Philosophy and Complexity of Rube Goldberg Machines

Michael Behe is best known for coining the phrase Irreducible Complexity, but I think his likening of biological systems to Rube Goldberg machines is a better way to frame the problem of evolving the black boxes and the other extravagances of the biological world.
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George Ellis on top-down causation

In a recent OP at Uncommon Descent, Vincent Torley (vjtorley) defends a version of libertarian free will based on the notion of top-down causation. The dominant view among physicists (which I share) is that top-down causation does not exist, so Torley cites an essay by cosmologist George Ellis in defense of the concept.

Vincent is commenting here at TSZ, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to engage him in a discussion of top-down causation, with Ellis’s essay as a starting point. Here’s a key quote from Ellis’s essay to stimulate discussion:

However hardware is only causally effective because of the software which animates it: by itself hardware can do nothing. Both hardware and software are hierarchically structured, with the higher level logic driving the lower level events.

I think that’s wrong, but I’ll save my argument for the comment thread.

How and Why: questions for scientists and philosophers?

The late John Davison often remarked that science could only answer “how” questions, not “why”. It seems to me philosophers, perhaps I’m really thinking of philosophers of religion rather than in general, attempt to find answers to “why” questions without always having a firm grasp on how reality works. Perhaps this is why there is so much talking past each other when the explanatory power of science vs other ways of knowing enters a discussion. Continue reading

The Reasonableness of Atheism and Black Swans

As an ID proponent and creationist, the irony is that at the time in my life where I have the greatest level of faith in ID and creation, it is also the time in my life at some level I wish it were not true. I have concluded if the Christian God is the Intelligent Designer then he also makes the world a miserable place by design, that He has cursed this world because of Adam’s sin. See Malicious Intelligent Design.
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Excilience and Contextomy

consilience. : the linking together of principles from different disciplines especially when forming a comprehensive theory.

contextomy. : an informal fallacy and a type of false attribution in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning. Quote mining.

excilience. : the linking together of Contextomies from different disciplines especially when forming a comprehensive theory. Thought mining.

The Quote Mine Project provides excellent examples of contextomy. Uncommondescent provides excellent examples of excilience.

The practices lend themselves to all kinds of humorous incongruities. Among them are:

1. free will vs predestination
2. deism vs interventionism (Michael Denton vs Michael Behe)
3. front loading vs twiddling (Mike Gene vs gpuccio, etc.)
4. ascentism vs degenerationism (Chardin vs Sanford)
5. old earth vs young earth
6. realism vs last thursdayism
7. biblical literalism vs inspirationism

There are probably a lot more, but these come up frequently. The humor comes from observing that the armies of ID clash by night, without ever mentioning or discussing their differences and their contradictory assumptions and conclusions.

Food for discussion.

ID falsifiable, not science, not positive, not directly testable

There was a time when people believed the moon craters were the product of intelligent design because they were so perfectly round “they must have been made by intelligent creatures living on the moon”. That idea was falsified. If hypothetically someone had said back then, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) made the moon craters”, the claim would have been falsifiable, but it really doesn’t make a positive case for the FSM, doesn’t make the FSM directly testable, doesn’t make the FSM science. Substitute the word “ID” instead for “FSM”, and one will see why I think even though ID is falsifiable, I don’t think ID has a positive case, and I don’t think ID is directly testable, and I don’t think ID is science at least for things like biology.

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Is Darwinian Evolution Teleonomic?

While many ID proposals are based on introducing teleonomy into evolution, I wanted to ask the question as to whether or not evolution, even by a Darwinian definition (i.e., natural selection and materialism) was already teleonomic.

The reason I ask this is because all sorts of things that Darwinian evolution has trouble explaining gets thrown into the basket of “sexual selection”.  Basically, the reason why an organism evolved feature X was because that feature was selected by mating.  In other words, the other organisms appreciated feature X, and therefore copulated and reproduced more with organisms showing more and more of feature X.

I find this interesting, because, especially if taken materialistically, this gives a teleonomic direction to selection, something that Mayr attempted to rule out.

