Monday, September 19, 2016

Evidence, Design, and Alternative Histories of Science

Some of us are fans of alternative history. There is a whole genre of literature on what might have happened if something had happened that didn't. Some examples:

What if John Wilkes booth had missed?

What if the Nazis had won World War II?

What if Gore had won the 2000 election?

What if Monica Lewinsky had taken her dress to the dry cleaners.

What if the Tartars had not stopped their attacks in Europe?

What if Oswald hadn't made it to the top floor?

With respect to science, it seems as if those who claim that scientific evidence has established something, there has to be an alternative history of science that would have established the opposite.

So, when people like Dawkins say "The evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design", then are they not presupposing the existence of an alternative history of science in which the evidence concerning evolution reveals a universe with design? 

But if this alternative history had taken place, would the design inference have also been dismissed as methodologically unacceptable, and an example of IDiocy? 

Heads I win, tails you lose. 




143 comments:

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "So, when people like Dawkins say "The evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design", then are they not presupposing the existence of an alternative history of science in which the evidence concerning evolution reveals a universe with design?"

Gobsmacked. Probably nothing you've ever written so succinctly reveals how much you just don't understand science or scientific knowledge.

Scientific knowledge isn't arbitrary the way that human events are; scientific knowledge (like evolutionary theory) is based on reliable, verifiable, objective, predictable events that can be examined.

Evolutionary theory doesn't reveal a world without design -- the world reveals a world without design; evolutionary theory is just the name given to this fact.

unkleE said...

Hi Carl, hi Vic,

I'm very interested in this question. If a scientific hypothesis is verifiable, then there has to be a test that could have gone either way, that verified the hypothesis, or didn't.

So surely it is reasonable to ask anyone who makes the claim that the universe is or isn't designed what is the test they have used to draw this conclusion, what statistics did they use, etc. I don't think this is so easy. It would likely be easy to test if I designed the universe, but I can't see how to test whether God, or some other being that isn't directly measurable, designed it. Hence ID has a real problem, I think. But so do the counter claims.

Take the issue of cosmological fine-tuning. Many cosmologists, not all theists, have said that the universe looks like it was designed. But showing that it was designed is very difficult despite that appearance, and showing that it wasn't designed is even more difficult, because the statistics seem to be on the side of the fine-tuned design viewpoint.

So I agree with you, Carl, that Victor didn't write his comment in very precise language. But my questions to you are these:

(1) Do you think "the world reveals a world without design" is a scientific statement or just a "looks like" statement along the lines of the fine-tuning?
(2) If you think it is a scientific statement, what tests do you think verify this conclusion or falsify the alternative?
(3) If you don't think it is a scientific statement, then do you agree with Vic that Dawkins statements isn't scientific either?

Thanks.

Victor Reppert said...

Saying "You don't understand science" isn't very helpful.

Going by what you said, science, in an objective way, could have discovered a designed universe and didn't.

Look, when a prosecutor says "The DNA evidence reveals that O. J. Simpson killed Nicole and Ron," that is meaningful in virtue of the fact that the evidence could have supported the idea that O. J. is innocent.

There is plenty of evidence suggesting that the "objectivity" of science is vastly overrated.

http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/sci/sm6.htm

All I am saying it that if you are going to so science has discovered something, it has to be possible that science could have discovered something else.

bmiller said...

If the evidence of lack of design is chaos, and evidence of design is lack of chaos, then we have very good evidence of design.

After all evolutionists do not claim that horse-flys beget horses. Instead there is a constrained limit of outcomes regularly observed.

If true chaos was observable, then any cause could lead to any effect. In this case science itself would not be possible.

B. Prokop said...

"What if Gore had won the 2000 election?"

But he did. The fact that it was stolen from him does not change that fact.

B. Prokop said...

Not that I expect anyone to take up my recommendation, but way back in January 2013 I posted this to DI:

In K. Maria D. Lane's excellent book The Geographies of Mars (highest recommendation, by the way), she explains how hypotheses explaining what astronomers observed on Mars at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th Centuries were possible only in the social, political and economic environment of that time. The author goes on (rather convincingly) to demonstrate that all scientific research, to include that going on today, is soaked in its context, and cannot be evaluated without proper regard for said context.

Seriously, for anyone interested in the inextricable linkage between science and the environment in which it is conducted, I can think of no better place to learn about the interactions of research and society than this book. The book is not really about Mars - Lane merely uses it as a case study to examine how important context is to scientific thought.

jdhuey said...

For just such an alternate history story I recommend "Darwin's Watch: The Science of Discworld III, a Novel" by Terry Prachett, Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen. What happens if Darwin writes the wrong book? A fun read and you might learn some things. I recommend reading the other two books in the series first (along with all the Discworld series), not because they are necessary for understanding Darwin's Watch but because they will make you better people.

Steve Lovell said...

I agree with the point VR is making here, but mostly the OP makes me think of Sheldon Cooper's game "Counterfactuals".

Legion of Logic said...

I dont know, would there also be an alternate history in which people still believe the earth is flat, or would people of all timelines recognize it is not (assuming that the only thing changing is a discovery and not drastic changes like flat planets)? Because to reach the satellite age and still believe in a flat earth doesnt coincide well...or I'm overthinking things.

Evolution is only useful for countering a certain type of design, such as young earth creationism which states that a "kind" will never evolve to the point that it is no longer of that kind (amphibian to reptile, etc). Given that I believe a designed universe is far more likely to allow things like life and evolution to occur than a random chance "just because" universe, I don't think that evolution does much for atheists to counter the concept of design.

Cal Metzger said...

unkle: "(1) Do you think "the world reveals a world without design" is a scientific statement or just a "looks like" statement along the lines of the fine-tuning?"

I think the original subhead was more like, "How evolution reveals a world without design." So let's work with that understanding.

Reveals is a suggestive word, but in this case the original statement (I think it was the subhead to The Blind Watchmaker") was going for brevity. My understanding is that the sentiment would start to be expanded like this: "How evolutionary mechanisms (genetic replication, mutation, and natural selection) are sufficient to explain biological complexity once thought only achievable through design."

One can test evolutionary mechanisms, and disprove evolutionary theory. I don't think anyone can test fine tuning (not in any way that I can think of off the top of my head -- how does one experiment with a fundamental constant? etc.), nor, more importantly, disprove it. So, no, I don't think they're equivalent sentiments.

(2) If you think it is a scientific statement, what tests do you think verify this conclusion or falsify the alternative?

Everything in modern biology confirms evolutionary theory. The rabbit fossil in the Cambrian would falsify evolutionary theory. Finding organisms that procreate without DNA (the homunculus theory, etc.) would falsify evolutionary theory. Spontaneous generation would falsify evolutionary theory. Etc.

(3) If you don't think it is a scientific statement, then do you agree with Vic that Dawkins statements isn't scientific either?

Mostly I don't think I understand your questions. Do you think that writing about science is supposed to be a scientific process itself? The sentiment in question was a subhead to book, that accurately describes what Evolutionary theory suggests to those who have tried to understand it. I don't know what more needs to be said about it, or why this should be the source of any controversy.

B. Prokop said...

"How evolutionary mechanisms (genetic replication, mutation, and natural selection) are sufficient to explain biological complexity once thought only achievable through design."

For the last five years of my career in the Department of Defense, I was in charge of an extremely complex, half billion (!) dollar plan to design, build, and deploy a new system for disseminating lethal threat warning to US and allied forces worldwide. (I know, hard to believe, isn't it?) I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the mechanics of design, of project development, of iterative testing and so-called "spiral" implementation, to include such concepts as "Limited Operational Capability" and "Full Operational Capability" as well as the bewildering sea of acronyms associated with the awesomely complex testing process. (We had an entire publication devoted to just listing and expanding them. I myself was the proud creator of a now official DoD acronym, MSCP (pronounced miss-kip), or "Military Service Collection Platform").

My point here is that "evolution" is actually part and parcel of the design process, so I see no reason why both evolution and intelligent design cannot be simultaneously true.

Is this a battle that need not be fought?

Ilíon said...

VR: "What if Gore had won the 2000 election?"

B.Prokop: "But he did. The fact that it was stolen from him does not change that fact."

Could it be that B.Prokop has just provided us with direct evidence of the existence of the so-called "multi-verse"? Could it be that B.Prokop somehow "slipped" into *this* universe -- you know, the one in which Gore was trying to steal that election, but was ultimately prevented from doing so -- from some alternate universe in which Gore was/is (and Democrats in general are) an honest man, and where it is the Republicans who as a matter of course engage in electoral fraud, and in that election their fraud succeeded ... and, having "lost" the election, Gore didn't redirect his fraudulent talents into hypocritical environmentalism?

Or, is that a case where it is nearly impossible to overuse Ockham's Razor?

Ilíon said...

B.Prokop: "My point here is that "evolution" is actually part and parcel of the design process, so I see no reason why both evolution and intelligent design cannot be simultaneously true."

The *reason* that Saint Chuckie avoided using the word 'evolution' whenever he could avoid using it is that as coined and used for a couple of centuries prior to his dull-and-badly-reasoned tome, the word 'evolution' implied teleology ... and intelligent/actual design. Chuckie wanted to sever the intellectual linkage between the (or the purported) history and development of living organisms and the concept of a Creator of those organisms and their history and development; he could hardly do that while using a word that implied the very concept he wanted to deny-via-ignoring.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Saying "You don't understand science" isn't very helpful."

Is there any other way I could encourage you to write about science differently? If someone's writing suggests that they haven't grasped a concept, is there a better way to suggest that a fundamental misunderstanding seems to be the source of the problem?

VR: "Going by what you said, science, in an objective way, could have discovered a designed universe and didn't."

Hmmm. I don't think so. Are you talking about an alternate universe, where anything is possible, and not the one we inhabit? If so, I'd agree that IF we lived in an alternate (fundamentally different) universe THEN a scientific process would reveal those fundamental differences. So what?

VR: "Look, when a prosecutor says "The DNA evidence reveals that O. J. Simpson killed Nicole and Ron," that is meaningful in virtue of the fact that the evidence could have supported the idea that O. J. is innocent."

I think you are being sloppy with the use of the word "reveal" here. At most, a prosecutor could say that: "blood (or some other biological constituent) that contained OJ Simpson's DNA, and that was found at the scene of the crime, suggests that OJ Simpson was present sometime before, during, or after the crime was committed. The best explanation for the presence of the blood, containing OJ Simpson's DNA, found at the scene of the crime, is that OJ Simpson committed the crime."

