ways_, to bemore tolerant to random copy errors. (Though mere toleration isn't the sameas positive increase of effective complexity.) But this level and (far moreimportantly) type of complexity cannot be legitimately posited to _already_exist to offset the problems which must be overcome _before_ such a system(on naturalistic evolutionary theories) _does_ exist.Also granted, any redundancy in DNA molecules might help overcome thedemerits of a bad copy error (mutation); but accounting for the developmentof those redundancies themselves introduces more complexity (and tightensthe time constrains for species development), even if it doesn't actually harm the organism. Which itself is somewhat questionable--a newly mutated creator-strand of protein 'x' will at least be taking up resources making that many more protein 'x's which could have been spent (with more overtprofit to the organism) elsewhere. Any excess of those proteins (i.e. produced by conveniently redundant protein generator sequences) might causeproblems elsewhere, too.In order to prevent runaway reactions of exactly this sort within a cell (or elsewhere outside the cell), a cell must be able to turn an enzyme group on or off. This adds _another_ level of complexity to the system. (A typical 'off' signal is generated by side-products of reactions, whichunder NDT must accidentally happen to inhibit further enzyme behavior.) More complex information can be carried by RNA strands than by simplerproteins (and their amino acids). RNA resembles DNA in structure: A,G and C nucleotides, plus a U which is a more unstable molecule than thymine butotherwise serves the same purpose, matching to any As. RNA functions a lot like portable DNA, but (because of the U) it isn't as stable. Also it doesn't have a double-helix structure like DNA. Evolutionists tend to think that RNA evolved first out of simpler proteins; and then DNA out of RNA--which again tightens the time constraints. A lot of the sequences in DNA strands don't seem to be contributing at allto the cellular reaction. Recently, biologists have proposed that this'junk DNA' may actually be equivalent to RNA, and perform much the samepurpose.The problem with this, is that the genetic sequences in question are _not_in fact RNA. It's attractive, but ultimately not very feasible (under thebasis NDT anyway), to propose that all such 'not-junk' sequences are the original RNA codes evolved into DNA upon which the rest of the DNA sequence then developed, perhaps melding various strands together. To whatever extent such sections of DNA do behave like RNA, though, more development-complexity with its inherent functionality-and-development-time restrictions must be allowed. This is why I suspect we'll be seeing a push back to 'junk DNA' eventually: it may require more complexity than 'mere'DNA, but requires _less_ complexity in development than RNA-equivalence strands. Though there's nothing saying that a DNA strand couldn't have someRNA-eq _and_ junk, of course. Ultimately, however, RNA-eq ability tends to lend weight against gradualistic neo-Darwin evolutionary theory, per se.These are some, by no means all, of the problems with the _basis_ theory(NDT). The problems are rising, because what we are learning doesn't square with the foundational theory being proposed. I think sooner or later, the basis theory itself will have to be significantly revised--which happened before, too: what we were discovering didn't mesh with the originalDarwinian theory (or its various alternatives, up to that point), so in1941 (notably at a meeting of the _Geological_ Society of America), a suggestion was made that geneticists should join hands with morphologists, taxonomists, zoologists and paleontologists to try to come up with a modernized version of Darwinian theory, rebuilding it from the most recent finds in their fields. (This mixture, happening where it did, gives evidence of all this being done in service to a strong and overarching ideological committment. Three guesses as to what _that_ might have been...) Together, over the next few years, these specialists created the modern synthetic theory of evolution, or as it came to be known' neo-Darwinian Theory' (or NDT). These new NDTheorists emphatically rejected the Lamarckian theory of acquired characteristics (e.g. a giraffe reaches for taller branches to eat, stretching his neck, and his descendents receive the advantages ofthis); and also rejected Darwin's suggestion of environmental induction ofheritable variations (which would work according to the same principles as Lamarckian theory but in reverse.) It seemed clear to them that neither environmental influences nor acquired characteristics could affect the germ cells (the gametes created by males and females, distinct from the somatic cells everywhere else); and heritable variation could only stem from changes in the germ cells.(Note: I don't know whether they recognized the existence of mutagenic environmental effects or not, but if they did they must have thought these were too few and too inherently harmful to contribute effectively to the number of positive mutations necessary for the theory to work.) Since they were unwilling to accept environmental influence as a cause of variation (probably because the natural evidence for it was lacking, but also possibly because it tasted too strongly of _directed_ evolution), they settled on sheer random copy-error as the source of the variations (a source Darwin had rejected).They agreed that the majority of these copy-errors (as experimentally demonstrated) would be detrimental to the organism's chances of surviving and/or breeding (which are two rather different processes--an improvement in one might be a detriment in the other); and much of the remaining possibilities would be effectively neutral. But, they figured that at leasta _few_ mutations might be beneficial in survival and/or breeding (without a sufficiently detrimental offsetting result in one compared to the other);and that the theory would work sufficiently well on these few positivemutations (plus perhaps the more common neutral mutations combined with eventual changes in environment, though only a fraction of a fraction ofthese would make those previously neutral changes positively beneficial), given the vast time frame available for the process to work.About a decade later, Watson and Crick discovered the DNA structure, and identified the heritable variation with random copy-errors in DNAreplication.This was, however, also the first in a series of dramatic scale-ups ofrecognized complexity in biological organisms. Notably, Crick decided that the vast complexity of DNA could not possibly have been created in the geological time-frame, given the process of random copy-errors plus naturalselection (which would almost always select _against_ the resulting mutant,if it did anything at all.) His solution was to propose that Terran DNA had been seeded on the planet millions of years ago by aliens. This was mocked by the establishment, partly because he was only putting the natural development of even _more-complex_ entities _further_ back in the cosmic time-scale (actually increasing the problem); and partly because it smacked too much of theism (i.e. the only reason Crick proposed naturally developed aliens was because he refused, as a dedicated atheist, to propose God.) Now, I have several problems with what the ID fellows are often doing. Butwhat they _are_ doing, isn't much different from what the NDT synthesisteam was doing back in the early 1940s. They're noting the basis theory isn't just failing to account cogently for operation in the real world, but actually runs _against_ the grain of significant parts of what we'refinding; so they're proposing revisions of the basis theory to try toaccount better for what we _are_ in fact discovering. It's a fact of history that the original NDT team members (along with many of their successors) weren't much (if any) less motivated than modern ID proponents, to be thereby attempting to defend and propogate an ideology (naturalistic atheism in their case, by and large); and it should be obvious that even if one of them (or someone supporting and agreeing with them) came up with crackpot theories (e.g. panspermia) to account for the data, this didn't obviate the other work he (or the others) had done.

