Speculative Naturalism

The standard design-theorist argument hinges on the assumption that there are three logically distinct kinds of explanation: chance, necessity, and design.  (I say “explanation” rather than “cause” in order to avoid certain kinds of ambiguities we’ve seen worked out here in the past two weeks).

This basic idea — that there are these three logically distinct kinds of explanation — was first worked on by Plato, and from Plato it was transmitted to the Stoics (one can see the Stoics use this argument in their criticism of the Epicureans) and then it gets re-activated in the 18th-centuries following, such as in the Christian Stoicism of the Scottish and English Enlightenment, of which William Paley is a late representative.   Henceforth I’ll call this distinction “the Platonic Trichotomy”

There are at least two different ways of criticizing the Platonic Trichotomy.  One approach, much-favored by ultra-Darwinists, is to argue that unplanned heritable variation (“chance”) and natural selection (“necessity,” if natural selection is a “law” in the first place) together can produce the appearance of design.  (Jacques Monod is a proponent of this view, and perhaps Dawkins is today.) The other approach, which I prefer, is to reject the entire Trichotomy.

To reject the Trichotomy is not to reject the idea that speciation is largely explained in terms of the feedback between variation and selection, but rather to reject the idea that this process is best conceptualized in terms of “chance” and “necessity.”

So what’s the alternative?   What we would need here is a new concept of nature that is not beholden to any of the positions made possible with respect to the conceptual straitjacket imposed by the Trichotomy.

Lizzie asked me a question, so I will respond

Sal Cordova responded to my OP at UD, and I have given his post in full below.

Dr. Liddle recently used my name specifically in a question here:

Chance and 500 coins: a challenge

Barry? Sal? William?

I would always like to stay on good terms with Dr. Liddle. She has shown great hospitality. The reason I don’t visit her website is the acrimony many of the participants have toward me. My absence there has nothing to do with her treatment of me, and in fact, one reason I was ever there in the first place was she was one of the few critics of ID that actually focused on what I said versus assailing me personally.

So, apologies in advance Dr. Liddle if I don’t respond to every question you field. It has nothing to do with you but lots to do with hatred obviously direct toward me by some of the people at your website.

I’ve enjoyed discussion about music and musical instruments.

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Proof: Why naturalist science can be no threat to faith in God

I’m going to demonstrate this using Bayes’ Rule. I will represent the hypothesis that (a non-Deist, i.e. an interventionist) God exists as H_G, and the evidence of complex life as L_C.  What we want to know is the posterior probability that H_{G} is true, given L_C, written


which, in English, is: the probability that God exists, given the evidence before us of complex life.

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Chance and 500 coins: a challenge

My problem with the IDists’ 500 coins question (if you saw 500 coins lying heads up, would you reject the hypothesis that they were fair coins, and had been fairly tossed?)  is not that there is anything wrong with concluding that they were not.  Indeed, faced with just 50 coins lying heads up, I’d reject that hypothesis with a great deal of confidence.

It’s the inference from that answer of mine is that if, as a “Darwinist” I am prepared to accept that a pattern can be indicative of something other than “chance” (exemplified by a fairly tossed fair coin) then I must logically also sign on to the idea that an Intelligent Agent (as the alternative to “Chance”) must inferrable from such a pattern.

This, I suggest, is profoundly fallacious.

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Barry gets it wrong again….



The null hypothesis in a drug trial is not that the drug is efficacious. The null hypothesis is that the difference between the groups is due to chance.

No, Barry.  Check any stats text book.  The null hypothesis is certainly not that the drug is efficacious (which is not what Neil said), but more importantly, it is not that “the difference between the groups is due to chance”.

It is that “there is no difference in effects between treatment A and treatment B”.

When in hole, stop digging, Barry!

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Yes, Lizzie, Chance is Very Often an Explanation

[Posted by Barry at UD]

Over at The Skeptical Zone Elizabeth Liddle has weighed in on the “coins on the table” issue I raised in this post.

Readers will remember the simple question I asked:

If you came across a table on which was set 500 coins (no tossing involved) and all 500 coins displayed the “heads” side of the coin, how on earth would you test “chance” as a hypothesis to explain this particular configuration of coins on a table?

Dr. Liddle’s answer:

Chance is not an explanation, and therefore cannot be rejected, or supported, as a hypothesis.

Staggering. Gobsmacking. Astounding. Superlatives fail me.

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A Statistics Question for Barry Arrington

Re your post here:

  • If you came across a table on which was set 500 coins (no tossing involved) and all 500 coins displayed the “heads” side of the coin, how on earth would you test “chance” as a hypothesis to explain this particular configuration of coins on a table?

Even if the observer was not party to the information that there was “no tossing  involved”?

The reason I ask, is that you seem to have revealed an conceptual error that IMO bedevils much discussion about evolution as an explanation for the complexity of life.

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The ‘A’ Word

I am an atheist. I do not believe that any gods exist.

Being an atheist does not mean that I claim to have knowledge or proof that no gods exist. I have simply never encountered any objective, empirical evidence for the existence of any entity that fits the definition of “god”. If I were provided with such evidence, I would provisionally accept that at least one such entity exists.

Atheism is not a stronger variant of agnosticism. It is simply a lack of belief. Knowledge and belief are orthogonal concepts:

The word “atheist” has social stigma. Some people characterize their lack of belief as agnosticism to avoid offending their family and friends. That doesn’t change the fact that if you lack belief in a god you are, by definition, an atheist. You might also be an agnostic, but that’s a separate issue.