VR: "There is plenty of evidence suggesting that the "objectivity" of science is vastly overrated."

Not really. There are certainly many cases of scientific experiments not being replicated, and the best explanation being that the scientists who carried out the original experiment fooled themselves (partly by not executing well on the controls established by scientific research). But this is always going to be the case where humans conduct science.

The "objectivity" of science would be vastly overrated if no one every failed to replicate an experiment. But the fact that there are experiments that fail to be replicated IS EXACTLY THE REASON THAT THE OBJECTIVITY OF SCIENCE IS HIGHLY RATED.

VR: "All I am saying it that if you are going to so science has discovered something, it has to be possible that science could have discovered something else."

And all I am saying is that this sentiment seems to be based on fundamental misunderstanding of science. Still.

SteveK said...

"My understanding is that the sentiment would start to be expanded like this: "How evolutionary mechanisms (genetic replication, mutation, and natural selection) are sufficient to explain biological complexity once thought only achievable through design.""

As I understand physics, the same statement can be said about physical complexity. The mechanisms of physics are sufficient to explain physical complexities of every form. Why does science find evidence that is consistent with design, except when it comes to the area of biology?

Victor Reppert said...

Hmmm. I don't think so. Are you talking about an alternate universe, where anything is possible, and not the one we inhabit? If so, I'd agree that IF we lived in an alternate (fundamentally different) universe THEN a scientific process would reveal those fundamental differences. So what?

A counterfacutal just is about an alternative universe. But a lot of people say that the methods of science preclude us by definition from identifying divine design.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "VR: "Going by what you said, science, in an objective way, could have discovered a designed universe and didn't."
Me: "Are you talking about an alternate universe, where anything is possible, and not the one we inhabit?"
VR: "A counterfacutal just is about an alternative universe. But a lot of people say that the methods of science preclude us by definition from identifying divine design."

I'm still confused about the point.

But yes, if there were an alternate universe were biological complexity were the result of a designer, and there was a coherent, tractable hypothesis for biological complexity stemming from design, then a scientific process would lead to that being the best explanation.

In that alternate universe, what would the design hypothesis for biological complexity be? If you don't have an answer, then why do you suppose that that's a problem for a scientific process?



Victor Reppert said...

This isn't a problem for science. This is a problem for some attempts by atheists to get atheistic results from evolutionary science.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "This isn't a problem for science. This is a problem for some attempts by atheists to get atheistic results from evolutionary science."

It seems to me that it's a problem for those who can't form a coherent ID hypothesis. I can't see how one could conclude otherwise.

Victor Reppert said...

Does incoherent mean here self-contradictory?

Ilíon said...

^ No. When a DarBot uses "incoherent" in such a context, all he means is "does not agree with the creation myth of atheism: UnIntelligent NonDesign". He *certainly* doesn't intend any standard meaning of the word, for that would be to admit the incoherency of UIND.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Does incoherent mean here self-contradictory?"

I meant it more like intractable, unproductive, and misguided.

Ilíon said...

^ What did I say? "He *certainly* doesn't intend any *standard* meaning of the word ..."

Cal Metzger said...

Master Chess Strategist: "If one follows these principles one will win 99.99% of all chess games against those who do not employ these principles."
Magical Chess Strategist: "But what if the rules of chess were different?"
Master Chess Strategist: "Then the principles that work on the current set of rules would probably be less effective."
Magical Chess Strategist: "This is a problem for those who say they have the best strategy for winning at chess."
Master Chess Strategist: "What?"

SteveK said...

What?

I *think* VR's point is that in order for Dawkins to say "The evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design", there must be some idea what the evidence would look like for a universe with design. If you have no idea what a universe with design would look like, how can Dawkins say "this universe is not that universe"?

Did I get that right, Victor, or am I equally confused?

David Brightly said...

VR:

With respect to science, it seems as if those who claim that scientific evidence has established something, there has to be an alternative history of science that would have established the opposite.

All I am saying it that if you are going to say science has discovered something, it has to be possible that science could have discovered something else.


No. There might be an alternative history of science in which Boyle's Law is discovered by Hooke, say. But an alternative history in which Boyle's Law is false would require an alternative universe, would it not?

B. Prokop said...

I love what SteveK wrote - sums up the problem succinctly.

Did Dawkins ever define what a designed universe would look like? If not (and I don't recall him ever doing so), then he cannot say that evolution says anything whatsoever about whether our universe is designed or not.

Before I can say that a ball game has been rigged, I first need to know what a rigged ball game would look like.

Cal Metzger said...

Brightly: "No. There might be an alternative history of science in which Boyle's Law is discovered by Hooke, say. But an alternative history in which Boyle's Law is false would require an alternative universe, would it not?"

Yup. So I'm not sure what VR's point is, either.

The best I can make out is this:
1. Evolutionary theory explains how the kind of complexity that was once thought of as best explained by design can happen instead through evolutionary processes;
2. BUT, because one could never absolutely rule out design further up the chain (origin of life, parameters of physical constants, existence per se), then Dawkins et al. are the worst because they have pronounced that design is impossible because of evolution.

There are basic problems with that argument. Mostly because 2 strains so hard to be uncharitable about what Dawkins et al.'s real position is (hence, I suppose, my own inclination to not bend over backwards trying to find the most charitable reading I could imagine regarding VR's point), and also because there are real problems with hanging all your epistemic hopes on "not impossible, therefore right!"

I'll just observe that, aside from superstitions, what else do people believe because its non-existence can't be absolutely proven? Anything?

Hmmm.

bmiller said...


How is this is for an alternate history?

Scientists try to determine if there is intelligent life in outer space. But how to proceed with the experiment? It was determined that it was possible that intelligent life could communicate their existence by transmission of information in radio waves. There was a large amount of background noise, but scientists would look for some sort of regularity or pattern that could be plucked out of the background white noise.

So they spend lots of money and set up large radio receivers and use megawatts of computing power to see if they could detect any regularity in background noise. They know if they could find some sort of repeatable pattern or range of repeatable patterns rather than no repeatable patterns at all they would have found that intelligent life has been detected. They decide to call it SETI.

Other scientists think, hey wait! Maybe we could use the same methodology in a different scientific field. Maybe we can monitor different forms of life as they generate and see if there is some sort of pattern as to the characteristics of their offspring. If there is a detected range of repeatability then we can come up with a theory that can explain why there are not random chaotic outcomes. Then just like the SETI guys who have detected a signal from the noise of the background radiation of the universe and concluded than an intelligence exists, then we would have proven that an intelligence exists!

When the proposal hits the desk of university president Cal Metzger he denies funding. :-)

Ilíon said...

B.Prokop: "Before I can say that a ball game has been rigged, I first need to know what a rigged ball game would look like."

The thing about a rigged ball game, and a designed universe, is that the rigger/designer is an agent ... and thus has a great deal of freedom as to how he will rig/design it. That is, for a great many of the elements of the rigged game or designed universe, there may not be "a way it has to be".

However, in an unrigged game or in an undesigned universe, most, or even all, the elements have "a way it has to be".

The point is, it's easier to specify what an unrigged game or an undesigned universe will look like, because there are fewer possibilities.

An undesigned universe will not, because it cannot, be home to rational beings. So, if you find a universe with rational beings, you know that you've found a designed one.

David Brightly said...

Regarding the subtitle of Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker: Of course it's not a scientific statement. Does TBW incline people to think that you don't need Paley's God to explain the variety of species? In my case, Yes. So we might call it a 'meta-scientific' statement, as it's about the sociological impact of a scientific theory.

More generally, I think that attempts to bolster faith by deflating science will be counter-productive. They will certainly invite the risk that more reasoned claims for faith will be dismissed as the words of anti-science cranks. This is not to say that the expansion and professionalisation of science has not raised questions about the quality of some of the work that's being done, eg, here. But again, these issues do not detract from the results achieved in the past, which form the bulk of our scientific knowledge, or the best work currently being done, such as at CERN or the ESA Gaia project, which would not be possible without the professionalisation.

Cal Metzger said...

Brightly: "Regarding the subtitle of Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker: Of course it's not a scientific statement. Does TBW incline people to think that you don't need Paley's God to explain the variety of species? In my case, Yes. So we might call it a 'meta-scientific' statement, as it's about the sociological impact of a scientific theory."

Yup.

bmiller: "Maybe we could use the same methodology in a different scientific field. Maybe we can monitor different forms of life as they generate and see if there is some sort of pattern as to the characteristics of their offspring. If there is a detected range of repeatability then we can come up with a theory that can explain why there are not random chaotic outcomes. Then just like the SETI guys who have detected a signal from the noise of the background radiation of the universe and concluded than an intelligence exists, then we would have proven that an intelligence exists! / When the proposal hits the desk of university president Cal Metzger he denies funding. :-)"

ID Proponents: "We can't come up with a hypothesis."
Rest of world: "Okay."
ID Proponents: "Don't you want to know why we can't come up with a hypothesis?"
Rest of world: "Sure."
ID Proponents: "Scientists!"

Every ID discussion ever.

B. Prokop said...

So what exactly would a designed universe look like? Well, for starters, it would demonstrate strict regularity in its laws (how things behaved within it). It would be a universe in which predictions could be made, i.e., one could formulate a hypothesis and test it, confident that the results would be capable of confirming or disproving the hypothesis. It would be a universe in which all the parts fit together seamlessly (there wouldn't be any element that does not interact with the others, or there wouldn't be two contradictory laws).

I could probably add a few more descriptives, but those should do for now.

Now what would an undesigned universe look like? For one thing, the idea of "Laws of Nature" simply wouldn't exist. The behavior of matter and energy would be unpredictable. "Magic" would be the norm. Contradictory "laws" would be the Rule of the Day, making a prediction in the laboratory or in the field impossible (or at the very best, sporadic). And the result of a test could never be confidently traced to any particular cause, since "Cause and Effect" would not be uniformly operative.

Hmm... which of those two decriptions best fits the universe in which we find ourselves?

Aron Zavaro said...

B. Kropop,

Why do you think an undesigned world would be chaotic rather than uniform? Uniformity is more simple than chaos. Simplicity is more probable than complexity and therefore, prior to observation, we would expect and undesigned world to exhibit more simplicity and chaos . The ID theorists routinely use complexity as evidence of design, but you seem to be using the simplicity of nature as evidence of design.

And we do you think an undersigned world would exhibit contradictory laws? The law of noncontradiction says that no contradictions can be true. Laws of nature describe true facts about the world, so if there were contradictory laws, that would mean there are true contradictory facts about the world. Because this violates the Law of Noncontradoction, there is no possible world with contradictory physical laws. Therefore, even in an undesigned world, contradictory laws are the last thing we should expect

B. Prokop said...

"The ID theorists routinely use..."

