The capriciousness of intelligent agency

Scordova at UD asks a question that I find interesting.

By way of contrast, intelligent agencies, particularly those intelligent agencies which we presume have free will, cannot be counted upon to behave in predictable manners in certain domains. Even presuming some intelligent agencies (say machine “intelligence”) are deterministic, they can be an unpredictable black box to outside observers. This makes it difficult to make direct experimental confirmation of certain ID inferences.

It has long been my contention that the defining behavior of science is the search for regularity.

Some regularities can be refined into mathematical equations, which we generally call laws of nature.

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What Are Concepts?

There’s a nice little discussion going on at Uncommon Descent (see here) about whether concepts are consistent with naturalism (broadly conceived). Here I want to say a bit about what theories of concepts seem to me to be most promising, and to what extent (if any) they are compatible with naturalism (broadly conceived).

The dominant position in philosophy of language treats concepts as representations: I have a concept of *dog* insofar as I am able to correctly represent all dogs as dogs.   It is crucial that concepts have the right kind of generality — that I am able to classify all particular dogs as exemplifying the same general property — in order to properly credit me with having the concept.  (If I only applied the term “dog” to my dog, it would be right to say that I don’t really have the concept *dog*.)

On the representationalist paradigm, rational thought has a bottom-up structure: terms are applied to particulars, terms are combined to form judgments about particulars, and judgments are combined to form arguments, explanations, and other forms of reasoning.

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How does the (life and) death of Jesus atone for our sins?

The Jews before Jesus believed that blood had redemptive powers:

all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness

(Hebrews 9:22)

To regard a substance as having such abstract powers invariably comes from a form of thinking known as sympathetic magic. JG Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1889) extensively documents and elucidates such rituals. The Jewish belief in the abstract restorative powers of blood stems from a naive essentialism that should be anathema to the modern educated mind:
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Ask an Expert!

Hey folks. I thought given some of the wonderful intellects we have here it would be fun to have an “ask an expert” thread. Don’t get hung up on if you’re an expert or not, if you want to ask a question or supply an answer, have at it!

I was flying into LAX two nights ago and I could see the moon (nearly full) being reflected in a body of water. I began thinking about how the light of the sun had bounced off of the moon and the water create the image in my eyes, like a game of photonic billiards. Which brings me to my question:

If photons are being reflected (“bouncing”) off of the face of the moon, shouldn’t the edges of the moon appear dimmer because the angle should be less favourable to bouncing photons my way?

Snakes, suicide, and selective statistics

VJ Torley has a post at UD where he claims that

Atheism destroys many more innocent human lives than religion ever will.

His argument is that atheists commit suicide at a higher rate than theists. While this is true, “disingenous” is a charitable word for his failure to include, at the very least, statistics on murder.
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Is God a brain in a vat?

From a comment I made last year at UD:

It’s impossible to verify the reliability of a cognitive system from the inside. Why? Because you have to use the cognitive system itself in order to verify its reliability.

If the system isn’t reliable, you might mistakenly conclude that it is!

This even applies to God himself. From the inside, God may think that he’s omniscient and omnipotent. He seems to know everything about reality, and he seems to be able to do anything that is logically possible. But how can he know these things with absolute certainty?

What if there is a higher-level God, or demon, who is deceiving him into thinking that he’s the master of the universe when he really isn’t? How, for that matter, can God be sure that he isn’t a brain in a vat?

He can’t. Defining him as omniscient doesn’t help. Like everyone else, he can only try to determine, from the inside, whether his cognitive apparatus is reliable. He can never be absolutely sure that he isn’t being fooled, or fooling himself.

The Quest for Certainty

According to Arrington:

“We cannot know completely. Kurt Gödel demonstrated that even the basic principles of a mathematical system while true cannot be proved to be true. This is his incompleteness theorem. Gödel exploded the myth of the possibility of perfect knowledge about anything. If even the axioms of a mathematical system must be taken on faith, is there anything we can know completely? No there is not. Faith is inevitable. Deny that fact and live a life of blinkered illusion, or embrace it and live in the light of truth, however incompletely we can apprehend it.”

Unfortunately, Arrington is not even wrong.

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Darwin was wrong!!!!!

Stop the presses!

Seriously, are the ID proponents at UD ever going to wonder why Gould and Eldredge remained persuaded that common descent occurred, and that “punctuated equibrium”, although contrary the uniformly incremental pattern that Darwin envisaged, was nonetheless consistent with Darwin’s proposed adaptive mechanism of heritable variation in reproductive success?

Because Darwin was indeed wrong about uniform change.  Unlike us, he didn’t have computers with which to model the predicted output of his mechanism. Indeed he didn’t even know what the vector of heritability was.  We do.  Here’s a sample output from Eureqa, a program that uses Darwin’s proposed mechanism to “evolve” equations to fit data:

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There’s a lot of discussion of censorship swirling around the ID/evolution/online world right now, which I find very odd.  Apparently the magazine Nautilus has closed a comment thread (without apparently deleting any comments) on the basis that “This is a science magazine, and our comments section isn’t the place to debate whether evolution is true”.

Accusations of “censorship” by “evolutionists” have been flying around for a while now, at least since the Expelled movie and it resurfaced regarding the withdrawal of the Biological Information: New Perspectives  book from the Springer catalogue. And now, recently, Jerry Coyne has been named “Censor of the Year” by the Discovery Institute.

My own instincts tend against censorship, and although I do not think that all censorship is bad, I would certainly rather err on the side of too little than too much.  Here, as I hope everyone knows, only a very narrow class of material is ever deleted, and only a very narrow class of offenses bring down a ban.

But what is censorship, and who, if anyone, is censoring whom in the ID/evolution debate?

