Objective and subjective

This is a topic where we can discuss what we mean by “objective” and by “subjective”.  It is not tied to anything specific.  We don’t have to reach a consensus.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate the issues:

  1. Is mathematics objective or subjective?  On the one hand, it is mostly a mental construct, so in some views that would make it subjective.  On the other hand, there is very strong agreement between mathematicians, and that seems to suggest that it is about as objective as anything could be.
  2. If we assume Berkeley’s idealism (the world is nothing more than a mental construct derived from our perceptions), would that imply that everything is subjective and nothing is objective?  Or, since we seem to all refer to the same things (cats, trees, etc) should we say that those are objective even if only mental constructs.


Intelligent Design is NOT Anti-Evolution

Thank you Elizabeth for this opportunity-

Good day- Over the past many, many years, IDists have been telling people that intelligent design is not anti-evolution. Most people understand and accept that, while others just refuse to, no matter what.

With that said, in this post I will provide the evidence (again) that firmly demonstrates that ID is not anti-evolution. I will be presenting several authoritative definitions of “evolution” followed by what the ID leadership has to say about evolution. So without any further adieu, I give you-

Intelligent Design is NOT Anti-Evolution

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A curious question by Barry Arrington on UD..

…that I can’t seem to resist posting here:

I have a question for our materialist friends. Let’s imagine a group of chimpanzees. Say one of the male chimps approaches one of the female chimps and makes chimp signals that he wants to have sexual relations with her, but for whatever reason she’s not interested and refuses. Is it morally wrong for the male chimp to force the female chimp to have sex with him against her will?

If you answer “no it is not morally wrong,” imagine further a group of humans. On the materialist view, a human is just a jumped up hairless ape. Is it morally wrong for a human male to force a human female to have sex with him against her will? If you answer “yes, it is morally wrong,” I certainly agree with you. But please explain why on the materialist view it is not wrong for a hairy ape to force a female to have sex with him, but it is wrong for a hairless ape to force a female to have sex with him.


  1. Is it wrong for a man but not for a chimp? Yes, it is wrong for a man but not for a chimp.
  2. Why is it wrong for a man but not for a chimp?
    1. It is a meaningful question in regard to a man, whereas it is not for a chimp, because human beings are capable of moral choice, by virtue of many factors, including our theory of mind capacity, our complex social structures and our capacity for linguistic cultural transmission.
    2. The answer to the meaningful question for a man is “yes”, because prioritizing our own desires the wellbing of others lies at the definitional heart of human morality, and rape is a clear example of such an act.


The problem of consciousness is, notoriously, Hard.  However, it seems to me that much of the hardness is a result of the nature of the word itself.  “Consciousness” is a noun, an abstract noun, derived from an adjective: “conscious”.  And that adjective describes either a state (a person can be “conscious” or “unconscious” or even “barely conscious”) or a status (a person, or an animal, is said to be a “conscious” entity, unlike, for example, a rock).

But what must an entity be like to merit the adjective “conscious”?  What, properties must it possess?  Merriam-Webster gives as its first definition: “perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation doing, or be capable of doing”.  In other words, the properties of a conscious thing refer to its capacity to do something.  And, indeed, it is derived from a latin verb: the verb scire, to know.   In other words, “consciousness” may be better thought of as an abstract noun derived not from an adjective that describes some static attribute of an entity, but from one that implies that that entity is an agent capable of action.

And so, I will coin a new verb: to conch.  And I will coin it as a transitive verb: an entity conches something, i.e. is conscious of something.

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Why Methodological Naturalism is a Questionable Philosophy of Science

Elizabeth started another thread (http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?p=256) stating that methodological naturalism (MN) “underlies the methodology that we call science.” Later she spoke of “methodological naturalism, as in the working assumption that scientists make about the world in order to predict things.” Then she quoted Wikipedia, which states: “all scientific endeavors—all hypotheses and events—are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events,” adding that this is “more or less the definition I have been assuming.” In other words, science studies ‘nature-only’ because it is naturalistic – it sees nothing other than nature that *could* be studied. Elizabeth sticks with this definition when she says “Science occupies the domain of natural explanations.”

Still later, Elizabeth admitted she is ‘not wild about’ MN (or what I suggested as more accurate of her statements: science applies ‘methodological probabilism’) and also that “‘methodological naturalism’ is a poor term.” Thus, her concession: “now that I realise that the term [MN] appears to denote different things to different people, I will avoid it.” So, the main argument in the OP was deserted.

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Why I find ID fallacious

Note that I do not say “wrong”.  I don’t think ID is wrong.  I do think that it is not falsifiable.

That is not in itself a problem.  I’d argue that most theories are unfalsiable.  What are falsifiable are the predictive hypotheses we derive from our theories.

So I’ll go out on a limb and say that neither evolutionary theory nor ID are, in themselves, falsifiable.  However, evolutionary theory generates lots of testable hypotheses.  Many of these have proved confirmatory; some have delivered surprises, and as a result, the theory has had to change.  This is a good thing.