Well, I am not an ID theorist, but I have been involved in real-world design and development of truly gigantic communications systems. In my real-world experience, complexity and internal contradiction have been hallmarks of the absence of (or, best case scenario, poor) design. The more designed a system, the simpler it is, and the less presence of conflicting or contradictory elements. This shows up most clearly when dealing with software, but the principle holds true for hardware as well.

"Simplicity" by the way, does not equate to "simple" but rather to how relevant to the overall purpose of the system each sub-element is. Simplicity is the absence of superfluous components.

The Law of Non-contradiction is actually a feature of a designed universe. We do not observe contradiction in our universe precisely because it is designed.

And all that I have just written is part and parcel of why I do not consider ID to be "science". The principle of design enfolds and contains science, in the same way that logic and mathematics do, yet are themselves not science.

Cal Metzger said...

@Prokop

So what exactly would armchair speculation about the nature of the universe look like? Well, for starters, it would contain mundane observations about our universe, and combine these with untestable intuitions. It would contain fuzzy language and make assertions based on questionable premises.

So what would real inquiry into the nature of reality look like? It would use a process that is verifiable, reliable, and objective. It would use clear terms, and test predictions, and question premises in ways that are productive. And it would not make conclusions, or insert premises, about things that aren't known or can't be known.

Hmmm. Which of these two descriptions best fits your previous comment?

Ilíon said...

B.Prokop: "Now what would an undesigned universe look like? For one thing, the idea of "Laws of Nature" simply wouldn't exist. The behavior of matter and energy would be unpredictable. "Magic" would be the norm. Contradictory "laws" would be the Rule of the Day, making a prediction in the laboratory or in the field impossible (or at the very best, sporadic). And the result of a test could never be confidently traced to any particular cause, since "Cause and Effect" would not be uniformly operative."

Aron Zavaro beat me to pointing out that even an undersigned universe (assuming there could be such a thing in the first place) could not be random and self-contradictory on the one hand and actually existing on the other.

However, what B.Prokop describes *is* what those human beings who believe/assert an undesigned universe *always* end up believing to be the truth about the nature of the universe.


B.Prokop: "The Law of Non-contradiction is actually a feature of a designed universe. We do not observe contradiction in our universe precisely because it is designed."

Well, no: the Law of Non-contradiction is a feature of actually existing; "we do not observe [inherent or foundational] contradiction in our universe precisely because [the universe actually exists]."

Aron Zavaro: "Why do you think an undesigned world would be chaotic rather than uniform? Uniformity is more simple than chaos. Simplicity is more probable than complexity and therefore, prior to observation, we would expect and undesigned world to exhibit more simplicity and chaos."

B.Prokop: ""Simplicity" by the way, does not equate to "simple" but rather to how relevant to the overall purpose of the system each sub-element is. Simplicity is the absence of superfluous components."

"Uniformity" or "order" may be simpler to describe than "chaos" or "disorder" is; this is not the same thing as being simpler in fact.

B.Prokop: "In my real-world experience, complexity and internal contradiction have been hallmarks of the absence of (or, best case scenario, poor) design."

A self-contradictory universe will eventually get the Blue Screen of Death.

B. Prokop said...

As Ilion says, any universe that actually exists (as does ours), must of necessity be designed, if only to avoid the Blue Screen of Death!

I have sat through (and chaired) enough System Requirements Reviews, Preliminary Design Reviews, Critical Design Reviews, and Operational Readiness Reviews, etc., etc., etc., to understand well enough that the only way to avoid internal contradictions within a system is design, design, and yet more design.

Ilíon said...

^ That's because:
1) we are finite, and prone to distractions and other mistakes
2) the "internal contradictions within [the] system[s]" we design are not always immediately (*) apparent and fatal.


(*) consider Intel's early Pentium Floating Point Unit bug of circa 1985.

Ilíon said...

^^ Also, that is *not* what Ilion said.

B. Prokop said...

Hah! In this post-modernist, deconstructionist era, what Ilion said is what others say he said, and not what he thinks he said!

As the linked article states, "Words have meaning only because of contrast-effects with other words ... meaning is never present, but rather is deferred to other signs ... it is not enough to expose and deconstruct the way oppositions work and then stop there in a nihilistic or cynical position, thereby preventing any means of intervening in the field effectively. To be effective, deconstruction needs to create new terms, not to synthesize the concepts in opposition, but to mark their difference and eternal interplay. ... Undecidables, that is, unities of simulacrum, are "false" verbal properties (nominal or semantic) that can no longer be included within philosophical (binary) opposition: but which, however, inhabit philosophical oppositions, resisting and organizing it, without ever constituting a third term, without ever leaving room for a solution in the form of Hegelian dialectics."

See? Alles klar?

Ilíon said...

"Hah! In this post-modernist, deconstructionist era, what Ilion said is what others say he said, and not what he thinks he said!"

I've long noticed that or a similar phenomenon.

bmiller said...



@Cal


Cal:
""ID Proponents: "We can't come up with a hypothesis."
Rest of world: "Okay."
ID Proponents: "Don't you want to know why we can't come up with a hypothesis?"
Rest of world: "Sure."
ID Proponents: "Scientists!""

I see you missed my point. Let be make it more succintly:
1) No need to speculate how scientists would test for design. SETI is how they are doing it.
2) SETI theory is that intelligence is present if noise in the data is not. (Let me know if you want the technical specifics).
3) Biological observational data indicate that generation to generation genetic characteristics are not random noise (for they have a predictible range of outcomes).
4) So, using the same scientific method SETI uses, we can deduce intelligence is responsible for biological generation.

BTW, predictions about the past state of a species and future state of a species would not be possible if the process of evolution was indeed random.

So my point was not that scientists are the problem, it was that the evidence used to support the theory of evolution would be interpreted as sign of intelligent design by SETI scientists using their methodology.









bmiller said...

@B.Prokop

"I have sat through (and chaired) enough System Requirements Reviews, Preliminary Design Reviews, Critical Design Reviews, and Operational Readiness Reviews, etc., etc., etc., to understand well enough that the only way to avoid internal contradictions within a system is design, design, and yet more design."

As a Catholic doesn't all of that suffering count as "time served" in Purgatory? :-)

B. Prokop said...

"As a Catholic doesn't all of that suffering count as "time served" in Purgatory?"

Yeah.. that, and "conversing" with some of the people on this site.

Aron Zavaro said...

B. Prokop: "The more designed a system, the simpler it is."

Surely you can't think this is true without adding some caveat. Imagine a simple form of shelter, like a cave or two rocks leaning against each other. Now imagine a more complex form of shelter, like the MGM Grand Casino is Las Vegas. According to your principle that, "The more designed a system, the simpler it is," you must say that the cave or the rocks are more likely to be designed than the MGM, when in fact the opposite is true. Or compare a simple face (the "man on the moon") to a complex one (the Mona Lisa). The complex face is obviously the designed one. Or imagine a simple eyespot on a unicellular organism, compared to the complex human eye. Are you really suggesting that the human eye is less indicative of design than the simple unicellular eye spot?

Surely, complexity is the hallmark of design, not simplicity.

B. Prokop said...

"without adding some caveat"

I already did, when I wrote the following: "Simplicity" by the way, does not equate to "simple" but rather to how relevant to the overall purpose of the system each sub-element is. Simplicity is the absence of superfluous components.

By that standard, the MGM Grand is far from simple (as well as being very poorly designed), since it contains much that is superfluous. As my late father-in-law (an engineer) was fond of saying, "Architecture is what falls off during an earthquake. Engineering is what remains standing."

Aron Zavaro said...

Ok, so simplicity is the absence of superfluous components. Simplicity, according to this definition, is the hallmark of design? If so, then that means that the MGM doesn't bear the marks of design, because it is not simple at all.

B. Prokop said...

Before we proceed further down this rabbit hole, my point behind bringing up simplicity was that I don't think much of "irreducible complexity" arguments. That's the only thing I was trying to get across, but my comment seems to have acquired a life of its own, and spun off in directions I never intended.

So I'll attempt to return the conversation to the original track of what traits would one expect from a designed universe. And yes, such a universe would be "simple" in the sense that I was using the term - there would be nothing extraneous to the Grand Design. No "law of nature" would exist in Splendid Isolation, not contributing to the entire schema. Everything would not only fit together, but would mutually interact with every other part.

Some years ago, in contemplating the black space I see in my telescope between the stars, it occurred to me that, if I had a larger instrument, what I saw as unrelieved black would be peppered with stars too dim for me to see through my own scope. And if I were doing long exposure imaging of that same patch of sky, still more stars would be visible. And then, were I out in space above the atmosphere and could capture wavelengths unseen down here at sea level, the "black" would ultimately disappear altogether.

That's when it hit me. With sufficiently powerful instruments and long enough exposure time, one could see to the very end of creation, picking up every last star there was in whatever direction you looked. The mind-blowing implication of that realization was that every last cubic inch of space in the universe was filled with light from every other cubic inch of space in the entire cosmos. It was all interconnected, and intimately so. In a very real sense, we can never be alone - we are always and everywhere accompanied by everything that exists.

Now that's what I mean by simplicity.

Cal Metzger said...

bmiler: "I see you missed my point. Let be make it more succintly: / 1) No need to speculate how scientists would test for design. SETI is how they are doing it."

SETI is a project to search for intelligent life outside our solar system. It is not a test. And it is not about design.

bmiller: "2) SETI theory is that intelligence is present if noise in the data is not. (Let me know if you want the technical specifics)."

There is no "SETI theory." There is an best a guess that if intelligent life exists outside our solar system it might leave intentional or unintentional patterns in observed signals that are best explained as the product of that intelligence. SETI is basically setting up listening devices to see if these signals exist.

bmiller: "3) Biological observational data indicate that generation to generation genetic characteristics are not random noise (for they have a predictible range of outcomes)."

The above sentence is nonsensical. Have you ever studied biology?

bmiller: "4) So, using the same scientific method SETI uses, we can deduce intelligence is responsible for biological generation."

Can we now. Do tell.


Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "Before we proceed further down this rabbit hole, my point behind bringing up simplicity was that I don't think much of "irreducible complexity" arguments. That's the only thing I was trying to get across, but my comment seems to have acquired a life of its own, and spun off in directions I never intended."

I've noticed that this happens when one writes ridiculous things without having thought through what those ridiculous things might actually mean. It's a 100% predictable outcome, really.

bmiller said...

