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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