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Ronald Fisher and William Dembski

An odd post by “news” at UD raises yet again the issue of Fisherian p values – and reveals yet again that many ID proponents don’t understand them.

She (I assume it is Denyse) writes:

Further to “Everyone seems to know now that there’s a problem in science research today and “At a British Journal of Medicine blog, a former editor says, medical research is still a scandal,” Ronald Fisher’s p-value measure, a staple of research, is coming under serious scrutiny.

Many will remember Ronald Fisher (1890–1962) as the early twentieth century Darwinian who reconciled Darwinism with Mendelian genetics, hailed by Richard Dawkins as the greatest biologist since Darwin. Hid original idea of p-values (a measure of whether an observed result can be attributed to chance) was reasonable enough, but over time the dead hand got hold of it:


Many at UD may also “remember” Ronald Fisher as the early twentieth century statistician who inspired William Dembski’s eleP(T|H)ant.

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The inconstancy of Christian morality

In the fifties, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released records as that most familiar American duo, Tom & Jerry. It was the sixties before their now famous Jewish names were allowed an airing. A similar thing happened with Jesus. Truth is, without Paul, Jesus may have been simultaneously too Jewish, too old fashioned, and too radical to make it big. Jesus in the Gospels is not quite the laissez faire hippie that many Christians want him to be. He is quoted as saying

Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery

(Matthew 19:9)

yet good Christians divorce for reasons other than infidelity all the time. Society’s moral values have changed, and the moral values of Christians have changed with them. Jesus says nothing against slavery whereas a modern Christian placed in his situation and time might feel compelled to speak out.

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BIGGER THAN PHIL: When did faith start to fade?

And here we arrive at what the noes, whatever their numbers, really have now, and that is a monopoly on legitimate forms of knowledge about the natural world. They have this monopoly for the same reason that computer manufacturers have an edge over crystal-ball makers: the advantages of having an actual explanation of things and processes are self-evident. What works wins. We know that men were not invented but slowly evolved from smaller animals; that the earth is not the center of the universe but one among a billion planets in a distant corner; and that, in the billions of years of the universe’s existence, there is no evidence of a single miraculous intercession with the laws of nature. We need not imagine that there’s no Heaven; we know that there is none, and we will search for angels forever in vain. A God can still be made in the face of all that absence, but he will always be chairman of the board, holding an office of fine title and limited powers.


This article seems to capsulize much of what we’ve been discussing. Everything from evolution and scientism to atheism and creationism.



VJ Torley’s itchy trigger finger

At UD, vjtorley has posted a bizarre, 5,000-word “rebuttal” of Jerry Coyne. It begins:

Over on his Why Evolution Is True Website, Professor Jerry Coyne has posted a short passage on the papal condemnation of Galileo, excerpted from Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom(New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1896). However, all the passage proves is that neither White nor Coyne understand the theological doctrine which they are attacking: they are all at sea about the dogma at which they are aiming their barbs.

One slight problem: Coyne isn’t attacking anything. VJ Torley is tilting at windmills.

Coyne doesn’t express agreement or disagreement with the passage. He merely points out a funny proofreading edit pencilled into his copy of the book by a previous, seemingly obsessive reader:

Now I don’t even know if that correction is grammatically necessary, but I had to smile at the anonymous reader who got annoyed and took the trouble to add the proofreader’s transposition symbol.

VJ is evidently so sensitive to any attack on Catholic doctrine, real or imagined, that he’ll fire off a 5,000+ word “rebuttal” without even reading the post he’s responding to!

Science and Metaphysics

A perennial theme of my philosophical peregrinations is the difference between (and relation between) science and metaphysics.   This bears directly on the arguments made by creationists and design proponents.

Design proponents often try to distinguish themselves from both creationists and Darwinists by arguing that they alone are faithful to empiricism — “following the evidence wherever it leads” — whereas both creationists and Darwinists interpret the evidence through the lens of some a priori conceptual framework, a metaphysics.   (I take it to be false, and importantly false, that one can only hold metaphysics in a dogmatic fashion, and that empiricism is the enemy of metaphysics — though of course empiricism is the enemy of dogmatism, if one’s empiricism does not itself become dogmatic.)

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[Fill in the Blank] Won the Great Debate. Discuss.

My take (not original) is the Bill Nye framed the debate as between evolution and young earth creationism.

As long as he wasn’t trounced, evolution wins.

Because ID is a big tent and allows YECs a free pass, it is associated with this debate. Unless it publicly distances itself from Ken ham, it has allowed the evolution debate to be framed as between science and biblical literalism.

A Quiz for ‘Intelligent Design’ Theory Proponentsists

A Quiz for ‘Intelligent Design’ Theory Proponentsists

(Even for those IDist outliers like nullasalus at UD who don’t think IDT is scientific, but who think they are tricking people that logically & responsibly reject IDT)

 Another simple YES/NO exercise.


IDM = Intelligent Design Movement

IDist = Intelligent Design ideologue

DI = Discovery Institute

IDT = (Uppercase) Intelligent Design theory

USA = United States of America = )



 1. Is the DI-led IDM making a concentrated, dedicated effort to distinguish good science from bad science by actively and publically rejecting the outdated ‘young Earth’ views of many undereducated, anti-science, evangelical Christians in the USA?

2. Have IDM leaders Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, William Dembski and Phillip Johnson *all* linked their own version of IDT to their personal Christian faith in public statements, interviews and/or articles?

3. Have several prominent Abrahamic theists (particularly those active in science, philosophy & theology/worldview conversations) openly rejected IDT on the basis of distinguishing Uppercase ‘Intelligent Design’ Theory (the Discovery Institute’s ‘strictly scientific’ theory) from lowercase ‘intelligent design’ (aka the non-scientific, theological/worldview ‘design argument’)?

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