@Cal

As far as I can tell, I only see 2 points that you are disputing:

"It is not a test. And it is not about design."

Cal:"SETI is basically setting up listening devices to see if these signals exist."
I call this a test.

Cal:"signals that are best explained as the product of that intelligence."
I call "products of intelligence" design.

Thank you for countering your own points. :-)

B. Prokop said...

"I've noticed that this happens when one writes ridiculous things without having thought through what those ridiculous things might actually mean."

Not so, Cal. I save all such comments for my own blog. Here however, like Jack Handey, I think only Deep Thoughts.

Ilíon said...

^ I'm pretty sure he was talking about noticing the results of his own posts.

bmiller said...

@B. Prokop

"Here however, like Jack Handey, I think only Deep Thoughts.

This is very subtle Mr. Prokop. You made me go to the website and click the humorpiece:

http://www.deepthoughtsbyjackhandey.com/category/humorpiece/

Are you implying by this that you've discovered Cal's motive?

Ilíon said...

While one doesn't wish to engage in motive-mongering -- let's leave that for the 'atheists' and DarwinSniffers -- Cal's motive has never been deeply hidden.

B. Prokop said...

bmiller,

Well, Ilion is always getting on me for having nuance, so I guess it does no harm to add subtlety to my list of sins.

Ilíon said...

^ Not so. Ilion does not condemn nuance; he condemns various subtle dishonesties presented as though they were nuance.

bmiller said...

Just to clarify.

I laughed out loud at the DeepThoughts article and by no means was seriously attributing it Cal.

Ilíon said...

must.resist.

Cal Metzger said...

"Cal:"SETI is basically setting up listening devices to see if these signals exist."
bmiller: "I call this a test."

Yeah, on re-reading, I agree with you. I meant that the listening done by SETI still doesn't give us a conclusive result when the results are negative. But because it could have discovered patterned radio waves (a positive) right out of the box then it's asinine for me to not call that a kind of test.

bmiller: "As far as I can tell, I only see 2 points that you are disputing: "It is not a test. And it is not about design." "

I think that I must have misunderstood you to mean that you were talking about intelligent design (a supernatural kind), not mundane design. I think that I am being confused by your writing statements like this:

bmiller: "So, using the same scientific method SETI uses, we can deduce intelligence is responsible for biological generation."

Can you explain what you mean by this, because I still get what your trying to say.

bmiller said...

@Cal,

"Can you explain what you mean by this, because I still get what your trying to say."

Sorry, I'm reading this sentence and I'm not quite sure what the question is. I realize it's difficult to do a back and forth in a combox.

Here's a suggestion. Since you want me to explain something that you consider unclear, why not list the possible meanings of mine that seem ambiguous to you. That way I can understand how I came off as ambiguous (and avoid this situation in the future) and directly address your concern.

David Brightly said...

BM sees an analogy between possible regularities in SETI radio data and the observed regularities between the generations in plants and animals. If the first would reveal intelligent intervention then why not the second? The difference that breaks the analogy here is that we have a good naturalistic theory that explains the similarities between the generations, namely, the biochemistry of DNA, and this theory is itself embedded in a larger theory that explains a whole lot of other stuff as well. We don't have a theory for SETI regularities. Not surprisingly, as we haven't seen any yet, though we do have a theory for the regularities we attribute to things we call 'pulsars'. So uni pres CM denies funding for BM's research program essentially because the work has already been done.

But this is just Paley once again, isn't it? When we lack a naturalistic explanation for something we tend to see an intelligent hand in it.

David Brightly said...

Regarding the discussion about the characteristics of design: This reveals the Paley effect too. Since the only kind of design we know is human design we naturally project human design values onto the universal designer. This is OK if one sees the designer in some sense as a person. But as the discussion shows, there are tensions between conflicting human values such as simplicity versus complexity, regularity versus randomness. As we don't know the mind of the designer we don't know how these tensions are to be resolved.

David Brightly said...

Bob, you are a wonderful mystic.

"The mind-blowing implication of that realization was that every last cubic inch of space in the universe was filled with light from every other cubic inch of space in the entire cosmos. It was all interconnected, and intimately so. In a very real sense, we can never be alone - we are always and everywhere accompanied by everything that exists.

Now that's what I mean by simplicity."

Yes, exceptionlessness.

Cal Metzger said...

bmiller: "So, using the same scientific method SETI uses, we can deduce intelligence is responsible for biological generation."

Me: I don't get it.

bmiller: "Since you want me to explain something that you consider unclear, why not list the possible meanings of mine that seem ambiguous to you."

Okay. For starters, there is a scientific method (give or take, involving empiricism, testing, experiment, replication, etc.), and there are specific "methods" that I could ascribe to SETI - radio receivers, mathematical formulas, etc. I assume you mean something more like the first, but that would seem like you're just asserting something like, ID is science, which requires you ignore the many reasons that the scientific community has rejected that notion. Hence, my thinking I misunderstand you.

You say "deduce intelligence." While I might agree that SETI has a good system for deducing intelligence from radio wave signals (I really don't now enough about the project), I don't know anything about a system for "deducing intelligence" from "biological generation."

Lastly, what do you mean by "biological generation?" Did you mean regeneration? Or do you mean something like a lifespan, or cohort? Or do you mean something like "generate," as in undergo a lifecycle? This is what I mean when I ask you if you studied biology -- the term, like your earlier "tested positive for high probability" seems to jumble together two different concepts in a way that makes it hard to determine if you mean one or the other.

B. Prokop said...

"Yes, exceptionlessness."

Not that there's anything wrong with that!

"All things were made through [the Word], and without him was not anything made that was made."

"The true light that enlightens every man..."

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."

"the fulness of [Christ] who fills all in all"

"the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin"

"God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth"

"The Lord is ... not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."

Or my favorite:

"For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."

Aron Zavaro said...

Contrary to some of the naturalists who say that ID is not science because you can't test supernatural claims, I think that many of the classic arguments for evolution DEPEND on our ability to test supernatural claims.

Darwin himself made this sort of argument:

1. We observe a particular geographic distribution of species
2. If evolution were true, we'd expect this precise geographic distribution
3. If special creationism were true, we wouldn't expect this precise geographic distribution
4. Therefore, this geographic distribution favors evolution over creationism

This is a very standard type of argument for evolution. You can find them in Darwin, Dawkins, Gould, etc. These types of argument depend on our ability to derive empirical predictions from supernatural hypotheses, which is precisely what methodological naturalists say is impossible.

oozzielionel said...

We observe a particular.
If A is true, A could produce this particular.
If B is true, B could produce something else.
Therefore A is true and B is false.

Cal Metzger said...

Zavaro: "Darwin himself made this sort of argument:"

What are the odds that you ever read Origin of Species?

Because what you write doesn't sound like what I remember his book being about at all.

SteveK said...

What are the odds that you remembered the book correctly?
What are the odds that someone is relying on the genetic fallacy?

B. Prokop said...

"Therefore A is true and B is false."

I'm not so sure about this. Might not there be a C which alters the "pure" effects of B, so that the particular is observed in combination of the two, without A being involved at all?

Gene A accounts for red hair.
Gene B accounts for some other color.
Hair Dye C turns one's hair red.
B and C in combination results in red hair being observed.

Cal Metzger said...

steveK; "What are the odds that you remembered the book correctly?"

Let's say they're a tad higher than the odds that you've ever read Origin of Species.

Stevek: "What are the odds that someone is relying on the genetic fallacy?"

Seeing as how my comment to Zavaro had NOTHING to do with the genetic fallacy (among other things, I don't have any memory of Zavaro's previous comments if he had ever commented here), I'd say the odds aren't very high.

But, I've found that with regards to the comments that follow your name, the genetic fallacy performs almost flawlessly.

So go figure.

bmiller said...

@Cal,

I'm glad you did some research on SETI. Pretty cool isn't it? I'm hoping that will help you understand my rephrased argument.

Trigger Warning:
I'm introducing a new word here in order to avoid a "ID is not science" discussion. I will use "intelligent agency".


1) SETI claims to use scientific methodology to be able to identify intelligent agency.
2) The premise behind this methodology is that if measurement data indicate patterns appear distinct from the noise then intelligent agency is somehow responsible for the patterns.
3) If we conclude the SETI methodology is scientifically valid, then in principle, we can perform similar experiments in other fields of science.

If you reject #1 and #2, then please contact SETI immediately and tell them to stop. Then tell me where I can get a tax refund. :-)

#3 is my challenge to you. I want you to tell me why, if science can detect intelligent agency with this type of experiment, the same type of methodology cannot be used in the field of biology, evolution or any other field of science. I'll leave it for you to make your case, using your choice of terms. It seems my choice of terms is too distracting.

BTW, the question is not whether the measurement data indicate simple or complex patterns since both would indicate some sort of order/agency. Chaos, lack of order is neither simple or complex. It's just unintelligible.

Cal Metzger said...

bmiller: "#3 is my challenge to you. I want you to tell me why, if science can detect intelligent agency with this type of experiment, the same type of methodology cannot be used in the field of biology, evolution or any other field of science."

I don't know how to turn SETI into a biological experiment.

Neither does anyone else.

If you disagree, then please tell us what the ID hypothesis is (which essentially means how it would be falsified).

Victor Reppert said...

What is the atheist hypothesis, and how could it be falsified?

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "What is the atheist hypothesis, and how could it be falsified?"

There could be a godlike person, who shows up in real life, and does what people say he should do. And that is falsified.

But that's really the theist hypothesis. So your question is kind of malformed, because the absence of a claim isn't a claim.

B. Prokop said...

"because the absence of a claim isn't a claim"

For the one billionth time - atheism does make a claim: "There is no God."

Agnosticism on the other hand, can be the absence of a claim, unless its claim is that the truth is unknowable. That in itself is a claim.

But anyone who answers the question, "Does God exist?" with "I don't know" is not an atheist.

Legion of Logic said...

"What is the atheist hypothesis, and how could it be falsified?"

To avoid the "lack of claim/belief" dodge, I propose:

Why does the universe have properties to allow life and evolution?

Theist: Intent.
Atheist: Just because...after all, we either just happen to live in one of the infinite number of universes (of which there is no evidence of any others) that allows life, or our universe is the only one and it just so happens to have those properties, for no reason whatsoever other than the most ridiculously lucky random chance. Now we may not be able to provide any answers at all as atheists, but we know there isn't a god!

I leave it to the readers to determine which is a better explanation. I go with intent myself, and await a better atheistic explanation. Because there isn't much competition at the moment.