Peter Geach and the Lewis-Anscombe Debate Re-Enactment

I was told that Peter Geach got wind of the re-enactment of his wife's controversy with Lewis, and was not happy about it. Apaprently he was concerned about how his wife would be protrayed. I was disappointed to hear that, and I wish I could have talked to Peter Geach about it. The point I would have tried to impress upon him is that a good deal of sheer nonsense has been written about the debate, and the only way to get a proper focus on the whole thing is to bring the focus back to where the participants placed it; on the arguments themselves. His wife's memory is not helped by people who think she bullied Lewis out of apologetics; getting someone like Lewis to revise and thereby strengthen his argument is what philosophy is supposed to be all about.

Strangely enough, I think Geach;s own position was pretty close to Lewis's, since he wrote this:
"When we hear of some new attempt to explain reasoning or language or choice naturalistically, we ought to react as if we were told that someone had squared the circle or proved the square root of 2 to be rational: only the mildest curiosity is in order-how well has the fallacy been concealed?" (The Virtues, Cambridge University Press, 1977) It was Lewis who would argue that explaining reasoning naturalistically is like squaring the circle; Anscombe was on the other side.

If part of the story is that she showed a certain amount of youthful arrogance and gamesmanship in getting the better of Lewis on that particular day, I suppose that's part of the history. I have the feeling that knowing what people's reactions would be to the debate, Anscombe would have affected a different style and manner, at the same time making the same points.

When I titled my paper "The Lewis-Anscombe Controversy: A Discussion of the Issues, I meant to imply that a good deal of discussion concerning that controversy has been over non-issues. It would be wonderful to have it written on my gravestone "Here lies Reppert. Thanks to him, people finally stopped talking nonsense about Lewis and Anscombe." Is that asking too much?

The Conference at Cambridge

I had a good time at Cambridge with my paper presentation, which I came out fairly nicely; I didn't get into a whole lot of complicated issues except when I was asked six questions by one questioner. (He's going to e-mail me). I got to see the English countryside and people punting on the Cam, though I didn't see anyone reciting lines from Monty Python's Life of Brian while punting, something my advisor Hugh Chandler got to see when he was in England. ("We're all individuals. I'm not. I'm not either.")

I met Jerry Walls, co-author of both a book on Lewis and Schaeffer and Why I Am Not a Calvinist. He seems happiest when ripping into Calvinists for their inconsistencies. I am in sympathy with him for this as veteran readers of this blog must be aware.

I also heard a presentation by Gary Habermas on the psychology of doubt and faith, making connections between Lewis's A Grief Observed and Rational Emotive Therapy, cataloguing different types of Christian doubt. Very interesting.