Think of it this way.  If one is a materialist, then what is determining the desires of the organism?  It is the organism’s genetics!  If the organism is desiring a mate, that’s because its genetics is telling it to do so.  If an organism sees mates with feature X as being more desirable, that means its genetics are telling it to do so.  Therefore, the organism’s genes are, in a very direct way, directing the selection process themselves.

Mate selection, under materialism, seems to me to definitely fall under the umbrella of teleonomy.  And, since it governs a large component of the evolutionary process, it seems that one must then say that to a large extent the evolutionary process is teleonomic, even under Darwinian terms.

I’m curious to your thoughts on this.  I am not aware of this idea being discussed in the literature, but if someone has papers or links to other discussions of this, I would love to see them.

Are we in a war?

Barry Arrington, owner of the pro-ID blog, Uncommon Descent is alleged to have written the following in an email to a contributor:

We are in a war. That is not a metaphor. We are fighting a war for the soul of Western Civilization, and we are losing, badly. In the summer of 2015 we find ourselves in a positon very similar to Great Britain’s position 75 years ago in the summer of 1940 – alone, demoralized, and besieged on all sides by a great darkness that constitutes an existential threat to freedom, justice and even rationality itself.

 

In this thread I don’t want to discuss the rights and wrongs of the email itself, nor of whether or not TSZ constitutes a “great darkness”.  Barry is entitled to decide who posts at UD and who does not; it’s his blog.

What interests me is the perception itself, which I suspect is quite widely shared.

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Answer to Barry Part 1 (and, inadvertently, 2)

Barry seems to have noticed TSZ again, and so I will take this opportunity of inviting him over here, where he can post freely, and will not be banned unless he posts porn or malware or outs someone, which I expect he can manage not to do.

And he responds to my post, Lawyers and Scientists.  He does so in two parts, so I will devote two posts to them.  Here is my response to his first part.  Barry writes:

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Barry finally gets it?

Barry Arrington was astonished to find that Larry Moran agreed with him that it would be possible for some future biologist to detect design in a Venter-designed genome.

He was further astonished to find that REC, a commenter at UD, agreed with Larry Moran.

Barry expresses his epiphany in a UD post REC Becomes a Design Proponent.

Has Barry finally realised that those of us who oppose the ideas of Intelligent Design proponents do not dispute that it is possible, in principle, to make a reasonable inference of design?  That rather our opposition is based on the evidence and argument advanced, not on some principled (or unprincipled!) objection to the entire project?

Sadly, it seems not.  Because Barry then gives some examples of his continued lack of appreciation of this point.  Here they are:

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More statistical confusion…

At UD I noticed, while I was checking the Moran-Arrington score, I couldn’t help noticing a news item entitled, provocatively (for me) Psychology does not speak the language of statistics very well.

So being a psychologist who teaches statistical methods to psychology students, I had to click, and found that it was a report of a blog piece here called Statistics Shows Psychology Is Not Science

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Lawyers and Scientists

There’s been a skirmish between Larry Moran and Barry Arrington about whether Barry understands the Theory of Evolution, and the latest salvo is a piece at UD, entitled, Can a Lowly Lawyer Make a Useful Contribution? Maybe.

Well, in a sense, Barry makes a useful contribution in that post, as he gives a very nice illustration of a common misunderstanding about the process of hypothesis testing, in this case, basic model-fitting and null hypothesis testing, the workhorse (with all its faults) of scientific research.  Barry writes:

[Philip]Johnson is saying that attorneys are trained to detect baloney.  And that training is very helpful in the evolution debate, because that debate is chock-full of faulty logic (especially circular reasoning), abuse of language (especially equivocations), assumptions masquerading as facts, unexamined premises, etc. etc.

Consider, to take one example of many, cladistics.  It does not take a genius to know that cladistic techniques do not establish common descent; rather they assume it.  But I bet if one asked, 9 out of 10 materialist evolutionists, even the trained scientists among them, would tell you that cladistics is powerful evidence for common descent.  As Johnson argues, a lawyer’s training may help him understand when faulty arguments are being made, sometimes even better than those with a far superior grasp of the technical aspects of the field.  This is not to say that common descent is necessarily false; only cladistics does not establish the matter one way or the other.