Ilíon said...

Zavaro: "Darwin himself made this sort of argument: [clip]"

Cal Metzger: "What are the odds that you ever read Origin of Species?"

The odds that Aron has read that turgid tome appear to be greater than that Cal has (*), since Saint Chuckie dues make arguments like that. In fact, the book can be summarized this way: "God wouldn't have done it that way ... therefore, it just happened, all by itself."


(*) DarwinDefenders rarely have read any of it

David Brightly said...

Aron Z seems to be charging naturalists with a performative inconsistency. On the one hand they say that one can't derive empirical predictions from supernatural hypotheses and on the other their arguments for evolution appear to do just that. He offers just such a schematic argument that he claims to find in Darwin, Dawkins, etc.

I reply that we have to distinguish argument within a naturalistic theory like Darwinian Evolution from the dialectic that surrounds comparison of rival theories (including non-naturalistic ones). In the Origin Darwin never mentions creationism. God appears three times, with two of these in quotes from other authors. Methodological naturalism eschews the supernatural as an explanatory element, and Darwin is properly naturalistic. On the other hand, an advocate of DE seeking to persuade you of the merits of the theory over Special Creation might say something like this: DE, from within its own resources, can correctly predict the distribution of species. SC, again within its own resources, makes no such predictions, or makes wrong predictions. Which theory is the more powerful? Which one will you buy? The choice is yours!

Part of the confusion lies in the thought that there can be 'an argument for Evolution'. Pace Jerry Coyne there is no sound argument that concludes 'Therefore, Evolution is True'. There are theories, which have sound arguments within them, and there are sales pitches. Aron's argument schema is a sales pitch.

David Brightly said...

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

Turgid? You choose!

David Brightly said...

BM's challenge is based on a false assumption. He says,
3) If we conclude the SETI methodology is scientifically valid, then in principle, we can perform similar experiments in other fields of science.
But it isn't scientifically valid. There are instruments whose theory of operation we understand for detecting electrons and photons. There is no instrument for detecting 'intelligent agency'. The best we can do is to find patterns in the radio signals that we can't explain through our current scientific theories. We then make the meta-scientific inference that the patterns have an intelligent source. On the other hand, the patterns we find in the forms of successive generations of living things already have a scientific explanation. Why seek a redundant meta-scientific one?

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "Why does the universe have properties to allow life and evolution?"

A hypothesis (what Victor asked for) can be falsified. How could your question above be falsified?

Here's a claim: religious believers won't actually offer a real hypothesis for their god belief (one that could actually be falsified). A real one. Not some kind of restatement of personal belief (yawn). A real hypothesis.

Cue the excuses.

Btw, this isn''t confined to just this blog, or apologists, or Christians, etc. It's common to all varieties of religious belief.






Legion of Logic said...

"A hypothesis (what Victor asked for) can be falsified. How could your question above be falsified?"

Victor asked for an atheistic scientific hypothesis (since he brought up falsifiability, I assume he is talking scientific).

Mine is not a scientific question, in that it is not dependent on the scientific method to answer. It is indeed up to the individual, not some experiment, to answer for themselves. You can yawn and ignore it, but the question remains, and the answer to the question is not kind to atheism. Intent is a far, far better explanation for the existence of life and evolution than incredible just-because-lucky-random-chance or a magic multiverse for which there is no evidence. Feel free to explain how ridiculously long odds or an invisible multiverse is a better explanation than intent.

God is not a scientific area of study, so there is literally no point in offering some "falsifiable hypothesis" about God. Science is for studying the universe, so if atheists wish to demand a "God hypothesis" then they can first demonstrate that God must be part of the universe, or at the very least reliably detectable by the scientific method. Demonstrating that science is the only valid form of knowing wouldn't hurt, either, so that the consideration of non-scientific questions is proven meaningless. If they can't, well...intent.

Note, I'm not talking about ID vs evolution, as in the explanation of how certain traits or features of X organism arose. I'm saying, in a universe that exists solely by the purest chance, with absolutely no reason to have one characteristic over another beyond complete randomness, or in a universe that was made for a purpose, which would we more expect to have life featuring the ability to adapt and survive? Obviously the answer is the created universe, which is why evolution is useless as an argument against God or creation.

Cal Metzger said...

@Legion, I think it's a live question whether or not we are the product of a designed universe. (I think that it's also possible that we are autonomous agents that are part of a simulation, etc.)

I don't, for instance, rule out deism. I think that theism has, however, been laid to rest.

I always find it odd that those who take your position are unsettled by the prospect of a universe that "just is," whereas the same explanation for a being capable of creating the universe being a "just is" explanation seems satisfying. I don't know if I will ever understand why that should be, but it has never made any sense to me.

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "Mine is not a scientific question, in that it is not dependent on the scientific method to answer."

This seems a lot to me like an alchemist asserting that he has turned lead into gold, just not in the way that the lead should have any of the characteristics (malleability, conductivity, shine, color, etc.) of gold. If you put all that aside, Voila!

B. Prokop said...

"so if atheists wish to demand a "God hypothesis" then they can first demonstrate that God must be part of the universe"

Bingo! And this is precisely why atheists always get their knickers in a twist every time the terms "natural" and "supernatural" are brought up. They know all too well that to cede that point is to see their entire house of cards come tumbling down.

Cal Metzger said...

"so if atheists wish to demand a "God hypothesis" then they can first demonstrate that God must be part of the universe"

Prokop: "Bingo!"

Um, so god isn't involved in the universe at all? That's kind of the atheists point.

If God's not part of the universe, if he's not involved at all, then, well, what are religious believers even saying?

Really, it's kind of a head scratcher, isn't it?

Theist: "God must not be part of the universe!"
Atheist: "I feel like I don't even know you anymore."

B. Prokop said...

"so [G]od isn't involved in the universe at all?"

No-o-o-o-o, He isn't part of the universe, but he is most definitely involved in it. I would imagine that creating and then redeeming the world count as being involved in it.

Is a painter not involved in his painting, because he himself is not part of the painting? Is an architect not involved in a building, because he is not physically part of the building?

Victor Reppert said...

Aron, who by his posts elsewhere appears to be an atheist, makes an excellent point. Darwinists often use theological arguments. The Panda's Thumb argument is a good example. If the Panda were created by God, he would have a better thumb, so he wasn't an the evolutionary explanation is better. That treats the hypothesis of creation as testable, contrary to the Argument from Untestability.

bmiller said...

@Cal,

Cal:"I always find it odd that those who take your position are unsettled by the prospect of a universe that "just is," whereas the same explanation for a being capable of creating the universe being a "just is" explanation seems satisfying. I don't know if I will ever understand why that should be, but it has never made any sense to me."

I recall you mentioned that you believed at one time. I understand if you don't want to, but can you tell me which denomination you were in? I'm hoping that will give me some insight into your former belief system. It seems you are hearing some of these arguments for the first time.

For instance, if you understand the Unmoved Mover argument, even if you reject it, you could understand how people use reason to conclude that God isn't a "just is", but a necessary being, while the universe cannot be a "just is".

Cal:"I don't, for instance, rule out deism. I think that theism has, however, been laid to rest."

This is interesting also. What do you consider the differences between deism and theism?

David Brightly said...

I don't think it's treating the creation hypothesis as testable. It's what I'm calling a sales pitch. In this case a challenge to the rival salesman to improve his product with a better explanation as to why the panda's thumb is so poor. Not unlike the argument from evil.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

I did see your thoughtful comments above. It shows you understand the basic thrust of the argument. I'm not sure if everyone could follow along if we started to discuss the technical details.

I this observation of yours is very insightful:

DB:"We then make the meta-scientific inference that the patterns have an intelligent source."

Some people would demand scientific empirical evidence that there is such a thing as "meta-scientific", the demand of course itself being "meta-scientific".

B. Prokop said...

I've never understood the appeal of the "Panda's Thumb" argument. It appears to boil down to this:

- The Panda's thumb is poorly adapted to the animal's requirements; therefore evolution.

Yet,

- Everywhere in nature, we see specific features of living organisms that are optimal for their unique environments; therefore evolution.

Anyone besides me notice the talking out of both sides of one's mouth?

David Brightly said...

Thanks, BM. Yes, I'm assuming that what I mean by meta-scientific is obvious. Not easily explained in a combox!

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Darwinists often use theological arguments. The Panda's Thumb argument is a good example. If the Panda were created by God, he would have a better thumb, so he wasn't an the evolutionary explanation is better. That treats the hypothesis of creation as testable, contrary to the Argument from Untestability."

That's not a theological argument.

That's a criticism of the notion that the intelligent designer is intelligent, given that (and I find this admirable) the ID proponent is trying to find a way to make the notion tractable (and falsifiable).

Cal Metzger said...

bmiller: "I recall you mentioned that you believed at one time. I understand if you don't want to, but can you tell me which denomination you were in? I'm hoping that will give me some insight into your former belief system."

I was raised Lutheran.

bmiller: "It seems you are hearing some of these arguments for the first time."

Why would you think that?

bmiller: "For instance, if you understand the Unmoved Mover argument, even if you reject it, you could understand how people use reason to conclude that God isn't a "just is", but a necessary being, while the universe cannot be a "just is".

Because some people are satisfied with sophistry doesn't mean that one should accept sophistry.

bmiller: "This is interesting also. What do you consider the differences between deism and theism?"

A deistic god is one who created the universe, but is not involved (or doesn't care) in what happens to it now. A theistic god created the universe, but is actively involved, and cares, about what happens inside it.

bmiller said...

@Cal,

bmiller: "It seems you are hearing some of these arguments for the first time."
Cal:"Why would you think that?"

Well, most recently your dialog with Bob Prokop regarding God's interaction with the universe and your assumption that believers believe that God "just is". Is that what you learned as Lutheran theology?

Cal:" I always find it odd that those who ........I don't know if I will ever understand why that should be, but it has never made any sense to me. "
Me:"You may disagree with their reasoning, but reason A is why they think the way they do"
Cal:"I disagree with their reasoning"

I feel like I walked into the wrong room at the Argument Clinic.

I don't usually think of deists as atheists so that's interesting. It seems from your posts that you would oppose any sort of deity.


Legion of Logic said...

"I always find it odd that those who take your position are unsettled by the prospect of a universe that "just is," whereas the same explanation for a being capable of creating the universe being a "just is" explanation seems satisfying. I don't know if I will ever understand why that should be, but it has never made any sense to me."

It's not being "unsettled", though atheism would certainly be an unsettling belief. It's the concept of necessity, contingency, potential vs actuality, etc. The universe ultimately cannot suffice as its own explanation, from any logical argument that I have heard, based upon its own nature.