David Baggett gave a paper criticizing John Beversluis's C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion for claiming that after Joy's death Lewis was dealing with a rational rather than an emotional objection to his faith. Beversluis claims that Lewis was dealing with a logical objection to his faith and that his response moved him from a prior belief in Platonism, the view that the goodness of God is commensurable to what humans call goodness, to a view he calls Ockhamism, according to which goodness applied to God and goodness applied to humans is incommensurable. Baggett argued that we have every reason to believe what Lewis says when he says that the crisis precipitated by Joy's death was caused by his emotions and not by any new rational grounds for unbelief.

This was familiar ground to me, since both Thomas Talbott in C. S. Lewis and the Problem of Evil (Christian Scholar's Revew, 1987) and James Petrik (International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 1994) had argued against a Beversluis claim that Lewis had compromised his Platonism in The Problem of Pain. Talbott wrote the enbtry on A Grief Observed in Schultz and West ed. The C. S. Lewis Readers Encyclopedia (Zondervan, 1998) in which he doesn't mention Beversluis but does mention the consistency between Lewis's thoughts in A Grief Observed and in The Problem of Pain. Richard Purtill wrote a response to Beversluis on A Grief Observed that appeared in a volume entitled A Christian for All Christians in 1990, and Beversluis did respond to that in the Lamp-Post some time shortly thereafter.

I saw a presentation by the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts pointing out a loss of Catholic presence in the arts, in particular amongst novelists in particular, though he applied this to Christian presence in the arts as well. In the 1950s you had Catholic novelists like Evelyn Waugh and Flannery O'connor, and now this presence has pretty much dried up. I also saw two presentations on the relevance of philosophy for biblical hermeneutics by Anthony Thistleton of the University of Nottingham.

What I was not able to attend was a re-enactment of the Lewis-Anscombe debate which took place the previous Friday night at Oxford and included parts of the revised additions and subsequent comments by Anscombe.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Menuge on ID- a little surprise from the Discovery Institute

Your post on ID is excellent and well-balanced. One small point. While Discovery does not speak for everyone sympathetic to ID, their official position is precisely that ID is not ready to teach as a theory in schools, a view echoed by Rick Sanatorum on NPR (yes, I nearly had a heartattack) this morning. Rather, they consistently urge that students are taught both what the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution says and then are fairly presented with the evidence that supports it and the evidence that doesn't seem to fit. Sanatorum's interviewer sounded ridiculous when he pointed out that many scientists don't believe there is *any* evidence that doesn't fit, granted thelist of 400+ credentialed scientists who doubt the adequacy of Darwin's model prominently displayed at All reasonable people fear a kind of American Lysenkoism, in which science has to conform to a a preconceived ideology, as Soviet biology had to conform todialectical materialism, which favored a neo-Lamarckian view that was flatly wrong, and caused mass starvation when applied to crop hybridization. Science should not be required to conform to either a materialistic or more teleological view a priori. Which of these paradigms is fruitful in a particularcase should be the result of empirical investigation. Angus

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Orange Sunday has a picture of me and Jerry Walls in Cambridge. I'm on the left.


ID and persecution

Ahab wrote: I'm not sure I understand why you want to keep dwelling on these ad hominem sort of attacks, Victor.
VR: Because I want science to address the issues that ID raises in an open and honest way, so that at the end of the day, if they are wrong, we will all see that their ideas were fairly considered. Some people, like Michael Ruse, whose Darwinist credentials are impeccable, seem to realize this; he is the co-editor with Dembski of Debating Design and wrote an introduction to Menuge's Agents Under Fire, which supports the ID position.

Other people, such as Paul Gross and Barbara Forrest, seem not to realize this; their book is centered around a conspiracy theory that tries to connect the ID movement with the lunatic-fringe of the religious right, the Christian Reconstructionists; people who want to enact blasphemy laws and make the government fully and explicitly religious. (Not even people like Dobson and D. James Kennedy, people with whom I have enormous bones to pick, take it this far).

Forrest and Gross mention the fact that someone on the board of the Christian Reconstructionists has contributed financially to the Discovery Institute. So? The Bush campaign bought Nader ads during the 2000 election. Does that mean that Bush's people really support the ideals of the Nader Campaign? I don't think so!

Now if someone really thought that ID was the scientific arm of the Christian Reconstructionists, then I can imagine them doing whatever it took to keep ID "barefoot and unpublished." Are people keeping scientific views in the closet for fear of the science police? If so, this trivializes the argument from the lack of peer-reviewed support.