The only way to eliminate the stigma is to show the people we care about that belief in gods is not required to be a good spouse, parent, child, friend, or neighbor.

I am an atheist. If you don’t believe in a god or gods, you are too.

Thanks to Alan Fox for suggesting this topic.


Why Metaphysics is (Almost) Bullshit

I have finally finished reading Robert Brandom‘s massive tome (650 pp.) Making It Explicit, and it’s given me a lot of new tools with which to think about the nature of concepts and the relation between language, perception, action, and the world.  This is my first attempt to do something with what I’ve learned from Brandom.

It is crucial to Brandom’s account that conceptual content — what our thoughts are about — is constrained in two different ways: normatively and causally.  Normative constraint is, for Brandom, essentially and fundamentally social and linguistic.  For a community of speakers, each speaker holds herself and the others accountable for what they say by keeping track of the compatibility and incompatibility of their commitments and entitlements. (If I assert p, and p implies q, then I am committed to q.  If I assert p, and p implies q, but I am already committed to ~q, then I am not entitled to assert p.  And so on.)  The various ways in which we keep track of our own commitments and entitlements, and our own, is a process that Brandom calls “deontic scorekeeping”: deontic from <I>deonta</I> (Greek, “duty”), what we ought to be committed to.   We keep score of what we ought to say.    Deontic scorekeeping is the only normative constraint on discursive statuses — what it is that we believe or desire.  The statuses — the beliefs and desires — are instituted by the attitudes of commitment, entitlement, acknowledgement, avowal, disavowal, and so on — and are only fully intelligible in those terms.

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UD censorship circumvention thread

Rampant censorship at Uncommon Descent has left many of us banned and unable to post comments there.  Others are able to post but are subject to having their comments delayed in the moderation queue, defaced, or deleted altogether at the whims of moderators (such as UD “President” Barry Arrington*) whose egos are large and fragile.

This thread offers a safe place for folks to respond to UD posts and comments without the threat (or the reality) of censorship. It’s also a good place to cross-post and preserve UD comments that you think are likely to be censored.

If the thread becomes popular, we can sticky it or otherwise make it easily accessible from the TSZ home page.

* I kid you not – look at the bottom left corner of the UD home page.

How Was Darwin Wrong? – Darwin’s Errors

O.k. then, here’s your chance, TSZ folks. Have at it.

Darwin made errors, even Darwinian evolutionist Mike Elzinga agrees.

What are/were those errors/mistakes?

Perhaps the odd closet ‘Darwinist’ might even think to change their mind about calling them-self a ‘Darwinist’ as a result of answers provided in this thread…or it could be a rather short thread, with few admissions.

Context: Preprint for a Douglas Allchin paper in American Biology Teacher, 2009 (same Journal that published Theodosius Dobzhansky’s theistic evolution: “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense…” paper, 1973) Celebrating Darwin’s Error’s.

Title Changed: from “How Darwin Was Wrong” to “How Was Darwin Wrong?” – 06-12-2013

The Possibility of Error

Since the discussion about the possibility of error is much-discussed at Uncommon Descent, I thought it might be interesting to see how Josiah Royce develops his argument concerning “the possibility of error” in his The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885).  (I’m using The Philosophy of Josiah Royce, which I found recently in a used-book store. I assume that no one here is too concerned about quotations or citations, but those are available on request.)

Royce’s question here is, “how is error possible?” — and by ‘how’ he means, “what are the logical conditions for the possibility of error?”   An error, he points out, is our recognition of the failure of a judgment to agree with its object.  How is possible for us recognize that our judgments have failed to agree with their purported objects?   The puzzle goes as follows: on the one hand, if the object is entirely within our cognitive grasp, our assertion about it would fully correspond to the object — in which case, there would be no error.  On the other hand, if the object were entirely beyond our cognitive grasp, we would be unable to recognize the lack of correspondence between the judgment and the object — in which case the error would be unrecognizable.  So our ability to recognize errors as errors requires that we have “partial knowledge” of the object.  So what is partial knowledge, and how is it possible?

[It will not surprise anyone here who knows how I think to learn that, from my point of view, the above is more-or-less sound, whereas the next bit utterly goes off the rails.]

What is required, Royce thinks, is that both the judgment and the object are contained within some larger, more inclusive thought that can compare them against them against one another and notice the correspondence (or lack thereof) between them.  And since there are infinitely many errors, the inclusive thought must be all-inclusive — it must contain all possible judgments and their objects.  And that in turn must be the Absolute Knowledge and Absolute Mind of God.  (Didn’t see that one coming, eh?)

TL;DR version: there are errors, therefore God.





“The selective incompleteness of the fossil record”

Denyse O’Leary quotes Steve Meyer’s question:

Why, he [Agassiz] asked, does the fossil record always happen to be incomplete at the nodes connecting major branches of Darwin’s tree of life, but rarely—in the parlance of modern paleontology—at the “terminal branches” representing the major already known groups of organisms?…

Was there any easy answer to Agassiz’s argument? If so, beyond his stated willingness to wait for future fossil discoveries, Darwin didn’t offer one.

and responds:

And no one else has either.

Oh, yes, they have, Denyse.  That’s what what punk eek was.  But it also falls readily out of any simulation – you see rapid diversification into a new niche at a node, and thus few exemplars, followed by an increasingly gradual approach to a static optimum, and thus lots of exemplars.  But I present an even more graphic response: when you chop down a tree, and saw it up into logs for your fire, what proportion of your logs include a node?