"This seems a lot to me like an alchemist asserting that he has turned lead into gold, just not in the way that the lead should have any of the characteristics (malleability, conductivity, shine, color, etc.) of gold. If you put all that aside, Voila!"

So, are you suggesting that only scientific knowledge, and questions open to scientific inquiry, are worth discussing?

"Because some people are satisfied with sophistry doesn't mean that one should accept sophistry."

Indeed. And we disagree about where the sophistry lies.

Cal Metzger said...

bmiller: "Well, most recently your dialog with Bob Prokop regarding God's interaction with the universe and your assumption that believers believe that God "just is". Is that what you learned as Lutheran theology?"

I've found that religious belief, and theology, are not (at all) the same.

I don't assume that believers believe that god just is; I observe that that's what they say when the talk about god's existence, characteristics, etc. Do you think that should make a believer uncomfortable -- that their god just is? I've heard believers try and explain that necessity really, truly, honestly boils down to more than that, but I am not persuaded that necessity makes any meaningful distinction from the simpler fact that for believers god just is.

In your comment above you appear to attribute this line to me -- "I disagree with their reasoning" -- as part of a dialogue that begins with an actual quote from me. But I didn't say that line that you attribute to me, and not in response to your statement above, which is how it appears to read. I assume that you're trying to paraphrase my argument? But the use of quotations is misleading, and frankly I'm confused about what it is you're trying to say there, and misattribution only makes it harder.

SteveK said...

"A deistic god is one who created the universe, but is not involved (or doesn't care) in what happens to it now. A theistic god created the universe, but is actively involved, and cares, about what happens inside it. "

This deistic god is either just another being among other beings, or it is not. If it's the former, yawn, if it's the latter, God.

B. Prokop said...

If deism were true, then who the hell cares? I wouldn't give the time of day to a so-called "god" who cared not for the universe he supposedly created.

No, I'll take the Real God any day - you know, the One Who "came down from Heaven" to feel what we feel, to bear what we bear, to suffer what we suffer, to fight alongside us in the trenches and not sit back in some rear headquarters while we grunts slog it out amidst the mud and the bullets. Now That God one can worship - not some deistic toy for the comfortable and the (apparently) secure.

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"If deism were true, then who the hell cares? I wouldn't give the time of day to a so-called "god" who cared not for the universe he supposedly created."

There are various senses in which God could care (or supposedly lack such care) about the Universe. It can be shown (more precisely, it follows from the classical arguments for the existence of God) that God cares for the Universe in a fairly strong sense. Christian revelation deepens, and in deep measure if I may be forgiven my deeply awful reduplication, this rational insight.

bmiller said...

@Cal,

Regarding the confusion. I was referring to this exchange:
<<<
bmiller: "For instance, if you understand the Unmoved Mover argument, even if you reject it, you could understand how people use reason to conclude that God isn't a "just is", but a necessary being, while the universe cannot be a "just is".

Cal:"Because some people are satisfied with sophistry doesn't mean that one should accept sophistry."
>>>

Since I had included the qualifier "even if you reject it" it appeared that your reply was unresponsive. I can see how my post could be confusing.

It's undoubtedly true that a lot of believers do not have a mastery of or cannot explain all of the reasons for the existence of God. It seems to me though, that to most humans, "just is" is an unacceptable conclusion. We are always asking the question "why?". "just is" is to stop asking that question.

Cal:"I don't, for instance, rule out deism. I think that theism has, however, been laid to rest."

What are your reasons for not ruling out deism?

Cal Metzger said...

bmiller: "It seems to me though, that to most humans, "just is" is an unacceptable conclusion. We are always asking the question "why?". "just is" is to stop asking that question."

You seem to have this upside down.

How does a god exist?
How does a god who is timeless, etc. act like a person (think, change, etc.)?
What did god do before he created time?
How did a god create / interact with our world?

The above are just a quick starting point for all the questions that not only do believers rarely ask themselves, they don't have the tools to even begin addressing them. These many god questions are non-starters, and they are the opposite of asking, "Why?"

On the other hand, when I say the universe "just is," I mean that the reasons for the universe's existence is something beyond which we cannot currently know. Maybe that's because the question hasn't been formed properly (it's incoherent); maybe that's because we haven't developed the tools with which to examine the question; maybe because there's something inherently unknowable about investigating something which "exists" outside what we consider explanatory. So when I say that something "just is," what I mean is that we don't know enough on that topic (the reasons for the universe's existence, and its nature, etc.) to understand how we could actually know (and by know I mean real epistemic knowledge) more.

I think it's incredibly obvious (and I suspect many believers kind of feel the same way sometimes) that when Hindus, and Muslims, and Christians, and the myriad other religions and superstitions and new-age promoters talk about the relationship between god-like things and our world, they're talking out of their assess. None of them "know" anything more than the other, and they know the same as those of us who don't pretend that such things even exist.

bmiller: "What are your reasons for not ruling out deism?"

For the same reasons that I don't rule out the possibility that we're autonomous units in a computer simulation, or brains in vats, or the dupes for invisible pink unicorns. I suppose that any of these things are possible, but since there's no particularly good reason to accept them I await real evidence and explanation that would make their possibility seem more likely. (I am not expecting any.)

grodrigues said...

@bmiller:

"It's undoubtedly true that a lot of believers do not have a mastery of or cannot explain all of the reasons for the existence of God. It seems to me though, that to most humans, "just is" is an unacceptable conclusion. We are always asking the question "why?". "just is" is to stop asking that question."

This is a rather timid way to characterize the issue.

I would be more forceful and say this, and not the mere difference of opinion about the existence of a particular (and rather quaint as it were) being, is the fundamental point of division between theists of a classical bent and atheists of a naturalistic bent. Classical theists will insist to their last dying breath on the rationality and intelligibility of the universe; naturalists are ultimately committed to brute facts, and thus, that the universe is ultimately an irrational (in the sense of unintelligible) and magical place -- and the latter is not meant as a slur, but is rather the simple observation that large-scale brute factness just is one of the standard accounts of magic.

SteveK said...

Re: "no particularly good reason"

See: particularly good reasons based on actual & potential things

bmiller said...

@grodrigues,

I completely agree with your assessment.
I don't think Cal is intellectually making the connection that a universe based on brute facts would be unintelligible. I'm not sure that Cal is committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything since in his latest post his "just is" is related to "epistemic knowledge". Its a good question to Cal though.


@Cal,

Cal:"The above are just a quick starting point for all the questions that not only do believers rarely ask themselves, they don't have the tools to even begin addressing them. These many god questions are non-starters, and they are the opposite of asking, "Why?""

Are you really claiming that philosophers and theologians over the course of human history have rarely considered these questions? I really don't know what to say.
More than a few contributors to this blog could help you understand the answers if you were curious.

Cal:"For the same reasons that I don't rule out the possibility that we're autonomous units in a computer simulation, or brains in vats, or the dupes for invisible pink unicorns. I suppose that any of these things are possible, but since there's no particularly good reason to accept them I await real evidence and explanation that would make their possibility seem more likely. (I am not expecting any.)"

Well I was just really curious how an atheist could allow the possibility of deism. Guess you found the question annoying.

B. Prokop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B. Prokop said...

bmiller,

Cal is just following the pattern I see all too often amongst internet atheists. They are comfortable debating the weakest of their "opponents" but draw back like a hand from a hot stove when faced with the best minds of Christendom. Like the drunk looking for his keys under the lamp post, they find it easier to imagine they're up against some backwoods snake handler rather than Jerome, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, G.K. Chesterton, or T.S. Eliot.

It reminds of the the Seinfeld episode where Kramer is taking karate lessons with a bunch of kids.

Ilíon said...

B.Prokop: "Anyone besides me notice the talking out of both sides of one's mouth?"

If DarwinDefnders couldn't talk out of both sides of their mouths, they'd be speechless.

Here is another example.

Fact: All species of mammal have exactly seven neck vertebrae.

DarwinDefender: Therefore UIND (*) evolution.

Fact: Different species of birds have different numbers of neck vertebrae.

DarwinDefender: Therefore UIND (*) evolution.


(*) UIND -- UnIntelligent NonDesign ... and no one can predict where the UIND will blow next

Cal Metzger said...

bmiller: "I don't think Cal is intellectually making the connection that a universe based on brute facts would be unintelligible."

By "intellectually making the connection" it seems to me that you mean accept your undemonstrated assertion. So let's say we not pretend that your preferred metaphysics has any real sway -- metaphysics like your assertion are really just a matter of personal preference, like chocolate, and by that I mean you have no means with which to convince me that chocolate tastes bad (it doesn't; it tastes good).

Theist: "Nothing would be intelligible if not for intelligibility!"
Rest of World: "Mkay."

bmiller: "I'm not sure that Cal is committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything since in his latest post his "just is" is related to "epistemic knowledge". Its a good question to Cal though."

I don't think I could have written it any more plainly, so it's curious that you'd try and garble my position as you have. I'll just restate it here, to compare with your characterization above.

Me: "On the other hand, when I say the universe "just is," I mean that the reasons for the universe's existence is something beyond which we cannot currently know. Maybe that's because the question hasn't been formed properly (it's incoherent); maybe that's because we haven't developed the tools with which to examine the question; maybe because there's something inherently unknowable about investigating something which "exists" outside what we consider explanatory. So when I say that something "just is," what I mean is that we don't know enough on that topic (the reasons for the universe's existence, and its nature, etc.) to understand how we could actually know (and by know I mean real epistemic knowledge) more."

Your characterization of my position -- that I'm "committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything" above just seems kind of ridiculous, now, doesn't it?

bmiller: "Are you really claiming that philosophers and theologians over the course of human history have rarely considered these questions? I really don't know what to say."

Nope. I'd suggest you start by re-reading what I wrote:

Me: "The above are just a quick starting point for all the questions that not only do believers [<-- Note: believers is a (far) larger set than "philosophers and theologians"] rarely ask themselves, they don't have the tools to even begin addressing them."

Do you think that "considered these questions" is the same as what I'm talking about -- explaining them? Because it's pretty obvious, isn't it, that the theologians have made no progress whatsoever on resolving and explaining their gods, and to the extent that philosophers have succeeded in explaining reality (always absent gods, btw) it's because (and credit to them) they have thought about these questions in ways that make them tractable -- that enable predictions, that allow for objective examination, that have scope and conform with our background knowledge , etc."