In contrast, I would argue, that ID generates very few hypotheses, one exception being “front-loading”, and this remains rudimentary, and, AFAIK, untested.

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Good arguments and straw men

We seem to have quite a number of posters here who are happy to defend  ID, as well as a number (myself included) who are happy to defend evolutionary theory.

I’m posting this as a kind of straw poll for people to state what they think the major claim of their own position is, and why they find it persuasive; and also what they think the major claim of the opposite position is, and why (if they do) they find it flawed.

It might be interesting to count the straw men standing by the end 🙂  More to the point, it might stop us talking past each other quite so much, and perhaps understand the other side’s position a little more.

Full disclosure: I don’t think myself that the two positions are symmetrical.  But I am constantly brought upn short by the realisation that ID proponents also perceive an assymmetry, but see it as the mirror image of mine.  So I wait enlightenment 🙂

Coyne vs Shapiro

Interesting exchange between Jerry Coyne and James Shapiro at Coyne’s blog, Why Evolution is true: A colleague wrongfully disses modern evolutionary theory.

(Hat tip to news at Uncommon Descent)

I’ve only skimmed Coyne’s piece and Shapiro’s response so far, but it seems to me that they are talking past each other to some extent.  And Coyne says something silly about cats and dogs.

Have at it.  Gotta run.

Chaos and Complexity

Gil’s post With much fear and trepidation, I enter the SZone got somewhat, but interestingly, derailed into a discussion of David Abel’s paper The Capabilities of Chaos and Complexity, which William Murray, quite fairly, challenged those of who expressed skepticism to refute.

Mike Elzinga first brought up the paper here, claiming:

ID/creationists have attempted to turn everything on its head, mischaracterize what physicists and chemists – and biologists as well – know, and then proclaim that it is all “spontaneous molecular chaos” down there, to use David L. Abel’s term.

Hence, “chance and necessity,” another mischaracterization in itself, cannot do the job; therefore “intelligence” and “information.”

And later helpfully posted here a primer on the first equation (Shannon’s Entropy equation), and right now I’m chugging through the paper trying to extract its meaning.  I thought I’d open this thread so that I can update as I go, and perhaps ask the mathematicians (and others) to correct my misunderstandings.  So this thread is a kind of virtual journal club on that paper.

I’ll post my initial response in the thread.

Probabilities And Skepticism

I thought about including this in my previous thread, but it has grown so large that I suspect it would be lost in the abyss. If Skeptical Zone readers are interested I’ll write a series of these posts, in which I’ll develop a number of themes concerning why I abandoned evolutionary orthodoxy and became convinced that an inference to design is most reasonable.

As most of you know, I am a classical musician. All great musical compositions have a theme, and the theme of this site is “think it possible that you may be mistaken.” With that theme in mind, might I suggest some skepticism concerning probabilities?

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The Rules of Right Reason

Barry Arrington and StephenB at Uncommon Descent have frequently invoked “the rules of right reason” in their arguments.

Today, Barry posts them thus:

The Rules of Thought.

The rules of thought are the first principles of right reason. Those rules are:

  • The Law of Identity: An object is the same as itself.
  • The Law of Non-contradiction: Contradictory statements cannot both at the same time be true.
  • The Law of the Excluded Middle: For any proposition, either that proposition is true or its negation is true.

And claims:

Note that the three laws of thought cannot be proven. They are either accepted as self-evident axioms – or not. The fundamental principles of right reason must be accepted as axioms for the simple reason that they cannot be demonstrated. There is no way to “argue for argument” and it is foolish to try to do so. If one’s goal in arguing is to arrive at the truth of a matter, arguing with a person who rejects the law of idenity is counterproductive, because he has rejected the very concept of “truth” as a meaningful category.


This seems to me fallacious. (heh.)

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With much fear and trepidation, I enter the SZone

Here’s some personal correspondence between Liz and me. I presume that she checks posts before allowing publication, so if this is inappropriate I claim innocence.

Dear Liz,

As you know, I have great respect for you, even admiration, but I suggest the following.

You wrote:

The reason I get exercised about ID is that I do think, in simple scientific terms, that it is fallacious. Not because there couldn’t have been an ID, nor because science demonstrates that there wasn’t/isn’t one, but because the inference is, IMO, fallacious.

I respond:

The reason I get exercised about the proposed creative power of the Darwinian mechanism of random errors filtered by natural selection is that I do think, in simple scientific terms, that it is fallacious. Not because this mechanism couldn’t possibly have produced all that it is credited with, but because evidence, logic, and simple probability calculations demonstrate that this proposition is fallacious.

Thus, it seems to me, we are separated by an immense chasm over which there is no bridge.


Let’s face it, the ID versus materialism debate has profound scientific, philosophical, theological, and even ethical implications, which is why passions run so high.

Someone is wrong and someone is right. I just want to know the truth.

Is postmodernism the evil twin of modern science?

I don’t want to flood this place with items from Uncommon Descent, but as we have a certain overlap of members (and  ex members!) and certainly a common set of interests, there’s a post up now that I found interesting, not because of the board politics (which we will not of course discuss…) but because of an odd equation I see there that I have caught a sniff of before and is here made explicit, both in the OP and in some of the comments.