In summary, I am trained to evaluate arguments by stripping them down to examine the meaning of the terms used, exposing the underlying assumptions, and following the logic (or, as is often the case, exposing the lack of logic).  And I think I do a pretty fair job of that, both in my legal practice and here at UD.

Barry has made two common errors here.  First he has confused the assumption of common descent with the conclusion of common descent, and thus detected circular reasoning where there is none.  Secondly he has confused the process of fitting a model with the broader concept of a hypothesised model.

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Philosophy In An Age of Cognitive Science

Since the publication of The Embodied Mind (1991), the cognitive sciences have been turning away from the mind-as-program analogy that dominated early cognitivism towards a conception of cognitive functioning as embodied in a living organism and embedded in an environment. In the past few years, important contributions to embodied-embedded cognitive science can be found in Noe (Action in Perception), Chemero (Radical Embodied Cognitive Scie Rnce), Thompson (Mind in Life), Clark (Being There and Surfing Uncertainty), and Wheeler (Reconstructing the Cognitive World).

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Was denial of the Laws of Thought a myth?

Discussion of A = A seems to have died down some here. As much as people find the topic a fun exercise in logic and philosophy, it might be worth reminding everyone how all this got started here, on a site largely devoted to critiquing creationist and ID arguments.

It started when the owner of the site Uncommon Descent declared that some basic Laws of Thought were being regularly violated by anti-ID commenters on that site.

In a post on February 16, 2012 Barry Arrington wrote, in justification of his policy,
that:

The issue, then, is not whether persons who disagree with us on the facts and logic will be allowed to debate on this site. Anyone who disagrees about the facts and logic is free to come here at any time. But if you come on here and say, essentially, that facts and logic do not matter, then we have no use for you.

The formal announcement of Barry’s policy was four days earlier, in this UD post where Barry invoked the Law of Non-Contradiction and declared that

Arguing with a person who denies the basis for argument is self-defeating and can lead only to confusion. Only a fool or a charlatan denies the LNC, and this site will not be a platform from which fools and charlatans will be allowed to spew their noxious inanities.

For that reason, I am today announcing a new moderation policy at UD. At any time the moderator reserves the right to ask the following question to any person who would comment or continue to comment on this site: “Can the moon exist and not exist at the same time and in the same formal relation?” The answer to this question is either “yes” or “no.” If the person gives any answer other than the single word “no,” he or she will immediately be deemed not worth arguing with and therefore banned from this site.

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Reliance on Testimony to Miracles

  • Humans acquire a vast amount of factual information through testimony, arguably more than they learn through experience.
  • The extensive reliance on testimony is remarkable given that one often cannot verify testimonial information.
  • What makes testimony distinct from storytelling is that it has an implicit or explicit assertion that the telling is true. The literary format and style of the Gospels is that of the ancient biography, a historiographic genre that was widely practiced in the ancient word. Thus, one can regard these accounts as a form of testimony.

A Natural History of Natural Philosophy (pp. 165-172)

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Same Sex Science

It is often asserted that modern science had it’s roots in Christian culture and could in fact only have gotten started given such a milieu.

…the flowering of modern science depended upon the Judeo-Christian worldview of the existence of a real physical contingent universe, created and held in being by an omnipotent personal God, with man having the capabilities of rationality and creativity, and thus being capable of investigating it.

The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy

An award-winning philosopher uncovers the Christian foundations of modern science. Renowned historian and philosopher of science Stanley Jaki boldly illumines one of the best-kept secrets of science history — the vital role theology has historically played in fruitful scientific development.

Beginning with an overview of failed attempts at a sustained science by the ancient cultures of Greece, China, India, and the early Muslim empire, Jaki shows that belief in Christ — a belief absent in all these cultures — secured for science its only viable birth starting in the High Middle Ages.

The Savior of Science

In Pearcey’s latest book Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes she goes beyond these perhaps less controversial claims.

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