Theologians have made great progress over the last 2,000 years? Is that your point? If so, what is the greatest contribution to human knowledge that theology has given us in the last 2,000 years? The single, greatest. I'm genuinely curious what you think that should be.

bmiller: "Well I was just really curious how an atheist could allow the possibility of deism. Guess you found the question annoying."

That's funny; of all the questions you've asked, I think that is among the least annoying.

B. Prokop said...

"[W]hat is the greatest contribution to human knowledge that theology has given us in the last 2,000 years?"

I'd say that'd be the Trinity. No contest.

Cal Metzger said...

Me: "[W]hat is the greatest contribution to human knowledge that theology has given us in the last 2,000 years?"
Prokop: "I'd say that'd be the Trinity. No contest."

No further questions, your Honor.



B. Prokop said...

"No further questions, your Honor."

None needed.

bmiller said...

@Cal



Cal:"By "intellectually making the connection" it seems to me that you mean accept your undemonstrated assertion. So let's say we not pretend that your preferred metaphysics has any real sway -- metaphysics like your assertion are really just a matter of personal preference, like chocolate, and by that I mean you have no means with which to convince me that chocolate tastes bad (it doesn't; it tastes good)."

assertion:a confident and forceful statement of fact or belief
argument:a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.

Since grodrigues included a reason or set of reasons for his position, I call that an argument, not an assertion.
Since Cal does not include a reason or set reasons for his position, I call that an assertion, not an argument.

Feel free to provide an argument if you disagree.


Cal:"Your characterization of my position -- that I'm "committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything" above just seems kind of ridiculous, now, doesn't it?"

bmiller:"...I'm not sure that Cal is committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything since in his latest post his "just is" is related to "epistemic knowledge". Its a good question to Cal though."

I did not characterize your position as you described. Please reread it. In fact I questioned if you held that position or not in addition to the "epistemic knowledge" position since they are in fact different questions.




Cal:"Nope. I'd suggest you start by re-reading what I wrote:

Me: "The above are just a quick starting point for all the questions that not only do believers [<-- Note: believers is a (far) larger set than "philosophers and theologians"] rarely ask themselves, they don't have the tools to even begin addressing them."

Of course there were no brackets in your original post. If you want to specify some certain group of believers then your new adjustment is unhelpful.




bmiller:"More than a few contributors to this blog could help you understand the answers if you were curious."

Cal:"
Do you think that "considered these questions" is the same as what I'm talking about -- explaining them? Because it's pretty obvious, isn't it, that the theologians have made no progress whatsoever on resolving and explaining their gods, and to the extent that philosophers have succeeded in explaining reality (always absent gods, btw) it's because (and credit to them) they have thought about these questions in ways that make them tractable -- that enable predictions, that allow for objective examination, that have scope and conform with our background knowledge , etc.""

I conclude that you are not curious.

Cal:"That's funny; of all the questions you've asked, I think that is among the least annoying."

Let me work on it. I'm sure I can bring it up to the level you're grown accustomed to :-)

Cal Metzger said...

bmiller: "assertion:a confident and forceful statement of fact or belief / argument:a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong. / Since grodrigues included a reason or set of reasons for his position, I call that an argument, not an assertion."

The assertion I singled out is the one you wrote. Namely:

bmiller: "... a universe based on brute facts would be unintelligible."

I also said that the claim was "undemonstrated." Undemonstrated ≠ unargued.

bmiller: "I did not characterize your position as you described. Please reread it. In fact I questioned if you held that position or not in addition to the "epistemic knowledge" position since they are in fact different questions."

I said that you characterized my position as: "...committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything..."
You wrote that my position would be that I am "..."committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything..."

You're wondering aloud whether or not I subscribed to that position doesn't free you up from the fact that you characterized the position exactly as I described. It's bizarre to me that you'd deny this, as the words can't be any plainer.

bmiller: "Of course there were no brackets in your original post. If you want to specify some certain group of believers then your new adjustment is unhelpful."

????

I originally said that "believers rarely ask themselves" and you misrepresented this as my declaring that"philosophers and theologians rarely ask themselves." My first statement is unremarkable. The one you rewrote is preposterous. So you have chosen to take issue with your own wording. Whatever.

bmiller: "Of course there were no brackets in your original post. If you want to specify some certain group of believers then your new adjustment is unhelpful."

I didn't want to specify. That's why I wrote what I did. I was making a point about the broad group of believers, most of whom "rarely ask themselves" the kind of questions I listed. (When they do, we call those people theologians, and sometimes philosophers. Again, this is completely unremarkable, and is beside my point.)

bmiller: "I conclude that you are not curious."

Okay.

Me:"That's funny; of all the questions you've asked, I think that is among the least annoying."
bmiller: "Let me work on it. I'm sure I can bring it up to the level you're grown accustomed to :-)"

No worries; you're back on track. :)

bmiller said...

@Cal,

Cal:"The assertion I singled out is the one you wrote. Namely:

bmiller: "... a universe based on brute facts would be unintelligible.""

In the context of my reply to the argument grodrigues posted, I indicated that I agreed with his conclusion (a judgment or decision reached by reasoning) although you wouldn't. Please see above to contrast with assertion.


Cal:
"I said that you characterized my position as: "...committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything..."
You wrote that my position would be that I am "..."committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything..."

You're wondering aloud whether or not I subscribed to that position doesn't free you up from the fact that you characterized the position exactly as I described. It's bizarre to me that you'd deny this, as the words can't be any plainer."

I've no idea what you're objecting to.
First you accuse me of garbling a position that you hold. I show you that I didn't ascribe the position in question to you.
In the first paragraph quoted here you again accuse me of ascribing that position to you.
In the second you acknowledge that I didn't ascribe the position to you.
Am I being accused of mischaracterizing a position that I don't know you hold?


Cal:
2X "bmiller: "Of course there were no brackets in your original post. If you want to specify some certain group of believers then your new adjustment is unhelpful."

Not sure which of the 2 times you posted my quote you expect a response to.

Here are 3 groups of believers: 1) philosophers, 2) theologians 3) believers that are neither philosophers nor theologians. I am a member of group 3.

Members in all 3 groups have answers to the questions you posted.

If your point is that some members in these groups who ""rarely ask themselves" the kind of questions I listed" don't have answers to the questions they don't ask themselves then, duh.


Ilíon said...

grodrigues: "[Christians and Jews] will insist to their last dying breath on the rationality and intelligibility of the universe; naturalists are ultimately committed to brute facts, and thus, that the universe is ultimately an irrational (in the sense of unintelligible) and magical place -- and the latter is not meant as a slur, but is rather the simple observation that large-scale brute factness just is one of the standard accounts of magic."

Yes, logically, 'atheists' are committed to the view that "the universe is ultimately an irrational (in the sense of unintelligible) and magical place". They even admit it when it serves their purpose At the same time, and as Cal Metzger is demonatrating (yet again!) in this thread, they will deny it when *that* serves their purpose.

David Brightly said...

The Panda's Thumb I knew that Gould had published an anthology under this title but I hadn't read this particular essay. A little research revealed the following. The Giant Panda has no thumb as such. It's a bear with five forward pointing claws that has taken to a vegetarian diet in the bamboo forests of southern China. Its 'thumb' is a development of a sesamoid bone in its forelimb that helps the panda hold bamboo. See photo. Many animals have sesamoid bones: they are found embedded in tendons and muscles and act somewhat as pulleys for the free movement of tendons. The kneecap is an example. The later development of an earlier adaptation for a different purpose is known as an 'exaptation'.

That's the theory. What I don't see in this is an argument, let alone a duplicitous one. If you disagree please explain.

David Brightly said...

This back and forth isn't helping anyone. It's probably a discussion for another day but I'd like to know what people mean by 'brute fact' and 'intelligible' in this context. That the speed of light is whatever it is seems to be a brute fact, relative to our current understanding of physics. But that is intelligible isn't it?

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

"It's probably a discussion for another day but I'd like to know what people mean by 'brute fact' and 'intelligible' in this context. That the speed of light is whatever it is seems to be a brute fact, relative to our current understanding of physics. But that is intelligible isn't it?"

"Brute fact" is a well known term of art in philosophy; if you google it I bet the first hits would enlighten you (although my guess is that your question is more a request for clarification).

Second if by intelligible, you mean the plain meaning of what is being stated ("the speed of light is such and such") is clear and understood, then yes it is intelligible. But that is not what was, what I, claimed; "Stick a pin in the heart of this voodoo doll and Donald Trump will die" is also a perfectly intelligible and meaningful claim.

David Brightly said...

Yes, I'd got that far. I guess I was a bit surprised that anyone would take a seemingly epistemic concept, and a problematic one, in my view, at that, and make it, again seemingly, into an ontological property of the universe. A difficult and far reaching topic, but not really suitable for characterising the difference between theists and naturalists.

Ilíon said...

David Brightly: "Pandas Thumb ... That's the theory. What I don't see in this is an argument, let alone a duplicitous one. If you disagree please explain."

The "argument" to which use the Panda's thumb is put was explained at the time the matter (*) was introduced to the thread.


(*) the matter being the piss-poor theological "arguments" made by DarwinDefenders going all the way back to Himself as supporting their pseudo-science. The point being that 'Science!' fetishists don't really mind theological arguments; they just hate the ones supportive of (Christian) theology.

Ilíon said...

VR: "The context of comes from when I told a class we would be talking about questions of religion. The reaction was "Isn't that personal?""

They seem well trained even before you get them.

David Brightly said...

If that was an argument then I'm a Dutchman. I'm not a Dutchman, so you have no complaint.

Cal Metzger said...

bmiuller: "In the context of my reply to the argument grodrigues posted, I indicated that I agreed with his conclusion (a judgment or decision reached by reasoning) although you wouldn't. Please see above to contrast with assertion."

Sure he did. Here's grod's "argument":

grod: "Classical theists will insist to their last dying breath on the rationality and intelligibility of the universe; naturalists are ultimately committed to brute facts, and thus, that the universe is ultimately an irrational (in the sense of unintelligible) and magical place -- and the latter is not meant as a slur, but is rather the simple observation that large-scale brute factness just is one of the standard accounts of magic."

Even grod describes his little side-rant as a kind of "observation," although because there's nothing self-evident about what his conclusion I classify it (correctly) as an undemonstrated assertion. And that's what it remains.

bmiller: "I've no idea what you're objecting to. "

Then I'll say it another way, again. You're stated that the position I've explained regarding epistemic humility is somehow: "...committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything..."