It seems like Sternberg's supervisors are responding to the charges put by Sternberg with flat denials. But I really do think that there is a wing of the pro-Darwinist movement that is going over-the-top in the way they deal with anyone who drifts too close to ID, and I think this is doing a lot of harm. These things do not inspire me to put a lot of confidence in Darwinian theory. My reaction is that if they have to go this far to suppress ID, there must be some merit in ID. I support reasonable quality control, but we don't need the science police, and I would believe this even if I was in no way tempted to think ID had some merit. Do you really think that the IDers are just making this up????

Look, the atmosphere in the discussion of ID-related issues has gotten just plain venomous. I don't know why it has, but it has. When I went on talk-origins to discuss what I thought were misinterpretations of my views I got the "Whose side are you on" reaction which turned me off. I don't like it when show up at Christian groups and am given shibboleths to determine whether are not I am really a Christian or not. (Did you really accept Christ as your Lord and Savior? Do you really believe that the Bible is the Word of God? If you were to die tonight.....)

There was a double review in Christian Scholar's Review (Spring 2005) of Dembski ed. Uncommon Dissent, and Forrest and Gross's Creationism's Trojan horse. CSR is not a hotbed of pro-ID stuff; the contributors are Christians but take different positions on evolution. The author of the review, Michael Buratovich, in biology at Spring Arbor College, gave both books a mixed review. He saw some good criticisms of Darwinism in the first volume, but thought that other criticisms didn't really understand the theory. As for F and G, he thought they had correctly identified instances in which they "provided examples where the public activities of the most active promoters of ID theory were less than stellar," but he criticizes them for implying that the ID people support the goals of the Christian Reconstructionists. He describes the book as follows:

"Furthermore, ID has ties to a larger right-wing movement called Christian Reconstructionism that seeks to replace democracy in America with a theocracy where blasphemy is punishable by death and women are restricted to having babies and cooking dinner for their families." This strikes me as the ultimate in scare tactics. These are push-button words for non-Christians in America--shoot I would be scared if the CRs took over.

The reviewer also maintains that ID defenders have to do more serious science before they start petitioning the public schools about including their materials. At this point, I'm inclined to agree. While the public schools should show some sensitivity to religious beliefs in presenting evolution, but while it is the primary paradigm, it should be treated in the public school as the primary paradigm.

I think the ID advocates are hurting their own cause in the long run by insisting on so much airplay in the public schools while their movement is scientifically in its infancy, but I also think there's a search-and-destroy mission on the part of Darwin's rottweilers that is hurting its own cause in the long run. I don't think this can reasonably be denied.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

It's Bible study time

"So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence." Bertrand Russell
Matt 10:16: Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (ASV)

A Russell quote anti-ID people should think about

It is clear that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions make it impossible to earn a living.-- Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays (1928) ††

Interesting. So going around and getting people fired who so much as publish a pro-ID essay in a peer-reviewed journal means that thought about that subject is not free. Right??

Also, this kind of operation has the effect of trivializing the charge that ID is not supported in peer-reviewed journals. If people are afraid they will lose their jobs if they publish pro-ID stuff, then the absence of ID from peer-reviewed journals doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot. Right??

Some dialogue with Maverick on Russell

BV: "Thus it is an argument for being a member of a Christian church, and not an argument against it, that there are hypocrites in the church." Good point, Victor, except that it is not specific to Christian churches. One could substitute Jewish synagogue, Muslim mosque, Buddhist temple, etc.

VR: No dispute here. All that is required are standards to go above and beyond what people normally live up to.

BV: Russell is a strange case. Even at the age of 80 he refused to be faithful to his wife. That bespeaks a high degree of physical vitality if nothing else. The high degree of pride and lust in both Russell and Sartre makes one wonder how seriously to take their God denials. One is tempted to psychologize . . . but only after the arguments pro and con have been examined.

VR: Key point about Russell: his conduct clearly shows that he would have had very powerful psycholgical motives to reject the Christian faith or any religion according to which God has the right, power, and authority to give commandments. This would be an ad hominem argument except that Russell was fond of portraying himself as a "free thinker," free from the tyranny of his passions and from the force of tradition.

"The expression 'free thought' is often used as if it meant merely opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy. But this is only a symptom of free thought, frequent, but invariable. 'Free thought' means thinking freely -- as freely, at least, as is possible for a human being. The person who is free in any respect is free from something; what is the free thinker free from? To be worthy of the name, he must be free of two things: the force of tradition, and the tyranny of his own passions. No one is completely free from either, but in the measure of a man's emancipation he deserves to be called a free thinker." Bertrand Russell, "The Value of Free Thought: How to Become a Truth-Seeker and Break the Chains of Mental Slavery" Bertrand Russell on God and Religion

In THIS matter, Russell was a blazing hypocrite.