Its the equivalence between “post modernism” and the provisional nature of scientific inferences.

Which I find extraordinary because it’s always seemed to me that science and postmodernism are on two opposite poles.

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Eric Anderson at Uncommon Descent: what ID is and is not

Eric Anderson, over at Uncommon Descent, gives what is IMO a very concise and lucid account of what ID does and does not do:


You may be disappointed that ID doesn’t identify the designer. You may complain that ID doesn’t provide a bright-line definition of mind, or consciousness or other things that scientists and philosophers have struggled with for centuries. You may be frustrated that ID doesn’t provide more answers than it does. But these are frustrations borne of your own desires and expectations, not a problem with ID itself.


ID is not a theory of everything. It has never claimed to be. ID does not seek to identify the designer. It is not a philosophy of mind, or consciousness, however interesting those topics may be. We may wish to pursue those topics as follow-up questions to ID, but it is not a failing of ID that ID does not have answers to everything. I’ve said it and will say it again: ID is a very simple and limited inquiry, and can be understood and explored and addressed with a very basic common every-day understanding of what we mean with words like ‘design’ and ‘plan’ and ‘intent’ and ‘purpose’. There is no need for definitional plays or semantic deep-dives. If someone wants to go beyond that and ask philosophical questions or speculate about mind, consciousness, the nature of reality, and so forth, great. Those are valuable inquires in their own right.


However, by the same token it seems to me to highlight what, IMO, is wrong with ID, without muddying the water with extraneous claims.

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Anecdotal evidence

The ‘here’ in the first para refers to Secular Cafe, from which this is reposted.

In a number of threads, here and in other places, I’ve seen discussions – sometimes more than a little vituperative – concerning the value or otherwise of anecdotal evidence.

To start with my current position on it before commenting further.

I think that anecdotal evidence is evidence, but with three little caveats.

It is often, IMV, poor evidence, it is sometimes evidence of something other than what the anecdote purports to be evidence of, and it is rather infrequently later confirmed by later observations which have physical rather than anecdotal evidence behind them.

Having got that out of the way, an in-exhaustive list to identify the sort of alleged phenomena in which anecdotal evidence raises its head, in no particular order but as they spring to mind, with a few exceptions which I am anxious to include.

Ghosts, the effectiveness of clairvoyance, the effectiveness of astrology, the effect (or otherwise) of the full moon on madness,  hospital admissions et al, sightings of monsters on various lakes, UFO sightings, alien abductions, the power of prayer, what may broadly be called religious or spiritual experiences, unusual and hard or impossible to replicate physical phenomena.

For all of these, and others, I’d see it as important to keep a few things in mind.

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Law of non-contradiction (“LNC” to its friends)

On Uncommon Descent, Barry Arrington asks:

Let’s clear up this law of noncontradiction issue between StephenB and eigenstate once and for all. StephenB asks eigenstate: “Can the planet Jupiter exist and not exist at the same time in the same sense? That’s a “yes or no” question eigenstate. How do you answer it?

For some reason, Eigenstate’s response has gone astray, so here it is, as cross-posted elsewhere:


Theoretically, yes. In practice, the probabilities are so vanishingly small it’s indistinguishable from no.

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The morality thing again….

A propos my banning from UD, Dr.Jammer (aka Jammer at UD) wrote at AtBC:

As for the discussion of morality, kairosfocus was right on the mark. Liz put up a valiant fight, but her argument for morality ultimately boiled down to argumentum ad populum.

If the members of NAMBLA (I suspect a few of you are card-carrying members) decided to start their own nation, with their own set of laws, and they all determined pedophilia to be not only legal, but moral, would that make it so? According to Liz’s reasoning it would.

With no ultimate source of objective morality, morality becomes nothing more than a popularity contest. It’s might-makes-right. That majority opinion becomes the might, and they decide what is right.

Even worse are the non-democracies, where might isn’t represented by the majority, but by a small section of the elite. This is what we witnessed in the early 20th century with the eugenics movement, where the elite decided that it was moral to decide who could and could not reproduce. That’s one of the more tame examples.

kairosfocus’ point isn’t that we can’t reason to right and wrong. We can, in large part because morality (seems to be) an attribute inherent to most human beings, which acts as our guiding light, so to speak.

His point is that the might-makes-right mentality that arises when one denies an objective, ultimate source of morality, is often a very dangerous thing. A look through any history book will confirm that he is correct.

I’ll post my response in the thread.

Methodological Naturalism

I’ve always understood Methodological Naturalism to mean the assumption we make in science that things are predictable, probabilistically at any rate.

It needn’t be true, and nor do we make any conclusion as to whether it is true or not, we merely proceed under that assumption, because it underlies the methodology that we call science.

But clearly some people, often citing Plantinga (here and here) regard it as some kind of error made by scientists that enables them to fallaciously reject religion, or at least compromise “religious neutrality”.
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