But I haven't said that a brute fact is an explanation, let alone for everything. I have said that it's a termination point (maybe temporary, I don't know), but it's a point at which anyone claiming to "know" more is talking out of their ass. I don't know why you would have trouble understanding that position, as it's far and away the dominant epistemological stance in science and even philosophy.

bmiller: "Here are 3 groups of believers: 1) philosophers, 2) theologians 3) believers that are neither philosophers nor theologians. I am a member of group 3. Members in all 3 groups have answers to the questions you posted."

Sorry, not buying it. I know plenty of believers. If you think most of the religious believers know how to answer the kind of questions I raised earlier, similar to "What are the mechanisms that your god / spirit / ancestor / tree employs to interfere with people's lives?" then you're just fooling yourself. Most believers seem to think the question is unimportant, and (surprise) theologians seem to have one occupation, which is to make up fuzzy language that produces nothing tractable or testable or knowable.

As Bob mentioned earlier, he thinks that the the greatest contribution of Theology in the last 2000 years is the Trinity, something that theologians, garden variety believers, believers in other religions, and non-believers all seem to explain with about the same amount of success. But don't just take my word for it. Here's Roger Olson, an evangelical theologian on the topic:

"The problem is, of course, that many, perhaps most, Christians have little or no understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. And they couldn’t care less."

bmiller: "If your point is that some members in these groups who ""rarely ask themselves" the kind of questions I listed" don't have answers to the questions they don't ask themselves then, duh. "

Yeah, it doesn't seem that you're willing to agree to a simple point, one that a theologian like Olson has no trouble apprehending or agreeing to. I'll leave it to you to figure out why you would struggle to come to terms with this fact.

My guess: you get so wound up on the back-and-forth of discussions like these that you end up arguing everything, instead of arguing something more defensible. I know that's happened to me sometime.

Ilíon said...

Aren't DarwinDefenders in particular and 'atheists' in general just the most amazingly flexible of persons?

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

"I guess I was a bit surprised that anyone would take a seemingly epistemic concept, and a problematic one, in my view, at that, and make it, again seemingly, into an ontological property of the universe."

I did not make a "purely epistemic" claim, I pointed out a fundamental line of division in the respective metaphysical positions. As an old-fashioned Aristotelian-Thomist, epistemology comes after ontology. There is even no such thing as "purely epistemic" claims to begin with. Since human beings are members of the natural order, epistemic claims, if true, are claims about human beings and as much "ontological" as any other claims about the universe.

Maybe your difficulty is -- and this is a tentative guess -- that since you are thinking of brute facts or such principles as the PSR as claims about human knowledge, how the hell am I bridging the gap between claims about human knowledge to claims about the universe. What I said in the previous paragraph is already a response; but I will repeat it. This is not a matter of epistemology but a metaphysical question; the PSR, which entails among other things that there are no brute facts, is not (in the version I espouse, which is a causal principle of being) a claim about human knowledge but a claim about the universe; it does not depend on us being around. The naturalist is ultimately committed to the existence of brute facts. And nowhere is this division more clearly seen than in the discussion of the classical arguments for the existence of God.

"A difficult and far reaching topic, but not really suitable for characterising the difference between theists and naturalists."

Yes, it is perfectly suitable. I am not even being original, but simply repeating a point made by Macintyre (and by many other philosophers before and after) about the fundamental division lines. Now, we could naysay each other until the Universe reaches the heat death point, but it is simply a matter of paying attention to what classical theists maintain and what naturalists maintain (in particular, how the latter respond, when they do respond, to the classical arguments for God's existence), and the logical implications of their positions.

David Brightly said...

Let's see if I have understood you. A brute fact is a thing or event with no cause. If I reject the First Way I am admitting at least one brute fact. Yes?

David Brightly said...

Darwin's theory stands on its own merits. It doesn't need theological backup. And it should be obvious by now that this Darwin defender doesn't make theological arguments. I don't speak the language.

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

"Let's see if I have understood you. A brute fact is a thing or event with no cause. If I reject the First Way I am admitting at least one brute fact. Yes?"

Are you talking to me? If you are, then please stick something like "@grodrigues:" in the beginning of the comment so that I know that you are addressing me, and preferably quote what I said so that I know what it is that you are responding to without me needing to guess it.

bmiller said...

@Cal,

Cal:"Sure he did. Here's grod's "argument":

grod: "Classical theists will insist to their last dying breath on the rationality and intelligibility of the universe; naturalists are ultimately committed to brute facts, and thus, that the universe is ultimately an irrational (in the sense of unintelligible) and magical place -- and the latter is not meant as a slur, but is rather the simple observation that large-scale brute factness just is one of the standard accounts of magic.""

1) All Naturalists are committed to a universe of brute facts
2) All brute facts are unintelligible/magical
3) All Naturalists are committed to an unintelligible/magical universe

I thought the embedded syllogism was obvious. Maybe now that I've put it in this form you can see it too.


Cal"Then I'll say it another way, again. You're stated that the position I've explained regarding epistemic humility is somehow: "...committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything..."

But I haven't said that a brute fact is an explanation, let alone for everything...."

My original statement looks grammatically correct to me. This is a summary:
I note grod's possible implication that you are "ctbfabtefe" (abbreviation to your above quote), but I remain agnostic if you are or aren't.
I admit that your latest post does not tell us one way or the other.

Will it help to rephrase?
bmiller:"
1) I'm not sure that Cal is committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything
2) since
3) in his latest post his "just is" is related to "epistemic knowledge".

Rephrased:
1) Is Cal "...committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything..."?, I don't know.
2) Why don't I know? Because
3) "in his latest post his "just is" is related to "epistemic knowledge" and says nothing about "...committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything..."

I'm pretty sure I understand both positions in the same manner you do and haven't assigned the dreaded "ctbfabtefe" to you......yet :-)


Cal:"Sorry, not buying it.....Yeah, it doesn't seem that you're willing to agree to a simple point, one that a theologian like Olson has no trouble apprehending or agreeing to."

This is why I'm having a hard time understanding the point(s) here.

I see this as one of the topics:

1) You list some philosophical questions regarding God.
2) Can believers answer them?

I didn't know if you meant "some believers", "any believers", or "all believers". Now it looks like you are referring only to the believers that can't answer them. But if the number is large or small, then so what?
What conclusion do you want me to reach from this? Are you implying truth is up for a vote?

You've also claimed that those questions cannot be answered. I disagree, but you won't hear a counter argument.
So I'm not arguing against everything, I'm actually in search of the argument you will let me engage in.

David Brightly said...

@grodrigues,

Certainly. You have the floor, sir.

Cal Metzger said...

@bmiller,

I'm starting to lose track of what the point of all this is. Still, I don't want to not respond, so here:

bmiller: "1) All Naturalists are committed to a universe of brute facts"

What is this supposed to mean? It sounds to me like saying, "All humans are committed to the moon orbiting earth." What does it even mean to "be committed" to something that just is?

bmiller: "I thought the embedded syllogism was obvious. Maybe now that I've put it in this form you can see it too."

Since I think the embedded syllogism is just as non-sensical as grod's original rant I don't think it's obvious. I think it's silly.

bmiller: "My original statement looks grammatically correct to me."

????? Did I say your statement wasn't grammatical?

bmiller: "This is a summary: I note grod's possible implication that you are "ctbfabtefe" (abbreviation to your above quote), but I remain agnostic if you are or aren't."

You're missing the point. You have declared that " a universe based on brute facts would be unintelligible." That is simply an undemonstrated assertion (and yes, a silly syllogism remains undemonstrated, despite it's having a formal structure) -- which is the kindest way I can say that it's at best an untestable claim, and at its worst doesn't make sense or is obviously false.

bmiller: "1) Is Cal "...committed to brute facts actually being the explanation for everything..."?, I don't know."

Hmm. Still not sure why you're struggling with this one. I don't think the question is that hard. (Hint: I'm not committed to brute facts being the explanation for everything. I know, a real head-scratcher, that one. For instance, I don't think brute facts are the best explanation for catching a cold; I think germ theory is the best explanation for that. Etc.)

bmiller: "I didn't know if you meant "some believers", "any believers", or "all believers". Now it looks like you are referring only to the believers that can't answer them. But if the number is large or small, then so what? / What conclusion do you want me to reach from this? Are you implying truth is up for a vote? /You've also claimed that those questions cannot be answered. I disagree, but you won't hear a counter argument. / So I'm not arguing against everything, I'm actually in search of the argument you will let me engage in."

I had written, "The above are just a quick starting point for all the questions that not only do believers rarely ask themselves, they don't have the tools to even begin addressing them."

I think we both now agree that most believers rarely ask themselves the kind of questions I originally listed. So it sounds like the only point you would like to contend is that regarding the kinds of questions I listed, believers "don't have the tools to even begin addressing them."

So, if you think you want to argue that I'm wrong about that -- that believers do indeed have the tools to answer those kinds of questions -- I'd suggest you start by telling me what you think these tools are, and why, if these tools work, no one seems to be able use them to actually explain the kinds of questions I listed.

It's my guess you'd rather not talk about that. And that's probably the reason why you'd rather quibble over something unrelated, like brute facts.

Legion of Logic said...

"What is this supposed to mean? It sounds to me like saying, "All humans are committed to the moon orbiting earth." What does it even mean to "be committed" to something that just is?"

Are you saying there is a brute fact(s) that is known with as much certainty as the moon orbiting the earth? If so, what is it? Otherwise, I suppose I misunderstood your comparison.

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "Are you saying there is a brute fact(s) that is known with as much certainty as the moon orbiting the earth? If so, what is it?"

The existence of the universe is a brute fact.

bmiller said...

@ Cal,

Why don't we give it a rest, OK. Victor has graciously let this play out and for that I thank him.
He's posted quite a number of other things since this all started.

If you still want to engage in another post then there may be an opportunity.

Legion of Logic said...

So something is a brute fact if its explanation hasn't been scientifically determined?

Cal Metzger said...

@bmiller, No problem. See you on the other side.

Ilíon said...

"So something is a brute fact if its explanation hasn't been scientifically determined?"

Oh, now! We all know that "existence of the universe is a brute fact" because otherwise that existence points to God.

Meanwhile, as I will keep reminding everyone, 'atheists' really are committed to the view that "the universe" is irrational, incoherent, unpredictable and unintelligible. To put it another way, these 'Science!' fetishists really do believe that doing science is impossible.

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "So something is a brute fact if its explanation hasn't been scientifically determined?"

I think it's more like if investigation into the thing is formed in such a way that no other explanation better explains the thing than the fact of the thing itself.